There are a lot of ways to evaluate a team on offense, but I often revert to an easy one. How many runs do they score? That is the best evaluation tool, right? It doesn’t matter how a team gets there, but scoring runs is pretty important.
Heading into the series at Yankee Stadium, in the 2022 season the American League team average for runs per game was at 4.24. The Orioles average was – yep, exactly 4.24. They are a league-average offense in the stat that matters most.
But what fans see is an offense that is very inconsistent. Since Sept. 4, the Orioles have scored three runs or fewer 14 times in the last 25 games, going 3-11 in those games. They picked up the third win last night. But their offense has come up short often in the season's final days. The Boston series was the latest example of the consistency issue. The Orioles scored 23 runs the first two games at Fenway Park and four in the last two. A nice four-game average, but surely inconsistent, and fans remember them struggling against Rich Hill and then coming up short again Thursday.
You want a real surprise? The Orioles team OPS for September is .736. That is much better than their season-long number and ranks sixth in the American League. I guess scoring 23 runs in back-to-back games in Boston and all those homers helped that. They scored 10 in one game versus Houston. But certainly, the offense has been very inconsistent. There is that word again.
The Orioles rank 11th in the AL in batting average at .238, and league average is .243. They rank 11th in OBP at .306, below the average of .310. They are just above average in slugging and rank seventh at .395 with the league average at .393. The league average team OPS is .702 (it was .731 last year) and the Orioles are ninth at .700.
In discussions here with fans/readers, many seem to believe a big acquisition on offense is needed. That may be true and we may see it this winter.
But I still see reasons to believe this offense is going to get better, based on which players are currently here and some that may debut in 2023.
First, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson have combined for 568 plate appearances this year. That number, health provided for both, could easily double or more next season. Full years for each of them will be huge for the offense. Beyond their production, their plate discipline should help the O’s improve on the team walk rate, which is now 7.7 to rank 10th in the AL. The ability to grind out pitchers should improve over a full year in 2023.
And I like the big three of Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle to produce better numbers in 2023. This is based on their track records, not just a wish or hope they can do better. They can and have.
For his career heading into this season, Mullins’ OPS was .784 over 1,093 plate appearances for an OPS plus of 112. This year he is at .729 and 106.
For his career, pre 2022, Mountcastle’s OPS over 726 PAs was .812 with a 118 OPS plus. This year he is at .727 and 104.
Hays has the least deviation, with a pre-2022 OPS of .761 for an OPS plus of 104. This season he is at .723 and 103.
I see a collective return to more “normal” for this trio in 2023.
None of this is guaranteed, of course, and all of this is projection, evaluation and guess work. That makes baseball fun. And no doubt we will spend a lot of the winter debating the future of the Orioles offense.
That future could include some potent bats from the farm making contributions, possibly big ones, in 2023. Jordan Westburg is on deck and others could follow, to include Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby and Colton Cowser, to name just four.
The future of the O’s offense: Could it be better than some expect based on late-season struggles this year?
One pretty good win: That was quite the Friday night for the Orioles, who beat the Yankees 2-1 in the Bronx as Jordan Lyles went seven innings while Félix Bautista and DL Hall got the final six outs. Hall picked up his first big league save with a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts.
At 81-76, the Orioles secured a .500-or-better season and will have a winning season with another victory. They have five shots at it.
Lyles recorded his 13th quality start and the team's 40th, and the Orioles are 28-12 when they get one. O's starters have allowed two earned runs or fewer nine times the past 11 games.
By posting win No. 81, the Orioles join the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos and 1890 Louisville Colonels as the only teams to finish .500 or better in a season after recording 110 losses in the prior season. That is according to ESPN Stats and Info.