The story of how the Orioles went from American League basement dwellers to 90-plus-win juggernaut is a long one, spanning five years and two front office regimes.
Here are just a few of the key moments of the club’s five-year rebuild:
July 18, 2018: In the midst of a gruesome season, the Orioles rip off the Band-Aid, trading franchise cornerstone Manny Machado to the Dodgers for five players, including pitching prospect Dean Kremer. Over the next two weeks, then-general manager Dan Duquette would also send out relievers Zack Britton, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach, starter Kevin Gausman and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. In total, the Orioles receive 15 players – most of them prospects – in return.
August 10, 2018: At Adam Jones’ insistence, 23-year-old center fielder Cedric Mullins leads the Orioles out of the dugout in the first inning of his first big league game. Mullins would hit just .235 that season, but he’d flash remarkable speed in the field and on the basepaths.
October 3, 2018: Three days after the end of a season that saw them win just 47 games, the Orioles choose not to renew the contracts of Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. Together, the pair built a team that won more games than any other in the American League from 2012-16.
November 16, 2018: A long, winding search for the next head of baseball operations ends with the hiring of Mike Elias as executive vice president and general manager. At a lavish press conference in the Orioles clubhouse three days later, Elias lays out his patient approach: “This is a process. It’s a process that doesn’t have shortcuts, but it’s a process that works, and it’s a process that is worth it.”
December 12, 2018: In a Las Vegas hotel room during the Winter Meetings, Elias calls a report of the Orioles’ hiring of Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde as manager “premature.” Hyde’s hiring would be made official two days later.
March 28, 2019: The Orioles set their Opening Day roster for their first season under their new regime. John Means, a career minor league pitcher with a great changeup, makes the cut.
April 22, 2019: Batting just .088 through the first three weeks of the season, Mullins is optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. Three months later, he’d be demoted to Double-A Bowie, a disastrous fall for the Orioles’ Opening Day center fielder.
June 3, 2019: Elias’ first MLB draft begins with the No. 1 overall pick, with which he selects Oregon State star Adley Rutschman. Far less ballyhooed is the selection of a skinny, quiet high school shortstop named Gunnar Henderson in the second round.
September 7, 2019: Former third-round pick Austin Hays gets the call from Triple-A Norfolk. The outfielder, who made his big league debut in 2017, is finally healthy and ready to make an impact, batting .309 in 21 September games.
December 4, 2019: Two months after the end of a 108-loss campaign, the Orioles acquire four pitchers, including prospect Kyle Bradish, from the Angels in exchange for starter Dylan Bundy.
February 11, 2020: In an under-the-radar move, the Orioles claim infielder Ramón Urías off waivers from the Cardinals.
March 12, 2020: As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to spread across the country, Major League Baseball cancels the remainder of its spring training slate and pushes back Opening Day. Waking up from surgery to remove cancerous tumors in his colon, Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini learns of the delay.
June 10, 2020: Though no games are being played, the MLB draft goes on as scheduled. With the No. 2 overall pick, the O’s grab Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, viewed as a reach by many. Twenty-eight picks later, they snag Mississippi State infielder Jordan Westburg.
August 21, 2020: Prospect Ryan Mountcastle, then an outfielder, makes his big league debut. He would hit .333 in a shortened season.
September 6, 2020: Kremer impresses in his first big league start, striking out seven Yankees over six innings of one-run ball. The righty would allow 10 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings in a season that saw the Orioles finish 10 games below .500.
May 5, 2021: Means no-hits the Mariners, striking out 12 in one of the best pitching performances in franchise history. He has become the Orioles’ unquestioned ace.
July 11, 2021: Armed with another top-five pick, Elias selects Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser in the first round of the draft.
July 13, 2021: Mullins starts in center field for the American League in the All-Star Game, held at Coors Field in Denver. After he reestablished himself the previous season, Mullins’ incredible year would end in the first 30-home run, 30-stolen base season in Orioles history. His team, however, would lose 110 games.
November 19, 2021: The Orioles add six minor leaguers to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. Among them is a hard-throwing but wild reliever: Félix Bautista.
April 29, 2022: Bradish makes his first start in Baltimore, allowing two earned runs to the Red Sox over six innings. The righty would record a 4.90 ERA in his rookie season.
May 21, 2022: Rutschman, whose big league debut was delayed by a triceps injury in March, finally gets the call, tripling in his first game. The catcher would finish second to Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The Orioles would never be the same.
July 17, 2022: High school shortstop Jackson Holliday becomes the Orioles’ second No. 1 overall pick in three years. Holliday, son of longtime big leaguer Matt Holliday, would experience a meteoric rise through the minor league system the following year.
August 1, 2022: Despite owning a surprising .500 record at the trade deadline, the O’s trade Mancini to the Astros as part of a three-team deal. A day later, closer Jorge López is sent to the Twins. Included in the López deal is 28-year-old reliever Yennier Cano. In an attempt to quell frustrated fans, Elias declares to the media gathered in the away dugout in Texas: “I think it’s liftoff from here for this team.”
August 31, 2022: Capping a whirlwind season for the 21-year-old infielder, Henderson joins the big league roster and homers in his debut. His helmet toppling to the ground, his hair flapping in the wind, Gunnar gives fans a taste of what’s to come.
October 5, 2022: Following the final out of a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the season finale, Orioles fans give their team a standing ovation. After five consecutive losing seasons, the O’s finish four games above .500, but fall short of the postseason.
December 16, 2022: At the Winter Meetings in San Diego, Elias announces to the media that the O’s have agreed to terms with veteran righty Kyle Gibson on a one-year, $10 million contract. It’s the largest investment Elias has made on a free agent since taking over in Baltimore.
January 3, 2023: In another under-discussed move, the Orioles acquire first baseman Ryan O’Hearn from the Royals for cash considerations.
March 27, 2023: Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez does not break camp with the major league team and is optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. It’s been a frustrating spring training for Rodriguez, whom many considered a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
April 5, 2023: An injury to Bradish opens the door for Rodriguez to make his big league debut in his home state of Texas. The righty strikes out five and allows two runs over five innings. But Rodriguez would struggle over his next nine starts and be sent back down to Norfolk.
June 26, 2023: After winning the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year award the previous season, Westburg makes his big league debut. The 24-year-old collects five hits in his first three games.
July 5, 2023: Following a strong start to the season in Norfolk, Cowser joins the big league team, but hits just .115 in limited playing time.
July 11, 2023: Hays, Bautista, Rutschman and Cano appear in the All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. It’s the first time since 2016 that Baltimore has sent multiple representatives to the Midsummer Classic.
July 17, 2023: Rodriguez returns to the big leagues to face the Dodgers. The 23-year-old has trouble with Los Angeles, surrendering four runs. But solid outings against the Rays and Yankees in the coming weeks cement the rookie’s spot in the rotation.
September 14, 2023: After Ryan Mountcastle is removed from a game early with shoulder discomfort, Kjerstad gets the call from Triple-A Norfolk. He hits his first major league home run one day later.
September __, 2023: The Orioles clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2016 when the Cleveland Guardians beat the Texas Rangers.