The last time the Orioles started the season this well in 2016, they entered Opening Day with a veteran team and playoff expectations, then capitalized on a season-opening sweep by the Twins in 89 wins and a spot in the Wild Card Game. of the American League. The ’21 O’s are designed differently, their goals are more long-term in scope. But the first results? So far, flawless.
One weekend in, the Orioles are one of two undefeated teams in the American League (along with the Astros) after strangling the Red Sox, 11-3, in an Easter Sunday loss at Fenway Park. With an initial double-digit lead behind a seven-run third inning, Baltimore posted its first season-opening sweep since 2016 and its first sweep at Boston from Aug. 25-27, 2017.
“It was a really great weekend,” said winning pitcher Bruce Zimmermann. “It’s a huge confidence boost for this team, and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year. So this is just the beginning “.
The Orioles did it with contributions up and down the lineup, with Cedric Mullins’ five-hit game off top setting the pace for his 17-hit attack. Four O’s enjoyed a multi-hit game, and four drove in multiple runs in support of Zimmermann, the rookie left-hander who posted a solid six innings en route to his first major league win. Basking in cold conditions with Garrett Richards after two close victories, Baltimore outscored the Red Sox by 13 runs (18-5) in the three-game series despite missing a home run.
A weekend, of course, is not a season. But at the very least, the last three days in Boston provided optimism for a rebuilding club preparing to see signs of growth, whether in the arrival of more top prospects or further development of the building blocks already in place. home.
Let’s take a look at some major developments this weekend that could hint at more to come:
1. The top of the order is to click
Sunday’s victory was a team effort, as all but one of the Orioles starters recorded at least one hit and the top three hitters, Mullins, Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander, combined to 10. But the key was Mullins, who is 9 of 13 in the season following his day of 5 of 5. Consider the difference between that and two years ago, when Mullins started 6 of 59 and finished the season at Double-A Bowie.
Mullins’ nine hits are the most by an Oriole in the first three games. Billy Gardner (1957), Paul Blair (’75) and Brady Anderson (’97) shared the record of eight.
“He’s doing everything extremely well,” Hyde said.
Mullins, who reached base in all six plate appearances Sunday, scored the Orioles’ first five-hitter since Mancini on Sept. 24, 2019. Doubled and scored in first, doubled in second, singled. and scored in the third. Single back in fourth, walked in seventh and doubled and scored in ninth.
Mullins is the first Oriole, and sixth player since 1952, to record five hits, three doubles and at least one walk in a game. The last player? Indians wide receiver Kelly Shoppach against the Tigers on July 30, 2008.
“It’s relaxing, and I can go up there and stay focused on my at-bats,” Mullins said. “It is really important to stay locked in at this time.”
2. Launch holding
Bats weren’t the reason for the low expectations behind the Orioles heading into 2021. Most important was the pitching, specifically, a starting rotation that, even after the dust settled this spring, remained full of questions behind. from Opening Day opener John Medio. This weekend he masked almost all of them.
Means was simply masterful on Friday, the bullpen held the line behind Matt Harvey on Saturday and Zimmermann crossed Sunday in the second start of his career. Pitching a 10-run lead at times, Zimmermann struck out five against a walk, allowing little more than a solo home run by JD Martinez and an RBI double. The bullpen ran all weekend, combining to record 9 1/3 scoreless innings.
3. Fundamentally strong
Could these Orioles be better defensively than they have been in recent seasons? They struggled on the field all spring, and they weren’t a strong defensive team in 2019 or 20, with many young players and some playing out of position at times. Looking around the diamond this year, you see fewer holes, especially with Rio Ruiz drawing attention at second base instead of Yolmer Sánchez, the American League Gold Glove winner with the White Sox in ’19.
Mullins is an impact defender in the middle. Santander was a finalist for the American League Gold Glove last year on the right. Austin Hays, who left Sunday’s win with a right hamstring injury, allowed Hyde to protect Ryan Mountcastle from the Fenway Green Monster on the left all weekend. Mancini is back at his natural full-time first base position, and Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco provide solid veteran gloves on the left side. The O’s made only one mistake for the entire weekend and generally did not punish themselves as they had in the recent past.
“I think the synergy that we have as a team is really strong,” Mullins said. “We have been playing together for a few years and everything starts to fall into place. We have an idea of our style of play, how to keep our heads up regardless of whether they are succeeding or not. And it’s showing. “