The wait is almost over for the Orioles. A young team that went from losing 110 games in 2021 to winning 101 this year. Their first playoff game is set for 1:03 p.m. on Saturday at Oriole Park when they host the Texas Rangers to start the American League Division Series.
O’s catcher Adley Rutschman played his first big league game on May 21, 2022. Before too long, both last year and this year, other young players from the O’s farm were joining him in Baltimore. And a young team was winning and winning a lot.
“To see guys go through multiple years of development, experience that together, see them end up at this spot achieving their dream and their goals is really cool,” Rutschman said today during a pre-series press conference at Camden Yards. “You feel invested in the process and their journey. I’m just excited for these guys. To see their character and they are such good guys, you want to see them succeed. I think that is what makes our clubhouse so close – you have guys that care about each other genuinely. It makes it that much more exciting and better to show up to the ballpark each day.
“I'm super excited. This is a complete blessing to have an opportunity like this to play postseason baseball with a great group of guys in the stadium with an electric atmosphere. So, there's nothing more you can really ask for. The opportunity to do something like this is amazing, you kind of cherish it.”
There is a buzz in and around the city and region in anticipation of Saturday’s game.
“It’s been exciting," he said. "It was cool to have fans out on Wednesday for the sim game. Kind of just feel that energy of people getting excited. Think we’re excited for Saturday and ready to get going.
“I’m really excited to see the crowd. I’ve heard that playoff baseball here is pretty cool. I was talking to Ryan Klimek (pitching strategy coach) about it. He was at a postseason game here in 2014 and said the atmosphere was absolutely electric. So, I’m really excited to see the fans and feel that excitement.”
Rutschman said the players will feed off the crowds this weekend and said he is not too concerned about his team experiencing any playoff nerves.
“Once you step on the field and you get that first pitch out of the way, it becomes baseball. There is a lot of stuff that leads into games, but once you get going it feels like baseball again.
“I feel like our guys really enjoy playing in big-time environments. And when the crowd is into it, our guys definitely feed off that. It’s something we’ve noticed throughout the year. When the crowd gets loud, guys get more excited.”
While several Orioles struggled to hit in the final games of the year, Rutschman did not. Over his last 12 games, he batted .404 with an OPS of 1.172, and he hit .301/.944 in the last 25 games since Sept. 2 with nine doubles, four homers and 18 RBIs.
The young Orioles have handled the stretch run well and now have plenty of big-game experience even though it’s not actual playoff experience. They won key games against teams like the Rays and Astros and held off the Rays for the division championship. The young players handled some big moments well.
“Honestly I think it starts at the top,” said Rutschman. “Just having, I guess, a team chemistry that is very process-oriented. Guys go out and they just play ball and they have fun doing it. It becomes less about what is going on around them and more of just focusing on the team and what we have to do to win. When you have that mindset, it makes baseball a lot more fun and you have a very clear goal in mind.”
The Rangers beat Tampa Bay Tuesday and Wednesday and bring playoff game momentum into this series while the Orioles have not played a game since Sunday. They’ve had workouts at Camden Yards this week trying to stay sharp and knock off any rust.
“I think our guys have made the most of it. Really gotten our bodies right. And we’ve done a good job practicing throughout this week, sim games and whatnot. I think our guys are rested, excited and ready to go. There is no apprehension," said Rutschman.
While via FanGraphs projections, the Orioles have the worst odds to win the World Series of any of the remaining eight teams, it should be no shock that the team is more bullish on its chances.
“Yeah, I think going into spring training this year, we really had an expectation that we were going to, you know, we had a talented team and we were going to see what we could do. I know a couple of years ago back at the alt site (in 2020 in Bowie) we had a couple of guys down there who were coming up together. We talked about the what-if and what we could do.
"But it was - you never know until you get here and you see the clubhouse that you have together. Like I said, in spring training we kind of saw that. Guys were excited to get going this year. And the way we battled throughout the year is something special. And I think we're very proud of the way we handled the regular season. So, the guys are ready for the next step," said Rutschman.
O's manager Brandon Hyde set the rotation for the first two games of the ALDS. Right-hander Kyle Bradish (12-7, 2.83 ERA) will start Game 1 and righty Grayson Rodriguez (7-4, 4.35 ERA) will start Game 2.