The Orioles are in Boston for the final series of their penultimate road trip in 2023. Three games at Fenway Park, seven at Camden Yards – including four against the Rays that could influence the division race – followed by visits to Houston and Cleveland.
The latest quirk to the schedule has the Orioles engaged in a trio of four-game series this month, versus the Rays, Guardians and Red Sox. They’ve won six consecutive series while building an 88-51 record, including 34-16 in the second half, that’s the second best in baseball.
The organization’s hesitancy to look too far ahead is softening. Adjustments are being made to the rotation as if prepping it for the postseason. Back down to five starters, with the possibility of weaving in a sixth here and there. A clearer read on innings totals and how to proceed.
Making the playoffs is a formality. The goal now is winning the American League East, with a first-round bye and home field advantage.
They haven’t won 100 games since 1980 and are on pace to blow past it. Also blowing the minds of the oddsmakers who put them below .500.
The Orioles finished in second place in ’80, three behind the Yankees, with no wild card round. Had the same 50-31 record at home and on the road. Steve Stone won 25 games and a Cy Young Award. A weird period in franchise history.
This one will be rewarded. Not with a Cy Young, but perhaps a trophy.
How 2023 ends for the Orioles is just one of the questions remaining. I posed three on Aug. 31 – whether Jack Flaherty was clinging to a playoff roster spot, whether they could survive losing closer Félix Bautista, and if Shintaro Fujinami could be trusted in the postseason.
The club hasn’t provided an update on Bautista’s status beyond waiting for the inflammation to go down in his elbow before determining the next course of action. Fujinami flashed dominant stuff again the last two nights in Anaheim and earned his second career save Tuesday by striking out two batters in the 10th to strand a runner on third base. So, maybe.
What’s next with John Means?
Means’ rehab assignment ends today. He started Wednesday night at Triple-A Norfolk, limited to 67 pitches over five innings. No reason to pile more on him.
The Orioles can wait a little longer before placing Means on the 28-man roster. He probably won’t be available before Monday at the earliest. But he’s coming, finally, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2022 and experiencing a setback earlier this summer after straining a muscle in his upper back area.
Cole Irvin is out of the rotation, returning to a relief role and tossing a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday night. Means could replace him as a sixth starter if the Orioles stay with that number. They could remove someone else to keep it at five. They could put Means in the bullpen and say it’s a way to ease him back into major league competition, and that they’ll take it day by day.
Means can be an impactful addition to the pitching staff, and at no cost. Reminds me of former executive Pat Gillick referring to the unexpected signing of veteran starter Aaron Sele by the Mariners in 2000 as “a star falling out of the sky,” because the veteran right-hander had an agreement with the Orioles that dissolved due to concerns over his physical.
Means is a star who has landed in the Orioles’ laps. It’s his time to shine.
What’s the plan with Tyler Wells?
Wells was shut down with arm fatigue after an Aug. 25 appearance with Norfolk. He didn’t pitch again until Tuesday night, when he allowed two runs and walked two batters in two-thirds of an inning against Jacksonville.
Wells isn’t on an injury rehab assignment. He isn’t on the clock. The Orioles can keep him in the minors or use him in the relief role that they envisioned after optioning him.
He needs to convince them that he’s healthy and confident and able to get high-leverage outs. That he’s more like the first-half version, when he was their top starter, but as a bullpen guy.
Another star falling to them.
Unlike the Means situation, we know how Wells would be used. But when?
How much can Jorge López help?
López isn’t eligible for the postseason roster because he wasn’t in the organization by Aug. 31. That isn’t why he’s back.
The idea is for López to provide a push, to assist in covering for the loss of Bautista. And maybe, though no one has said it, to fill in while the Orioles wait on Wells.
López has another year of arbitration eligibility. The Orioles can keep him and see whether he regains All-Star form. They can cut ties, which puts him on the free agent market. But the focus is here and now, and whether he can be trusted with the game on the line.
They brought out his best in 2022 and are trying to repeat history. He tossed a scoreless eighth inning Sunday in Arizona and was charged with two runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning Tuesday. He struck out two batters.
Twenty of his 23 pitches have been strikes. Much better than walking the ballpark, and one way to earn trust.
Other boxes must be checked.
Note: Terrin Vavra’s rehab assignment is ending early. The Orioles want to subject him to further testing and evaluation of his right shoulder.
Vavra appeared in two games with Single-A Delmarva. He hasn't played for Norfolk since June 14.