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With a great first half in the books, how have your hopes for the 2023 Orioles changed?

For a second consecutive season, the Orioles come out of the break with a record way better than anyone expected

SPORTS-ORIOLES-BEAT-TIGERS-21-ON-1-BZ Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Around this time last year, the Orioles came into the All-Star break as one of baseball’s most surprising teams, if not the most surprising team. They’ve done it again in 2023, playing at a 54-35 pace that’s still managing to blow away the adjusted expectations for the team now that no one believed they’d be horrible any more. They’re in with the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Marlins as the teams who’ve jumped a lot to get into a postseason position.

Not everything has gone perfectly for the Orioles so far this year. They’ve had their problems that they’ve needed to deal with. The team weathered the absence of Cedric Mullins without collapsing. They stuck with Gunnar Henderson through some April struggle. Things weren’t going too well for Ryan Mountcastle either, which is part of why Ryan O’Hearn is here and doing well.

Maybe the biggest disappointment is the pitching of Grayson Rodriguez, who got a surprise early-season promotion into the big league rotation and was not able to get any good results with that opportunity. The Orioles sent him back to the minors, where things have been going better for him, but he still needs to prove that he can consistently get out big league batters if he’s going to be a player we can imagine in the O’s rotation for the next several years. DL Hall’s journeying has him feeling so far from an MLB rotation that it’s hardly even worth mentioning him here.

There are also a lot of things that have gone unquestionably right for the team, beyond what anyone might have hoped. Mullins, Austin Hays, and Anthony Santander have all been doing well at the plate so far, with Hays and Santander on track for possible career years. Adley Rutschman is avoiding a sophomore slump at the plate. Félix Bautista is great again and has been joined in All-Star-worthy bullpen excellence by Yennier Cano.

The team has been able to promote its prospect depth to help the big league team, with Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser poised to leave an impact in the second half. They’ve also shrewdly picked from the scrap heap in the same way they’d done in their tanking years, as the trash pile addition of Aaron Hicks was a big part of what helped keep the team from falling apart while Mullins was out.

Now, Mullins is back, Hicks is still doing OK, and Cowser is here too. There’s almost more talent than places to play them. We see this in the infield too, with Joey Ortiz not getting regular big league playing time. It’s not a bad problem to have. How the Orioles manage all of this is going to determine whether they can catch the Rays, whether they can stay ahead of the other wild card contenders, or whether things go poorly and they drop out of the picture entirely by season’s end.

The best Orioles so far

There are six Orioles who have at least 2.0 bWAR through 89 games. They are:

  • Austin Hays - 2.3
  • Gunnar Henderson - 2.3
  • Tyler Wells - 2.3
  • Félix Bautista - 2.2
  • Yennier Cano - 2.2
  • Adley Rutschman - 2.1

While organizing this article, I looked back at a similar post from the end of the break last year. Hays was also the Orioles WAR leader last year, to my surprise, with 2.8. However, by season’s end he was down to 8th, having lost .6 WAR down to 2.2.

After Rutschman finished with 5.2 WAR in just 113 games last season, it’s a bit of a disappointment that he’s “only” at 2.1 now. His throwing out just 19% of baserunners this season is probably a part of that. Hard to say how much of this is his fault and how much belongs to the pitchers, but it’s definitely an issue.

Henderson ending up at the top here after his struggle in April is a nice turnaround. And all three pitchers on this list have been great. Hopefully they don’t make like 2022 Hays and drop off hard in the second half.

The worst Orioles so far

A total of 13 Orioles have accumulated bWAR in the negatives up to this point. These are the five players who are below -0.2 WAR:

  • Grayson Rodriguez - -1.0 (sigh)
  • Keegan Akin - -0.8
  • Terrin Vavra - -0.4
  • Mychal Givens - -0.4
  • Kyle Stowers - -0.3

One thing that this list of players has in common is that none of them are currently active on the roster. The only one fans are probably even hoping to see again this year is an improved version of Rodriguez. That’s one of the big differences between the Orioles right now and the tanking Orioles of the recent past. Players who absolutely stink aren’t just kept around forever.

Projections vs. reality

  • FanGraphs: 90-72 (preseason: 78-84)
  • PECOTA: 90-72 (preseason: 75-87)
  • A random sportsbook that operates in Maryland: Over/under 90.5 wins (preseason: 76.5)

All three of these places have essentially jumped on the same notion: That the Orioles will go .500 the rest of the way. Or, slightly below .500, as from this point it would take a 36-37 second half record for the O’s to end up with 90 wins.

Considering that the Orioles have played over a .600 winning percentage up through the All-Star break, that certainly stands out as a pessimistic possibility. Even if someone were to adjust their second half expectations to match the O’s Pythagorean expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed, that’s still a 49-40 record. Winning at that clip for the second half (about a .550 winning percentage) would have the team finish at 94 wins.

The Orioles are once again blowing away the guesses of most of the Camden Chat writers. Only one of us, Alex, was bold enough to predict 90 wins before the season began.

Wild predictions vs. reality

As part of the preseason CC activity, I also have each of the writers make a wild prediction. Two of our writers were feeling optimistic about the Orioles having multiple All-Stars. Tyler predicted the O’s All-Stars would be Rutschman, Bautista, and Santander. Pretty close! Andrea came even closer, predicting All-Stars at catcher, outfield, and closer.

One more wild prediction has come true, as Alex predicted that Joey Ortiz would beat Jordan Westburg to the majors. No offense, Alex, but that one wasn’t that wild. Stacey’s wild prediction that Kyle Bradish would be the best Orioles starting pitcher by season’s end is still a possibility, as he’s darn close right now (125 ERA+ to Tyler Wells’s 131) and has a better FIP than Wells.

Not looking too good are a couple of 30-30 related wild predictions, as John’s wild guess involved a 30 home run/30 stolen base season for Gunnar Henderson, and Paul went out on a limb for 30 home runs/40 stolen bases for Cedric Mullins. Sorry, guys.

As for me, my wild guess was that one of Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, or Austin Hays would not be with the organization by season’s end. My thinking was that either one of these guys would stink so much to get shuffled off or that the rotation would disappoint and one of them would be traded in July. Mountcastle might yet get me there, although I don’t expect the O’s to send him packing all the way off the 40-man roster by season’s end. December’s tender deadline is another story.

Remind yourself of your own wild predictions, and less wild predictions, and let us know in the comments below how you’re doing.

The big questions

What do you think the second half has in store for the Orioles? Are they going to end up making the big, exciting trade so many of us have been convincing ourselves must be done for months? Or will it end up being a smaller and disappointing move?

For who’s on the roster right now, will the rotation be able to hold up to the end of the season as several of the less big league-experienced pitchers cross their new career highs for innings? Can the top performers in the bullpen hold it together? Will the Westburg and Colton Cowser call-ups make a difference?