As the regular season began to wind down, three teams in the AL East were gearing up for October baseball.
Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays locked up their spots early, but the battle for first place in the division was still on the line heading into the final week. The Orioles would take control with only a few days left, while the Rays had to settle for the first Wild Card spot.
The Toronto Blue Jays would also join in on the fun. Their spot was secured with some help from the AL West, as the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros helped knock out the Seattle Mariners just before the season came to an end. The Blue Jays secured a playoff berth before October began.
The Orioles were one of the three teams across the league to collect 100 or more wins, joining the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rays finished with 99 wins on the season, while Toronto was able to squeak into the postseason with an 89-73 record. The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox finished with 82 and 78 wins apiece, well behind their division rivals.
While three teams from the AL East were able to make the playoffs, each team struggled in their respective series. Thus, for the first time since 2011, there is no team from the division heading to the ALCS.
The AL East Falls Short in the Postseason
The Blue Jays decided to leave their bats on the airplane when they went to face Minnesota in the Wild Card round, and they were swept with authority by the Twins.
The Rays suffered a similar defeat at the hands of the Rangers, who used Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi to hold the Rays to just one run while capitalizing on numerous fielding miscues. Between both the Jays and the Rays, the two clubs scored a combined two runs across all four games.
Baltimore earned a first-round bye and faced the Rangers in the ALDS, while the Twins were set to face the Houston Astros, who won the AL West.
Boasting a younger squad that excelled in the regular season, the Orioles suffered a similar fate to the Jays and Rays, with the club getting swept in three games and seeing an early end to their 2023 postseason.
The Orioles’ bats fared better in their series compared to their AL East counterparts, but the Rangers’ bats were just a bit better, and their pitching staff was able to get out of trouble when needed, eventually securing the sweep.
Batting Trouble for the Rays and Jays
For the Blue Jays, the batting order struggled to hit, both for extra bases and with runners in scoring position. Only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. collected something more than a single, and his teammates stranded him at second base, unable to score a pivotal run late in the game.
Both Brandon Belt and Daulton Varsho went hitless in both games, while Guerrero, George Springer, Matt Chapman, and Cavan Biggio struggled to generate anything offensively. Bo Bichette led the charge with four hits in the two-game series.
The Rays had a similar degree of trouble generating runs but were at least getting on base at a higher clip compared to Toronto. Randy Arozarena, Isaac Paredes, Curtis Mead, and Taylor Walls all had two or more hits, while both Yandy Díaz and Harold Ramirez were only able to generate one single through the two games, uncharacteristic of both players.
The Rays only had two extra-base hits throughout the series and zero home runs, eerily similar to how the Jays played against the Twins.
The Orioles put up a better fight against the Rangers in that they were able to collect seven extra-base hits through all three games. Still, they struggled to get production from Adley Rutschman and Cedric Mullins, with the outfielder going 0-for-12 in the series.
Gunnar Henderson led the way with his six hits, while former Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks collected a team-high five RBIs, three of which came courtesy of a home run in Game 2.
Pitching Was on Display But Came Up Short
Pitching-wise, the Blue Jays mired themselves in controversy in Game 2 by pulling a red-hot José Berríos in the fourth inning, only for Yusei Kikuchi to give up two runs (one credited to Berríos).
Kevin Gausman battled through four innings in Game 1 as the Twins laid off his go-to splitter, but the rest of the Jays bullpen was solid, allowing zero earned runs while striking out 11. Had their offense shown up, they likely would have made the ALCS.
The Rays’ two starters got a bit roughed up by the Rangers’ bats, with Tyler Glasnow walking five batters through five innings in his outing. Zach Eflin, the Game 2 starter, went five innings while allowing four earned runs and two homers. Colin Poche was the only other Rays pitcher to give up any runs during the two games.
Tampa was missing numerous pitchers due to injury, including Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Shane Baz, and Jeffrey Springs, and one wonders how this series would have fared if even any of those pitchers were healthy.
Baltimore’s pitcing staff fared the worst of the group, as both Dean Kremer and former top prospect Grayson Rodriguez were unable to make it to the third inning in their respective starts, allowing 11 earned runs combined off 13 hits. Kyle Bradish was the best of the group, going 4 2/3 with just two earned allowed in his start. Four of the Orioles’ relievers appeared in two or more games in the series without allowing a run.
Looking Ahead for the AL East
Looking ahead, the Baltimore Orioles are set up for success in 2024 and beyond, as the club boasts lots of younger, talented players who got their first taste of postseason action this year.
Toronto heads back to the drawing board with a core group that inches closer to free agency; they have no long-term deals in place for Bichette or Guerrero. Finally, the Rays are in their own unique bubble, balancing a small-market budget while continuing to be a postseason threat year after year.