Heading towards this weekend’s Division Series, Camden Chat writers will be looking at each of the winning months that got the Orioles to where they are right now. Yesterday: March and April. Today: May
Record: 16-12 (35-21 overall)
Injuries: Ramón Urías - hamstring strain (missed 15 games), Cedric Mullins - groin strain (missed 20 games), John Means - back muscle strain during Tommy John rehab (pushed potential return from July to September)
Worst loss: 5/23 walkoff loss to the Yankees. The O’s offense had done well against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, knocking him out after five innings and five runs scored. They handed a one-run lead to Félix Bautista in the ninth, but he gave up a game-tying bomb to Aaron Judge. New York won on a sac fly in the 10th.
Best win: 5/20 comeback win on the road in Toronto. Down three runs with two runners on and two outs in the eighth inning, Ryan O’Hearn smacks a game-tying homer. Bautista tosses two scoreless and strikes out five while Austin Hays knocks in the go-ahead run in the 10th for a huge in-division victory.
Best position player (fWAR): Anthony Santander, 1.5 WAR. He batted .337/.422/.634 in 27 games with seven home runs, 18 runs scored, and 22 RBI.
Best pitcher (fWAR): Yennier Cano, 0.7 WAR. Cano allowed just three earned runs over 18 innings of work. In that same time he struck out 18, walked only one, and kept the ball in the park all month long.
May was poised to be a real test of the Orioles’ standing in the sport. The schedule included a road series against the juggernaut Braves, plus the division rival Blue Jays and Yankees. Back at Camden Yards they would host the Rays, Rangers, and Guardians, all teams with a shot to win their respective divisions.
That first series against Tampa felt particularly huge. The Rays began the series up 5.5 games in the AL East, and then Shane McClanahan proceeded to toss six shutout innings and help beat the O’s 3-0 in game one. That made the lead 6.5 games, what would prove to be the largest gap in the division all season long.
But as would prove to be the case all summer long, these Orioles never gave up. They bounced back to win the next two games to take the series and keep the Rays within reach.
That kickstarted their longest win streak of the month: four games. It was compiled of two wins against the Rays and then two more against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the Pirates ended the season under .500, at the time they were vying for the NL Central lead after a strong start to the season.
The O’s would go cool to finish the month up. From May 23 through the end of the month they went 4-5 in a stretch against the Yankees, Rangers, and Guardians. To make it even worse, two other significant events happened in that same stretch: Grayson Rodriguez was demoted and Cedric Mullins went on the IL for the first time this season.
Rodriguez was lit up by the Rangers on May 26. Over 3.1 inning he allowed eight earned runs on six hits, three walks, and three home runs. His season ERA was up to 7.35, and a reset was seemingly needed. Hindsight being 20/20, that was a smart move.
Mullins pulled up lame with a groin injury while running out a grounder in a 5-0 loss to the Guardians on May 29. At the time, he had an .835 OPS and appeared to be closing in on the 2021 form that saw him make the all-star team. There was no question that this was going to hurt the Orioles.
The team had no obvious replacement as Colton Cowser and Kyle Stowers were also injured down in Triple-A. So they turned to the rather barren free agent market and added Aaron Hicks, the recently released outfielder known for his time in New York. Hicks started in center for the O’s on May 31, went 2-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored. That was just the beginning for what would prove to be a massive addition to this team.
Baltimore was closer to the middle of the pack on offense in May than they were in April. The 134 runs scored in 28 games were tied for 10th in MLB. They sat 12th with a 104 wRC+. And they were down in 14th with 31 home runs.
Santander led the team with seven home runs and a 191 wRC+, breaking out of his cold April. O’Hearn played in just nine games but made the most of it with a 153 wRC+. Other hot hitters were Adley Rutschman (143 wRC+), Mullins (141 wRC+), and Austin Hays (125 wRC+).
Jorge Mateo saw his numbers from April plummet in May, unfortunately an indication of what was to come. The shortstop hit .128/.165/.151 across 92 plate appearances, although he did still lead the team with five stolen bases. Ryan Mountcastle scuffled with a 91 wRC+, as did Urías with his 81 wRC+.
The pitching staff took a step back in May compared to April. The starters were one of the worst groups in baseball with a 4.38 ERA/4.86 FIP. However, much of that was attributed to the rookie Rodriguez, who struggled to an 11.14 ERA over 21 innings, earning the demotion that came his way. No other regular starter had an ERA over 3.86 in the month.
The bullpen saw their group ERA swell to 4.15 in the month, but at 1.2 fWAR they were still the 10th-most valuable bullpen in baseball. Cano continued his impressive season, although he did finally allow a run. Bautista struck out 29 batters in 13.1 innings of work. And Danny Coulombe kept on shoving, striking out 14 in 10 innings.
Mike Baumann had a tough month, particularly with the free passes. The righty walked eight across 14.1 innings. Mychal Givens returned from the IL but struggled, allowing five runs in just four innings. Cionel Pérez rated as the least valuable member of the bullpen in May with a 5.96 FIP and -0.2 fWAR. Credit to the Orioles for continuing to show faith in the southpaw as he became of the bullpen’s most important members late in the season.