The historic New York Yankees with slugger Aaron Judge. Boston with a 20 plus year run of success. The Blue Jays with an exciting young core and the Tampa Bay Rays playing witchcraft all had a reasonable path to win the division.
Yet, the Baltimore Orioles, winning 100 games for the first time since 1980, take the AL East. Don’t get me wrong, Baltimore is oozing with talent. But let’s be real. At some point we all thought “could they really put it all together and win this stacked division?”
Well, they did just that and head into the playoffs looking to put a cherry on top of a special season.
We looked for excuses to not believe in them. Many questioned their pitching. Others thought they were relying too much on youth. Some thought jumping from 83 wins in 2022 to leapfrog the Rays, Blue Jays, and Yankees was just not possible. We were wrong.
Adding Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin while relying on rookie Grayson Rodriguez and maybe a late season healthy John Means was simply not enough to propel this team to the postseason. But no one knew Kyle Bradish would put up a 2.86 ERA and 3.31 FIP and pitch like an ace they were lacking.
Dean Kremer stepped up, and Rodriguez improved as the season went one. Breakout Yennier Cano and second year reliever Felix Bautista made up for one of the most lethal one-two punches in the league.
Offensively, Baltimore finally turned a corner. Last year you saw the flashes from a few young guys, but the lineup still had too many holes. Another wave of rookies filled them.
Gunnar Henderson settled in after a so so start putting up 28 home runs and a 124 wRC+ to date. He is now the runaway favorite to win the Rookie of the Year, after Adley Rutschman finished runner-up just last last season.
Jordan Westburg and Heston Kjerstad sprinkled in some offense and showed enough to expect a big leap next year. Rutschman is looking like a franchise cornerstone while Anthony Santandar, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Cedric Mullins all had plus seasons, tasting the best team success of their careers.
You can’t tell the story of the 2023 Baltimore Orioles without the two most unlikely contributors; Ryan O’Hearn and Aaron Hicks. O’Hearn finally got out of the Royals organization and that seemed to put life into his bat. A .298/.331/.494 slash with 14 home runs was completely unexpected, but much needed in this lineup.
Hicks was a failed big contract for the Yankees who was scooped up to fill in for an injured Cedric Mullins. His .279/.386/.431 slash across 64 games helped Baltimore get through injuries and provided a veteran depth option in the outfield.
In a year where the Orioles were projected to have some growing pains, finish around third or fourth, they find themselves on top. The best season in decades, and one fans will never forget. And the fans needed this. Poor season after poor season highlighted by cheap cost-cutting roster moves and rebuilds ultimately leads to something they can smile about.
Memories they will cherish and stories they will have forever.
The best part? The story is not over. Baltimore has some of the best odds to win the World Series, and I believe they have America on their side. The “World Series Window” is open.
Their Triple-A club, the Norfolk Tides, won a championship on the same day the Orioles clinched the division, proving just how deep and talented this organization really is at the moment. If you enjoyed this season as a fan, buckle up. You could have several more like it to come.