The Orioles’ ability to beat baseball’s best teams shows they are one of them | ANALYSIS
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde doesn’t want to overanalyze his team’s early-season schedule. In fact, he won’t ever dive too deep into the 162-game slate. His focus is on the series directly in front of Baltimore, and he knows there are many more of those to be played.
“We have a long way to go,” he said earlier this week.
But as the one-quarter mark of the 2023 season approaches, it’s clear Hyde is managing one of the best teams in baseball. The Orioles capitalized on a soft early schedule in getting off to a strong start, but the past week has shown that their record, the third best in the sport, is no mirage.
Facing the only two teams with better marks than theirs, the Orioles (24-13) went 3-3 with a plus-3 run differential, dropping two one-run games at the National League-best Atlanta Braves (25-12) before bouncing back from a series-opening loss — their first of the year — to the Tampa Bay Rays (29-9) with consecutive narrow victories at Camden Yards. The challenging matchups followed a 22-game stretch in which all but three were against opponents that currently have losing records, but the past week legitimizes their performance to this point.
“We’re right there with them,” starting pitcher Tyler Wells said. “We have our vision of what we think that we can be, and I think each and every guy shares that. I think that that kind of creates this network of guys who think that we are the best, that we can be the best and that we will be the best.
“We came into spring training this year with the full expectation of us going out there and competing with pretty much everyone in the league, and I think so far that we’ve done that.”
The schedule does not get less daunting. The only team left on Baltimore’s May slate that doesn’t currently have a winning record is the Cleveland Guardians, last year’s winners of the American League Central. Nearly a third of the Orioles’ remaining schedule comes against the rest of the AL East, a division in which all five teams have winning records and four would make the playoffs if they began today.
“It just never stops,” second baseman Adam Frazier said. “It’s the major leagues. It’s good to be able to test against the best because that’s when you figure out where you’re at.”
Wells credited Frazier, fellow starter Kyle Gibson and catcher James McCann for the veteran leadership they have provided after joining the Orioles this winter, experienced supplements to Baltimore’s young core that broke out last year to finish as the best AL team to miss the playoffs. Before that team earned its 25th victory, it was a season-high 11 games below .500. These Orioles will go for win No. 25 on Friday while 11 games above .500.
As was the case last year, the starting pitching is finding its footing. Both Gibson and Wells contributed to a strong run through the rotation over the past two series. The Orioles’ starters lasted at least five innings in all six outings while collectively posting a 2.41 ERA against the sport’s two best offenses.
“For this team to have success, we need to pitch,” Hyde said. “These last six games, we’ve thrown the ball outstanding.”
There were many nights Baltimore was largely incapable of that over his first three seasons as manager, with last year’s breakout largely built on a historic turnaround by the pitching staff after disastrous campaigns in 2019 and 2021. Austin Hays was in the outfield for many of the rebuild’s long innings and blowouts, nights where it felt the game was over before reaching its midpoint.
He was called up in 2017 amid a last-gasp playoff push that fell short. He said the goal is to make sure this year’s effort doesn’t.
“It’s what I always dreamed of, being in an Oriole uniform, just being one of the top teams in the AL East and fighting for the top spot in our division,” Hays said. “When I first came up, it was a winning atmosphere and environment, so to go through those rough years and to see it come full circle and get back to where we are now, it’s been just awesome.
“This is what you want. You want to play games that are meaningful, games that matter. You want to play well in series like this.”
They’ll get more chances to. Next up is a Pittsburgh Pirates team unexpectedly leading the NL Central. Then the Los Angeles Angels, featuring two of the sport’s best players in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, visit Camden Yards. A full AL East road trip to Toronto and New York follows, pitting the Orioles against the two divisional foes that reached the 2022 postseason and are vying to return. The AL West-leading Texas Rangers, who the Orioles took a series from on their season-opening road trip, come to Baltimore ahead of the Guardians.
But the Orioles have shown they’re capable of handling baseball’s best teams. At the same time, they’ve established they are one of them.
“We’re confident in what we can do and what we can show the world, that we’re a great team,” outfielder Ryan McKenna said. “We believe we can beat anybody.”
This week, they proved it.
Pirates at Orioles
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2, MLB Network
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM