Let’s talk about the Orioles. The 2023 version of the Orioles is the anti-Cardinals. They are the best team in the American League, but also probably not. The Rays have outscored their opponents by a whopping 77 more runs than the Orioles have outscored their opponents. They have a worse run differential than two other American League teams as well. The Orioles are 26-12 in one-run games, 10-6 in extra inning games, and they are outplaying their pythag record by 7 wins.
Which is not to say they aren’t a good team. They are still a very good team. Saying a team who is on pace to win 102 games is perhaps not THAT good is hardly an insult. The Cardinals would kill to have their pythag record of 83-59, which would put them four games above the Brewers. For me anyway, that puts into perspective at how achievable getting back on track and winning the NL Central is next year. There aren’t dominant teams.
Back to the Orioles, any discussion of the Orioles has to start with their young, elite talent. Adley Rutschman, winner of the Rookie of the Year award last season, has seen a bit of a drop-off, though it’s hard to say for sure. His defense plummeted (to still above average), but we know how catcher defense isn’t necessarily accurate by advanced stats. Offensively, his wRC+ is “just” 120, but his xwOBA (.369) is considerably better than his actual wOBA (.344) and better than both his xwOBA last season (.342) and his actual wOBA (.354.). He’s still great, is what I’m saying.
Gunnar Henderson is essentially repeating what he did in his month of play last season, hitting for a 121 wRC+, splitting his time between 3B and SS. Those two are going to be the backbone of the Orioles for a long time, soon to be joined by Coby Mayo (22nd prospect by FG; 117 wRC+ in AAA at 21), Jackson Holliday (#1 prospect, off to a slow start in AAA), and Joey Ortiz (#60 prospect). But they’re not here yet. The torch has already been passed from Cedric Mullins, effectively a platoon guy at this point. The “right” platoon, but he doesn’t really play against lefties.
They are surrounded by some good hitters. Former Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander has a 127 wRC+ as the RF and sometimes DH. Ryan Mountcastle has a 112 wRC+ as their 1B. The Orioles are also benefiting from former Royal Ryan O’Hearn playing way above his level, with a 130 wRC+ due to a .355 BABIP (career: .289). And lastly, Austin Hays is having a career year, and I hope this clip brings you as much as joy as it does me:
Austin Hays is NOT a fan of beach balls pic.twitter.com/QHqACf4gRl— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) September 9, 2023
Other interesting players we’ll see are former Cardinal farmhand Ramon Urias, who has settled into a very good bench player. The player who Yankees fans seem to hate, Aaron Hicks, has a 134 wRC+ since joining the Orioles. Former Pirate Adam Frazier has turned Kolten Wong, which is to say his defense completely collapsed, with -15 OAA, and he did not compensate with improved offense.
The Cardinals miss Jack Flaherty, which is probably for the best. I’m sure he’d be extra amped for the start, so we’d see increased velocity, and he’s typically good with higher velocity. That said, it’d be funny if he faced Drew Rom and lost.
The Orioles bullpen, well it’s missing its best pitcher. Felix Bautista with an insane 1.48 ERA (and 1.89 FIP) is currently hurt. Their current closer is Yennier Cano, who is good, but nowhere near as dominant. He’s a groundball/no walk guy more than a strikeout guy. They claimed Jorge Lopez on waivers, now on his third team this year, and he has has struck out 7 of his 16 batters faced with the Orioles. They also claimed Jacob Webb from the Angels, and he’s struck out 31% of batters in his 14.2 innings.
Frankly, the Orioles bullpen is proof that you don’t need to put any resources into your bullpen. Except for scouting and coaching. Cano was in a trade with three other guys for Lopez last season. They got Shintaro Fujinami (3.94 FIP) for a non-prospect from the Orioles. They purchased Danny Coloumbe from the Twins (2.57 FIP). Four other relievers were claimed on waivers, with the earliest being the ‘21-’22 offseason. DL Hall was drafted and Bautista was signed as a free agent when he was 21.
Onto the matchups
Monday - 5:35 PM
Dakota Hudson (4.43 ERA/5.25 FIP/5.10 xFIP) vs. Dean Kremer (4.07 ERA/4.64 FIP/4.40 xFIP)
With the full disclosure that I’m not sure who else would start and from a W-L perspective, this is obviously working, but I kind of wonder if there’s more future utility in seeing how Hudson pitches out of the bullpen, because I think it’s clear he won’t make the Opening Day roster next season in the rotation. I honestly didn’t even realize his ERA wasn’t that good. I had assumed it was. His advanced stats are worse. I just feel there isn’t anything to learn about how he pitches in the rotation, but maybe there is in the bullpen. Two cents.
Having played with the Orioles in past years in Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP), I am very familiar with Kremer and amusingly, he has the exact same issue he seems to always have in that game: he can’t stop allowing homers. Granted, he struck out more and walked more than the real life version, but he’s allowed 26 homers in 28 starts.
Tuesday - 5:35 PM
Adam Wainwright (I regret everything) vs. John Means (first start of the year!)
Well this is interesting. Means hasn’t throw a major league pitch since April 13th, 2022. It has been a long time. In the meantime, he had Tommy John surgery and made 6 rehab starts, split between AA and AAA. He was a mixed bag in those rehab starts, so he could be rusty. A Cardinals’ offense that has been rolling in the past week might not be the best welcome he could have hoped for.
On the other hand, he has the benefit of facing Adam Wainwright and there is a rule that with him pitching, the offense isn’t allowed to hit, so he should be looking pretty. Doesn’t hurt that his offense has a good chance of helping him out.
Wednesday - 5:35 PM
Drew Rom (Sharing stats was fun once) vs. Kyle Gibson (5.12 ERA/4.09 FIP/4.13 xFIP)
Well, we saw with Liberatore against the Rays that sometimes facing your former team means the previous starts don’t matter. So there’s always the chance Rom comes out firing. And Gibson has definitely had issues with allowing runs even though his FIP is solid. xERA and SIERA like him a lot less than the FIP stats, it’s worth pointing out.