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Who are the biggest culprits in the recent Orioles offensive freeze?

Despite Wednesday night’s welcome awakening, the Birds haven’t been hitting lately.

Cincinnati Reds v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

While the Earth saw record-breaking temperatures in June, one thing stuck in a deep freeze was the Baltimore Orioles offense. Despite the top prospect call-ups and copious All-Star selections, it’s been a rough two weeks for this team. They’ve lost eight of their last 13 games, and slashed a weak .214/.293/.336 in that stretch. Minus one 10-run beatdown against Cincinnati, they’re averaging just 2.3 runs/game over their last two weeks, and their 76 wRC+ (weighted runs created) ranks 26th of all thirty teams (down from seventh in April and tenth in May). For a team this talented to experience such a swoon, a lot has to go wrong at once.

One place to look for blame is the quality of the opposing pitchers, but it doesn’t quite hold water in this case. Since mid-June, the Orioles have faced some great arms—Minnesota’s Bailey Ober or Cincinnati’s sensational rookie Andrew Abbott. But for every one of these, there were a bunch of average starters the Orioles made look good: Jameson Taillon (CHC) (6.93 ERA this year) Brandon Williamson (CIN) (5.82), Luke Weaver (CIN) (6.96), or Domingo Germán (4.52). Overall, the 16 starters the Orioles faced in this period average out to 1.03 WAR each, pretty much exactly average.

So what has been dragging down the team’s hitting of late? Well, who is more the question. Here are a few of the culprits, vaguely in order from most to least obvious:

Anthony Bemboom – The now-DFA’d Bemboom was a good pitch-caller, but he proved an offensive black hole. With backup catcher James McCann on the IL, Bemboom appeared in four games during the O’s cold stretch, going 2-for-9 with one walk and no extra-base hits.

Jorge Mateo – He’s hitting an incredible (not in a good way) .056 over the last two weeks, with one hit in 22 plate appearances. Mateo hit .347 in April, but hasn’t topped .196 since. What fell off the table was his ability to hit everything but fastballs. Pitchers figured this out quickly: he saw 27% breaking pitches in April, but 39% in June and 55% in July. Mateo remained the Orioles’ regular shortstop for all of June, but now, with Jordan Westburg around, we might expect him to lose playing time to Gunnar Henderson. His inability to put it together at the plate is a bummer.

Aaron Hicks – The Yankees may be a villainous empire, but they aren’t idiots: after seeing the 33-year-old Hicks for eight seasons, they probably knew what they had in him. So while the recently-DFA’d switch-hitter started his Orioles career a sizzling 18-for-53 with a 1.048 OPS, over the last 14 days he’s hitting just .147. For Hicks, it seems like the canary in the coal mine is how he’s hitting offspeed pitches: in his disastrous last month with NYY, his average exit velocity on offspeed stuff was a piddling 57.3 mph. In his hot June with Baltimore, it jumped up to 83.3 mph. And in his lately cold July, it’s down to 72.5 mph, even as he hits fastballs well. For what it’s worth, his BABIP in that stretch is also just .150, suggesting some bad luck. Hicks is capable of outplaying this floor, but with Mullins back in the saddle and Colton Cowser now a part of this team, his role might be more abbreviated going forward.

Ramón Urías – Urías missed time in May with a hamstring injury. This injury, or the lack of consistent playing time, have hurt him of late. Since June 16, Urías is 9-for-42 (.214) with just four extra-base hits. On the one hand, he is already looking better in July (3-for-9 with two doubles). On the other, he’s utterly failing to hit left handers, just .191 against them, and these splits, while exaggerated, are pretty typical for him in his career. That fact, combined with the growing logjam of Orioles infield prospects, could consign the 2022 Gold Glover to a platoon role going forward.

Ryan O’Hearn – The reclamation project from Kansas City continues to perform well in a replacement role for Ryan Mountcastle, supplying plenty of power and striking out (slightly) less. But he’s definitely been streaky, and over the last two weeks, his numbers were surprisingly bad: a .171 average and a .437 OPS (!). Like Jorge Mateo, O’Hearn is seeing more breaking balls lately than any other pitch. Unlike Mateo, O’Hearn is heating up at the right time, with 4 hits in 12 plate appearances in this latest series against New York, including a two-run home run last night.

Cedric Mullins – Mullins missed most of July with a groin strain. Through no fault of his own, he’s struggled in his return, with a .143 average and zero extra-base hits in his first 10 games off the IL. But—hopeful sign—he had two doubles against the Yankees last night. Mullins should get plenty of space to get his rhythm back.

Austin Hays – It seems implausible, as Hays continues to top AL leaderboards in average and just earned his first All-Star selection, that he’s had a slump of any kind this year. But while he’s averaging .312 on the season, in the last 14 days he’s hitting just .206. Still, his peripheral numbers (exit velocity, barrel, hard hit percentage, etc.) remain good, and his BABIP during this slump is unusually low, so there’s reason to think a healthy Hays will course-correct and continue to hit at a high level.

Now, to wrap this up, some thoughts on which players are not to blame for the team’s offensive struggles.

For one, the precocious Jordan Westburg is 7-for-23 in just a little more than a week since he arrived. Anthony Santander is OPS’ing .809 in the last two weeks. Adam Frazier, whom Birdland has loved to hate, then loved, then loved to hate again, has actually been hitting fine, with a .250 average, .379 OBP and .879 OPS over the last 14 days.

Surprisingly, Ryan McKenna, demoted on Wednesday to Triple-A for the first time since May 2022, was hitting just fine over the last two weeks (3-for-8). He just wasn’t getting regular playing time, and the crunch is not his fault.

Meanwhile, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson both saw their numbers dip in the last two weeks, but that meant, respectively, a .625 and .726 OPS. You could do worse. Plus both seem to be on the upswing in July.

It’s good to see the Orioles, in the thick of a pennant race, being aggressive in their lineup construction, with Westburg and Cowser newly called up to deliver more offensive punch out of the infield. As the dog days of summer approach, we should hope the hitting freeze will continue to thaw.