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The 2023 season is coming close to entering its final month. For the Orioles, it’s been a great one up to this point, especially since the start of July. The team went from a 6.5 game deficit in the AL East to being tied for the lead by July 19, and they’ve been tied or leading the division over the Rays and everyone else every day ever since.
In the wider world of baseball media, it seems like a lot of people are waiting for the inevitable Orioles collapse. Orioles fans have had varying levels of fear about this outcome as well. They have refused to do it so far. They have pushed through challenges like Cedric Mullins’s injury, Grayson Rodriguez’s early struggles, and their July acquisitions Shintaro Fujinami and Jack Flaherty, uh, let’s say taking some early lumps.
Now, they’re probably going to be without closer Félix Bautista for the rest of the season. Bautista is a big part of why the Orioles have been able to hold on to so many close wins up to this point. He will not be there, barring something that seems miraculous to me, as they try to fend off the Rays in September. That includes a crucial four game set against those same Rays.
Do you think they can do it?
As weird as it remains to write this, it is still true: The Orioles are pretty darn close to being a certainty to clinch some kind of postseason position. They hold a 10.5 game lead over the nearest non-playoff competitor, the Blue Jays, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker, with 31 games left. They’re 99.9% to make it on Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
This time a month from now, the Orioles are going to have to figure out who they want to have pitching in whatever their first postseason series is, and in what order. Depending on how the next few weeks play out, the O’s could be heading in to the final days of the season without the luxury of lining up their starting pitchers. They might need their best guys to help them win the division, or fight back in the division, in the last weekend. That is crucial to get a bye through the wild card round and straight into the Division Series.
If the Orioles are short of that, they might need to guarantee at least being the host of a wild card series. Better to get as many postseason home games as you can. Whatever ends up happening, it seems like the Orioles have two or maybe three choices for who should be their preference for however many Game 1 situations they find themselves in for the rest of this season.
After what was overall not a very good 2022 season for Bradish, I did not have high expectations for him coming into this season. Maybe I should have been more of a believer based on his second half split of a 3.28 ERA last year, because he’s gone on to look like that pitcher for the whole season this year.
Bradish has quietly compiled some of the best results of any starting pitcher in MLB. His 3.03 ERA stands sixth, and in terms of hits allowed per nine innings, he’s tenth. He’s been even better, or at least has gotten even better results, in eight second half starts this year: a 2.54 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. If he can keep that up for his final handful of starts, that will be a big help to the team’s chances.
If wanting an Orioles prospect to immediately be good was sufficient for them to do so, we would have had a much happier time as Orioles fans for much of the 21st century. It’s not so easy, of course, even for the absolute top-end prospects. Rodriguez’s early results were disappointing enough that you had to wonder, at least a little bit, if he’d be added to the list of touted O’s pitching prospects who never did the thing here.
Then, Rodriguez was sent to the minors, worked on some stuff, and came back. He’s been doing his best to banish those early bad impressions ever since. Over eight second half starts, he’s held all batters to a .535 OPS and in that same time has a 2.83 ERA and 0.986 WHIP. Numbers like that over a full season and he’d be in the Cy Young conversation.
In better circumstances for the Orioles offseason starting pitcher signing, Kyle Gibson, he might be an “automatic” candidate for a Game 1 starter by virtue of being the most veteran guy who was pitching acceptably. The problem is that, at least in terms of results, he isn’t. Neither is Cole Irvin. And the next-most experienced guy is Kremer.
Kremer, who brings a 4.31 ERA into his Tuesday start, doesn’t have the most exciting results up to this point. He’s another guy who’s showing a big improvement in the second half, though. Eight starts since the break, 3.33 ERA, .600 OPS allowed. That will work, and it’s not totally out of nowhere either, since he finished last year with a 3.23 ERA in 22 games.
Who are you giving the ball for Game 1, assuming the Orioles have the luxury of lining up their rotation so he can pitch on sufficient rest?