For both the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles, pitching seemed to be non-existent during the four-game series that saw the O's take three of four from Oakland. Outside of Kyle Gibson's dominant start Monday, every Orioles starter struggled in the series so much so that Cole Irvin was optioned after Thursday's game and it seems his rotation spot will be taken by Spenser Watkins until Kyle Bradish is healthy enough to return. The series did see the debut of the "Homer Hose" that each Orioles player drank from after hitting a home run. Here are three takeaways from an exciting series with the Athletics:
Baltimore Orioles takeaways from their series win over the Oakland Athletics
1. The Bullpen Needs Improvements
Austin Voth has pitched in five games this season and has given up a homer in each appearance. Needless to say, it has not been an ideal start for Voth after a strong 2022 campaign in the Orioles' rotation. He gave up two more homers in two appearances during the series with Oakland and allowed the A's to tie the game at 7 on Thursday after Cole Irvin was pulled. The struggles for Voth have been well-documented as he has a 9.00 ERA and 10.14 FIP in eight innings pitched but it seems that he will stick around in the bullpen for the series against the White Sox.
Since Voth is out of options, the Orioles would have to designate him for assignment and place him on waivers to keep him in the organization which means there is a risk that he could be picked up by one of the 29 other teams. After a 3.04 ERA and 3.96 FIP with the O's last season, it is understandable why the Orioles would be hesitant to let him go since he was a proven reliable option in the rotation at the end of last season.
Outside of Voth, Keegan Akin and Cionel Perez have also struggled which has left the O's with one reliable lefty in the bullpen. Akin struggled to finish 2022 but has pitched to a 8.31 ERA in six appearances this season. Fortunately, it seems that bad luck has been a large factor as he has an impressive 1.55 FIP and has not walked any batter nor given up a homer early in the season. However, if the struggles continue for Akin then he could be optioned to make room for a more reliable lefty. After an impressive 2022 season, regression seemed to be likely for Cionel Perez and so far it seems that has occurred.
In six appearances, Perez has a 5.40 ERA but, similar to Akin, it seems that luck has not been on his side as he has a 1.74 FIP while walking only one batter and not giving up a homer so far. Perez is an arm that the O's have shown a lot of confidence in as he has pitched the eighth inning of close games several times. For Akin and Perez, if luck starts turning in their favor then they are reliable lefty options for the O's and should stick around.
The bullpen has also been taxed early in the season due to short outings from O's starters. Both Irvin and Dean Kremer had disappointingly short starts in the Oakland series which caused the bullpen to be overworked. For the Chicago series, Keegan Akin was placed on the paternity list as his wife is expecting in the next couple of days. In a corresponding move, Yennier Cano was recalled to fill his spot for the weekend. Cano had an 18.69 ERA in three appearances for the O's last year after being acquired from the Twins in the Jorge Lopez trade. Cano is a righty which means Perez and Danny Couloumbe are the only lefties currently available in the pen. Outside of Cano, the O's have two options currently in Norfolk who seem ready for a big league promotion in Joey Krehbiel and Nick Vespi.
Both players spent meaningful time in Baltimore last year and pitched successfully. In four appearances in Norfolk this season, Krehbiel has not allowed a run and has pitched to a 0.75 WHIP and has accumulated two saves as he has dominated Triple-A hitting. He pitched in 56 games with the Orioles last year to a 3.90 ERA. With Voth struggling as much as he has, Joey seems to be the perfect candidate to come back to Camden Yards and help the O's bullpen at least until Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate return from injuries. Vespi leads the Tides with five appearances this season and has pitched to a 3.38 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 5.1 innings. Nick has allowed a few more base hits than he would like but he is another lefty option in the O's organization if Akin and/or Perez continue their struggles.
2. Ryan Mountcastle is Set for a Breakout Season
After an absurdly dominant series, Mountcastle has a 158 OPS+ and leads Major League Baseball in home runs and runs batted in. Mounty hit four homers during the series and tied a franchise record with nine RBIs on Tuesday night en route to a 12-8 win. Ryan has had success at the plate throughout his professional career and has been the Orioles' everyday first baseman since Trey Mancini was traded last summer and is set to hold that role for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, Mountcastle hit two home runs including a mammoth grand slam in the seventh inning which left the ballpark in a hurry. Since this is the first full season in his career where he will not have to share time at first base with Mancini, Mounty is set to have a breakout season and emerge as the O's first baseman of the future if he can replicate the success he had in this series.
One aspect of Mountcastle's game that draws concern is his lack of walks. Despite his offensive success, he currently has a suboptimal .293 on-base percentage as he has drawn only three walks in 58 plate appearances. This obviously is not that big of an issue when he is mashing monster home runs but when he does enter into a slump the lack of ability to draw a walk could make things even more difficult for him. He also chases pitches outside of the strike zone more than 96% of all the other hitters in baseball which has led to a high strikeout rate. When he does make contact though, he is simply one of the best power hitters in the sport so far this season.
According to Baseball Savant, Ryan is in the 85th percentile or higher in each of these categories: max exit velocity, average exit velocity, expected weighted on base average (xwOBA), barrel %, expected batting average (xBA), hard hit %, expected slugging percentage (xSLG), and outs above average. Essentially, in an extremely small sample size, Mounty has mashed. This is not a fluke, either. In 2022, Mountcastle ranked in the 80th percentile or better in each of the categories listed above for a full season. If Ryan can continue to dominate pitchers to this extent, he could be in store for his first All-Star Game appearance and other potential accolades.
3. The Offense Has a Balanced Attack
As I mentioned above, Ryan Mountcastle has dominated opposing pitchers this season. This domination, along with improvements from Austin Hays and Jorge Mateo, and Adley's improved ability to hit from the right side has given the Orioles a strong offensive attack against both right handed and left handed pitchers. The O's struggled as a team against southpaws last year but had a strong series against three left-handed starters thanks to the above mentioned players.
Rutschman hit a rare homer from the right side on Monday and a walkoff homer from the left side Thursday. Along with Mountcastle, Hays is also having a strong start to the season with a 175 OPS+ and a .340/.380/.638 in 13 games. Hays has been equally successful against righties and lefties this season but had one of his best games of the season Tuesday night when he hit 4-for-5 with a homer but was completely overshadowed by Mounty's historic performance. Over the four-game series, Austin went 9-for-17 with a homer and 3 RBIs.
With Hays and Mountcastle having strong starts to the season, the Orioles should be much improved against southpaws this season. Of course, when facing left-handed starters, the Orioles have nine solid options in the lineup which should help in an AL East where lefty starters have dominated. Against righties, the Orioles have guys who can mash those pitchers in Cedric Mullins, Rutschman, Anthony Santander, Adam Frazier, and Gunnar Henderson.
All in all, this series proved that the Orioles have a strong offense and should have a successful season against pitchers from both sides of the mound. With the strong offense, once the pitching and defense return to the success they had in 2022, the Orioles have the opportunity to be one of the best teams in the American League and compete for a Postseason spot. Hopefully the Tampa Bay Rays eventually lose a game so the Orioles can have a hope of competing for their first division championship since 2014.