Something more than just the second quarter of the season began this week for the Orioles, something that demonstrates as well as anything not only how far the bar has been raised but shows that, truly, we are beyond considering what a 40-game span to start a season even means.

Wednesday’s win, spurred by star catcher Adley Rutschman’s walk-off home run in the ninth, began their third season with the All-Star backstop and franchise cornerstone on the roster. He was recalled and debuted on May 21, 2022, and he and the Orioles have completed two 162-game spans since then.

This is the floor in the era of Rutschman: a really good team with all kinds of upside, and every benchmark they hit in the season is only a confirmation of that.

The third such span began with Rutschman continuing his recent hot streak, with four home runs in his last five games. In the first 162 games, the Orioles went 93-69. The second full season with him on the roster, which featured a division title and playoff appearance at season’s end, boasted a 101-61 record, matching the club’s 2023 season mark.

Taken together, the Orioles have won 59.9% of their games since recalling Rutschman. If anything can make a 27-14 start to the season seem ordinary, it’s that. This is simply what the Adley Rutschman-era Orioles are, and if we’re to take anything away from the start to 2024, it’s how they do it. Someone is always hitting at an elite level and often isn’t alone. Most nights, they play defense as well as anyone. And they’ve added to that a pitching staff that’s even better than last year.

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So, across any time period, the takeaway is the same: Over two years, almost two months, a quarter of the season or eight quarters, this is the type of team that can win everything in front of it, and both we on the outside and the decision-makers on the inside need to treat it as such.

It goes without saying that Rutschman has been the Orioles’ best qualified hitter during that span, entering Wednesday’s game with an .812 OPS and 132 wRC+, which ranked 28th and 19th, respectively, out of the 111 big leaguers with at least 1,000 plate appearances since his debut. He’s both a floor raiser — he’s demonstrated throughout his career that teams he’s on win, and win often — and a ceiling raiser, because having an elite offensive threat at a premium defensive position like catcher is an undeniable advantage from a roster-construction standpoint.

Yet the team’s success is about more than just him. Gunnar Henderson is going to be in the conversation for MVP this year, Jordan Westburg has made a major leap in his sophomore season, and their cohort of middle-of-the-order sluggers (Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and Ryan O’Hearn) is among the league’s most imposing.

Corbin Burnes has elevated a pitching staff that is among the game’s best. They entered Thursday’s off day a half-game behind the first-place Yankees but tied with them for the second-best winning percentage (.659) in baseball.

“How consistent we’ve been so far, I’m really, really happy with,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “The defense we’ve played, I’m ecstatic about our pitching, what our rotation has done. Our bullpen has done a great job. Like last year and the year before, we play a ton of close games and we’re winning more times than not. I think we have the ability to improve, also, and get better. So, up until this point, I’m really happy with how the season has gone.”

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That ability to improve will be the focus of the next quarter, the next year of Rutschman. In any time period really, it is going to be the only thing worth monitoring for this team. After all, the Toronto club that just left Camden Yards is now almost entirely through the contending window with its homegrown core of stars with nothing to show for it. The Blue Jays spent and tried to improve, but they have as many playoff wins in the last eight years as an Orioles team that was bad for six of them: zero.

The Orioles, at least, have many paths to improvement. In the near term, they can land on a productive outfield. Cedric Mullins’ slump is concerning, as is Austin Hays’ injury-hampered start to the season. Colton Cowser has cooled off, and Kyle Stowers is now up to replace Heston Kjerstad as the slugging bench outfielder. There are certainly enough talent and options in that group to find a solution that extends the lineup.

Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) gets ready for his first at-bat during game three of a series against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards on April 17, 2024. The Orioles won Wednesday, 4-2, to sweep the series against the Twins.
Baseball Reference says Rutschman has been worth 11.6 wins above replacement in his first two full seasons. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Similarly, there’s enough pitching in this organization that the back end of the bullpen should sort itself out somehow. Craig Kimbrel will likely be reinstated to the ninth inning before long, but with so many useful arms in the bullpen — to say nothing of the emerging talent at Triple-A — the Orioles won’t be lacking options.

When the next quarter of the season finishes in late June and they’re at the halfway point, their true needs will become clear. More often than not, their goal ahead of the trade deadline will feel like either sharpening a strength or filling a minor hole — all with the objective of having the best team as possible come the postseason.

That’s what happens when you spend two seasons winning six out of 10 games you play. This is the floor in the era of Rutschman: a really good team with all kinds of upside, and every benchmark they hit in the season is only a confirmation of that.