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Individual performances a bright spot for struggling O’s

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One look at the Orioles record may generate a thought of “why bother watching these guys?” But Renato Nunez and a few others have kept things interesting in Baltimore.

Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the current state of the Orioles, focusing on the overall play of the team can be relatively depressing. In fact, the only reason to pay attention to wins and losses this year would be to see how close the Orioles are to “earning” another top pick in the MLB draft.

Watching your team lose is never fun. Andrea SK provided everyone with some tips last week on how to root for the Orioles right now. One of her suggestions was to “look for the silver linings.” Of course, this can be as broad as you’d like it to be. For me, the silver linings have come by way of individual performances.

The Orioles are not a good baseball team. Because of that, a lot of their losses come simply from being out-matched. Maybe the opposing team has a better starting pitcher on the mound, or maybe they’re facing a hot lineup. Lately, it seems like it might be a combination of the two. But a few Birds have been worth watching every night.

Of course, with a starter and nine batters guaranteed to play every night, it’s not that impressive if only one or two are worth talking about. But with expectations so low, those guys are a lot easier to appreciate.

The most obvious example stems from the bat of designated hitter Renato Nunez. From May 19-26, Nunez homered in six of eight games. Nunez, who had just seven home runs in his first 44 games, had hardly provided a sign that this onslaught was on its way, but that’s what made it so fun.

Nunez’s fourth consecutive blast against Colorado on May 25 provided that “oh my goodness, he’s done it again,” type of feeling. Even in a week filled with losses, Nunez provided a genuinely fun story. In a “who the heck are these guys” type of year, that’s about as good as it gets.

Over the last 14 days, Hanser Alberto has hit .372 while slugging .535. The pseudo-utility player has played five different positions this year if you count his one inning on the mound. The 26-year-old doesn’t hit for power, and rarely works a walk, but this lineup will take a guy hitting .302 any day of the week.

While his defense at third base leaves some to be desired, Alberto has been another fun player to watch. He’s under team control until 2023, and suddenly has the feeling of a guy that could be around for a while if he improves defensively and gains some more patience at the plate.

As Drew Bonifant wrote on Monday, Dylan Bundy is looking for more consistency on the mound. Bundy may have taken the loss last night against the Tigers, but he delivered a quality start and saved a highly taxed Orioles bullpen. Bundy has not allowed more than three runs in five May starts. He pitched efficiently last night, and made it through seven frames with less than 100 pitches.

Bundy, who came up just short of six full innings in his last two outings, seems to understand the importance of working deeper into games on this year’s club. With the bullpen overworked and in a general state of disarray, Bundy’s efforts have gone a long way. His ERA has dropped two full runs since his last start in April.

Some of you may be shrugging your shoulders, and would be quick to point out that there’s a good chance none of these players are on the next winning team in Baltimore. That may or may not be true, but I’d understand the sentiment. A large part of any rebuild depends on the development and play of prospects.

DJ Stewart earned himself a promotion to the Majors yesterday after a tremendous start at Norfolk. Stewart hit .316/.425/.586 for the Tides, and walked more times (29) than he struck out (27). Stewart responded to his promotion with three hits in his debut last night. Even with Mark Trumbo on his way back to Baltimore, Stewart may be here to stay.

Chance Sisco has hit .338/.438/.676 over his last 20 games at Norfolk, and could follow Stewarts path to Baltimore sometime soon. Grayson Rodriguez has been absolutely dominant (6-0, 1.47 ERA) at low-level Delmarva, and the minor league recaps have been a bit more enjoyable to peruse.

John Means has pitched well, Andrew Cashner already has more wins than last year, and Trey Mancini has rode his hot start to a potential All-Star bid. The Orioles could certainly still benefit from a few more players heating up, and until then, they’ll likely continue to struggle. But if guys like Nunez, Alberto and Bundy continue to play well, there will still be players worth keeping an eye on in Baltimore.