Hey, have you heard? The Baltimore Orioles will be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2016, kicking off the Division Series this Saturday against the winner of the Rangers/Rays Wild Card Series. I know! It’s awesome.
The O’s have a few more days before they need to set their ALDS roster, but it’s not too early to speculate about what that 26-man crew will look like.
The locks (22):
Starting pitchers: Kyle Bradish, John Means, Grayson Rodriguez
Relief pitchers: Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall, Cionel Pérez, Jacob Webb, Tyler Wells
Catchers: Adley Rutschman, James McCann
Infielders: Adam Frazier, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan O’Hearn, Ramón Urías, Jordan Westburg
Outfielders: Austin Hays, Aaron Hicks, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander
Well, the position player group is pretty straightforward. The Orioles have been rolling with these 13 hitters, aside from the occasional injury, for months now. No reason to change things up. Every player serves a purpose, and Brandon Hyde has put on a clinic in mixing and matching these hitters on any given night to best utilize their strengths.
Against right-handers, we’ll likely see a primary lineup that includes Henderson, Rutschman, Santander, Mountcastle, O’Hearn, Hays, Mullins, and Frazier, with either Urías or Westburg taking the other starting infield spot. Hicks could pinch-hit or spell any of the regular outfielders, while Mateo could be the most dangerous pinch-runner on any postseason roster.
As for the pitchers, Means showed enough in his four-game return in September to earn a place in the rotation alongside dominant young hurlers Bradish and Rodriguez. It’s possible Means could start Game 2 in Baltimore, allowing him to pitch in the friendly-for-southpaws confines of Camden Yards, and bump Rodriguez to Game 3 on the road. Either way, the Orioles’ top three starters seem all but set.
Wells, too, had a successful late-September return after a nearly two-month stint in the minors, and regained Hyde’s trust so quickly that he earned the honor of closing out the Orioles’ AL East-clinching game. He’ll join Cano, Coulombe, Hall, and Pérez as a late-inning option for the Birds, who will probably go with a closer-by-committee approach. In middle relief is Webb, whose performance tailed off a bit after a great first month with the Orioles, but not enough to keep him off the postseason roster.
So we’ve already filled 22 of the 26 spots, including 13 hitters. If the O’s elect to carry the maximum of 13 pitchers, as they did for nearly the entire season, then the remaining four spots will all go to hurlers. But let’s see whether it makes sense to do that, given who’s left to choose from.
The bubble guys
Starting pitchers: Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer
Relief pitchers: Bryan Baker, Mike Baumann, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Cole Irvin
Outfielders: Heston Kjerstad, Ryan McKenna
With two travel days built into the five-game schedule, the O’s won’t need a fifth starter, so Gibson and Kremer are battling for one spot. Kremer was the clear front-runner after a hot August in which he compiled a 2.37 ERA to Gibson’s 7.89, but their fortunes reversed in September, when Gibson posted a 2.45 and Kremer 3.57.
Still, Kremer was the better of the two pitchers this season in most statistical categories, aside from Gibson’s ability to eat innings, which isn’t as important in the postseason. My guess is that Kremer’s upside will outweigh Gibson’s veteranosity for the fourth spot. Gibson could be bumped to the bullpen, as he was for the Phillies in last year’s playoffs, to provide length if a game gets out of hand.
If Kremer and Gibson both make the roster, that’s 11 pitchers. And frankly, that might be enough. Those two off days after Game 2 and Game 4 make a seven-man bullpen a feasible option. With no risk of any reliever pitching three straight days, Hyde could potentially use all of his high-leverage arms for every game if he needs to. Still, I’m betting the Orioles will elect to carry one more hurler in case of emergency — or in case a rainout forces the teams to play on one of their travel days (Saturday’s weather forecast in Baltimore for Game 1 isn’t great).
So who will join them in the bullpen? Flaherty and Fujinami were the Orioles’ two midseason trade acquisitions who didn’t pan out, while Baker, Baumann, and Irvin spent large chunks of the season with the Birds but most of September in the minors. Whichever of these guys makes the postseason roster will likely never make an appearance except in a mop-up role. Flaherty is the only one of these five with postseason experience, but made only two relief appearances, neither of them particularly inspiring. Fujinami has the most electric stuff but has been unable to consistently command it.
So, let’s go with the guy of this quintet who spent the longest amount of time on the Orioles’ active roster. The one who vultured 10 wins in relief and is capable of pitching both short stints and long ones, as our Alex Church pointed out last week. Mike Baumann, congrats, you’re in the playoffs.
OK. We’ve got just one roster spot left. The remaining lot of pitchers is uninspiring, and 12 should be plenty, so we’ll turn our attention back to the position players. The two main candidates, Kjerstad and McKenna, couldn’t be more different. One is a slugging lefty who can be a real weapon as a late-inning pinch-hitter but rarely steps foot on the outfield grass. The other is a speed-and-defense specialist and a favorite of Hyde’s but contributes next to nothing at the plate. (Kjerstad wasn’t on the 40-man roster prior to Sept. 1, but the O’s could still finagle him onto the postseason roster by declaring him a replacement for an injured player.)
It’s a close call. But ultimately, I think the Orioles tipped their hand about their postseason preference when they decided to demote McKenna — rather than Kjerstad — when Mountcastle returned from the IL on Sept. 27. The Orioles, especially if they play the Rays, will be facing a slew of right-handed pitchers, which makes Kjerstad’s left-handed power bat all the more appealing. McKenna, while a great team player, probably doesn’t have the potential to change a game the way Kjerstad does. Heston, you’re in.
Lo and behold, our projected 26-man Division Series roster:
Starting pitchers (4): Kyle Bradish, John Means, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer
Relief pitchers (8): Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall, Cionel Pérez, Jacob Webb, Tyler Wells, Kyle Gibson, Mike Baumann
Catchers (2): Adley Rutschman, James McCann
Infielders (7): Adam Frazier, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan O’Hearn, Ramón Urías, Jordan Westburg
Outfielders (5): Austin Hays, Aaron Hicks, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Heston Kjerstad
What say you, Camden Chatters? What does your projected Orioles ALDS roster look like?