September has come and gone and the Orioles reached some major milestones for the 2022 season. They got their 81st win of the season in the last game of the month. Then two days later, they got their 82nd win of the season. After the O’s clinched their first winning season it felt like Birdland could collectively exhale after the nervy way Baltimore played out the final full month of the season.
The relief of hitting that 82-wins mark masks some of the disappointing things that took place down the stretch in September. The same night the O’s won their 81st game, they were also officially eliminated from playoff contention. After starting the month 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, losing three out of four to Toronto in the first week saw the Birds drop to 4.5 games out. Baltimore never again got closer than three games out, and ultimately extended their playoff drought to six straight seasons. Overall, the Orioles went 13-15, breaking their streak of three straight winning months.
In between all of that disappointment and then relief, there were plenty of moments that gave the front office things to think about heading into an incredibly important offseason. We’ll break down four takeaways from the final full month of the season that could influence how Mike Elias & Co. approach this offseason.
Bautista is human after all
Outside of super prospects Adley Rutschman and GUNNAR HENDERSON, no one took bigger steps forward in 2022 than the man they call The Mountain. After working his way into being Jorge Lopez’s primary setup man early in the season, Bautista and his combo of an electric fastball and devastating splitter took the mantle as one of the best young closers in baseball.
However, as is the case with many young pitchers, Bautista seemed to fade at times throughout September. A blown save against the Astros where The Mountain gave up four runs over 1.1 innings meant that his September ERA ballooned to 7.04 over 7.2 innings pitched. Whether it was fatigue—Bautista threw almost 20 more innings in 2022 than in the minors in 2021—or a knee injury that ended his season a couple of days early, Bautista was clearly not as sharp during the final month.
The coaching staff and front office will need to continue to develop this bullpen to prevent burnout of their breakout relievers. Dillon Tate and Cionel Perez were their usually reliable selves throughout September, but the O’s will need more than three reliable bullpen arms if they’re to make the playoffs in 2023. The good news is they may not have to go outside the organization to add those pieces. Bryan Baker put up his strongest month of the season in September, putting up a 1.35 ERA with .178 BAA in 13.1 innings. DL Hall also showed glimpses of potential dominance as well, striking out 11 in nine innings while posting a 1.67 FIP. If Baker and Hall can build on these numbers in 2022, the O’s pen can be the kind of weapon that carries them to the postseason.
Kremer and Bradish lock down spots in the 2023 rotation
Perhaps of any group, the starting pitchers remain the biggest question mark heading into 2023. For the most part, September did not really help to provide clarity to those questions. Jordan Lyles posted a 5.40 ERA over 26.2 innings—although those numbers were inflated by a couple of starts coming off an illness. Austin Voth posted a respectable 3.86 ERA in September in 23.1 innings, but his .311 BAA suggests that some of his 2022 magic may be wearing off. Tyler Wells and Spenser Watkins only threw 22 innings combined due to injury and fatigue concerns.
However, the two pitchers that should absolutely lock down their rotation spots for the ‘23 season are Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish. Kremer led all Orioles’ starters with a 3.00 over 36 innings, while holding opponents to .246 BAA. Bradish was not far behind in the ERA department (3.86 over 32.2 IP) but was even better at limiting base runners with a .188 BAA and 27 Ks over the month. Their 17.2 combined shutout innings in back to back starts vs. the Astros proved that these two have the stuff to be effective major league pitchers against the highest competition. As such, they should be two of the first names Brandon Hyde pencils into his rotation come spring.
A new backup for Adley Rutschman needs to be at the top of the offseason list
This is hardly a revelation limited only to September. All season, the Orioles’ 2022 MVP has been one of the best receivers in all of baseball…while primary back Robinson Chirinos has been the worst. The final month of the season just served to further hammer this point home. The Orioles were 3-5 in games Chirinos started during September, compared to 10-10 when Adley was behind the plate. The backup backstop was also far and away the worst hitter in the O’s lineup whenever he cracked the starting nine, posting a .167 average over 27 ABs.
Unfortunately, given the physical demands of the position, Adley will probably only catch ~125 games next season. However, the Orioles front office needs to make sure that in those 40-50 games Adley is not behind the plate, they’re not rolling out someone as detrimental to the on-field product as Chirinos. Whether that’s bringing in a lefty masher while Adley works on his struggles vs. southpaws or just a catcher that can more closely replicate Rutschman’s defensive qualities, backup catcher should be a big point of emphasis when it comes to the offseason shopping list.
Kyle Stowers deserves a shot to be an everyday starting OF in 2023
This is something that most of Birdland has been clamoring for since the rookie was recalled to Baltimore in early August. Well, in September, Stowers proved the fans right by delivering on his increased opportunities. In 53 plate appearances, the lefty from Stanford put up a solid triple slash of .280/.321/.460. Compared to the Orioles' regular outfield starters of Hays, Mullins and Santander, none had a higher batting average than Stowers, only Hays had a higher OBP (by one point) and only Santander had a higher slugging%.
Mullins' defense and value at the top of the lineup mean his spot in center isn’t really open to competition (Stowers really isn’t capable of playing CF at the MLB level anyway). However, with Hays' struggles in the second half and the likelihood that Santander spends more time at DH in the future, the door is wide open for Stowers to have an everyday starting role in 2023. While he only had one at-bat against a lefty in the MLB, his success against lefties in the minors means that Stowers is a prime candidate to help the O’s and their woes vs. left-handed pitchers. There also is an element of time pressure when it comes to figuring out what you have with Stowers, as Colton Cowser, Dylan Beavers and others are coming up fast through the minors. His September success, combined with these other factors, all point to the idea that Stowers should continue to have an everyday role come the start of next season.