What a week, man. What a week.
It’s funny, because there have been countless moments this season where it looked like this version of the Orioles just didn’t have the mystic mojo compared to its recent counterparts.
At times it was needed, the patented “Orioles Magic” that has shrouded the O’s since 2012, seemed to be all used up. The miraculous has often distracted us from the Orioles’ perpetual self-imposed roster miscalculations, and while that’s been fine and good, this brand of Orioles baseball came across as the baseball god’s attempt to repo their recent blessings.
As WJZ’s Mark Viviano would say, it’s a #LongSeason.
Having won seven-consecutive ballgames and nine of their last 10, the Orioles aren’t out of any playoff race, no matter what their outward appearance might suggest. This recent surge has the Orioles only a single game behind the Twins for the second Wild Card position, and only 2.5 games behind the Yankees for the honor of hosting the play-in game.
On August 22, the O’s were 5.5 games behind five teams for the second Wild Card slot. Refer to Viv.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Orioles’ rising stock has been the dividends paid by the offense. During the month of August, the Orioles lead all of baseball with a 128 wRC+, lest we forget a league-high .225 ISO in that same timeframe. Getting back to their roots, the Orioles are proving to be a trunk tough to budge.
Of course Tim Beckham becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer and Manny Machado hitting like Manny Machado are the two more obvious reasons, but let us not forget that 220 pounds of tenderized Dominican beef.
Welington Castillo, after a June that smelled of expected regression, has proven that his 57 wRC+ that month was nothing more than a momentary lapse. With a second-half slash of .359/.394/.620 disguised as a 168 wRC+, Castillo’s 1.014 OPS is the 12th-highest post-break mark among hitters with at least 90 plate appearances. Like he did in the first-half, Castillo is back to peppering singles and knocking home runs, where the Orioles now have thunder down in the order after the lightning before him.
In August, Castillo’s 166 wRC+ has been the cause of recording a base hit in 14 of 17 baseball games. He’s been really, really good at a rate and longevity he’s hardly ever been before, and it has much to do with the way pitchers have approached him.
I did a piece on Castillo earlier in the year, just discussing how much I love his swing. Where his cut hasn’t evolved over the years, Castillo has seen more pitches over the plate compared to a season ago, and he’s distributing the baseball more evenly to all fields, too. It’s been a perfect storm for a player who’s become a tougher out.
This swing is built to react on the inner-half with ease, as he’s doesn’t need to over-swing because how natural his power is. Castillo is also designed to pay for mistakes over the inner-half of the plate, yet, he’s seen an absurd amount of pitches in his power zone.
The month of August, his most fruitful span of games, has been fueled by a lot of stuff to his pull side. If even the most average of big league hitters are able to cut the strike zone in half, good things are going to happen. Gift a guy like Castillo whose swing is short and to the point pitches where his swing path inherently trails, and bad things are going to happen to you.
Bad things are happening to pitchers, and the question has to be why catchers are crouching towards Castillo and not away from him. In the first-half of baseball, Castillo was attacked the way a hitter such as himself should be.
Castillo is a rather stiff hitter, that meaning his beefy frame isn’t well adept at covering pitches off the boundary of his immediate radius. In other words, he’s just not really bendy. To start the year, pitchers did well to repeat the strategy of working away, and for the most part, Castillo was an average-to-less-than hitter (87 wRC+).
As baseball has transitioned into the late summer, Castillo has been the beneficiary of a changed policy, and he’s been more than happy to legislate. After going 4-4 with two singles, a double and a home run (all to left field) in yesterday’s win, you start to wonder how a hitter can continue such a torrent pace. Regardless of Castillo seeing more slow stuff as the second-half has continued, he’s still managed to hit, and I don’t think it’s crazy to think it has some to do with his shift down in the lineup.
Not including yesterday, Castillo’s 14-game August sample of batting eighth in the batting order has yielded a 157 wRC+ with a strikeout rate below his career average. If you factor in that guys like Beckham, Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini are all hitting with plus-numbers, while Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo still hold a slight advantage in the intimidation factor, and it becomes a very tough lineup to maneuver with landmines spread throughout.
Castillo may be benefitting from pitchers having to be perfect against baseball’s best offense at the moment, and it makes you wonder how many mistakes Castillo has benefitted from caused by the opposition’s need to be perfect. It was a very underrated move by Buck Showalter to add some boom towards the latter-half of the order.
Whatever the reason is for Castillo hitting like Gary Sanchez, it’s pretty obvious pitchers shouldn’t miss inside.
This Beef likes to moo in left field.