The playoffs are right here.
The Orioles will host Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Saturday for Camden Yards’ first postseason recreation since 2014. Baltimore welcomes the Texas Rangers to city after they swept the Tampa Bay Rays in a best-of-three wild-card collection earlier this week.
In the common season, the Orioles went 101-61 to win the AL East and earn the circuit’s prime seed, whereas the Rangers clinched a wild-card spot on the penultimate day of the common season, ending the yr with a 90-72 document. While the Orioles rested and held exercises at Camden Yards, the Rangers upset Tampa Bay, outscoring the Rays 11-1 within the collection.
Ahead of the Orioles’ first playoff recreation since 2016, Baltimore Sun reporters Nathan Ruiz, Jacob Calvin Meyer and Hayes Gardner reply 5 questions going through the crew.
How ought to the Orioles set their rotation?
Nathan Ruiz: Kyle Bradish ought to get the ball in Game 1, which might additionally line him up for the decisive Game 5, ought to it’s wanted. Only twice in Bradish’s last 17 begins did he fail to finish six innings, and each of these outings have been scoreless. The latter was a two-inning tuneup within the last recreation of the common season, sufficient work to go away him with the bottom second-half ERA of any certified AL starter. Grayson Rodriguez ranked third in that regard, whereas John Means’ effectiveness in his return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction ought to make him a lock, too. The ordering right here may very well be up for debate, with the chance the Orioles flip to Means, a left-hander, in Game 2 to attempt to neutralize Texas’ right-handed bats with Camden Yards’ left discipline wall. Game 4, if vital, will go to both Dean Kremer or Kyle Gibson. Kremer has extra upside, however that would additionally make him simpler if he’s wanted in aid in one of many first three video games.
Jacob Calvin Meyer: What Means did in September (2.66 ERA throughout 4 begins) is nothing in need of miraculous, however that doesn’t imply it was flawless. He struck out simply 11.4% of batters — almost half the league-average price — and generated a whiff on solely 16.4% of swings for a price about eight proportion factors worse than common. His pattern is small, and due to that, the underlying metrics carry extra weight. He’s additionally relied closely on his fastball and elite changeup, a two-pitch arsenal from a left-hander that may assist the Orioles win a number of playoff video games out of the bullpen as an alternative of only one as a starter. Means additionally wasn’t the one Orioles starter to pitch properly in September. All 5 posted ERAs under 3.60, as Gibson delivered his finest month of the season with a 2.45 ERA and Kremer got here by way of with two stellar begins within the playoff- and AL East-clinching victories. Gibson posted a top quality begin in 17 of his 33 outings, whereas the Orioles are 24-8 in video games began by Kremer, who has a 3.09 ERA since July. I do know, I do know, get to the purpose already. Bradish Game 1 (and 5, if vital), Rodriguez Game 2, Gibson Game 3, Kremer Game 4.
Hayes Gardner: Bradish in Game 1, Rodriguez in Game 2 and Means in Game 3. Then, in a Game 4, I’d be extra inclined to pitch Gibson over Kremer, though I perceive arguments in favor of Kremer, who posted a decrease ERA than Gibson this season. Gibson did have some tough August outings, however I’ll lean on the veteran, understanding I can confidently flip to Kremer out of the bullpen if wanted. The ball would return to Bradish in a Game 5, and Orioles followers must really feel good every time he’s on the mound: his ERA is 2.40 over his previous 22 begins.
Who would be the most important participant the Orioles depart off their roster?
Ruiz: Shintaro Fujinami was technically the lone reliever the Orioles added earlier than the commerce deadline, although Jack Flaherty is now in that position after struggling as a starter and Jacob Webb joined the bullpen quickly after as a waiver declare. Regardless, in Fujinami, the Orioles fortified their aid unit with a mercurial right-hander, one who possessed dynamic stuff however struggled to persistently harness it. There are elements of his efficiency to love, together with a .193 batting common allowed and 25.4% strikeout price with Baltimore, however most of his success has are available in lower-leverage outings, and Hyde has introduced him in with the bases empty in 24 of his 30 appearances. With the times off sprinkled into the collection, the Orioles may function with eight relievers and carry an additional place participant.
Meyer: Cole Irvin’s 77 1/3 innings would be the most by any pitcher to be left off Baltimore’s roster, however that reply doesn’t appear to seize the vibe of the query. So I’ll go along with Heston Kjerstad. Rostering 12 pitchers to have an additional bench bat, just like the Orioles had in September, is sensible. But the Rangers will possible have left-handers begin three of the 5 video games and a bullpen with 4 southpaws, diminishing the worth of getting Kjerstad, a left-handed hitter, on the bench to pinch-hit towards right-handers. The off days do present further relaxation, however playoff contests don’t have the automated runner positioned on second base in further innings, opening the chance for marathon video games. An further arm within the ’pen — particularly a high-upside one like Fujinami and a long-relief one like Flaherty — may show useful on this collection.
