An Orioles pitching staff that spent most of the first half of the season with the low-fuel light on will welcome nothing more than Thursday’s day off after 20 games in 20 days.
The hitters, on the other hand, would probably sign up for a matinee to get a bat back in their hands and build on what’s been the largest group of consistent production from their young players all season.
“It’s fun to watch,” said Wednesday night’s starter Matt Harvey after the Orioles’ 5-2 win over the Houston Astros gave them a three-game sweep of the American League’s best team entering the week.
Harvey noted that when the team has pitched well in stretches over the first 81 games, they haven’t hit or fielded well, and vice versa. But to the extent that there were many expectations for a team that’s not built to win now and struggles to compete on a basic level most nights, those expectations were on a relatively young offensive core coming into its own.
Center fielder Cedric Mullins, who had a walk, a single, a steal, and a run scored Wednesday, has most certainly done that. Through 81 games, he’s batting .322 with a .942 OPS and is likely to be an All-Star this season.
The rest of a group that includes Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle has each buckled into the roller coaster for stretches this year. All, however, seem to be locking in their best form of late, and that represents nearly half of their lineup, making it much harder to pitch to each night.
Mountcastle, who opened the scoring Wednesday with a two-run double, was a monster offensively in June. He hit .327 with a 1.015 OPS and nine home runs in the month, and now has a full two months of high-level production to hold against his poor April.
Hays’ renaissance hasn’t lasted the whole month, but has coincided over the last week or so with his hamstring starting to feel better. He’s hit two home runs with a double while going 11-for-28 (.393) with a .998 OPS in the last week. A healthy Hays makes the Orioles a much better team both at the top of their lineup and in the outfield, and he’s been that of late.
Same goes, in a smaller sample, for Santander, who like Hays has been gutting through the after-effects of an injury after missing a month with a sprained ankle. He had Monday off, homered late Tuesday, and added two hits in the Orioles’ win Wednesday.
Having all four of those players in their mid-20s finding their best selves and seeing the impact of that potential is an experience that, this far into their rebuild, the Orioles should be having a lot more of this year.
That they had to move on from some regulars like Rio Ruiz and Chance Sisco this season only shows the urgency of that. With the ongoing absence of shortstop Freddy Galvis, Trey Mancini’s uneven year and Maikel Franco’s ankle injury Wednesday right as he got hot, the production of these blossoming Orioles players might start to build some real evidence that a turnaround for the whole team isn’t far off.