Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS were pretty painful and at times downright torturous for Orioles fans. In Game 1 the bats were largely quiet and certainly didn’t deliver the big hits when the O’s needed them. In Game 2 the bats were plenty loud, but when your pitchers issue 11 total walks and give up nine runs over the first three innings, loud bats just simply aren’t enough.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s state the other obvious thing: this Orioles team got here by being one of the most resilient teams in the game. You don’t go a whole season without being swept in a single series without staring down some tough spots and finding a way to overcome them. However, a resilient spirit isn’t the only reason the Orioles are capable of winning these next two games and bringing this series back to Baltimore.
We only need to look back at the September series against the Rays to see how the Orioles can deliver when their backs are against the walls. The first two games of that series played out in a extremely similar manner to the first two games of this series against the Rangers. In Game 1 against the Rays, much like Game 1 against the Rangers, the Orioles went into the late innings down a run but couldn’t deliver the big hit against the back end of the Rays bullpen. Then in Game 2 against Tampa, the O’s fell behind early and couldn’t get their bats going to get back in the game.
What came next, though, is what should give O’s fans hope as we head into tonight’s do or die game against Texas. With the AL East on the line and their backs against the wall, Grayson Rodriguez delivered his best performance of the season and the bats put together a complete performance against Tampa. Then in Game 4, the O’s delivered a gutsy, extra-innings victory to put their destiny squarely back in their own hands,
Instead of Rodriguez, the O’s will turn to Dean Kremer to set the table against the Rangers. Kremer’s history against the Rangers has been up and down, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that he can deliver in Texas. In his only start against the Rangers this season, Kremer went 6.1 innings, allowing five hits, three runs and putting up 5 Ks. If the 27-year-old right hander can deliver that kind of performance tonight, it would be the best start we’ve seen from an Oriole all postseason and certainly should put the bats in position to deliver a win. Kremer also has history when it comes to pitching well in Arlington, as in his only start at Globe Life Field he went 4.2 innings, allowed only one run and K’d six Rangers.
The Orioles should also benefit from getting back to their normal lineup against right-handed pitchers, with Nathan Eovaldi taking the bump in Game 3. After batting fifth and fourth over the first two games, Gunnar Henderson will likely move to the leadoff spot. That should mean more chances to do damage for the budding star SS after he went 3-8 with a solo HR and three runs scored over the first two games.
Going against a right-hander should also see Ryan O’Hearn return to the lineup. While the 1B is in a bit of a cold streak of late, he was one of best road hitters in all of baseball this year, posting a triple slash of .326/.350/.546 away from Camden Yards in the regular season. Based on tonight’s matchup with Eovaldi, it wouldn’t be surprising for Brandon Hyde to go with Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Anthony Santander, O’Hearn and Aaron Hicks in the top five spots of the lineup. That glut of left-handed bats at the top of the lineup should help the O’s take advantage of Globe Life Field’s hitter-friendly nature. Not only was the Rangers’ home stadium the fifth-most friendly park for left-handed bats this season, it ranked behind only Yankee Stadium and Great American Ballpark in HR rate for lefties.
Focusing on Kremer’s track record against the Rangers and advantages this O’s lineup should have in Arlington of course ignores the Texas-sized problem that the Rangers lineup presents. However, throughout the first two games you could argue that it hasn’t necessarily been how many runs the Rangers scored but when they scored those runs that made the difference. The Orioles have only been ahead in this series for all of half an inning—after taking a two-run lead in the bottom of the 1st on Sunday. For the remaining 97% of the series, Baltimore has either been playing from a level state or trying to play catch up.
Moving the series to Texas means the O’s get to take a step back from the raucous crucible of emotions that was Camden Yards this past weekend and focus on what they’ve done well all season. While it’s undeniable that Birdland delivered an amazing atmosphere on Saturday and Sunday, it also felt like the O’s bore the weight of every time they caused that thunderous crowd support to go silent. Taking the series to Arlington should almost tone the emotions a couple notches. Hopefully this allows the Orioles to focus more on the task at hand—namely, getting ahead early, putting pressure on the Rangers for once and allowing the O’s advantage in the bullpen to really matter.
If the O’s can deliver in Game 3, you can easily imagine things slowly but surely tipping back in their favor. As long as he’s not forced into emergency action tonight, Kyle Gibson should take the ball and likely square off against Andrew Heaney on Wednesday. While Gibson has been far from perfect this season, he’s coming off a September where he posted a 2.45 ERA while guiding the O’s to a 4-1 record in his five starts. After forming part of the Phillies pitching staff that made it to last year’s World Series, Gibson feels like the perfect veteran presence to deliver the Orioles back to Baltimore.
While Heaney was largely good in a short outing in Game 1, his history against the Orioles in Globe Life should give all of Birdland plenty of reasons to believe. Back in April, Heaney surrendered seven runs in only 2.2 innings as the O’s piled on seven hits including two doubles and two HRs against the Texas southpaw. Baltimore was definitely putting together better ABs against Heaney the second time through the order on Saturday. That familiarity should pay dividends in Game 4, should the O’s get there.
One final note that speaks to the Orioles ability to claw back and truly make this a series: the O’s lost the first two games of a series nine times this season. In the ensuing Game 3s of all those series, they went a perfect 9-0. After seemingly being doubted at every turn this season, the Orioles constantly proved those doubts wrong on their way to 100+ wins and an AL East title. Now, the greater baseball world and plenty of members of Birdland are again projecting their doubts onto this team as they face an 0-2 hole.
However, one win tonight and those doubts go from a mountain to a molehill. If they can parlay that confidence and momentum into another win Wednesday those doubts all but subside as we get a winner-take-all came in Camden Yards. In many ways, this team is once again tasked with doing what they do best: defying the odds and delivering when it matters most. The O’s track record this season should be more than enough for us all to believe that we haven’t seen the last game in Camden Yards in 2023.