They began the 2022 season by being swept at Tropicana Field, and were 2-6 after eight games. At the end of April they were 7-14. Same old Orioles. Except that would not turn out to be true.
Not even close.
By this point, even the harshest critics or those with misguided criticisms like “they’re still in last place” must realize the Baltimore Orioles are a greatly improved team and trending up big time. The organization’s rebuilding is bearing fruit with homegrown talent that's helping return the club to respectability, and more of that talent is on the way.
The Orioles got to the .500 mark (46-46) at the All-Star break with John Means, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall combining to make two first-half starts. Instead, pitchers that struggled last year like Spenser Watkins and Dean Kremer combined to make 20. Tyler Wells became a first-time starter and rookie Kyle Bradish started 10 times. Heck, even Austin Voth and his 10.13 ERA with the Nationals made five starts.
But still the Orioles turned their fortunes around.
As they hit the break, even after losing two of three to the Rays, they have won 11 of 13 games. They are 16-7 the last 23 and 22-11 in the past 33 games. Since May 1, the Orioles are 39-32. This has not just been a few weeks of winning, but more like a few months.
Adley Rutschman’s arrival signaled that the rebuild had taken another major step. No doubt he has been a big factor in some of the winning, and it’s probably no coincidence the team ERA is 2.85 the last 28 games. In that span, the O’s staff allowed two runs or less 15 times and they are 14-1 in those games. Yep, 14-1. For the year the club’s 3.94 ERA ranks seventh-best in the American League. No one expected that.
Here are a few other things that went right, just a partial list, from the first half.
The bullpen was amazing: The ‘pen ERA of 3.14 ranks fourth-best in the AL and fifth-best in MLB. Tremendous. The O’s bullpen has allowed one run or less 55 times. They have done that while throwing the fifth-most bullpen innings in the majors.
When the Orioles traded Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott to the Marlins on April 3, some grumbled that the team weakened its ‘pen just days before opening day. But instead what happened is the bullpen got better as the club opened up opportunities for others and also added the No. 67 draft pick, oh by the way.
A bullpen littered with waiver claims excelled and kept getting big outs later in the games. Jorge López, a failed starter, pitched to a 1.62 ERA, saved 17 games and made the All-Star team. Others thrived more than we had a right to expect, to include Félix Bautista and Cionel Pérez. Dillon Tate started to realize his potential, Joey Krehbiel was solid and got big outs and Keegan Akin has an ERA of 2.36 when in mid-August last year that was 8.13.
An O’s bullpen that once caused fan trepidation late in games now features several reliable options and solid choices for manager Brandon Hyde. At a time when bullpens are about as important as any unit on a team, the Orioles have one of the best in the sport.
The play versus the AL East: We could cite a lot of factors for the O’s improved play, but this cannot be ignored. The turnaround is stunning.
They won at a .263 percentage (20-56) in the division last season and are winning at a .432 clip (16-21) now. The Orioles won one game all of last year versus Tampa Bay, and this season they have won five of 12 games and two series of four.
Last year the clubs combined record versus Tampa Bay and Boston was 7-31. It is 10-10 this season.
And they are 5-5-1 in AL East series in 2022 after going 3-19-2 last season. That is a stunning difference. The club is 8-7 its last 15 AL East games this year and 12-10 the last 22. Just as the team got better through this year, so did its play within the division. The Orioles are 4-9 versus the Yankees and 12-12 versus the other three AL East clubs.
This team has guts: If you doubt this one, you surely have not been paying attention. All the walk-off wins and comebacks should have been your clue. Down two in the ninth to the Angels, they scored three runs with two outs and won on July 8 versus the Angels. They have two walk-off wins against the Yankees, two against the Rays, one against Boston and had three during their 10-game win streak.
The Orioles are 7-3 in extra-inning games and have won four in a row. They have played Tampa Bay three times this year where the game went extra innings. They are 3-0 in those games.
Yep, team with a ticker.
The Orioles are a close-knit team. One player told me recently this was true in the past, but the players this year seem to hang out more away from the ballpark than other clubs. Part of that was the pandemic making it more difficult in recent years, and those restrictions are gone now. But this team is close. They like and support each other.
We can stat or put an advanced stat on just about everything in baseball. But we can’t put a number on what this means to the 2022 Orioles, but it is significant and meaningful every night at 7 o’clock.
There were plenty of other things that went right in the first half (the unofficial first half since they’ve played 92 games). What would you add to the list? What challenges do they face moving forward, and can they stay in the playoff race?