Special season over for O's club with bright future

Young core, thriving farm system should ensure Baltimore's postseason berth won't be last

October 11th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Adley Rutschman sat together in a corner of the visitors’ clubhouse at Globe Life Field, their stunned, emotionless faces saying more than any of the words that would later come out of their mouths could.

The unsweepable Orioles had finally been swept. A special season for Baltimore was over.

“It doesn’t really feel real right now,” Rutschman said.

The Orioles’ return to the postseason brought a disappointing end to a remarkable year for a rising club that should have one of the brightest futures in MLB. With a 7-1 loss to Texas on Tuesday night, Baltimore was swept in three games in the American League Division Series.

Appearing in the postseason for the first time since 2016 -- and playing in a multigame playoff series for the first time since ‘14 -- the Orioles dropped Games 1 and 2 at Camden Yards, then went down quietly in Game 3. They were outscored 21-11 in the ALDS sweep, capped by a loss in which Texas hit three home runs and blew it open with a five-run second.

It was the first time Baltimore had been swept since it dropped three in a row at Detroit from May 13-15, 2022, shortly before Rutschman was called up. The club’s streak of 91 multigame regular-season series without a sweep is the third longest in AL/NL history.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of the 16 previous teams in AL/NL history to go to the postseason having not been swept in a multigame series in the regular season (excluding 2020), only one then got swept in the playoffs -- the 1998 Padres, who were managed by current Rangers skipper Bruce Bochy.

“It’s difficult. It’s ironic, in a sense,” Mullins said. “We go the whole season without getting swept in any way, and then get swept in the postseason. It’s a learning experience for all of us, a young team as a whole.”

The Orioles, who won 101 regular-season games en route to an AL East title, have a young core that had never experienced playoff baseball before. Of the 26 players on their ALDS roster, only six had previously played in the postseason.

So the past four days will serve as a valuable learning experience for the rising O’s. They built upon a breakout 83-win 2022 campaign -- which came after five consecutive losing seasons, including three with 108 or more losses -- and solidified their place among the AL’s top teams, a spot they could potentially hold for years to come.

“It was a hell of a run that we had this year,” Hays said. “A lot of losing here over these last few years. So honestly, we were just living in the moment the entire season, just realizing we were turning the corner and what we were doing was really special.”

Baltimore’s goals for 2023 became increasingly larger as the year went along. The Orioles outperformed the many preseason projections that expected them to regress. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system pegged the O’s for 74 wins -- a mark they reached on Aug. 14.

Baltimore clinched a postseason berth on Sept. 17, then fended off Tampa Bay for the AL East crown (secured Sept. 28), finishing atop the highly competitive division by two games. The Orioles (101-61) were one of only three teams in MLB to record 100-plus wins, along with the Braves (104-58) and the Dodgers (100-62).

The O’s hadn’t won 100 games since 1980 (100-62). They hadn’t won 101 since ‘79 (102-57). And this regular season was the fifth best in team history (since 1954).

“Really proud of our group. They defied all the odds,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Nobody gave us a chance. These guys played their butts off for six months.”

The Orioles know they can look back at the year and be proud of their accomplishments. It didn’t make the ending any easier to stomach in the moment, though.

“This hurts, and it's OK to hurt,” Hyde said. “It's OK to have this fuel your fire in the offseason. It's going to take a while for us to get over this a little bit.”

Tuesday’s game ended with Texas right-hander José Leclerc pumping a 98.4 mph fastball past Jordan Westburg, who swung through the pitch for strike three. Leclerc was soon joined by all of his Rangers teammates for a celebration in the middle of the diamond.

Nobody left the top step of Baltimore’s third-base dugout. Nearly everybody stayed for at least a minute, keeping his eyes on what was unfolding.

“You’re watching it, that’s what you want to be doing,” Rutschman said. “That’s where you want to be.”

It’s where the Orioles could be soon enough. This year, they may not have captured their fourth World Series championship, but they arrived.

Rutschman had a solid sophomore showing in the big leagues. Talented infielder Gunnar Henderson will likely soon be named AL Rookie of the Year. Other rookies had impressive stints in the big leagues: right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, Westburg, lefty DL Hall and more.

Baltimore’s farm system remains one of the best in baseball, a product of strong showings in the MLB Draft for general manager Mike Elias and his front office. Things should only trend upward for the O’s from here.

“We did a lot of good. We had a lot of fun. This sucks,” Westburg said. “But it’s a feeling that we’re just going to have to remember. Whatever group we have next year is going to come out and try to replicate that regular season and push further into the postseason.”

These Orioles are quite confident that this time won’t be the last time, and that next time will only yield even better results.

“It’s not where we wanted to end up. I’m proud of our guys, though. I’m proud of everyone who was a part of this journey,” Rutschman said. “And we’ll be back.”