MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It would seem the Baltimore Orioles have hit a bit of a wall, having dropped a pair of series to the Toronto Blue Jays (understandable) and one each to the Boston Red Sox (frustrating) and the Detroit Tigers (inexcusable) after reaching their high-water mark of 10 games over .500 at 71-61.

One of the many reasons baseball has long been the greatest game going is its long season – 162 games do not lie, and these Orioles have stood the baseball world on its ear with this wonderfully surprising season; and after this past weekend’s four-game split with the Houston Astros, they enter the final 10 games as one of two teams since 1900 to win at least 77 games one year after losing 110.

The Orioles now have 79 wins.

The final 10 will be a challenge, yet what part of this season has not been a challenge for Manager Brandon Hyde’s ballclub that entered the 2022 season with an over-under of 62.5 wins?

While I said in this space in April to take the over, I certainly was not expecting upper 70s and possibly a .500 record. Rather, I was truthfully thinking around 70, because I had and still have faith in this rebuild and was and remain excited by the many talented young players the Orioles are now producing.

The final 10 games begin tonight following the Birds’ split of the four-game home series with one of the very best teams going. No matter what players and managers will tell you, any team entering a four-game series against anybody will be quietly satisfied with a split. Yet after winning the first two games of the weekend in impressive fashion, the Orioles are certainly disappointed to have settled for a split, having been one strike away from a victory on Saturday and then having several opportunities to win on Sunday.

But that’s the way it usually goes with a young team at the near end of the grind. The last two Orioles losses were nothing more than young-team losses.

So, naturally, what follows will be another four-game series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Then it’s off to New York for three games against the Yankees, before returning home to close the season with a three-game series with Toronto.

Not only is the 162-game schedule brutally honest, so, too, is life in the American League East, so if the Orioles are going to somehow reach the postseason (and it doesn’t look promising), they will certainly earn it, and they will earn it with their youngest players as Hyde continues to preview the future with the rookies, maintaining the process of the rebuild, postseason chase or not.

Kyle Stowers has had his moments in the outfield and at the plate, as has infielder Terrin Vavra, yet both are still in the early stages of gaining big league experience. Vavra, in fact, has been playing more and more at second base as the season winds down, cutting into the playing time of veteran second baseman Rougned Odor as the Orioles continue to find out about the youngsters; yet Odor was in enough over the weekend to come through with big hits.

Odor became an instant fan favorite long before he came to Baltimore, as he famously punched Jose Bautista’s lights out a few years ago in Toronto. Bautista, of course, is anything but a fan favorite in Baltimore.

While Odor has struggled with his batting average this season, he continues to produce clutch moments with long home runs and big hits, including three in the just-completed weekend series. He also provides veteran leadership in the infield, particularly for the young Orioles pitchers. He’s been big for the club, and while it may frustrate Hyde not to be using him more down the stretch, the Orioles continue to stay true to the rebuild.

As for Adley Rutschman, the rookie catcher is everything he was advertised to be and more, having already become the Orioles’ best hitter and best player. So, too, is Gunnar Henderson the goods and he seems to have a spot secured on the left side of the Orioles infield for many years to come.

And don’t forget Jorge Mateo, who is just 27 and has played some of the best shortstop in baseball this season. He doesn’t hit for average, but he has some pop, great speed, is spectacular in the field and carries a rocket for a right arm. Very exciting player, as is Ryan Mountcastle, who has found his defensive home playing a very good first base.

The future is bright and the future is real because the future is here, as the club still somehow finds itself in the run for the postseason of the present with less than two weeks remaining in the season.

It doesn’t seem the odds are or will be in their favor, but, of course, these Orioles have been bucking the odds from the moment they ran onto the field on Opening Day way back on April 8.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT