First offseason edition: A few questions for O's fans

rutschman celebrates division clinch 2023

Yes, it is the first time this offseason that we put some specific questions your way. Every day here is an open forum for topics on the Orioles. Today we get a bit more specific about it.

It was quite the season for Birdland in 2023. And while there is disappointment with the playoffs still going on without Baltimore, there is plenty of optimism for more winning in the future.

The O's went 101-61 to finish with the second-best record in the majors and best record in the American League for the first time since 1997. The 101 wins tied the 1971 Orioles for fourth-most in club history. The O's posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2013-2014. The Orioles won their 10th AL East title.

“It was a really successful season," said manager Brandon Hyde at his season-ending press conference. "You know, overcoming so many odds and obstacles that were against us and so many people thinking that we weren’t going to be a playoff team. Then all of a sudden we win 101 games and the American League East. That says a lot about a lot of people in the organization and the guys in our clubhouse. So, really proud of that.

“We had so many awesome moments. Huge wins. And close wins. And the amount of close games we played was ridiculous. And how we won some games during the season, it was just a total team effort, and that was how we played all year. The postseason, we just didn’t play our best and ran into a little bit of a buzz saw, but I’m going to have great memories of this team.”

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The veteran presence that was important this year will be next year too

hicks w bat @TBR

On an Orioles team that produced 101 wins, their first 100-win year since 1980, along with making the postseason for the first time since 2016 and winning the division for the first time since 2014, several veteran players made key contributions.

But the Orioles have five free agents and all five could be playing somewhere else in the 2024 season. Infielder Adam Frazier played in 141 games and had an OPS of just .696, but that number was .932 with runners in scoring position. Outfielder Aaron Hicks is a free agent also but his OPS was .806 in 65 O’s games.

On the pitching side, right-hander Kyle Gibson is a free agent after leading the team with 15 wins, 33 starts and 192 innings. He tied for third in the AL in wins and was sixth in innings. He was a leader in the clubhouse and outside of it as seen by his Roberto Clemente Award nomination. The guy sure gives back – within the clubhouse and outside of it.

I see value in having Gibson back on the team to provide pitching depth. I just have concerns of a price tag of $10 million or more for such depth. Hard to put a dollar figure on what his mentorship for young pitchers and leadership for all players meant. But the club might have to look somewhere else for the same thing next year if they decide to try and get what he brings at a lower price.

Pitchers Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami are also free agents. It’s hard to see a scenario where the club pursues Flaherty, but maybe there is one out there. Fuji was given every chance to hold down a spot in high-leverage relief and spent a few nights looking like a steal. And a few looking like much less than that. I say the O’s let him walk and look for more consistency elsewhere, even if it comes in a package that doesn’t feature a 100 mph fastball.

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Added 2024 opponent - expectations

Mateo and Hays celebrate

 

Maybe even the Pecota projection system will expect the Orioles to be good in the 2024 season. Yeah, crazy talk, I know.

When the 2024 season begins the Orioles will have an opponent that is hard to define and one that has no win-loss record or playoff appearances. There are no advanced stats or metrics for it. It is expectations.

For the first time in a long time the team will be expected to do well and maybe even favored to win the AL East. This is uncharted territory for the Orioles in recent years.

Even the 2023 team, which had a stated goal to take the 83 wins from the year before, build on that and make the playoffs, had plenty of doubters.

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O's offense was shaky late, but generally good through the 2023 season

Gunnar Henderson white jersey

The scores of the games will tell us that the Orioles offense had its problems late in the 2023 season. They scored two runs or less seven times in the last 11 regular-season games. They did that twice more in the American League Division Series as they scored three runs total in games one and three.

But if we were to judge this offense over the full season, it likely ends up getting decent or better grades. Unless you consider ranking fourth in the American League and seventh in MLB at 4.98 runs per game not good enough. It was not good enough to be first or the best, but it was better than most. It was well above the AL average of 4.55 runs per game.

The average AL team scored 738 runs this year. The Orioles scored 807. That was seventh-most in team history and the most since the 2004 O's team scored 842.

So, in the best stat to judge offense, they scored well.

The Orioles ranked sixth in the AL in team batting average (.255), tied for seventh in OBP (.321), seventh in slugging (.421) and eighth in OPS (.742).

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After consistent production, is Santander an easy arbitration decision for O's?

Anthony Santander

According to the Orioles postseason media guide there are seven hitters in the American League the last two years that have produced 250+ hits, 150+ runs, 100+ walks, and 60+ homers.

The list includes Houston’s Yordan Álvarez, Boston’s Rafael Devers, Adolis García and Corey Seager of Texas, the New York Yankees Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles and one other player. The Orioles’ Anthony Santander. That is one solid group of hitters he is keeping company with.

For me being on that list and for other good reasons, makes it a no brainer that Santander is offered salary arbitration by the Orioles this winter, as his salary is due to rise from $7.4 million this year to $12.7 million next season via MLBTradeRumors.com projections.

There may have been a time a few years ago that Santander would have priced himself out of Baltimore at that dollar amount. But barring something that would be a real stunner, this is not that time. They still need this guy.

There may have been a time when a player just one year before free agency – as Santander is now – might look to be traded by the club. Get something for him before he can leave, is that thinking. But don’t they need this bat right now? Even, in a worst-case scenario and he did leave via free agency after the 2024 season, don’t the Orioles badly need Santander to keep winning next year? To make another postseason run?

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Random take Tuesday: The wall, Bruce Bochy and more

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Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees might not like it, but Orioles fans are probably growing to like the deeper dimensions in left field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Over two years now, it has produced fewer homers and ended the day of the so-called cheap homer to left center. But it also has led to more O’s wins. The 2022 team, coming off 110 losses, went 45-36 at home. That club was eighth in the AL in home ERA at 3.73 and fifth scoring 4.23 runs per game at Oriole Park.

The 2023 club went 49-32 at home, third-best in the AL. The team ERA ranked sixth at 3.82 and the O’s scored 4.47 runs per game at home, which was eighth in the league.

At his season-ending press conference, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was asked about the wall. Could it be changed or altered in the coming years?

“Look I’m glad we did it,” said Elias. “It coincided with winning baseball in Baltimore and a better style of baseball which is kind of one of the things we talked about it. Is it perfect? Is it the exact perfect dimensions? Does it look perfect and is it going to stay that way forever? No, and I don’t know.

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DL Hall got his fastball back midsummer and later had the results to prove it

DL Hall ALDS 2023

There must have been times this summer when left-hander Dayton Lane Hall, once a highly-ranked Orioles pitching prospect, felt he might not make a return to the majors this year. Much less be on a playoff roster and pitch well in the postseason.

But his five-plus weeks spent in Florida in midsummer to build arm strength and get his fastball velocity back in the final analysis were five truly productive weeks for Hall.

He began this year at Triple-A Norfolk and was the 27th man on the O’s roster for a doubleheader April 29 versus Detroit. But after that game, his next big league appearance would be nearly four months away. A back injury that limited him during spring training was such that he never fully regained his fastball velocity or strength. The Orioles sent him to Florida to find both. And while he was out of sight, out of mind for a while there, he never stopped working and always had pitching in key games late this year for the Orioles as a motivator.

He was in Florida from mid-June to early August and finally returned to pitch in games again July 25 in the Florida Complex League. Then he rejoined Triple-A on Aug. 5 and three weeks later was back with the Orioles. 

“It was a lot of working out and rehabbing,” he said of his time in Sarasota. “Just trying to get the stability back in my legs and back and just really crushing the weight room. It was something I couldn’t do when I was hurt. Couldn’t lift weights. I was trying to pitch at the beginning of the year without lifting and didn’t really have my strength. So I just focused on getting stronger down there.

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MLB Network analyst talks about possible winter plan for the Orioles

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One thing that has been true about fans throughout Birdland for a long time: They love it when national media reporters and outlets say nice things about their team, and some get really hacked when they do not. Or say something perceived as a slight.

My opinion is that MLB Network was on the O’s bandwagon pretty much throughout the 2023 season. The coverage was extensive and they were bullish on the Orioles just about from the start to the end of the season.

