MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

For the first time this season, the Baltimore Orioles have been enduring a pretty rough stretch, having lost six of their last 11 series. All of which has begun to bring some once-giddy Orioles fans back to earth and has made the traditional short memory of any sports fan even shorter.

Look, it’s a 162-game grind this Major League baseball season and every team is going to have rough stretches over that course, though I am beginning to wonder about the Tampa Bay Rays. Baseball games are usually lost, not won, and the Orioles have been doing their share of that recently with heads-up-their-arse defense (witness Yanks’ fourth run yesterday), not moving runners, leaving them stranded when they are in scoring position and exhibiting stretches of shaky middle relief.

For the most part, the bats have gone silent and they’re playing uncharacteristically sloppy defense. It seems as though someone is too ready for the All-Star break …

Again, this has been the first bad stretch of the season for the Orioles, and once they break out of it, it is not likely to be the last one. After all, the 1983 Orioles experienced two seven-game losing streaks and a six-game losing streak, yet still managed to win 93 games and the World Series.

The current Orioles are on pace to win 95 games, which helps explain why so many of their players have been finding themselves the subject of praise and kudos, including the four players who were named to the American League All-Star team.

Catcher Adley Rutschman, right-handed relievers Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano and outfielder Austin Hays will represent the Orioles next Tuesday in Seattle, marking the first time the Orioles have had four All-Stars in the same season since 2016, which, not coincidentally, was the Orioles’ last winning season. On top of that, Rutschman has been selected to take part in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

Only three teams received more All-Star selections than the Orioles did – the Atlanta Braves with eight, the Texas Rangers with six and the Los Angeles Dodgers with five. The Toronto Blue Jays also had four players selected.

Rutschman, of course, has been the domino player in the Orioles rebuild, as the club began to win consistently almost as soon as he arrived to the big leagues. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft and a former No. 1 prospect, Rutschman has been as good as advertised in becoming the Orioles’ straw that stirs the drink.

If Rutschman has been the Orioles’ most important position player, Bautista has been the club’s most important pitcher since almost immediately establishing himself last season as one of baseball’s best closers. He brings a 103 mph fastball which gets to the batter even faster as Bautista stands at 6-feet-8, 285 pounds.

Bautista, who has the best strikeout rate among all qualified big-league relievers, was pitching in low-A just two seasons ago.

Cano, who stands 6-4, 245 pounds, didn’t even break spring training in the major leagues. He was called up in mid-April at a time when the Orioles were in need of bullpen help (yes, they still are) and did not allow a run through his first 21 2/3 innings of work. He has shown a lights-out sinker, change and slider.

Hays enjoyed a distinguished and brief minor-league career in establishing himself as the organization’s top position player prospect. He got to the big leagues at 21 but spent the next five years battling various injuries. This season he has been fortunate to avoid injuries and has been one of the league’s best hitters, having always been a top-rate outfielder with a very strong arm.

He has been one of the few players to have endured the entire grueling rebuild of the organization and is now a Major League All-Star on a winning team.

That the American League is loaded with outstanding relievers and outfielders further distinguishes the selections of Cano and Hayes.

Rutschman not being voted as the AL starter (that would be the Rangers’ Jonah Heim, former Orioles prospect) could bring some familiarity on Tuesday, as he is likely to enter in the middle of the game and could be catching his teammates Cano and/or Bautista near the end of the game.

As for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lone selection, right-handed starter Mitch Keller is also a newcomer to the All-Star Game and is in the middle of a breakout season. If he gets on the mound in Seattle, he would join Gerrit Cole (2015) as the only Pirates starting pitchers to appear in the game since Denny Neagle in 1995.

Keller has been one of the most impressive starters I’ve seen this season. He works at a natural and aggressive pace and goes after hitters because his stuff is so good. He has complete-game stuff almost every time he goes out there, and he appears to be a future ace.

The Washington Nationals’ representative will be right-hander Josiah Gray, who has taken off for the Nats this season. At 25, he is the youngest All-Star pitcher for the Nationals since Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

More to come on the 2023 MLB All-Star Game, easily the best all-star game in professional sports, even though Major League Baseball seems intent on making it just as uneventful as the other ones have steadily become.

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