After losing consecutive series' at home, the Baltimore Orioles travelled to San Francisco this weekend to take on a young Giants team that had been playing well. Despite some offensive struggles and a minor injury to Gunnar Henderson, the O's took two of three from the Giants and exploded for an 8-3 win Sunday in a game that saw Josh Lester get his first career-hit in a two-run single during the third inning. The series win also meant the Orioles became the first team in MLB to achieve a 20-win season on the road. Here are three takeaways from the series win:
Baltimore Orioles vs San Francisco Giants series takeaways
1. Aaron Hicks is a Serviceable Replacement for Mullins
After Cedric Mullins went down with an injury on Monday, there was speculation about who would replace him in center field. At the time, Colton Cowser was still on the injured list so he was not an option. Ryan McKenna seemed to be a logical option but many do not believe that his bat is strong enough to be an everyday player for a team fighting for a postseason appearance. Enter Aaron Hicks.
Of course, many fans criticized the signing of Hicks due to his abysmal offensive performance over the past several seasons for the Yankees. Many fans did not believe that Hicks offers any more value than players like McKenna or Cowser and that his presence could stall the progress of certain prospects. Hicks had a career year in 2018 with a .248/.366/.467 slash line with 27 homers and a 22nd-place finish in MVP voting. Since 2021 however, he has not had an OPS+ better than 86 and came into Baltimore with a .188/.263/.261 slash line in 2023.
In his first full series with the Orioles, Hicks proved that he is a serviceable replacement for Mullins due to his offensive and defensive potential. Aaron had his best game of the series on Sunday where he went 2-for-4 with a triple and a walk. For the series, Hicks hit 3-for-9 with two walks and had several nice defensive plays. As a switch hitter, Hicks has the opportunity to play everyday if he continues to capitalize and play well.
Cowser has returned from the injured list and could be called up to Baltimore at any time which is worrisome for Hicks but this weekend has proven that he deserves a chance to prove himself as a solid big leaguer who needed a change of scenery from the Bronx. Defensively, Aaron has struggled throughout his career as a historically below-average outfielder. In center field, he has always been below average defensively but has shown capability to make big plays like he did on Saturday night to rob the Giants of an extra-base hit.
2. Gunnar Henderson Is Vital for the O's Success
With Cedric Mullins hurt and Jorge Mateo struggling, Gunnar Henderson is thrust into a role of a top-of-the-order everyday bat. Gunnar showed off his offensive potential with the game-winning home run Friday night but unfortunately left Saturday's game with a back injury. The injury does not seem to be serious as he should return to the lineup Tuesday against the Brewers but the absence did prove that Gunnar has been a cog in the O's lineup despite early season struggles.
As a former number-one overall prospect, O's fans have patiently waited for Henderson to become the dynamic shortstop he can be. With the home run, Gunnar jumped above the Mendoza line with a .201 batting average in 159 at bats. However, batting average is not everything as he has drawn enough walks and hit for enough power to be a league-average hitter with a .201/.328/.384 slash line and 99 OPS+.
An extremely high walk rate has allowed Henderson to keep his head above water offensively and his versatility kept him in the lineup most nights, especially when Ramon Urias was on the injured list. Without Henderson and Mullins, the O's were shutout by former Oriole Alex Cobb on Saturday night and clearly lacked a spark. On Sunday, Josh Lester took Henderson's spot as a left-handed hitting third baseman and played well with the two-run single but Henderson's absence was still felt. If Gunnar does return Tuesday, he should become a close-to everyday third baseman for the Orioles and could even shift to shortstop full time if Mateo does not improve offensively.
3. Tyler Wells Is Ace Material
As a second-round pick in the 2021 rule-5 draft, Tyler Wells has surpassed all expectations as he was one of the Orioles' most reliable relief pitchers in '21 and has been a consistent part of the rotation the last two seasons. After yet another strong start Sunday, Wells has proven that he is ready to make the next step to being an ace in the rotation.
Home runs have been an issue all season and he gave up his fourteenth of the season to Blake Sabol in the sixth inning. However, Wells has been lights out when he keeps the ball in the yard with a WHIP lower than one and nearly a strikeout an inning. The strikeout numbers have progressively improved as he struck out a career-high 9 in 5.2 innings and has struck out 7 or more in each of his last five starts. The strikeout numbers prove that Tyler can sustain his early success despite a high FIP and unusually low BABIP.
Despite a poor offensive performance Saturday night against an old friend in Alex Cobb, this was a largely successful weekend for the O's as they won their thirteenth series of the season and improved to 37-22. The injury to Gunnar was a bummer but the emergence of pieces such as Aaron Hicks and Josh Lester also prove the O's have enough depth to withstand future injuries and continue to compete for their first Postseason appearance since 2016.