That continues even after the Orioles got swept three in a row by Texas in the American League Division Series.

A theme about the Orioles is that the team is just beginning its window to chase championships for the next few Octobers and maybe longer.

But on the network on Friday, former major league general manager Dan O’Dowd had a few suggestions for the Orioles to consider this winter. It will not come as a surprise that one of them is that the club should add to its major league roster by making deals from their fertile and No. 1-ranked farm system.

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Kyle Bradish's big season should earn him some AL Cy Young consideration

Kyle Bradish ALDS Game 1 white

For Orioles right-hander Kyle Bradish, who pitched like an ace during the 2023 season, a key start along the way to doing that came on the West Coast in early June. He faced the San Francisco Giants. He would last just four innings and allow seven hits and three runs.

It was not a terrible start, but a short one, and it left Bradish with a 4.13 ERA after his first 10 starts of the season. Not a bad ERA at all, but it would get a lot better for him after that outing against the Giants.

“I'd say kind of the turning point was my outing in San Francisco," Bradish said before his start in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. "I had a rough inning and then got taken out in the fourth, and kind of there had a mindset shift. Just knowing that I can't keep doing that. It's hurting the bullpen, hurting the team. Just going out there, working for a quality start every time was kind of the mindset after that.”

The results that followed that start were stunning.

Over his last 20 games, he went 10-5 with a 2.31 ERA, a .191 batting average against, a .548 OPS allowed and 0.92 WHIP.

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Some rotation talk and other notes on season-ending press conferences

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When the Orioles went to a six-man rotation late in the season this year it proved to be pretty important. How much so? At his season-ending press conference yesterday manager Brandon Hyde didn't pull punches on it.

Said Hyde: “For me, when we decided to go to a six-man rotation, that possibly was a season-saver. Because I feel like all those guys, that was kind of crunch time a little bit. And, it allowed all those guys to get an extra day. And they showed what they could be like when they were rested, and I think it was the right thing to do for every one of them because they were flying over their innings (totals from the previous year) because they were pitching so well and we needed them. So, for me, that was a huge part of our season, when we made that decision at that point.

“I’m excited about our rotation going forward. I’m not sure what’s going to happen from a roster standpoint, but I know that we have some guys in there that had great experience this year and had really good seasons. And are still really young in their career. Just go back at what Tyler Wells did in the first half. And what he did the last week of the season. Unbelievable. Arguably, our best starting pitcher of the first half, and showed the stuff he had out of the bullpen a couple of years ago.

“Our starting pitching is up and coming. And I think they are only going to get better.”

The extra innings some pitchers threw this year and pitching into October should benefit this group next season, even if they gave up 13 runs in eight combined October innings in three playoff games.

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Hey, Birdland: Sometimes you just get beat

kremer alds 2023

Since Jordan Westburg struck out at Globe Life Field on Tuesday night and the Rangers' sweep of the Orioles in the American League Division Series became final, there have been a few opinions expressed as to why they lost, how they lost and what went wrong.

OK, not a few, but an avalanche of opinions. Just when you think you can’t possibly hear or read another take, there will be one. No shortage of opinions, ranging - in my own opinion - from very possible and pertinent to flat out crazy. Whackadoo territory.

But the thing about a sports opinion is that no one is 100 percent right or wrong or can be proven that. They are opinions and in a social-media, sports-talk, hot-take world, it seems everyone has one. Some express them in interesting ways too.

Theories of why the Orioles lost include:

Not enough playoff experience.

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In postgame clubhouse there was disappointment but also excitement for future

Brandon Hyde

ARLINGTON, Texas - For the Orioles there was sort of a clear theme to their postgame interviews last night after the Game 3 loss to Texas. The Rangers took an early 6-0 lead on their way to a 7-1 win and a series sweep in the American League Division Series.

Proud of a very good season and AL East championship. But also hoping and truly believing this is just the first step for this talented group of players.

They got swept three straight by Texas and the country didn't get to see the Orioles that we saw most of the year. Take the experience and learn from it. Use it as motivation to return next season and go farther.

