One of the most fascinating and feel-good stories of the 2022 season has been the unexpected return to significance of the Baltimore Orioles – a young team defying the odds and creating some serious hype in a city that was losing hope in their beloved baseball team.
Heading into the season with a PECOTA projection of 61-101, even that seemed somewhat of a lofty rise on the efforts of the team’s last three full seasons, which combined netted an historically poor 333 losses.
- A 47-115 record in 2018 (ranked 30th of 30)
- A 54-108 record in 2019 (ranked 29th of 30)
- A 52-110 record in 2021 (ranked 30th of 30)
With a young roster, propped up by some washed-up veterans and bounced-around Quad-A players, another season of misery was anticipated by even the most optimistic of Orioles fan. Yet despite the doom and gloom, here we are just a few days away from September, and the plucky young Orioles have a 66-59 record, finding themselves right in the thick of a highly entertaining American League wildcard race.
As it currently stands, Baseball Reference gives the team a 44% chance of punching a playoff ticket, and while a postseason berth is probably still likely to elude them, the Orioles would expect to finish the season with a winning record from here, something which would be seen as a phenomenal achievement regardless. What’s even more astonishing is that the Orioles were languishing at 24-35 nearing mid-June, however that coincided with the highly-anticipated call-up of star prospect Adley Rutschman.
Taken with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 MLB Draft, Rutschman has long been destined for greatness and a player who the Orioles would one day hope to build a competitive team around. That success was expected to occur around the middle of this decade, however the ‘rebuild’, which at times has sucked the life out of the fan base, appears to be well ahead of schedule and it’s no coincidence that it’s linked to Rutschman’s arrival on the biggest stage.
Since being called up, the Orioles have surged. The team has won 42 of its last 66 games and finds itself seven games over .500 for the first time since May 2017. In recent months, the team has taken series’ off the much-more fancied Rays (twice), White Sox (twice), Blue Jays and Red Sox. The team also went on a crazy 10-game winning streak in early July, something that hadn’t been seen this millennium. Last night, they shut out World Series contender the Astros in Houston, on the back of Kyle Bradish’s eight phenomenal innings.
While Rutschman has been outstanding since arriving, posting an .805 OPS and a 3.6 WAR, his stats alone don’t tell the full story. What he’s done is create a real sense of hope among the team and everyone else has stepped up their game because of it, seemingly infected by the hype. Despite being just 24-years-old, his presence behind the plate has had a truly remarkable impact on the Orioles pitching staff, which has posted a 3.60 ERA in the months of July and August combined. Keep in mind, this team’s ERA was hovering close to 6.00 in each of their last three full seasons. Furthermore, slotting into the line-up has seen the team’s OPS in July and August jump to .730, almost 70 points higher than it was in the first three months of the season.
Of the 37 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles play 15 of those against teams which are currently under .500, including eight against the lowly Athletics, Nationals and Tigers combined. The other seven are against the Red Sox, who may be struggling, but cannot be underestimated. If the team can win say eight of those 15, they’re already at 74 wins. Winning eight of the remaining 22 will see a winning record posted, which itself would be a memorable achievement for such a young team. While this Orioles fan would be absolutely stoked to see this, I’m sure Brandon Hyde and the team have bigger aspirations in mind…