Gardner: I’m guessing the Orioles will carry 14 place gamers and 12 pitchers, which can imply a tricky bullpen resolution. Could Flaherty be the odd man out? Of the midseason provides, Fujinami has been higher. Flaherty doesn’t have a lot aid expertise, however that isn’t as regarding as his poor efficiency in Baltimore. It feels loopy to go away one of many crew’s most high-profile commerce acquisitions lately off the roster, nevertheless it’s the best transfer. Maybe in a possible seven-game collection, the Orioles will add him and drop a hitter.
Who is the Orioles’ X-factor within the collection?
Ruiz: Tyler Wells. Since Félix Bautista’s season-ending elbow harm, the Orioles have blended and matched late in video games, however within the postseason, supervisor Brandon Hyde will want somebody he can rely upon late in video games. The ever-competitive Wells appears primed to latch onto the chance, and his functionality of getting out each righties and lefties may make him a much-needed aid ace.
Meyer: The Rangers’ potential Games 2, 4 and 5 starters are left-handed. Four of their relievers are southpaws. It can be nice if the Orioles had top-of-the-line hitters towards lefties within the main leagues. Oh, wait, they do. Ryan Mountcastle has the ability to single-handedly win a playoff recreation for Baltimore, and he’ll have the alternatives to take action within the ALDS. The slugger is slashing .338/.398/.655 towards left-handers this season — good for a whopping 1.052 OPS that leads all AL hitters with at the very least 150 plate appearances off southpaws. Mountcastle was additionally the membership’s finest hitter within the second half of the season with a .322/.404/.489 slash line after getting back from his bout with vertigo.
Gardner: An X-factor can imply so many issues. It may imply Jorge Mateo stealing a pivotal base as a pinch runner or Danny Coulombe hanging out a lefty at a key second. My decide, although, is Austin Hays. The 2023 All-Star has struggled within the second half of the season, as he did final yr, hitting simply .228 after this season’s break in contrast with .314 earlier than. But if he can — after the crew obtained some deserved days off this week — put collectively a robust ALDS, it might be an enormous carry.
What is an important matchup?
Ruiz: Corey Seager towards the Orioles’ left-handed relievers. In a season that would end in him being the runner-up for AL Most Valuable Player, Seager has carried out properly in left-on-left matchups (.882 OPS), nevertheless it nonetheless lags behind his output with the platoon benefit (1.075 OPS). It stands to motive Hyde will flip to Coulombe, Cionel Pérez and DL Hall to face him usually within the collection, and people matchups, ought to they arrive in massive spots, may dictate the collection.
Meyer: Brandon Hyde versus Bruce Bochy. Hyde has usually praised the Orioles’ depth, itemizing it as a motive for the membership’s turnaround. He incessantly pressed the best buttons in the course of the common season — evidenced by the Orioles’ 101 wins — by mix-and-matching his bullpen arms and deploying his bench bats. He’ll have to proceed doing so for Baltimore to advance, and Bochy received’t make it simple on him. The Rangers supervisor has 26 years, 2,093 wins and three World Series rings below his belt.
Gardner: Orioles beginning pitching versus Rangers beginning pitching. I’m virtually tempted to say “the young Orioles versus the postseason,” however I believe Baltimore, even with its lack of playoff expertise, will rise to the event. Starting pitching, although, would be the distinction. The Rangers have almost $90 million in beginning pitcher wage on the injured listing in Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Jon Gray, but they nonetheless have Nathan Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery, who mixed to allowed only one run in 13 2/3 innings towards the Rays. The Orioles, alternatively, will depend on a newly minted ace (Bradish), a rookie (Rodriguez) and a pitcher with 4 video games below his belt since Tommy John surgical procedure (Means). Those labels belie their capability, although, as every had an excellent September. If they will proceed a string of dominant begins, I like Baltimore’s probabilities to advance.
Which crew wins the collection?
Ruiz: The Orioles, in 5 video games. Bradish has pitched like an ace a lot of the yr, so right here’s a guess he does so twice whereas Baltimore picks up one of many video games between. The Rangers are available in barely deprived regardless of sweeping the Rays within the wild-card spherical, as Montgomery, their prime starter, possible received’t pitch till Game 2 and can be on brief relaxation if he begins Game 5.
Meyer: The Rangers, in 5 video games. This collection may very well be the very best of the divisional spherical, as Baltimore and Texas look like evenly matched groups. The Rangers have the 2 finest gamers in Seager (1.013 OPS) and Marcus Semien (7.4 wins above alternative), two of the three finest beginning pitchers in Montgomery (3.20 ERA) and Eovaldi (2.90 ERA in 49 2/3 playoff innings) and the very best house run hitter with Adolis García (39 homers) within the collection. It says nothing concerning the Orioles’ magical 2023 season in the event that they fall brief towards a fellow nice crew within the ALDS.
Gardner: The solely end result that may shock me is the Rangers successful in three, given the Orioles haven’t been swept in 17 months. Camden Yards might be a scene Saturday internet hosting a playoff recreation for the primary time in 9 years, and with Bradish on the mound, I just like the Orioles’ odds in Game 1. From there, I see them taking two of the following three. Orioles, in 4.