"We have a lot of guys who have never been to the postseason before. So, this hurts and it's okay to hurt," manager Brandon Hyde said. "It's okay to have this kind of fuel to your fire in the off-season. It's going to take a while for us to get over this a little bit. But I think our guys will come in hunting and hungry in spring training. The guys coming back, especially the young guys, know what this feels like, know what it tastes like, and it sucks. If they did soak it in a little bit, they're going to be better for it down the road."

Outfielder Austin Hays expressed similar sentiments. I asked him when he has time this offseason to look back on the 2023 season, what will come to mind?

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A few quick thoughts as the Orioles lose Game 3 and get swept in the ALDS (updated)

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When it went south for the Orioles, it went fast. A 1-0 deficit turned into a 6-0 hole within a span of five pitches in the last of the second inning. The Texas Rangers were on their way to a three-game sweep of the Orioles in the American League Division Series.

After 101 wins and an AL East championship, a team that fought so hard and so well to win the division was out of the playoffs in a span of three games and over a span of four days.

It was a strong year during the regular season for AL East teams. But in the postseason the division is now a combined 0-7 and with no teams left.

Texas beat the Orioles 7-1 for its fifth straight postseason win. It was Baltimore's eighth straight postseason loss.

They may have let the AL West division title get away to end the regular season, but the Rangers have not lost in the postseason and have taken out the O’s and Rays.

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O's game blog: Facing elimination in Game 3 of the ALDS at Texas

Dean Kremer throws gray

ARLINGTON, Texas - The Orioles must win tonight at Globe Life Field against the Texas Rangers or pack up the bats and balls for the 2023 season. It's Game 3 of the best-of-five American League Division Series with Texas holding a two-games-to-none lead.

The Orioles (101-61) fell behind 9-2 in the third inning Sunday in Baltimore. They rallied, but lost 11-8 after dropping a 3-2 game in the series opener.

This is just the second time in O's postseason history that they have lost the first two games of a series. The other time was in the 2014 AL Championship Series, and they were swept in four in a row by Kansas City.

The Orioles have an all-time postseason record of 52-42 and are 12-10 all-time in playoff series. But they have lost seven straight postseason games coming into Game 3. They are 11-7 all-time in ALDS games.

Texas (90-72) began this postseason with a six-game playoff losing streak, but now is 4-0 this postseason, by a combined 25-11 score against the Rays and Orioles.

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Even with a 2-0 lead it's "all hands on deck tonight" for Texas skipper Bruce Bochy

santander and o'hearn @CHC

ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas manager Bruce Bochy, who still has room on his hand for a fourth World Series ring, was asked today how he would manage tonight’s game. A game in which his team, leading 2-0 in the best-of-five American League Division Series, can close out the Orioles.

He sounded almost like his team was down 0-2 and not up 2-0.

“Well, all hands on deck,” said Bochy, who won championships with the Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014. “I'll start with that. It's a short series. Best out of five. Yeah, we have a game, big game tonight. So, we'll use everybody. I think we've shown that already, and we'll continue to do that.

"Don't have a starter for tomorrow because of what I'm saying now. Bench, everybody, pinch-running situations, they'll all be used if I think it's the right thing to do tonight. That's my mentality. I think it's the team's mentality. Hey, be ready. Bullpen, all of them. Any situation.”

It was around this time last year – on Oct. 21, 2022 – that the Rangers hired Bochy, a winner of 2,003 games, out of a short retirement. He would take over a Rangers team that had six straight losing seasons (and just 68 wins last season) and try to get them back to the playoffs, and it happened right away. Bochy had stepped away after the 2019 season and 13 years with San Francisco. His first World Series win came over the Rangers, in five games in 2010.

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ALDS Game 3 notes with Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays and Nate Eovaldi

Adley Rutschman

ARLINGTON, Texas – Some games are called “must win” but they really are not. But you can use those words for the Orioles tonight. After an amazing season, a surprise (to many) AL East championship and 101 wins, they need one more tonight to force a Game 4 against Texas in the American League Division Series.

In September the Orioles twice lost the first two games of key four-game series, both at home versus Tampa Bay and at Cleveland, and yet won the third and fourth games to split those series. This time they have to do that and one better.

