2023 MLB Playoffs: Despite Orioles ALDS loss, future is bright

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ARLINGTON — The look on the faces of 46,000 Baltimore Orioles fans as they quietly left Camden Yards on Sunday after a tough loss to the Rangers was not anger, but sadness. Fans in Baltimore — a provincial town, a brick town, a neighborhood town — have waited nearly a decade to celebrate the return of October baseball after such a painful rebuilding. Instead, 11 steps later, a swarm of orange people walked into the darkness in shocked silence.

In the best-of-five American League Division Series against Texas, the Orioles lost 11-8 (9-2 in the third inning) and fell into a 2-0 deficit, heading to Arlington. . Considering the magic the Texas Rangers have shown in the playoffs, many fans are aware that there will be no more baseball games at Camden Yards this season.

They are right. The Orioles lost 7-1 in Game 3 on Tuesday to end the season, their first since star catcher Adley Rutschman made his debut on May 21, 2022. The Orioles were swept for the first time in a series of any length. However, the Orioles clubhouse didn’t fall into shocking silence as the season came to a close on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field. There was an overwhelming feeling that a season that was still excellent just didn’t end the way it was supposed to.

Does head coach Brandon Hyde think this was a successful season?

“How could I not?” he said. “We won 101 games. We won the East. We overcame the odds. No one gave us a chance. We played really well all season.”

And they did: Two years later, the Orioles finished fourth in 39 games, becoming only the second team in the league or division to finish so far behind the second-worst team, playing with a swashbuckling style. It quickly revitalized baseball in Baltimore: young, hungry, athletic players battling it out on the bases, on base and on the mound every night. They posted the best record in the American League two years after their worst record, joining the 1967-69 Mets as the only two teams in major league history to lose 100 games in the same three-year span. Teams that win 100 games. Fans believe this momentum could lead the Orioles to the American League Championship Series and possibly the World Series.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted, but it was a special season,” said outfielder Austin Hayes, who endured a lot of failure before the Orioles’ breakthrough last year. “This is fun, this is the best.” The teams I’ve seen are fun. What a great first playoff game at Camden Yards. “

But then they faced a Rangers team in October that had more experience, had a payroll nearly $150 million higher than the Orioles’, and was playing exceptionally well at the best of times.

“We’ve made tremendous progress all year,” rookie shortstop Gunnar Henderson said. “This is a good step in the right direction. This will give us momentum next season. We have to get better to push for the World Series.”

Compared to many other 2023 playoff teams, the Orioles are still young and inexperienced come October, though Hyde refuses to blame those attributes — “Our guys are just PlayDespite yet another round of questions about whether the five-day break between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs is a good or bad thing for a top seed, Hyde also declined to point fingers. To keep things alive, the Orioles played two intrasquad games, one of which was open to the public — with about 2,000 fans in attendance.

Still, the Orioles looked young, rusty, and nothing like a team that has had a winning record every month of the season (save for 0-1 in October) against the Rangers. Kyle Bradish, the Orioles’ top pitcher, lost his first game, 4-3, to Andrew Heaney, who had pitched 15 innings over the past 32 days. Orioles pitchers struck out 16, making the Rangers just the second team in postseason history to win with 16 strikeouts in nine innings. The Rangers are the first team in postseason history to have their No. 3 hitter (Robbie Grossman) and No. 4 hitter (Adolis Garcia) each strike out four times in the same game. . But the Orioles didn’t get a hit with a runner in scoring position. In the eighth inning against a struggling bullpen, the Orioles had no outs in the first and second inning but no runs. They allowed the leadoff man on the board in each of the final three innings but failed to score.

The Orioles’ ninth inning also brought chaos. Henderson singled to start the game. In a game tied with veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks at 2-1, Henderson was thrown out while trying to steal, in part because of Rangers catcher Jonah Heim (Jonah Heim)’s great exchanges and passes. Television cameras caught Hyde saying, “What the hell!?” After the game, Hyde called it “a little miscommunication.” Henderson said, “I saw the sign of a steal.”

The next day, Hyde confirmed, “(Hicks) missed the hit-and-run flag on a hittable pitch.”

As bad as the end of the first game was, the start of the second was even worse. The Orioles’ Grayson Rodriguez, one of the best young pitchers in the game, didn’t finish the second inning, walking four and allowing five runs. The Rangers’ Mitch Garver hit a grand slam in the third inning, and suddenly the Rangers were leading 9-2. As the playoffs began, the packed auditorium suddenly fell silent and silent. The Orioles rallied, but the final score, 11-8, was misleading. Baltimore pitchers walked 11 batters to base, one shy of the major league postseason record.

In Game 3, the Rangers added five more runs in the second inning to pull away and essentially end a magical season. The Orioles became just the fourth team ever to fail to win a playoff game in a 100-game season, joining the 1971 Athletics, ’76 Phillies, ’80 Yankees and 2019 Twins of the year. It’s certainly a demoralizing way to end the season, but the 2023 season cannot be viewed as a letdown for the Orioles, as opposed to a disappointment for the Dodgers or Braves, who entered the season with huge expectations. It should be viewed as a building block, a learning experience for a team that could make the playoffs in years to come. Over the past two years, the Orioles’ rebuild has been ahead of schedule, jumping from 52 wins to 83 wins in 2022, and then from 83 wins to 101 wins in 2023. It’s just too hard to make a huge leap like last season — and even harder to build a coffers next year.

The Orioles have done both, and even now their future is incredibly bright. Hyde said Henderson, who is about to win the American League Rookie of the Year, “is going to be a star in this league for 15 years.” Rutschman is one of the best receivers in the game and will likely only get better. Outfielder Heston Shestadhead said he “could mix and match” on the postseason roster. Outfielder Colton Cowser, third baseman Kobe Mayor and infielder Joey Ortiz are among the many prospects in the system. The best player in minor league baseball might be 19-year-old Jackson Holliday, who could become the Orioles’ everyday shortstop next year (moving Henderson to third base): Imagine that in Years on the left side of the infield for the next 5 to 10 games.

Rodriguez possesses outstanding ability and maturity and is a star on the rise. Braddish has a 2.81 ERA in his past 38 starts and this year became the first Orioles since Mike Mussina in 1992 to have a top-three ERA. John Means was the team’s ace in 2021 and had a great late-season performance after returning from Tommy John surgery. Next year, the bullpen will be without Felix Bautista, who had Tommy John surgery in August; losing him in the pennant race is a huge setback. Still, there’s a power arm in the pen. Lefty DL Hall has emerged as a bullpen staple this season. More pitches are on the way.

“It’s not a fluke. This team is on the rise,” Hayes said.

“It’s just a shadow of what we’re capable of,” Henderson said.

Come next season, the Orioles will likely be the team to beat in the AL East. They’re still young, hungry, athletic, but more experienced than the group finishing up in 2023. When these fans arrive at Camden Yards on Opening Day in 2024, they should be excited about the direction the team is headed. It will be a happy day, not a sad day.

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