Here's why the O's shouldn't be counted out

October 10th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have their work cut out for them, but they’re not done yet after two losses to the Rangers to open the American League Division Series. What will it take to pull out an improbable comeback after their 11-8 loss to the Rangers in Game 2 on Sunday put Baltimore in an 0-2 hole?

"We really felt like we had a chance, still, even when we were down early in the game,” said outfielder Austin Hays. “I always think we have a chance, no matter what.”

History isn’t on their side, and the Orioles haven’t played their best baseball by any stretch yet this October. But here are three reasons why this series isn’t over just yet.

It’s been done before
In all best-of-five postseason series, teams to take a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series 78 of 88 times (89%). And in Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, 14 of the 16 clubs (88%) to win Games 1 and 2 on the road have advanced, including 10 via sweep. The last team to win the first two games on the road and lose that series was, coincidentally, the Rangers, back in the 2015 ALDS to Toronto.

Still, these aren’t great odds the Orioles are facing, but they’re not zero. There is precedent of unlikely three-game comebacks.

“Our backs are against the wall right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We have to go to Texas and play well. We haven't played our two best games here.”

There is also recent relevant history pertaining to this specific Orioles team, which hasn’t been swept in a three-game series in 91 consecutive series dating back to May 2022. Now they need to win three games with their backs against the wall. They won at least three straight games 16 different times this season, tied with Atlanta for the most in MLB. They had seven 3+ game winning streaks against teams that finished over .500, four 3+ game winning streaks vs. 2023 playoff teams, and beat the same playoff teams three times in a row three different times.

Although Baltimore hasn't shown it yet this series, the club does know how to fight back -- its 48 comeback wins during the regular season tied for the most in the Majors.

If the offense awakens, the calculus shifts
After not doing much of anything against Andrew Heaney in Game 1, the Orioles’ lineup put a lot more pressure on Jordan Montgomery and four Rangers relievers in Game 2, though much of that came with the Rangers already up big. Still, their 14-hit, eight-run showing was nothing to sneeze at and kept things interesting late because of Gunnar Henderson’s first postseason home run, Aaron Hicks’ three-run shot and a few timely hits with runners in scoring position. In short, they looked more like the Orioles.

That needs to continue, and probably keep improving, for Baltimore to pull out the comeback against Texas’ rolling offense. The room for improvement is definitely there. Adley Rutschman went just 1-for-8 over the first two games. Cedric Mullins went 0-for-8. Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle combined to go just 4-for-16 (though they have driven in three runs between them). The Orioles’ lineup has shown it can get to the Rangers’ shaky pitching staff, but it isn’t yet clicking on all cylinders.

The matchup in Game 3 might benefit Baltimore, as well. The Orioles were an extremely balanced offense this season, though actually slightly less dynamic against right-handers (.733 OPS) than they were against lefties (.764 OPS). But facing righty Nathan Eovaldi in Game 3 should allow them to get Ryan O’Hearn’s bat into the lineup for a little extra power, at least.

The pitching can -- must? -- improve
Though Hyde basically emptied his bullpen in the first two games, Monday’s off day should provide the Orioles’ relievers ample rest for what will be an all-hands-on-deck approach in Game 3. It is likely either Kyle Gibson or Dean Kremer will get the start, with the other getting the nod for a potential Game 4; both need to pitch well for the Orioles to pull this out.

Both were reliable cogs in an extremely reliable Orioles pitching staff, which ranked top five in the AL in ERA, WHIP, walks and homers allowed during the regular season but has looked little like itself so far in this ALDS. In contrast, the Rangers’ starting corps, including Eovaldi, at least seems more prone to peaks and valleys.

“We just got to move on, move forward, flush it down the drain and get after it these next three games,” Hays said. “I have total confidence in our bullpen and our pitching that they’re gonna pitch great these next three games. … We have to focus on what we need to do these next three days, and come out playing with our hair on fire like we have all year.”