Before this season began, you could hardly have even dreamed that it would end up like this. The Orioles played their way to 100+ wins for the first time since 1980 on the way to winning the AL East. One of the things that’s so fun about what they’ve done this year is that it’s so far beyond what an optimist could have hoped to see. Now it’s time to see what they can do in the postseason.
Camden Chat’s staff made some predictions before the season began. We did not come very close to picturing the awesome reality that unfolded. Neither did very many readers, though plenty were hoping for the postseason and that is exactly what we got, so good job for you and especially for the Orioles. We’re trying again for the Division Series and hoping things play out awesomely enough that we get to try again for the League Championship Series.
I polled CC writers on the following. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:
- One thing that makes you confident about the series
- One thing about the Rangers that makes you worry
- An Oriole who needs to have a good series for the team to win
- Your “Orioles Magic” semi-surprise contributor
- Who wins and in how many games
The thing that makes you confident
John: Kyle Bradish taking the mound in Game 1 against a team he dominated in the regular season. The 27-year-old pitched twice against the Rangers this year and allowed only one run over 8.1 innings while striking out six. Getting Bradish vs. the Rangers’ #3 starter or Jordan Montgomery on short rest feels like running Usain Bolt in the first leg of your relay team. It should set a great tone for the rest of the series.
Tyler: The depth of the Orioles offense, including their bench. It’s no secret that the Rangers have some pitching concerns, particularly in the bullpen. That feels like something the Orioles can exploit in the mid-to-late innings, when Brandon Hyde might be able to call on an impact bat like Ryan Mountcastle or Heston Kjerstad, depending on the matchups.
Andrea: Pitching — despite losing Tyler Wells as a starter and All-Star closer Félix Bautista after the break, Orioles pitchers really came into their own over the second half of the season. As a group, the Orioles had an ERA above 4 in each month from April-June. But it suddenly dropped to 3.61 in July and shrunk each month after that: down to a 3.59 mark in August and a 3.26 ERA in September.
Alex: The top of the rotation. It’s wild to think the Orioles have an advantage on the mound, but both Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez have pitched like bonafide frontline starters in the second half. John Means provides real value as the third option, and the first-round bye gifted Baltimore an opportunity to set its rotation.
Stacey: I’m not saying that having a team full of players who clearly love each other is a competitive advantage. But I’m not saying that it’s not, and these guys love each other! I feel like it has to count for something. There is also the one-two punch of Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez.
Paul: It sounds simplistic, but the fact that they had 101 wins in the regular season makes me pretty confident. The Orioles have proven they can beat any team, any time, and don’t go into extended slumps. They’ve got a well-rounded team that bounces back well after tough losses. The 1-2 punch of Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez in the series certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Mark: Even without Félix Bautista in the mix, the Orioles should have a better bullpen than the Rangers bullpen. Texas had the worst reliever ERA of any team remaining in the postseason at 4.77. That will be important if the Orioles need to do the “come back in middle innings and hold off in late innings” formula from the regular season to get wins in this series.
The thing that makes you worry
Paul: What worries me specifically about the Rangers is of course their offense, which is capable of hitting a bajillion home runs. What worries me just in general is the randomness of the postseason, where any team can beat any other in such a small sample. Just look at the Wild Card Series, where three of the four series were won by the team with the worse regular season record.
Mark: The trend in the last three postseasons that has stood above all others is that the team that hits the most homers in a game is heavily likely to win that game. The Rangers led American League teams with 233 home runs. The Orioles were below the league average team with 183 home runs. That gap could be the decisive factor in the series.
Stacey: They’re too good at hitting! And they are a streaky team who was on the downside at the end of the year, only to have taken a turn in their dominant series against the Rays.
Alex: Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi resembled the perfect free agent target for the Orioles last offseason. The Rangers inked the righty to a two year deal, while the Orioles signed Kyle Gibson. Eovaldi paired a 3.63 ERA with a 1.139 WHIP during an All-Star campaign, and the 33-year-old limited Tampa Bay to just one run in the Wild Card round.
