So much of this Orioles season already resides in “What more could you ask for?” territory: Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson’s rises to stardom, the emergence of a set of front-line starters in Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, and the continued success of the established players who endured the club’s lean years.
Make one important addition to that list: a team playing its best baseball when it matters most.
When the season started, it was common, correct and ultimately unnecessary to say the Orioles were lucky to be banking as many wins as they could early in case the team regressed as the year progressed.
It hasn’t been the case. If anything, they’re playing as well as they have all year. No team entered Thursday with more wins than the Orioles’ 34 since the All-Star break, and they’ve been winning at a .680 clip since the beginning of July. There’s seemingly been a half-dozen different heroes at the plate over that stretch, but that’s always been the idea with a deep and talented lineup like the Orioles boast.
The success on the mound in this stretch is another thing entirely — especially relative to expectations.
Since Cole Irvin rejoined the rotation Aug. 12, the starters have a collective 3.88 ERA and the Orioles’ staff ERA was a league-best 3.44 entering Thursday’s games. They went 17-6 in that span.
There was certainly promise for Bradish and Kremer to build on how they finished 2022 and promise that Rodriguez would realize his star potential once he debuted in the majors, but there weren’t a lot of sure things in the Orioles’ rotation coming into this season. It was viewed as a failure of the offseason that, with the potential for more impactful arms coming to Baltimore via trade or free agency, the rotation’s additions were Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin.
But the group, particularly the top half, has helped carry the team’s second-half run, and the bullpen has been even better since that break — and that includes the two weeks they’ve spent without star closer Félix Bautista.
The six-man-rotation era helped on both fronts. Since Irvin rejoined the rotation Aug. 12, the starters have a collective 3.88 ERA, and the Orioles’ staff ERA was a league-best 3.44 entering Thursday’s games. They went 17-6 in that span, and while it might not be a six-man rotation going forward beyond this weekend in Boston, it has served its purpose.
The Orioles have been living in uncertain territory with their pitching staff for months; outside the veteran Gibson, the Orioles’ pitchers are working on unprecedented workloads. Considering Tyler Wells has been resting and resetting in the minors for over a month now, he may have been overextended. Same with Bautista, who has an elbow ligament injury of unknown severity.
Beyond that, they’ve been relatively fortunate — and the fact that they might clinch a playoff spot as early as next week and can significantly influence their division-winning chances when the Rays come to town next week means they might make it to October with their staff largely intact and set up for the postseason.
They entered Thursday’s games 11.5 games up on the last wild-card team with 23 games to play. They have a chance to win 100 games. And they are pitching as well as they have all season.
It would be cruel, at this stage of the season, for the proverbial other shoe to drop on a pitching staff that entered the year with modest expectations but has by and large delivered every ounce of upside that was possible when imagining how this season could play out.
Spending the entire summer waiting for that collapse, as one is well within their rights to have done, probably diminished the appreciation of what the group has done to this point. Its job isn’t finished, and neither is the Orioles’.
To be entering the stretch run in this form, though, is a credit to all involved. John Means’ pending return will probably help. There are enough quality arms on the staff to adjust to how different playoff baseball can be.
Those are all considerations for another day. But they’re worth thinking about sooner than later, because a pitching staff of which very little was expected has delivered more than anyone could have asked for these Orioles.