Who should Orioles want to face: Rangers or Rays?

October 2nd, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Nearly every time Ryan O’Hearn went on social media in September, he saw a graphic showing the potential MLB postseason bracket “if the season ended today.” The first baseman/outfielder always noticed the Orioles could encounter an American League East rival as early as the AL Division Series.

That may end up being the case. The Rays, who earned the No. 4 seed in the AL as the top Wild Card, are hosting a best-of-three Wild Card Series at Tropicana Field, where they’ll look to defeat the No. 5 Rangers. Game 1 is set for Tuesday.

However, whether it’s Tampa Bay or Texas that advances to face Baltimore in the ALDS (which begins Saturday at Camden Yards), O’Hearn knows the O’s will be facing a tough opponent.

“I feel like once you get to this point, when you’re playing in the ALDS, it’s going to be a battle no matter who you play, because whoever’s there will be very deserving,” O’Hearn said.

Let’s break down the Orioles’ two potential ALDS opponents and decide which matchup would be better for them:

No. 4 Tampa Bay (99-63, AL Wild Card No. 1)

As AL East rivals, the Orioles and Rays have already seen plenty of each other this year (albeit not as much as past years, due to the more balanced schedule). Nearly every time these division rivals faced off, a nail-biting contest ensued.

Baltimore won the season series against Tampa Bay, 8-5, but the teams were evenly matched. Over those 13 games, each scored exactly 48 runs. Ten of those contests were decided by three or fewer runs, and eight by two or fewer. The O’s won two series vs. the Rays and split the other two.

“Maybe it adds a little bit of familiarity and confidence for some of these guys, just being in a situation where you’ve played them quite a bit so you know them,” Baltimore right-hander Kyle Gibson said. “But I think everything changes when it comes to the playoffs a little bit. It’s a different atmosphere, different stuff on the line.”

Tampa Bay is banged up. Second baseman Brandon Lowe (right patella fracture) may not play again this year, and if he does, he won’t be back by the ALDS. Outfielders Jose Siri (right hand fracture) and Luke Raley (cervical strain) could both miss the AL Wild Card Series.

Plus, the Rays’ pitching staff is missing some big pieces -- Shane McClanahan (Tommy John surgery), Drew Rasmussen (right flexor strain) and Jason Adam (left oblique strain), to name a few.

But manager Kevin Cash always gets the most out of his roster, which still has plenty of star power. The lineup features AL batting champion Yandy Díaz (.330 average), Isaac Paredes (31 homers, .840 OPS) and Randy Arozarena (23 homers, .789 OPS), the rotation has Zach Eflin (3.50 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and Tyler Glasnow (3.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP), and the bullpen is filled with quality arms.

No. 5 Rangers (90-72, AL Wild Card No. 2)

It’s been a while since Baltimore and Texas have crossed paths. The Orioles took two of three at Globe Life Field from April 3-5 (the second series of the season), then the Rangers returned the favor by winning two of three at Camden Yards from May 26-28.

Quite a bit has changed with both teams’ rosters since the last meeting more than four months ago. But one thing hasn’t: Texas still has a potent lineup with a pair of AL MVP Award candidates at the top of it.

Corey Seager (.327/.390/.623 with 42 doubles, 33 homers and 96 RBIs in 119 games) and Marcus Semien (.276/.348/.478 with 40 doubles, 29 homers and 100 RBIs in 162 games) are always tough outs. The duo fuels a Rangers offense that led the AL in runs (881), batting average (.263), on-base percentage (.337) and slugging percentage (.452) and tied the Twins for the most home runs (233) during the regular season.

However, Texas’ starting rotation is a bit less intimidating with Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery), Max Scherzer (right teres major strain) and Jon Gray (right forearm tightness) all on the injured list and out for a potential ALDS. The Rangers may need to lean heavily on All-Star Nathan Eovaldi and Trade Deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery.

The biggest issue for Texas is the ninth inning, as it went 30-for-63 in save opportunities, an MLB-low 47.6 percent success rate. José Leclerc, Will Smith and Aroldis Chapman have all closed, but none of the three has seized the role.

The Rangers have a great leader in manager Bruce Bochy, who guided San Francisco to three World Series championships in a five-year span (2010, ‘12, ‘14) and ended Texas’ six-year postseason drought in his first season at the helm. Nobody would be surprised if he takes his team deep into October.


When Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was asked following Sunday’s regular-season finale if he had a preferred ALDS opponent, he gave a succinct answer: “Nope.”

The Rays and Rangers are both strong teams that present different sets of challenges. No matter whom the Orioles face, the ALDS is unlikely to be a three-game sweep. And as we’ve seen when Baltimore and Tampa Bay have faced off this year, every contest (and series) is close.

Texas may be a slightly better matchup for the O’s, who have a lineup that can keep pace in a slugfest. The Rangers’ late-inning bullpen woes could be their undoing, as the Orioles (who recorded 48 comeback wins in the regular season) always battle until the final pitch.