Cedric Mullins is the veteran centerpiece for the young Orioles squad, but injuries have plagued his season in a year that Baltimore has the chance to get over the hump.
The center fielder was drafted with the 403rd overall selection in 2015. A year later, Baltimore made its latest playoff appearance. An American League Wild Card loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016.
Two years later, and three years after being drafted, Mullins made his debut with the Orioles.
Now, in his sixth season, Mullins has become widely known as one of the premiere leadoff center fielders in the league and the backbone of the Orioles throughout a rebuilding process.
Earlier this year, the 28-year-old was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain and recently was re-added to the 10-day injured list with a right adductor groin strain, retroactive to July 16.
“It feels like it’s getting really close,” Mullins said before finding himself back on the injured list. “Moments like this, I think especially if it’s near that same area, you have a stack of days where it just doesn’t want to improve to the rate that you want it to. But continuing to try to be smart every day, continuing to do everything I can, to stay hydrated, taking the necessary supplements, iron, and stuff like that, just to try to get the body going and see where I’m at day by day.”
The Orioles are 42-22 when he starts and 15-15 when he does not. Mullins is currently hitting .259 with nine homers, 47 RBI and 14 stolen bases. In his first absence, the Orioles went 11-9 and are currently one game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. So far into Mullins’ second injury stint, Baltimore is 2-2.
After their 8-5 win over the National League West first-place Dodgers on Wednesday, the O’s were tied with the Rays for first place in the AL East.
Three of the next four series could heavily impact the AL East race.
The Orioles are set to travel for a four-game series against the Rays and potentially earn sole possession of first place in their division for the first time post-All-Star break since Aug. 12, 2016, and the last time they stood atop the AL East after April was May 20, 2017.
Following their trip to Tampa and a three-game series in Philly, Baltimore faces the Yankees and Blue Jays.
The three-game series at Camden Yards against the Yankees, lacking their MLBbro phenom Aaron Judge, is an opportunity to further bury the Bronx Bombers, who are in sole possession of last in the division through 95 games for the first time since 1990.
The following four-game series in Toronto is crucial to keep the surging Blue Jays, just 5.5 games out of first place, off their back.
Mullins becomes available to return in the last game of the Phillies series on July 26, right before the Orioles head to Tropicana Field.
Placing Mullins on the injured list at this juncture reveals a strategic move that aims to provide him with additional time to rest.
This calculated decision acknowledges the significance of the upcoming series, which possesses the potential to shift the balance of momentum in the race for Baltimore’s first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason win since 2014, where the Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series.
Before the 2012 AL Wild Card win over the Texas Rangers, the last O’s team to win a playoff game was led by MLBbro Jeffrey Hammonds, Cal Ripken Jr., and Mike Mussina in 1997, when they beat the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS.
However, the yearning for Baltimore’s return to the World Series stage has been a protracted affair, with the city anxiously awaiting the taste of a championship once again.
This ardent desire fuels the ambitions of both the burgeoning Orioles squad and Mullins himself. In 1983, the O’s won their third World Series title, led by MLBbros Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton.
With Mullins eager to make his return and progressing steadily, the Orioles can be hopeful that their lone 30-homer and 30-stolen-base performer will rejoin the lineup just in time to catalyze a pivotal divisional stretch, propelling them closer to their ultimate objective