Heading towards this weekend’s Division Series, Camden Chat writers will be looking at each of the winning months that got the Orioles to where they are right now. Previously: March and April, May, June, July, August.
Record: 18-10 (101-61 overall)
Injuries: Ryan Mountcastle (10-day IL with shoulder inflammation). John Means activated off the 60-day IL (Tommy John).
Worst loss: 9/15, a 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay. The Orioles’ fourth loss in a row, which tied for their longest losing streak of the season, it also allowed Tampa Bay to pull into a virtual tie for the AL East lead. That day, it felt like things could all go sideways.
Best win: 9/17, when the Birds came back three times for an extra-innings win against Tampa Bay to clinch a playoff berth. Yes, technically, they’d already clinched because the Rangers lost that day, but this game was nuts. Dean Kremer gave his team five good innings but with the game tied 1-1, Jorge López allowed two home runs, and it felt like this one was over.
Not so fast. Adley Rutschman pulled his team within one run with the third homer Tampa Bay’s Pete Fairbanks allowed all year, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Adam Frazier drove home the tying run. Then, another two-out comeback in extras: with his team down a run, Adley singled home ghost runner Aaron Hicks to tie it 4-4. Finally, the Birds won it, 5-4, in the eleventh inning on a Cedric Mullins walkoff sac fly, scoring—who else?—Adley.
Best position player (fWAR): Adley Rutschman. Month to month, others might have outshone Rutschman for stretches—Jorge Mateo’s red-hot April, Austin Hays’ breakout in July, Ryan Mountcastle slaying Blue Jays up in Toronto. But Adley was not just a great game-caller, he was team leader—and a force at the plate in September, slashing .400/.512/.619 over the team’s last two weeks. He also singlehandedly kept his team alive on Sept. 17, 2023, the pivotal game in which the Orioles clinched a playoff spot and vanquished Tampa Bay in the standings for good.
Best pitcher (fWAR): Kyle Bradish. It was around this point that people figured out that, stats-wise, Bradish was in the same conversation as AL Cy Young frontrunners Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray. In six starts in September, Bradish finished 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA, whiffed 29% of the hitters he faced and allowed a measly 0.80 walks/hits per nine innings. This was the month Bradish’s ace status became undeniable.
September was a brutal month… until the Orioles passed that test with flying colors, like they did so many others.
From Sept. 8-24, they had to play 17 games in a row with no day off. This situation drew some unusually critical language from manager Brandon Hyde: “This stretch that we’ve been in, the schedule-maker needs to take a look at it because it’s really, really unfair and unhealthy, honestly, to do this to a team in September.”
Luckily, no major injuries resulted, other than Ryan Mountcastle’s inflamed shoulder. But a Félix Bautista-less bullpen was completely exhausted: their 4.02 ERA during that stretch was one of their worst of the year.
The overall play suffered, too. From September 12-15, the Orioles lost four games in a row, tied for their longest of the year, and they came within one loss of losing their spot atop the AL East to Tampa Bay. First, they were handled by St. Louis’s Adam Wainwright, then—annoyingly—shut out by former farmhand Drew Rom. Still reeling, they couldn’t mount much offense against Tampa Bay in a rare Kyle Bradish loss, and Loss No. 4 came on yet another bad Jack Flaherty start.
And then, just as they did all year, they turned around and rallied. Grayson Rodriguez delivered his best start of the year at the best possible time: eight shutout innings to silence the Rays. The next day, the Orioles pulled off that ridiculous 11th-inning victory to build their AL East back to two games. The not-swept streak survived, the Birds had clinched the postseason, and the bottles were popped.
The Orioles didn’t exactly skate into the postseason, but they did what they had to do in tough circumstances. Despite walkoff losses in Houston and Cleveland, they took the first series and split the second. To cap off the year, they swept the Nationals and split a meaningless series with last-place Boston.
Yes, it was a somewhat slumpy month on offense. Their .404 slugging and .726 OPS were their worst monthly marks all year. Cedric Mullins was below the Mendoza line and Ryan Mountcastle just above it. Austin Hays and Anthony Santander were also cold at the plate. Despite that, Santander still finished with the team lead in RBIs (95) and tied with Gunnar Henderson for the lead in home runs (28). Meanwhile, however, Adley, Gunnar, O’Hearn and Ramón Urías all had solid months at the dish, and Mountcastle heated up in his last week (hitting .300 in 11 PA’s).
What also kept the Orioles in games down the stretch was the starting rotation. Over the month of September, O’s starters managed, believe it or not, a 3.09 ERA, the third-best mark in baseball. That included, not just Kyle Bradish’s superlative 2.06 mark but also Grayson Rodriguez’s 2.17, Dean Kremer’s 3.57, John Means’ 2.66 in four starts since coming back from injury, and, believe it or not, Kyle Gibson’s 2.45 mark, a season-best. This was a pretty stunning turnaround for the rotation, which averaged four-and-a-half runs allowed in the first half of the season.
Meanwhile, three cheers for the bullpen, which bent without Félix Bautista, but didn’t break. The night Bautista got hurt, on August 25, the bullpen ERA was 3.53. In the month after that: 3.54. The good old Orioles “plug and play” strategy works again!
Granted, it wasn’t always pretty: four different relievers were called on to get saves down the stretch, with Hyde scrambling to cover late innings. But it worked out pretty well.
The most improbable of those substitute closers was Tyler Wells, the team’s starting rotation ace in the first half before he got sent down with fatigue. But what a return for him: he threw five scoreless innings and got to lock up this moment, which gave the Orioles their first division championship since 2014.
A fitting ending to September, and this season. Soak it in, Birdland. But of course, there’s still more work to do.