Perspective | These Orioles are a threat to win everything that’s out there


BALTIMORE — Gunnar Henderson’s last contribution to the Baltimore Orioles’ absolutely thorough 11-3 beatdown of the Boston Red Sox on Monday was sliding across the plate, scoring the first run in what became a four-run seventh inning. After that, Manager Brandon Hyde decided his shortstop was done for the day. It’s a long season. The best players, even if they’re a month shy of their 23rd birthday, deserve a few innings off during a holiday blowout. Enjoy a burger and a beer, kid.

The Orioles are a threat to win anything that’s in front of them, and Henderson is the best player on a roster that is a rare combination of young, deep, talented and poised. But it’s also a measure of the Orioles’ strength that their best players don’t have to be their best players for them to have success. Henderson and Adley Rutschman, their linchpin of a catcher, didn’t contribute in the Orioles’ biggest innings Monday and went a collective 1 for 7. The rest of the lineup shrugged it off.

“That was, for me, one of our most complete offensive games of the year,” Hyde said after his team’s fifth win in a row, a win that kept the Orioles within reach of the first-place New York Yankees as Memorial Day passed and the summer loomed beyond.

Baltimore (34-18) produced one of its most complete offensive games of the year because Baltimore has a pretty complete offense. Henderson entered play Monday trailing only Houston’s Kyle Tucker with 17 home runs, and he presents a challenge when Hyde bats him leadoff, as he has in all but two games this season, what with his .939 OPS that is among the best in baseball. But the Orioles have a dangerous offense not only because they have an MVP candidate atop the lineup. They have a dangerous lineup because they can pop from almost any spot.

“That’s one of our main strengths,” said Ryan O’Hearn, the designated hitter who most often bats third when he starts, behind Henderson and Rutschman. “It’s not just one or two guys with all the RBIs. Everybody picks each other up. If two or three guys have an off night, it seems like everybody contributes in some fashion.”

There’s balance here, and that promises more fun throughout the summer. Henderson is one of eight Orioles with at least six home runs. Even when they don’t go deep, they can be lethal. Monday’s 13-hit attack included six doubles and Cedric Mullins’s triple. By the end of the afternoon, the Orioles had a .439 slugging percentage, best in the majors.

“It’s fun to play with all these guys, guys with so much talent,” Henderson said. “It’s such an opportunity, and we don’t take it for granted.”

That’s the way to approach the summer that stretches ahead. Treasure this time, Baltimore. It was only three short summers ago that your O’s lost 110 games. Yes, that flipped to a 101-win 2023 that yielded an American League East crown. But this is still very much the ascent, and there’s a freshness to it all.

Put another way: There were days not far in the past when a crowd of 40,951 at Camden Yards would have been mostly Red Sox fans, all too happy to take the place over and then watch the home team get beaten down. Or the crowd wouldn’t have been there at all.

“I remember being here as a visiting player thinking it was one of the more low-stress places in baseball to play,” O’Hearn said. “There was nobody here. It was quiet.”

On Monday, when Kyle Stowers drove a two-run double in the fourth, then Mullins followed with a two-run triple, the orange and black in the stands let the overmatched Red Sox fans know whose house this is. Where better for a Baltimorean to spend Memorial Day? Shoot, things are so different that the owner — David Rubenstein, the new guy — was cheered as he made his way to his seats before the game.

“I think really the second half of last year that you saw a big-time switch when we played some of the AL East teams,” Hyde said. “How much more Orioles fans are in the seats — and you can hear them. And they were loud today.”

This is what anticipation — what a team that has both arrived and is still on the rise — feels like. In that sense, roster construction matters. There isn’t a big-ticket free agent around whom the Orioles’ universe orbits. Rutschman is the marquee No. 1 draft pick from just five years ago, and there are elite prospects up and down the roster. But at this point in their development, there’s a lunch-pailness about them that is enormously appealing.

“So much talent,” O’Hearn said, “but such good people.”

The way the Orioles are assembled is simultaneously brilliant, cheap and difficult to replicate. The lineup Monday consisted of seven players drafted and developed by Baltimore, five since General Manager Mike Elias and his brainy front office arrived after the 2018 season. The other three came in minor but shrewd moves: O’Hearn was purchased from Kansas City before the 2023 season; Jorge Mateo, the second baseman with the range of an elite shortstop, was a waiver claim in 2021 from San Diego; and Cole Irvin, the big lefty who threw five scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.84, came in what seemed like a minor trade with Oakland before 2023.

Total cost of that lineup: just more than $20 million, with five players — Henderson, Rutschman, third baseman Jordan Westburg, left fielder Colton Cowser and right fielder Stowers — making less than $1 million this season. The Orioles’ most expensive players: Corbin Burnes, the ace they traded for this offseason who is earning $15.6 million in his final arbitration year before free agency, and Craig Kimbrel, the closer making $12 million in 2024.

That’s not a model that can be repeated year after year. As the young Orioles gain more service time, they will earn more money through arbitration. Payroll will grow naturally. The days of competing on a $100 million payroll are short-lived.

But for now, the team with baseball’s fourth-best record has its fifth-lowest payroll. And the conversations about whom to extend and whom to let walk haven’t even bubbled up yet. Don’t sleep on that, O’s fans. It’s pure bliss now, and it doesn’t always last.

“It’s been life-changing for me to come over to this team and be a part of it,” O’Hearn said. “Last year was incredible, and it seems like this year is right on par with that. When you play with the guys in this clubhouse, it’s hard not to smile every day when you show up to work, ready to go.”

Every day, the Orioles are ready to win a game. What a summer awaits. And who knows beyond that?

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