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The young Orioles are approaching a critical juncture

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After a surprising start, the Orioles now face some adversity. Can the club overcome injuries and hold serve against the basement of the AL East?

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Today is August 19, and the Orioles are above .500. The Birds have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, and they can beat any starting pitcher on any given night. They’re exceeding expectations, and receiving quality contributions from unlikely candidates.

Sure, it’s a small sample size. But everything is a small sample size this year. Every game that’s been played counts for something, and no one can take away Baltimore’s hard earned victories. Still, that makes the next week a crucial one for the O’s.

Baltimore’s hot start can be partially attributed to an offensive explosion that few saw coming. Anthony Santander is continuing to prove he was a steal in the Rule 5 draft, and Hanser Alberto has shown his batting average belongs above .300.

The club’s catching duo is thriving, with both Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino bringing something to the lineup. Renato Núñez is barreling up the ball, and Rio Ruiz looks the part of an everyday third baseman.

All of this led Tyler Young to ask the question, can the Orioles offense keep this up?

It’s a fair question, and one that will be answered over the next week.

Baltimore will need to do it without one of their hottest bats. José Iglesias has been the Orioles’ best hitter this season. One can make the case for Santander, but Iglesias’s .400 batting average is difficult to argue with.

The Orioles finally placed Iglesias on the injured list after watching the shortstop suffer from a nagging quad injury all season. Iglesias struggled to run out ground balls, and visibly labored through several games. O’s manager Brandon Hyde attempted to ease his pain with an occasional day off, but the injury lingered. The move is retroactive to Saturday, and the Orioles’ scheduled off day this Monday will help.

Nevertheless, how do you replace a guy that gets on base nearly every other at bat? The sad truth? You probably don’t.

Baltimore has used Andrew Velazquez and Pat Valaika at short, and the Orioles have summoned 26-year-old Ramon Urias to make his big league debut. I’m sure they will all try their best.

Iglesias arrived in Baltimore as a defensive wiz that managed to post strong numbers at the plate last season. His overachievement at the dish has been on par with the O’s record; what will his absence represent?

The Orioles must also do without starting center fielder Austin Hays. Unfortunately, while Iglesias impressed at the plate, Hays has done quite the opposite. Expectations were high for the former top prospect after he ended 2019 on a high note, but his .201/.276/.246 slash line has fallen short. The O’s sent Hays to the IL with a fractured rib four days ago.

While Hays had struggled, he appeared poised to break out at some point. It’s difficult to anticipate much pop from Cedric Mullins, who will replace Hays in center when Velazquez does not.

It’s been quite some time since Adam Jones encouraged Mullins to lead the team out of the dugout during his debut in 2018. Mullins went 3-4 in that game with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored. Baltimore could surely use that production now.

The O’s appear confident that Iglesias and Hays will be activated when, or shortly after, both are eligible. Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey could also join the club within the next two weeks, and there’s always the chance Ryan Mountcastle shows up.

Simply put, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The time off should help Iglesias, and Hays could get going once activated. Stranger things have already happened this season.

Still, a 60-game season places emphasis on every single game. After cooling off against the Nationals, the Orioles appeared utterly flat in the first game against Toronto. Every team will face a quiet night at the plate, but Baltimore cannot afford many right now.

The Orioles will finish up their three-game set against Toronto tonight before hosting the Red Sox. Neither of the two have played particularly inspiring baseball this year, and they currently occupy the two spots below Baltimore in the AL East. With the O’s facing a difficult schedule, they cannot let opportunities slip away. They simply must hold serve against teams below .500.

Several players on this team are due for a regression, and there are likely a few of those coming. There’s no telling how long the “Overachieving O’s” can stay in the win column. But we’re talking about the Orioles competing for a playoff spot a lot sooner than anyone around here anticipated. I don’t care what the situation is, I don’t care what projections say, everyone should enjoy this while it lasts.