Can the Orioles Win the AL East Without Kyle Bradish?

The Orioles lost an ace just as the Yankees finally got theirs back. Can the O's win the division with Kyle Bradish on the IL?

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kyle Bradish stands in the dugout during the Washington Nationals versus the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
BALTIMORE, MD - September 27: Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kyle Bradish (39) stands in the dugout during the Washington Nationals versus the Baltimore Orioles on September 27, 2023 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On Wednesday night, Gerrit Cole made his triumphant return to the New York Yankees rotation, striking out five across four innings in his 2024 debut. His efforts were not enough to secure a victory, however, and the Baltimore Orioles ultimately eked out a 7-6 win in extra innings.

Although Baltimore won the game, New York was the winner that day in a grander sense. While the Yankees got their ace back, the Orioles lost an ace of their own. Earlier that afternoon, general manager Mike Elias announced Kyle Bradish would miss the rest of the season (and part of the next) as he recovers from Tommy John surgery to repair his right UCL.

Needless to say, losing Bradish is a huge blow to the Orioles as they fight tooth and nail with the Yankees in the AL East.

The 27-year-old right-hander broke out last season in his sophomore campaign, making 30 starts with a 2.83 ERA and finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting.

Ad – content continues below

Bradish’s performance last season was a major reason the Orioles won the AL East. He outpitched Opening Day starter Kyle Gibson, top prospect Grayson Rodriguez, and 2022 breakout arm Dean Kremer, cementing himself as the team’s No. 1 starter by the end of the year.

After trading for Corbin Burnes this winter, the Orioles were no longer counting on Bradish to lead their staff, but he still had a vital role to play as the No. 2. With Burnes, Bradish, and Rodriguez, Baltimore had one of the best top-of-the-rotation trios in the American League.

UCL Trouble for Kyle Bradish

Unfortunately, Bradish began dealing with UCL problems in February. At the time, he seemed to avoid the worst, and he made his way back to the Orioles’ rotation in May. Over the next six weeks, he looked like hadn’t skipped a beat, putting up a 2.75 ERA and 12.13 K/9 in eight starts.

Yet, Bradish exited his start last week against the Phillies with elbow soreness. He landed on the IL the following afternoon. Five days after that, his season was officially over.

Bradish is the third starter the Orioles have lost to UCL injuries this year alone. Tyler Wells, who threw 118.2 IP last year with a 3.64 ERA, went down in mid-April after just three starts. John Means, who has barely pitched since 2021, made his season debut in May, only to land back on the IL four starts later. Like Bradish, neither will pitch again until 2025.

Where the Orioles Rotation Stands Without Bradish

Thankfully, the Orioles have the depth to survive this onslaught of injuries. Burnes has been every bit as good as advertised, and Rodriguez has taken a step forward in his second season. Cole Irvin has been solid behind them, while Cade Povich earned his call to the majors after a strong showing at Triple-A.

Ad – content continues below

Kremer (nursing with a right triceps strain) is expected to come off the IL shortly, and Albert Suárez has done remarkable work keeping his spot in the rotation warm. Suárez will likely move back into a long-man role once Kremer returns.

Considering Baltimore’s top-tier offense and deep bullpen, that rotation is certainly good enough to keep the team afloat and get them into the playoffs – almost surely as the top Wild Card seed.

Yet, the Orioles want more than a Wild Card. They want to defend their division title. They want a first-round bye in the playoffs. In other words, they want to beat the Yankees.

Orioles vs. Yankees

The Yankees and Orioles have been the two best teams in the AL this season, by record, runs scored, and runs allowed. Unfortunately, only one of them can take the division crown.

New York currently holds a 1.5-game lead over Baltimore. By the time this afternoon’s contest between the two wraps up, that lead could shrink to half a game.

All things considered, these teams have played at similar levels throughout the season. The Yankees have a higher run differential (+125) than the Orioles (+113), but New York has played three more games. The Yankees have the edge in OPS, but only by .006 points. They also have the advantage in ERA, but only by 0.04 runs.

Ad – content continues below

The problem for the Orioles is that the Yankees are only getting stronger, and the O’s can’t say the same.

Cole will be a huge boost for New York. From June 19 through the end of the 2023 season, he made 18 starts with a 2.53 ERA. The Yankees were 12-6 in his outings, and he was worth 3.2 fWAR. In the same span, Bradish made 18 starts with a 2.24 ERA. The Orioles were 12-6, and he was worth 2.8 fWAR.

In other words, the Yankees might have just gained everything the Orioles lost.

Surely, Mike Elias will make moves ahead of the trade deadline. He has no shortage of trade chips, and there is no doubt his team could use another proven starter for the postseason run.

However, Brian Cashman will be looking for upgrades too. He may not have as much prospect capital at his disposal, but the Yankees under Cashman have a long track record of making aggressive moves at the deadline. Thus, it’s far from a guarantee that the Orioles will gain any ground on the trade market.

Can the Orioles Repeat in the AL East?

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – SEPTEMBER 28: Members of the Baltimore Orioles pose for a team photo on the field after defeating the Boston Red Sox to win the American League East at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

While the two AL East powerhouses are neck and neck in the standings, most sources seem to think the division is still the Yankees’ to lose. FanGraphs has the Orioles’ division odds at just 30.8%, while PECOTA is even less optimistic, putting Baltimore’s division odds at a mere 17.6%.

Ad – content continues below

The Orioles are still in this thing, but it’s clear they have an uphill battle ahead of them. And without Kyle Bradish, that battle will be even harder to fight.