Shortly after midnight in Maryland this morning, the clock struck midnight on the 2022 Orioles. There will be no late miraculous charge to a wild card spot, no fevered imaginations of what if they’re the team of destiny. They are eliminated from the postseason. The final thing that sealed their fate happened in Seattle, when Oakland pitcher Domingo Acevedo gave up a walk-off home run to pinch hitter Cal Raleigh.
Seattle’s 2-1 victory was its 86th of the season. With Game 163s extinct under MLB’s new CBA and that team holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Orioles, the Orioles cannot catch up even if they win every remaining game and Seattle (or Tampa Bay) loses every remaining game.
We all know that the Orioles were never supposed to be at a place this year where their postseason hopes were still technically alive in October, if only for a handful of minutes in our home time zone. Even feeling the freshly disappointing sting of the elimination going final, it’s not hard to think about all the fun things that have happened with this team and up and down the organization that we can hope will be carried forward to an even more successful team next year.
Adley Rutschman has been every bit as good as we could have hoped and then some. It does not seem like it was a coincidence that his arrival was followed not long after by the Orioles beginning their ascent from the AL East basement. Gunnar Henderson’s last month arrival wasn’t enough on its own to keep the Orioles climbing, but thinking about a full season from him is plenty exciting. The base-stealing duo of Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins added fun with speed and defense.
Amazingly, even the pitching staff got in on the act a bit. Even if you had tried to sketch out a best case scenario for the 2022 Orioles, it wouldn’t have looked like this. John Means and Grayson Rodriguez must have been part of any pie-in-the-sky dreams for the team. Means only pitched in two games before needing Tommy John surgery, and Rodriguez was knocked out of the picture in early June with a lat strain when it seemed like he was on the cusp of forcing a promotion.
Dean Kremer made a nice leap forward after he suffered an oblique injury in the first series of the year. Kyle Bradish had two good months after his own injured list trip. Out-of-nowhere Austin Voth sits on a 2.77 ERA in 78 innings with the Orioles. Tyler Wells had good stretches. Lyles on the whole lived up to the low expectations. You can imagine a successful rotation where the best two or three of these guys are joined by Means, Rodriguez, and someone Mike Elias trades for or signs.
The bullpen didn’t miss this party either. Last year’s relief unit posted an MLB-worst 5.70 ERA. With five games left in the 2022 season, the Orioles bullpen has a 3.48 ERA this year. It’s been a phenomenal improvement. Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, and Dillon Tate look like a potentially strong high-leverage trio. If DL Hall’s future is in the bullpen, he could be another name for that mix. Even guys like Keegan Akin and Bryan Baker have offered glimpses of usefulness.
Before the 2022 season came along, you kind of had to take it on faith that the Orioles were going to improve eventually. There was simply no evidence at the MLB level of the things that were being built in the organization. Believing in the eventual prospect-fueled improvement was necessary for lack of other choices.
Now, you can trust what you’ve seen. Rutschman was as good as everyone said. Henderson rocketed up the prospect rankings and looks like a star too. It’s not crazy to think there are other stars or solid regulars among the crop of players that closed the season at Norfolk: Colton Cowser, Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg. Others may be coming. A number of pitchers of varying pedigrees looked like lessons for success clicked with them.
The big question for the offseason will be: Can the Orioles go from here to the next level in one offseason? If they think the answer is yes, the obvious follow-up: How will they do that? Elias is going to have to think long and hard about which of these guys are must-haves for what he’s building and who can be spared as trade bait to improve other areas of the roster. His decisions may not line up with the picture fans have painted after this season. He has a pretty good track record this year.
The easiest way to improve might simply to be to have a better team that doesn’t suck in April and May. The 2022 Orioles dug themselves into a hole with their 7-14 record in April. No one then thought this would matter. As we sit now in October, it would be nice if the O’s had been good enough to be 11-10 instead, and 14-14 in May instead of 13-15.
Hand-wave five extra wins for being consistently .500 or better and the O’s would have 86 wins right now, the same as Tampa Bay and Seattle. They might be fighting to the final game. Avoid the September swoon and these teams might be trying to chase down the O’s as the top wild card team instead. It’s not that easy, of course. They will need to make concrete decisions that prove to be correct and then end up with an amount of good luck that is requisite in all good teams.
For now, it’s fun that there will only be five games remaining with no playoff hopes for the Orioles to play for. Last year’s Orioles were eliminated with 34 games still to play. This season’s squad can still play to get themselves a winning record. They only have to win one of their final five games. They could even have a chance to knock the Blue Jays out of getting wild card home games with the result of the season-closing series. Cito still sucks.