ARLINGTON, Tex. — The Orioles’ had their best regular season since 1980. It may be over in a blink of an eye on Tuesday.
Baltimore is facing elimination on Tuesday after losing the first two games of the American League Division Series to the Rangers.
A win will keep them alive. Another defeat will end their 2023 campaign.
This is still, though, the same team that won 101 games, the fifth-most in franchise history. If they do these three things right, the Orioles have a chance to take Game 3.
A strong start from Dean Kremer
Neither Kyle Bradish norGrayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ Game 1 and 2 starters, made it past the fifth inning, with Rodriguez unable to get out of the second. In theory, this shouldn’t be an issue with a completely fresh bullpen after five days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the ALDS. In practice, that didn’t prove to be true.
The starting pitcher sets the tone for the game. They need Kremer to pull through in a big spot. He’s proven he’s capable of pitching in important games, having taken the mound on the day the Oriolesclinched a postseason berth and when they won the division, living up to the moment both times.
Texas is a different animal, though.
“They’re a slightly aggressive team and they put the ball in play,” Kremer said. “They’re patient and they’re, I think, behind the Braves the second-best offense this year. So trying to keep them at bay and keep the crowd at bay should be the recipe for a win.”
The key for Kremer is giving the bullpen some length and limiting walks. The Orioles are 16-2 in games when he completes at least 5 1/3 innings. Baltimore walked 11 batters on Sunday.
A well-managed bullpen
Whether Kremer will be allowed to stay in the game, though, will be up to manager Brandon Hyde. He’s shown to have a quick trigger and has said that all options will be on deck on Tuesday, including putting starter Kyle Gibson into the game.
Hyde has made some interesting choices. He said he used all of his available options on Sunday, so much so that he had Gibson warming in case the game went to extras.
Hyde has gone based on match-ups, which, is the smart way to do it. But it’s an elimination game. This is the time to go with who is pitching well at the moment. Their best arms should be used if they are healthy, as there may not be a tomorrow. Yennier Cano, for example, was not used on Saturday.
Instead, Jacob Webb pitched both days. The analytics say that Webb has been one of their best pitchers against right-handed bats, holding opponents to a .178 batting average during the regular season. He gave up the go-ahead home run on Saturday and a grand slam on Sunday after Bryan Baker loaded the bases.
Danny Coulombe, a left-handed arm, was used early in Game 1 and 2 with a string of left-handed bats coming up in the Rangers’ offense. That placement makes sense. But he threw only nine and five pitches, respectfully, and, given his track record this season, could have gone back out.
The big bats need to get hot again
The Orioles are finally facing a right-handed pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday, which means Ryan O’Hearn should be in the lineup after only coming off the bench in Game 1 and 2.
O’Hearn, a surprise breakout player for the Orioles this season, has been slumping at the worst possible time. He’s 0-for-25, a hitless streak dating back to Sept. 23. He holds the highest batting average (.289) and third-best OPS (.801). Even just one hit from O’Hearn could make a difference.
“I feel fine,” he said. “Even in that stretch, I hit balls hard at guys. That’s just the game. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Cedric Mullins has hit only .180 since coming off the injured list in mid-August. He’s in the lineup almost every day because of his defensive prowess, but is 0-for-8 in the postseason so far.