Andrea: Their bats, duh. This is a team that led the AL in average, OBP, slugging, wOBA and runs created. And they scored 26 runs against the Orioles in six games. Then again, to put on my orange-colored goggles for a second: are these even the same two teams that split the season series 3-3? Baltimore last played Texas on May 26-28. That was before Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez got good, before John Means came back to the rotation, and also before Rangers ace Jacob deGrom’s season-ending injury in June. Texas would slump to an 11-13 record in July and a 15-14 September/October finish.
Tyler: Corey Seager. Their entire offense is a threat, but Seager has been so good all year and looked great in the Wild Card round. The O’s will have plenty of left-handed relief options. I’m just not sure you trust any one of them against this version of Seager.
John: It has to be the Rangers lineup. While names like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Adolis Garcia jump off the page, there really isn’t an easy out in the entire lineup. The Orioles don’t always tend to get out to the fastest starts, and Texas showed against Tampa they’re plenty capable of jumping out to early leads. With talented but young starting pitchers, the O’s rotation will really have to make sure to not fall behind early and risk shaking their starters’ confidence.
An Oriole who needs to have a good series
John: The veteran outfield trio of Hays, Mullins and Santander. None of them have postseason experience, but they are the most veteran presences in the lineup. While Adley and Gunnar are surely going to lead the lineup in terms of the batting order, the Baby Birds will no doubt look to the vets as they all navigate the playoffs for the first time. If Hays and Mullins especially are performing at their best, it also gives the Orioles lineup the depth to go toe-to-toe with Texas’ bats.
Paul: Again a simplistic answer, but Gunnar Henderson. He went a bit cold in the last couple weeks and the offense struggled to score runs. The Most Valuable Oriole is the straw that stirs the drink for the O’s, offensively and defensively.
Stacey: Anthony Santander has the ability to carry the offense when he is hot. And when he’s not there is a huge hole in the middle of the offense. I feel like, as he goes, so will the series.
Alex: Anthony Santander. The Orioles start the order with two impact bats in Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman, but the Birds need another option that can drive in multiple runs with one swing of the bat. Santander possesses the power to break games open, and he’s no stranger to streaks at the plate. The Orioles need a hot-hitting Santander to win the series.
Andrea: I’ll give a slightly out-of-left field (OK, an on-first base) answer in Ryan Mountcastle. Assuming the don’t bring anyone back on short rest, Texas is sending lefty Jordan Montgomery in Game 2. Mountcastle crushed lefties this season, averaging .340 as part of a 1.056 OPS. He’s slugged .500 in his career against Montgomery and is 6-18 against probable Game 3 starter Nathan Eovaldi. The O’s offense slumped in the last two weeks of the season, but when Mountcastle is clicking in the middle of the order, this lineup looks different.
Mark: Gunnar Henderson was the best Oriole in the regular season. I think if they’re going to win this best-of-five postseason series they’re going to need to get a lot from their best player. That’s especially true since he was tied for the team lead in home runs and I’m still thinking about that factor from my previous answer. If Gunnar is homering, I will like the Orioles’ chances. If he’s not, there will be anxiousness or worse.
Tyler: Adley Rutschman. If you had to pinpoint one singular reason the Orioles have turned around the last 18 months, it’s him. And it’s tough to see them advancing without him continuing to do the sort of things that he has done up to this point. It doesn’t have to be an otherworldly performance, but rather a continuation of what he does so well. That means seeing pitches, taking walks, popping an occasional double, and just generally setting the table for the middle of the order. That should help shorten the starter’s night and get to the vulnerable bullpen. The same can be said on defense. If he can steal a few strikes and limit the Rangers offense to only what they earn (no passed balls, few wild pitches, etc.) that feels like a recipe for success.
The “Orioles Magic” player of the series
Andrea: Adam Frazier
Tyler: Aaron Hicks
Paul: Jordan Westburg
Stacey: Jorge Mateo
Alex: DL Hall
Mark: Cedric Mullins
John: James McCann
John: Orioles in 4
Tyler: Orioles in 4
Mark: Rangers in 4
Andrea: Orioles in 4
Paul: Rangers in 5
Stacey: Orioles in 5
Alex: Orioles in 5
That’s what we’re all thinking heading into this series. Are you confident or are you worried? Where do you think things will end up?