Orioles reset: With playoffs looming, Baltimore believes it’s learned from last year’s near miss – The Denver Post
The Orioles might be young, but they’re not new to this.
Sure, this group has never been this good. But many of the players in Baltimore’s clubhouse went through a pressurized stretch run last year.
The 2022 Orioles entered September two games back of a wild-card spot, but the magic the club found in the summer waned as it missed the postseason by three games. Anthony Santander, one of the veterans who braved the rebuild, believes knowing what it feels like to compete for a playoff spot — and to fall short of one — will help down the stretch as the Orioles look to win their first American League East title since 2014.
“I think last year’s experience really helped us,” Santander said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We’ve been through a stretch here where we’ve been in first place for a while. I think the important thing is to just take it day by day, continuing to work hard each and every day with that preparation. … And hopefully we can carry that into the playoffs.”
Ryan McKenna, the Orioles’ fifth outfielder who was also a member of the 2022 club, said missing the playoffs last year was a motivating factor entering the offseason. But the main one now, he said, is building off the success they’ve had so far this season — on pace for 101 wins for the first time hitting the century mark since 1980 — to enter the postseason riding high.
“The precedent that we set early this year and even last year is we’re trying to win. It’s a communal effort,” McKenna said. “Every man has their own things to do to help the team win, ultimately, and then coming together and doing that on a nightly basis. We’ve won more games this year than we did last year, and that just shows that mindset that’s kind of grown in the past two years.
“We still got a month left and got to finish strong, keeping that same precedent we set at the beginning of the year. When we do that, it’s going to be a really cool outcome.”
The benefits of that experience last year, though, is also realizing the team fell short late when it had a chance to earn a wild-card spot.
After a slow start to the 2022 season, the Orioles emerged in the summer as contenders. They won their first three September games for a 41-22 mark since late June. But the club stumbled down the stretch, losing 18 of its final 30 contests. September, with a difficult schedule that featured 20 games versus the AL East and four against the soon-to-be World Series-champion Houston Astros, was the club’s first losing month since May.
“We played in some high-pressure games last year in September, our guys got to experience that,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Love the way we hung in there last year, I was really proud of our team. We had a really, really tough September schedule last year, and we fought all the way to the end. A lot of the guys that are in that room right now did that.
“For them to experience some of those high-intensity games in a [wild-card] race, I think it’s beneficial for this year.”
Cedric Mullins said one of the differences between these Orioles and those Orioles is the balance of the lineup.
“In terms of our offense, it’s a combination of guys trading off being hot and cold,” the center fielder said. “When two or three guys are hot, they’re able to help carry the offense to spell those one or two or three guys who are waiting to hit their stride.”
McKenna said the additions to the roster are a large reason the club is better this year — and more prepared for a playoff push.
Rookies Gunnar Henderson, Yennier Cano and Jordan Westburg spent most or all of the 2022 campaign in the minors. Henderson has been perhaps the team’s best player; Cano was an All-Star; and Westburg has boosted the club’s infield rotation.
The team added veterans Kyle Gibson, James McCann and Adam Frazier in the offseason, and all three have been upgrades over their predecessors in the rotation, behind the plate and at second base, respectively. Ryan O’Hearn has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises, leading the team in OPS after struggling for years in Kansas City, and the club revived Aaron Hicks’ career after he flamed out in New York with the Yankees. Relievers Danny Coulombe, Jacob Webb and Shintaro Fujinami — and potentially Jorge López — have all pitched better in Baltimore than at their previous stops.
“I think we’ve added some pieces player-wise that have helped a tremendous amount,” McKenna said. “Guys have stepped up and the people who have been playing every day have continued to grow and mature and play as well as they can.
“And clubhouse-wise we haven’t taken away from anything we had last year. We’ve only learned and grown and improved in every way.”
After taking two of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend, the Orioles (85-51) extended their lead over the Tampa Bay Rays (83-54) atop the AL standings to 2 1/2 games. While all 26 remaining games matter, there are four in mid-September that matter twice as much.
Baltimore will host Tampa Bay from Sept. 14 to 17 for their final series against one another this year. The team that wins the series — if they don’t split it — could have a leg up on claiming the division crown. FanGraphs gives the Orioles a 100% chance and the Rays 99.8% odds to make the playoffs. Baltimore is favored by the website’s projections at 68.6% to win the division.
“We have four more games against them and those are going to be really important games for us,” Santander said. “Honestly, just trying to be consistent and continue doing the daily work so we can continue to get the job done.”
Hyde doesn’t want his players to change anything over the final month of the regular season. The fifth-year skipper was an assistant with the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series in 2016, and he knows big games in September and playoff ones in October have “serious adrenaline.” But Hyde, who suffered through the rebuild alongside Santander, Mullins and others, still wants his players to soak it in.
“This is a fun time right now,” Hyde said. “We should be enjoying this.”
What’s to come?
A three-game series against one of MLB’s worst teams, a day off and a weekend set against a Boston Red Sox team currently 14 1/2 games behind the Orioles.
After going all-in at the deadline rather than trade Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels have gone 9-24. The club is at its lowest point of the season after being swept by the lowly Oakland Athletics.
The Orioles then fly from Anaheim back to the East Coast to take on the Red Sox for the last time this season. Like the Angels, the Red Sox are struggling as losers of five of their last seven.
What was good?
The potential resurgence of one of the team’s best players.
Since he injured his groin in late May, Cedric Mullins hasn’t been the same hitter. He was perhaps the team’s best before the injury, which landed him on the injured list twice and caused him to miss about two months, but he hit just .215 with a .649 OPS in his first 34 games since he returned from his first IL stint.
But Mullins began to break out over the weekend, going 5-for-12 in the series win with a three-run home run Saturday and a go-ahead RBI single Sunday. He is the team’s best hitter with runners in scoring position, slashing .329/.408/.622 for a 1.029 OPS in such situations.
The starting pitchers on the fence.
The Orioles have tough decisions to make next week and next month. When left-hander John Means likely returns from the injured list this weekend, the club will have to decide whether to put its former No. 1 starter back in the rotation or stash him in the bullpen. In October, Baltimore will have to choose its four-man rotation for the postseason, the final spot of which will likely fall to one of its four veterans.
Kyle Gibson on Wednesday allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Chicago White Sox. Cole Irvin on Friday gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, and Jack Flaherty on Sunday surrendered four runs in 4 2/3 frames.
On the farm
The sport’s best minor league system had some movement Sunday.
No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, making the jump to his fourth level this season. 2023 first-round pick Enrique Bradfield Jr. and two other draftees were also promoted, making the leap from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen.
Holliday joins a Tides roster that is chock-full of the organization’s best prospects. Two of them — Coby Mayo and Connor Norby — put up big numbers last week. Mayo, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, went 6-for-22 with three home runs, while Norby, the club’s 11th-best prospect, went 9-for-26 with four doubles and two long balls.
Orioles at Angels
Monday, 9:38 p.m.
TV: MASN, FS1
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
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