A bandwagon fan’s guide to the 2023 AL East-champion Orioles: ‘They’re gonna like how we play’

For a lot of the previous half decade, sparse crowds greeted Orioles baseball because the group weathered a rebuild. Several sections within the left subject higher deck at Camden Yards have been often closed to followers and completely vacant — a inexperienced eyesore bereft of orange-clad supporters.

Only the very dedicated usually attended: In 2018, 2019 after which once more in 2021, the group set low marks for attendance at a single open-admission sport at Oriole Park. But the crowds have returned this yr because the Orioles are within the midst of their finest season in years and, by some measures, many years. Soon, followers will fill these higher deck seats — and in all places else within the ballpark — as Baltimore hosts in early October its first postseason MLB sport in seven years.

Some Baltimore-area residents who’ve tuned the ballclub out throughout an extended, however productive, rebuild, would possibly want an introduction to those newly topped American League East champions. Let slugging, switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander present one.

“I would say we are very competitive and we just never give up,” Santander stated by way of group interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We don’t pay attention to the outside noise. All we care about is each other and the people in this clubhouse.”

How good are the Orioles?

After a number of dismal years, the Orioles had a surprisingly sturdy 2022 marketing campaign, however most projections anticipated them to regress in 2023, not enhance. Sportsbooks predicted they’d win about 77 video games — a mark they ended up reaching Aug. 20, six weeks earlier than the season’s finish.

Baltimore, 100-59 by way of Thursday night time, now has the second-best report in MLB, trailing solely the 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, and the perfect mark within the American League. The Orioles have a profitable report towards the AL East, the AL Central, the AL West and the National League as an entire. They have a profitable report at house, a profitable report on the highway, a profitable report in extra-inning video games, in one-run video games, and in nearly every other doable breakdown.

When the season started, the Orioles’ odds to be topped MLB champions have been +3500, in response to BetMGM. Those odds have now shrunk to +600. Several sportsbooks contemplate them now to be the group third-most prone to win the World Series.

The group’s rise and sustained success this yr has been constructed not on huge profitable streaks, however extra so on avoiding shedding skids. The Orioles haven’t been swept all season and, the truth is, haven’t been swept in 91 sequence courting again to final yr. That’s the longest MLB streak in additional than 75 years.

“Just the resilience of this team,” backup catcher James McCann stated when requested what informal followers ought to find out about these Orioles. “Guys don’t give up, it doesn’t matter the score of the game, it doesn’t matter who we’re facing, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, you’re going to get the same effort, the same team each and every night.”

Who are the Orioles’ finest gamers?

There has not been a single participant who has spurred Baltimore to success this yr. In truth, of the highest 25 hitters in MLB, primarily based upon on-base plus slugging share (OPS), none are Orioles.

But the group’s depth and propensity to win shut video games has propelled it to the playoffs.

They’re led largely by younger gamers. The group’s high two picks within the 2019 MLB draft — second-year catcher Adley Rutschman and rookie Gunnar Henderson — have turn out to be the faces of the group and the cornerstones for no less than the following few years.

Rutschman, the No. 1 total decide because the Orioles started their rebuild, has lived as much as expectations and this yr wowed within the Home Run Derby by displaying his energy from each side of the plate.

Despite a gradual begin, Henderson has been the group’s high hitter statistically. The 22-year-old is anticipated to turn out to be the primary Oriole since 1989 to win American League Rookie of the Year honors. Other younger gamers, like 2020 draft picks Heston Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg, have debuted and impressed this season.

Baltimore’s finest pitcher this yr has been Kyle Bradish, a participant acquired by the Orioles in a 2019 commerce who has blossomed into an ace. Dean Kremer, one other pitcher the Orioles acquired in trade for a veteran participant throughout the rebuilding years, has additionally been key, as has flame-throwing rookie Grayson Rodriguez. Although he struggled early this yr, Rodriguez, 23, figures to be integral to the postseason rotation.

Anchoring the group are gamers who’ve been with the Orioles for years, together with beginning outfielders Santander, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. Those three, plus first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, have been within the group since 2017 and shaped the core of the rebuild. Now, they’re having fun with the fruits of their labor.

Then, there are the veterans who’ve been introduced in on short-term offers. Former New York Yankee Aaron Hicks has been a productive pickup, Adam Frazier has offered clutch hits, Ryan O’Hearn is having the perfect yr of his profession and 35-year-old beginning pitcher Kyle Gibson — the highest-paid Oriole at $10 million a yr — leads the group in innings pitched.

Asked just lately what a bandwagon fan would possibly have to find out about this Orioles group, Baltimore’s elder statesman thought again on the membership’s historical past.

“Obviously, the Orioles have a lot of history with just really good teams and really good players and hard-nosed, grinding, grit-it-out players,” Gibson stated. “And I think this is a nice tribute to those old-school teams. I think we have a well-rounded team. We steal bases, we play really good defense, we have a really good bullpen and we have really consistent starting pitching.”

If a baseball fan tunes in to the Orioles now, “they’re gonna like how we play,” Gibson stated.

“They’re gonna see clean baseball and they’re going to see a lot of young guys out there playing hard,” he stated.

What will it take for the Orioles to go on a postseason run?

There stay query marks, after all. The bulk of the roster has by no means performed in a playoff sport and the Orioles might want to proceed their constant dominance into October, a difficult job.

John Means, an All-Star for the Orioles in 2019 and the group’s finest pitcher for the majority of the rebuild, missed many of the 2022 and 2023 seasons as he recovered from Tommy John elbow reconstruction. But his return in early September could possibly be key because the pitching workers prepares for the playoffs.

Means’ return has been additional well timed, on condition that the group’s greatest midseason acquisition, beginning pitcher Jack Flaherty, has disenchanted since he arrived in early August. He’s been relocated to the bullpen, which has been with out one of many Orioles’ most precious gamers: Closer Félix Bautista has been sidelined with an elbow harm since late August.

Yennier Canó, a reliever acquired final yr who, like Bautista, made this yr’s All-Star group, has been an appropriate substitute for Bautista within the bullpen. But ought to Bautista be capable of pitch within the playoffs, it could present substance — he’s one in every of MLB’s finest relievers — and spectacle: When the 6-foot-8 Bautista enters video games, Oriole Park shows a light-weight present as “Omar’s whistle,” from the TV present “The Wire,” blares.

What’s with the water?

The house run chains and pies-in-the-face of yesteryear have been changed with water celebrations.

When an Oriole hits a single, he mimes turning on a faucet; when a double is hit, the participant does a “sprinkler” dance whereas these within the dugout squirt water out of their mouths onto the sphere; when a participant hits a house run, he drinks from a “homer hose” — the identical vessel that gamers chugged beers out of after they clinched a playoff spot.

Fans additionally take part. The “Bird Bath” part in left subject will get sprayed with water after particularly thrilling Orioles performs. This yr, Orioles legend Adam Jones and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore have participated within the festivities.

Pitcher Cole Irvin, who has spent a lot of this season with the Orioles however was just lately despatched to Triple-A Norfolk, was one of many masterminds behind the splashy celebrations.

“I think for the casual fan that might not know what we do, there’s a lot of waterworks going on,” he stated. “So water celebrations, you can expect, just us having a good time and being kids in the dugout with their best friends.”