The last time I poured myself a rum and sat down to write about this plucky young Baltimore Orioles team, they were in the midst of their worst slump of the season. They’d lost six of their last seven games against the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees, and were dangerously positioned at 49-35 with five challenging games remaining prior to the All-Star break. How the team would respond, I felt, would be definitive of their 2023 aspirations…
The turnaround in form since has been noteworthy and, quite frankly, attention-grabbing. An eight-game win streak followed where they outscored their opponents 60-20. Most recently, they lost two of three against the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the strongest teams in baseball for many seasons now, however they outplayed them in Game 1, albeit for Chris Taylor’s sixth inning heroics. Baseball is, as we know, a game of inches and they could have easily taken two or three themselves.
This mid-season surge has seen the Orioles leapfrog the Tampa Bay Rays into first place in the AL East (58-37), with only the Atlanta Braves (61-33) in the NL East having a better record of all teams in the major leagues. It really is quite an incredible achievement for such a young and inexperienced team which has a payroll of just $67 million in 2023 (ranked 29th of 30). At the other end of the scale, division rivals, the Yankees, are in the midst of a slump that has already seen people lose their jobs – they’ve lost nine of their last 11 and find themselves nine games back, despite a staggering $280 million payroll (second only to the New York Mets, $348 million).
As things currently stand, the Orioles are eight games clear of the Boston Red Sox in playoff position and Baseball Reference gives them a 92% chance of reaching the postseason. It would be their first trip to the playoffs since 2016. Right now, 85 games would punch a playoff ticket in the American League and to achieve this, the Orioles would need to win just 27 of their final 67 games (.403). As a lifelong Orioles fan used to disappointment, you can never look to far ahead… but surely, right?
While Orioles fans would undoubtedly be thrilled with a postseason appearance, as the team’s development is at least 12-24 months ahead of schedule, the focus is suddenly shifting gears in dramatic fashion – could they really take the AL East title against four stacked and more highly touted rivals? Keep in mind, this team has won just two division titles in the last 40 years (1997 and 2014) and opportunities like this rarely present.
The next four games, on the road against the Rays, are as important as any the Orioles have played for almost a decade. They are set to face a challenging quartet of Tyler Glasnow, Zach Eflin, Shane McClanahan and Taj Bradley. One senses a series split would be a pass mark for the young Orioles, ensuring they keep their noses ahead of the highly fancied Rays before heading to Philadelphia for yet another challenging series against a resurgent Phillies team – talk about running the gauntlet!