[Baltimore Sun] Orioles searching for answers to improve hitting with runners in scoring position

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Jordan Westburg bounced a double off the towering left field wall in the sixth inning Wednesday night. It finally awoke a Camden Yards crowd that had been dormant until then, but did little to spark the Orioles’ stagnant offense.

Austin Hays and Jorge Mateo, right-handed hitters in to face Chicago Cubs lefty starter Shota Imanaga, struck out to end the frame. And with the second baseman’s swing and miss, there went one of Baltimore’s best chances to cut into its deficit.

The Orioles finished Wednesday’s 4-0 defeat, the first time they were shutout in over two months, going 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base. They’re 12-for-68 with runners in scoring position over their past eight games.

Struggles in those situations have doomed the Orioles’ offense over the past week, a stretch that’s shrunk their American League East lead entering a pivotal weekend series against the second-place New York Yankees. It might harm them even more in the second half.

“At times, we’re getting a little too big and trying to get the big hit,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think it’s going to turn around for us. We’ve just got to relax a little bit.”

Baltimore has gone 4-4 and been outscored by 17 over that sluggish stretch. The Orioles’ batting average with runners in scoring position in those games is .176; the Chicago White Sox rank last in MLB this season with a .212 average in those situations.

Chances to break that skid were plentiful Wednesday. Adley Rutschman reached second base in the first inning but was stranded when Westburg struck out. There was Hays’ leadoff double that amounted to nothing in the second. Neither Gunnar Henderson nor Rutschman could score James McCann after his two-out ground-rule double in the fifth.

Rutschman struck out looking on the first pitch after play resumed following a 19-minute rain delay, and Ryan Mountcastle — who went 3-for-4 in the loss — popped out to keep McCann at second in the seventh. Baltimore finished with nine hits. None came with a runner on second or third.

It’s the first time the Orioles stranded at least 10 runners and didn’t score a run since July 24, 2022. They’ve scored an average of just 3.5 runs per game over their past 11 contests, well below their MLB-leading season average of 5.12.

“I think at times, subconsciously, we haven’t come through like we need to,” McCann said. “It’s probably trying to do too much at times.”

The Orioles went 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s blowout loss in Oakland. They went 2-for-10 and 0-for-7 in the two previous games, a series-opening win over the Athletics and a four-run defeat in Seattle.

Baltimore is near the middle of the league with runners in scoring position this season. The Orioles’ 192 hits and .259 average entering Wednesday are 15th and 14th in MLB, respectively, but they trail some teams that are out of the current playoff picture.

Last season was a different story, as the Orioles led MLB with a .287 average and .837 OPS with runners in scoring position. What changed?

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“Nothing,” Hyde said. “It’s just a little bit of a stretch we’re in right now. I think we’ve been really good all year. It’s just maybe on the road trip and first couple games, we just haven’t drove them in. But for the most part, we’ve been pretty good.”

The Orioles (57-35) are still on pace to match last season’s win total and are leading the division despite much worse situational hitting. They’ve overcome that by slugging more home runs — the Orioles’ 147 homers entering Wednesday lead MLB by a wide margin and have them on pace to set a franchise record. They’ve hit 31 home runs with runners in scoring position this year, second most in the AL.

But the past week has been the product of when those big swings don’t come. The Orioles mashed in June. In July, they’re still searching.

“It’s the ups and downs of the season,” McCann said. “You don’t want to dive too far in, this offense has been really good for an extended period of time. So, yeah, it’s something that we obviously know.”

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