Ready or not, here we go. The 2023 Orioles season begins this afternoon in Boston. And for the first time in a long time, the O’s begin a season with the realistic expectation of being relevant in the postseason race.
I’m not used to this feeling, you guys.
Last year’s out-of-nowhere 83-win performance, in a season in which the O’s were projected to finish with 100+ losses for the fourth straight full year, raised the bar for what’s possible for this team. The consensus top-ranked minor league system in baseball has begun delivering elite talent to the majors, starting with budding superstar Adley Rutschman and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Gunnar Henderson last year, and likely continuing this season with Grayson Rodriguez and a wealth of high-end infield prospects in 2023. Mike Elias has declared the rebuild over. The time for winning has arrived. The journey starts this afternoon.
This is the first time in four years that the O’s are actually starting the season on the day they were originally scheduled to. In 2020, the Birds were supposed to host Opening Day on March 26, only for the pandemic to come along and ruin everything (the O’s ultimately began a truncated 60-game season in Boston four months later). In 2021, the Orioles’ planned April 1 opener at Fenway was pushed to the following day because of bad weather. And in 2022, the late end to the MLB lockout scrapped the Birds’ Opening Day in Baltimore on March 31, with the club instead kicking off the season the following week in Tampa Bay.
Due to all the schedule shenanigans, the Orioles haven’t gotten to host Opening Day at Camden Yards since 2018. Maybe next year.
The Red Sox are a familiar opening opponent, as this is the third time in the past four years the Birds have begun the season at Fenway Park. Both resulted in series wins. In 2020, the Birds won two out of three despite a blowout loss in the opener, and in 2021 the O’s pulled off a shocking sweep that was, unfortunately, not at all indicative of how the rest of the season would go.
This year’s Red Sox aren’t expected to be particularly good (though oddsmakers have them finishing ahead of the Orioles). John Beers wrote a thorough preview of the Red Sox last week, but in short, they let franchise icon Xander Bogaerts leave for San Diego — further infuriating a fan base still salty about the 2020 Mookie Betts trade — but somewhat atoned for it by locking up Rafael Devers to a 10-year extension. They added Japanese outfielder and WBC standout Masataka Yoshida, among others, but lost their top three starting pitchers from last year — Michael Wacha, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rich Hill — in free agency.
Maybe don’t read too much into the results of this series, good or bad. But there’s going to be plenty of excitement anyway. Baseball is back!
Game 1: Thursday, 2:10 PM, MASN 2
RHP Kyle Gibson (10-8, 5.05 for Phillies in 2022) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (10-10, 4.34 for Rays in 2022)
As far as Opening Day pitching matchups go, this isn’t exactly Max Scherzer vs. Sandy Alcantara. Gibson’s 81 ERA+ last year was the third-worst of any of this year’s Opening Day starters, and Kluber’s 84 was fourth-worst. Both veteran right-handers will be making their respective team debuts. Kluber’s sojourn through the AL East continues; he’s played for three different clubs in this division in the last three years, following the Rays last year and the Yankees in 2021.
If the Orioles don’t have a book on Kluber by now, they have only themselves to blame. The righty started against the Orioles a whopping six times last year, facing them in all six series the O’s and Rays played. With this year’s newly balanced MLB schedule cutting series between divisional foes down to four, we may never again see a pitcher make six starts in a year against a single team. I’m fine with that, although the familiarity certainly helped the O’s in this case. They roughed up Kluber for a 5.64 ERA last year, and he beat them only once in his six tries.
Gibson, after a largely unsuccessful stint in the National League for the last year and a half, returns to the AL, where he was an All-Star for the Rangers in 2021. The 34-year-old is making his second career Opening Day start, and we can only hope it goes better than the first. In 2021, he opened for the Rangers in Kansas City and imploded, retiring only one batter while coughing up four hits, three walks, and five runs in an eventual 14-10 loss. Nowhere to go but up, I suppose! Gibson last faced the Red Sox in 2021 and held them to one run in six innings, and has a 3.38 career ERA against them in eight starts, including an excellent 1.57 in four starts at Fenway Park.
Game 2: Saturday, 4:10 PM, MASN 2
RHP Dean Kremer (8-7, 3.23 in 2022) vs. LHP Chris Sale (0-1, 3.18 in 2022)
Although the noted jersey-slasher Sale isn’t always the most sympathetic figure, it’s hard not to feel empathetic about his horrible health luck last year. He spent the first half of the season battling back from a right rib stress fracture, finally returned to the majors in July...and then got hit by a comebacker in his second start, breaking his hand, and the next month broke his wrist while riding a bike, ending his season after just 5.2 innings. After so many setbacks, Sale may no longer be the dominant force he was in his heyday— in which he finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young vote for seven straight years — but he can still be plenty effective. He holds a lifetime 10-3 mark and 2.71 ERA against the O’s in 23 games.
Kremer, meanwhile, will be looking to build on his breakout 2022 campaign for the Birds, which saw him post the lowest ERA for an O’s starting pitcher since Miguel González in 2014. Even as his strikeout rate has dipped in his three seasons in the majors, down to 6.2 K/9 last year, he has improved at keeping runners off base, posting a career-best 1.253 WHIP in 2022. The Red Sox, though, hit Kremer well last year, with a team .915 OPS in his three starts.
Game 3: Sunday, 1:35 PM, MASN 2
LHP Cole Irvin (9-13, 3.98 for Athletics in 2022) vs. RHP Tanner Houck (5-4, 3.15 in 2022)
It’ll be the Orioles debut for Irvin, the workmanlike lefty acquired from the Athletics this past winter. For now, he’s the only southpaw in the O’s rotation, at least until John Means returns from Tommy John rehab in the middle of the season and/or DL Hall returns to the majors as a starting pitcher. Irvin held lefties to a .638 OPS last year, so perhaps he’ll have some success against a Sox lineup loaded with left-handers, including Devers, Yoshida, Alex Verdugo, and rookie Triston Casas. This will be his first ever appearance at Fenway Park.
Houck, a Sox first-round pick in 2017, opened last year in Boston’s rotation but lasted just three starts until they shifted him to the bullpen, where he served as the closer for a while before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Now he’s giving it another go as a starter. He’s unlikely to pitch deep into the game, so the Orioles might see a parade of Red Sox relievers in the finale.
How many games will the Orioles win in their opening series against the Red Sox?
This poll is closed
3 (Orioles sweep!)
0 (Orioles get swept)