It started on the mound in those earlier games against the Rays and Guardians. In the four wins, O’s pitching allowed zero, four, one and one run.

Catcher Adley Rutschman was asked before Monday’s workout at Globe Life Field about the club’s ability this year to put losses behind them quickly and how they do that?

“I think our team is really process-oriented,” said Rutschman. “So, each game is a new game, and we try to treat it as such. And you know, learn from anything from the day before and then move on. Our guys do a good job of banding together and trying to just focus on the here and now.”

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O's Ryan O'Hearn: "I'm not ready to be done playing with these guys for the year"

o'hearn gray

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Orioles arrived in Texas last night, determined to keep their season alive when they take the field in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday night.

They have lost by scores of 3-2 and 11-8 to the Texas Rangers, a 90-win team during the regular season. A club that lost four of its last six to let the AL West title get away, only to now go 4-0 through the postseason thus far.

The math is daunting for the Orioles.

Per Elias Sports Bureau, in MLB playoff history, in best-of-five or longer series, teams taking a 2-0 lead are 154-25 (.860) in those series. In strictly best-of-five series, teams up 2-0 are 78-10 (.886).

“Obviously, definitely not our two best games we have played. We are capable of much better,” said Ryan O’Hearn this afternoon in the Baltimore clubhouse. “You know, it happens, So, it’s time to turn the page and try to figure out how to win the next one and the next one and hopefully we continue to play.

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O's head to Texas needing a three-game win streak to take the ALDS

Jorge Mateo orange jersey

Next stop Arlington, Tex. That is where the Orioles are headed looking for a win. What they hope is the first of three in a row over the next five days to save their season.

The Texas Rangers ended the regular season losing three of four at Seattle to let the AL West title get away. They were 40-41 on the road this year. None of that mattered as first they took out the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays, winning two on the road. And now they have a 2-0 lead in games in a best-of-five on the 101 win Orioles. Winning two in Baltimore.

In Game 1, the Orioles didn't hit enough. In Game 2 they didn't pitch well enough. Not nearly losing 11-8. The 11 runs allowed is the most they have ever given up in their postseason history, which amounts to 94 games since 1966.

They walked 11 batters and six of them scored and all 11 helped the Rangers to the win.

In the quiet of the postgame clubhouse, Gunnar Henderson who went 2-for-4 with a homer, expressed confidence they have another three-game win streak in them.

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A few quick takes as the O's fall into an 0-2 hole in the ALDS

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The Orioles are now down 0-2 in this best-of-five American League Division Series. They had 101 wins in the regular season and won the AL East championship, but after today’s 11-8 loss to Texas, their season will be over with one more loss.

With the Orioles down 11-5 in the ninth, Aaron Hicks blasted a three-run homer off Texas closer Jose Leclerc. He drove in five runs today. But the pitching gave up 11. 

The Orioles have now lost seven straight postseason games since their last win in the 2014 ALDS versus Detroit. The Rangers are 4-0 in the 2023 playoffs. 

The Orioles face a must-win situation Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

A few thoughts on Game 2:

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O's game blog: Looking to get even in ALDS Game 2 at Oriole Park

rodriguez v CWS

The Orioles (101-61), champions of the American League East and the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs, need a win today against the Texas Rangers (90-72) to even the AL Division Series.

Texas used six pitchers Saturday to hold the Orioles to five hits in a 3-2 win in the series opener. Andrew Heaney got the start, allowing one run in 3 2/3 innings, and Dane Dunning pitched two innings of relief to get the win. José Leclerc got the last three outs to record a save.

O's starter Kyle Bradish allowed two runs over 4 2/3 to take the loss. The O's six pitchers combined to strike out 16 batters, their most ever in a nine-inning postseason game.

The Orioles have now lost the first game of three straight playoff series dating to an opening win in the 2014 ALDS versus Detroit. They are now 52-41 all-time in postseason games and 11-6 in ALDS games.

Heading into this year's playoffs, Texas had a six-game postseason losing streak. Now they have gone 3-0 versus the Rays and Orioles by a combined 14-3 score. Their pitchers have allowed just the three runs on 19 hits in 27 innings for a postseason ERA of 1.00.

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