Baltimore Orioles Monday Observations: Record Books And Regular Playing Time
The Baltimore Orioles head into their first of two off days this week with a bit of optimism and a few hot bats.
While the American League playoff race won’t be as exciting as some of the National League races, which are sure to come down to the final day or two of the regular season, the Baltimore Orioles played their part in keeping the final few weeks of the 2019 season interesting. Baltimore enters their first off day this week, coming off a four-game series split against the Tampa Bay Rays and featuring a few hot bats in the lineup.
Luckily for Tampa Bay, both Cleveland and Boston lost on Sunday, while the Oakland A’s also found themselves winless this weekend, meaning Cleveland and Tampa enter Monday as the current Wild Card leaders, with Oakland just half a game back and Boston still sort of in the hunt at six games back.
As discussed by Aaron Gershon this earlier this morning, the Orioles now head to Washington D.C. to try and slow down the Washington Nationals, who currently hold a four-game lead over the Chicago Cubs for the top Wild Card spot in the NL. It won’t be easy for Baltimore as they draw Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer this week, but this series will give fans the opportunity to see what a few hot bats can do against elite pitching competition.
Since torching his way through Triple-A for much of the season and earning his call back to the big leagues, DJ Stewart has struggled to stay healthy and keep his name penciled into the lineup. An unfortunate collision with Hanser Alberto resulted in ankle injury and missed time initially for Stewart, followed by a concussion, acquired after losing his footing and track of the ball in a wet outfield. Stewart returned from both injuries and continued to do what he’s done all year, excel against Triple-A pitching.
Stewart now appears fully healthy and has been able to secure the biggest thing eluding him in 2019, regular playing time at the major league level. Since he was activated from his rehab assignment on September 16th, Stewart has played in nine of ten games and has been one of the hottest hitters in the lineup.
In this current stretch, Stewart is hitting .344 and has recorded a multi-hit game in four of his nine starts, including a double in three of his last four games. He went 0-1 on Saturday, but still reached base three times thanks to two walks (one intentional) and a hit by pitch. Getting on base has rarely been an issue for Stewart since he joined the organization as a first-round draft pick back in 2015.
Questions remain about whether or not Stewart can be an everyday regular in the Baltimore Orioles starting lineup, but 2019 has failed to answer those questions. A strong, and healthy, finish to 2019 is exactly what DJ Stewart needs to keep his name in the conversation for next season. I’ve said numerous times this year that Stewart just needs regular at-bats to showcase his abilities and he’s off to a notable start at the moment.
Jonathan Villar joins the Baltimore Orioles 20/20 club.
Elsewhere around the lineup, Pedro Severino has been cold, outside of his grand slam against Tampa Bay (2-18, 6 K, 0 BB last week), Trey Mancini is hitting just .182 over his last six games, and the combination of Jace Peterson and Stevie Wilkerson are 5-24 with seven strikeouts. But there are hot spots in the lineup outside of DJ Stewart.
Renato Nunez has nine hits and five walks in his last seven games and the United Kingdom’s favorite baseball player, Anthony Santander, added seven hits in four games against Tampa Bay, including a 5-5 day at the plate on Sunday.
But the real story here is Jonathan Villar. With his career-high 20th home run on Sunday afternoon, Villar became the sixth player in Baltimore Orioles team history to record a 20/20 season (20 home runs and 20 stolen bases). He joins Trey Mancini (29) and Renato Nunez (28) to have 20 or more home runs and he is the only Orioles player with double-digit stolen bases (28).
After joining the 20/20 club, Villar told reporters, via MASN.com’s Roch Kubatko post-game report, “That’s very important to me. That’s a new record for me. Myself, I don’t think about that for now. I’m thinking about finishing hard. I’m happy because it’s my first time hitting 20-20. I come in tomorrow, day off. I come back to the field and I can do it. You never know, maybe I can make it 30-30. ”
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The only other Orioles to post a 20/20 season are Paul Blair (1969), Don Baylor (1975), Reggie Jackson (1976), Brady Anderson (1992, ’96, ’99), and Manny Machado (2015).
Villar, who has played in every game this season, is currently hitting .278 with a .349 OBP, 51 extra-base hits, and has been worth 3.2 bWAR. His career-high came back in 2016 when he was worth 3.9 bWAR as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers (also led the league with 62 stolen bases). With more than a month left in 2019, it will be fun to see where Villar’s numbers end up.
The biggest question surrounding the 28-year-old middle infielder is where will he play in 2020? Does he finish out his contract with the Orioles or will a team come calling in the offseason? That’s a topic worth coming back to once the offseason begins, but for now, his accomplishments are something to cheer for, if you’re still hanging around and watching this team on a nightly basis with us.
Enjoy the off day and cooler weather, O’s fans. There are just eight days remaining the minor league regular season, so check out some minor league action tonight. The Norfolk Tides, Bowie Baysox, and Delmarva Shorebirds are all in action on MiLB TV!