The Orioles still finished on the outside of the playoffs, but the 2022 season offered more hope for the future of the organization than any in recent memory.
The arrival of several highly rated prospects. The winning streaks. The monumental at-bats that will last long in the recollections of Baltimore fans. They each made last season worthy of the mounting excitement around Camden Yards, which featured an unexpected push toward the postseason and — despite falling short — seemingly laid the groundwork for the end of a rebuild.
There were low moments, of course — we’ll get to those. But the positives outweigh the negatives, and as 2022 wraps to a close, here’s a glimpse back at the best and worst of the year, in alternating format.
From the inside, manager Brandon Hyde first felt a shift in the organization’s capabilities much earlier, during a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals in May that resulted in two wins. But externally, there was no clearer sign that Baltimore had turned a corner than the beginning of July.
That’s when the Orioles embarked on a 10-game winning streak, their longest since 1999. They swept three straight series, their most since 2005. And by the end of it, Baltimore held an above-.500 record that late in the season for the first time since 2017.
It had been a while, on all three accounts.
The string of games were “incredible,” as left-hander Cionel Pérez said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We’re having so much fun and enjoying every step of this ride.”
An early injury
Entering the season, the only certainty around the Orioles’ starting rotation was left-hander John Means. And then Means left his second start of the year early, the precursor for a season-ending elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery to repair.
The setback would’ve been more debilitating for Baltimore had its unproven arms not stepped up in Means’ place, but the absence of the 29-year-old was still felt. Means came off a season in which he posted a 3.62 ERA with a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners.
He should be back in the fold midway through the 2023 season. But having the former All-Star nominee in the rotation all last year might’ve prodded Baltimore even further.
A Camden Yards welcome
The most anticipated moment of the 2022 season started with a slow spin. Adley Rutschman jogged to home plate at Camden Yards in his catcher’s gear, shook the umpire’s hand and then took in his surroundings.
He made it.
The top prospect in baseball’s path to Baltimore began as the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, continued with success through the minors, was delayed with an injury out of spring training and finally — finally — resulted in a spin at home plate as a crowd looked nowhere else.
And to top it all, Rutschman hit a triple for his first major league hit, joining former top prospects Manny Machado and Matt Wieters in doing so. The lashed ball down the right field line marked the first of many knocks. He closed out the year in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Motor City misery
For as well as Baltimore played during its series against the Cardinals in May, a three-game sweep in the next series against the Detroit Tigers amounted to one of the Orioles’ most frustrating moments.
The Tigers proved to be thorns in the Orioles’ sides. Baltimore lost five of its six games to Detroit, with three in May and another two in September to push hopes of the postseason further away. They weren’t particularly close, either, with the Tigers outscoring the Orioles 27-13 in those six matchups.
In the end, the Orioles finished three games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the final American League wild card spot. Different results against Detroit — a team that finished 15 games below .500 — might’ve swayed things.
Going for the cycle
The rain tried its best. The sky opened up on Austin Hays, the heat and smoke rising from the on-fire Orioles outfielder enough to trigger a cascade of fire-suppressing liquid. But Hays, undeterred, became the sixth player in Orioles history to hit for the cycle.
The midsummer heroics began with an infield single and continued with a homer and a standup triple before a rain delay threatened to end his evening early. But Baltimore returned to the field long enough for Hays to receive a fourth at-bat, and he lashed a double to conclude his cycle before rain called the game after six innings.
Hays became the first Orioles to hit for the cycle since Jonathan Villar in 2019. And he was the first to need just six innings.
The 10-game winning streak for the Orioles might’ve been even longer. Instead, two uncharacteristically shaky outings from closer Jorge López resulted in two walk-off losses against the Minnesota Twins to begin July.
Between those two games, López faced seven batters and recorded just one out. López hadn’t allowed a homer in his first 37 innings as Baltimore’s preferred late-game option. Then he gave up two to the Twins in consecutive nights, and a third two days later.
López still went on to earn an All-Star nomination before he was traded to the Twins at the deadline. But that rocky stretch was the lowest point for an otherwise stout bullpen, and stout closer.
A lost helmet
If Rutschman’s debut triple enthralled Orioles fans, what Gunnar Henderson did in his debut at the end of August left them captivated even further.
Henderson, the second top prospect called up by Baltimore last season, caught a slider over the plate and crushed it 429 feet to right-center field for his first major league hit and home run in his second at-bat. And in doing so, Henderson’s swing vaulted his helmet off his head and left it lost on the ground, leaving his long blonde hair exposed as he rounded the bases.
The explosive start to Henderson’s career continued throughout the rest of the campaign, as he finished with a .259 average and four long balls in 34 games, setting himself up for even more in 2023.
An underwhelming offseason so far
After Baltimore’s first season finishing with an above-.500 record since 2016, the offseason hasn’t reflected a major push toward more. The Orioles have attempted to upgrade key positions, adding right-hander Kyle Gibson, catcher James McCann, infielder Adam Frazier and reliever Mychal Givens.
But those moves were incremental improvements.
The trade for McCann provides a better defensive catcher than backup Robinson Chirinos last season. Signing Gibson might provide more value than right-hander Jordan Lyles, although the jury remains out. Frazier is coming off his least productive season but gets on base at a higher clip than Rougned Odor did. And Givens is a veteran late-inning arm in a mainly inexperienced bullpen.
Still, there haven’t been the splashes in free agency some hoped might come, particularly in the starting rotation. That may come in the form of a trade, but the winter hasn’t yielded much so far.
A sign of things to come
Even if it was just for a single day in August, the Orioles held onto the final wild card spot in the American League. The feeling was short-lived, soon ousted and left chasing and eventually falling behind.
There they were.
It’s a feeling Baltimore hopes becomes more commonplace again. And after an 83-79 conclusion to the season and not being officially eliminated from postseason contention until October, there’s a feeling that the Orioles can build from here. The new year represents renewed hopes.