Champions of the American League East division. Best in the entire American League. The Baltimore Orioles have won 101 games, and are into the playoffs with a bye. If you told any baseball fan at the start of the season that this scenario would play out, they would just laugh.
In a division that consists of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, the Orioles (O’s) have finished last or second last for the previous six years. Even with major improvements last year, no one could have anticipated this season’s spectacular campaign.
When head coach Brandon Hyde was offered the Orioles’ job in 2018, he consulted his mentor, manager Joe Maddon. Reminiscing about that time in an interview with MLB.com, Maddon recalled this piece of advice:
‘’Of course, you should take the job, and know that you are going to get your ass kicked. But you must take the job, because it’s a perfect opportunity to impart your thumbprint on this whole organisation.’’
That very next season, they lost 108 games. Nevertheless, Hyde has certainly ‘imparted his thumbprint’ on the franchise.
It is a testament to Hyde’s character, and that of general manager Mike Elias, that they have stood firm in the face of adversity. Slowly building their prospect farm through consecutively good draft positions, they now have one of the best in the league. This season’s success seems a little premature for their progress made behind the scenes, however.
No one in particular stands out. You could argue the number one prospect and rookie Gunnar Henderson has, after a slow start, lived up to his potential. Pitcher Kyle Bradish has been brilliant, finishing the season with an ERA (Earned Run Average) of 2.83, fourth best in the American and National League combined. Before his injury, Felix Bautista was the best closer in baseball.
However, these key pieces alone do not take a team to such heights. So how did this happen?
Simply put, the O’s are a team full of young talent, that has each other’s backs. When the offense stutters, the defence steps up, and vice versa. A tight knit unit that, as rookie pitcher DL Hall described to MLB.com, is ‘‘all a big family.’’
This team is consistent and reliable in high pressure situations. They have not been swept for 76 consecutive multi game series, which is the fourth longest streak in American League/ National League history. This dates back to May 2022, and is the longest active streak amongst all teams in Major League Baseball.
For a team with 101 wins however, their run differential is only +129. In comparison, the Rays have a differential of +195 and they finished 2 games behind the O’s. Whilst not prolific, the Orioles know how to win in tight contests. They will be relying on this resilience in the upcoming playoff run.
Troubles on and off the field, concerning the owners in particular, has left fans feeling alienated in recent years. Despite the continuing strained relations between fans and owners, this season has transformed the atmosphere at Camden Yards. Hyde and Elias can take a great deal of credit for this, corralling a young team into a group of serious contenders for the World Series.
Saturday we get playoff baseball in Baltimore for the first time in nine years pic.twitter.com/ZxFjkIKyC4
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 6, 2023
It has been a mere 3284 days since the O’s last hosted a playoff game at Camden Yards. The Orioles take on the Texas Rangers this Saturday. The Rangers are hot in form, having just knocked out the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wildcard round. As is the nature of the post season, with one series loss, all this season’s hard work could be for nothing. It is time to see what this team is really capable of.