Next task for O’s: Try to get better in the rugged AL East

The Orioles took two of three games from the Boston Red Sox in their final home series of 2021. They allowed just 10 runs in those three games. But it didn’t go as well in the final road series at Rogers Centre.

The Orioles gave up 11 homers in three games - and 28 runs in the series - in getting swept by Toronto. The Blue Jays hit nine homers the last two games in posting 10-1 and 12-4 wins.

Any improvement the Orioles look to make in 2022 must start on the mound. They will need their current pitchers to pitch better and for young pitchers to come up from the farm and have some success. They will also need some outside acquisitions to help. There is plenty of room for improvement, and the bar to improve is not set high, we know.

While the Orioles did pitch well at times late in the year, the final weekend looked too much like a lot of the 2021 season on the mound. But heading into the Toronto series, Baltimore pitchers had a team ERA of 3.11 the previous 10 games, and the rotation ERA was 1.96 in those 10 games.

However, the final season numbers show a team ERA of 5.84, a rotation ERA of 5.99 and a bullpen ERA of 5.70. All were last in the major leagues. The O’s team ERA was a full run per game worse than the 4.83 posted by Minnesota, the next closest AL team.

So we know where the offseason focus should start.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the same during his season-ending press conference before the Orioles’ home finale.

“I think it would be very overly optimistic of us to assume we have enough pitching to compete in our division just by bringing back returning players,” said Elias. “With that said, we are very interested, still, and very encouraged by a lot of the guys that are on this 40-man roster. Even though a lot of them had rough stretches in the middle of the summer, we’ve seen some encouraging finishes of some of these guys in September, whether that is in the minors or in the majors. This group, by and large, is still part of our future plans, and there is a lot of talent here. It is not surprising when guys have struggles pitching in the American League East in the first year or two in the big leagues.

“But we need to get more talented in a lot of areas, and the pitching is certainly at the top of the list. So we’re going to be looking at external reinforcements, for sure.”

Thumbnail image for Mountcastle-HR-Swing-Orange-Sidebar.jpgThe seasons that played out for players such as Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle had to be exciting for Birdland. They were for the skipper Brandon Hyde as well, who cited some of his young talent when he discussed some things he liked about the 2021 Orioles.

“I like to see our young players continue to get better, that’s the bottom line. Cedric Mullins, Mountcastle, Tyler Wells, I think that watching these guys that could be core pieces, Austin Hays’ second half, going forward, that is the real bright spot on a year that has not been easy in a lot of ways. But to see talented guys produce - that’s been the most enjoyable.”

Now the task for Hyde and Elias and the rest of the O’s front office is to try to improve the Orioles enough to catch up with the rest of the American League East. A division sending three teams to the playoffs and a division where the Blue Jays won 91 and finished in fourth place.

The Blue Jays played .562 baseball and would have won the National League East by 2 1/2 games. The next-best fourth-place team this year in the majors was the Los Angeles Angels, who went 77-85 in the AL West.

“I knew it was going to be hard. But, until you are sitting in the chair, you don’t know how hard it’s going to be,” Hyde said Sunday pregame. “You know, I’ve been through rough years - ‘12, ‘13, ‘14 was rough in Chicago. ... But I think that rebuilding and building something from the ground up in this division is extremely challenging. But I’m really encouraged from the strides we have made, even though our record doesn’t show it. Strides that we made with some of these guys that could be core pieces and will be core pieces going forward. Now we just have to surround them with more.

“These four teams in this division aren’t going anywhere. They are extremely talented. Three of them have huge payrolls and we just need to continue to get better. And it’s not a light switch, throw a ton of money in one year situation. It’s a total process, and I know that’s a buzzword but that is what it really is. A process that takes a little while - probably takes longer in this division because who you are facing 80 games of the 162. I’m encouraged by some of the players that we have and now we just have to continue to add.”

The final day of the season did include a 442-foot blast by Tyler Nevin for his first big league homer.

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