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Nobody Is Laughing At The Baltimore Orioles Anymore

The greater baseball world has spent the better part of the last three years clowning the Baltimore Orioles, mocking the club’s poor performance and low payrolls, while the franchise attempts to reinvent itself and collect younger talent.

To be clear, the on-field product in Baltimore has been awful since 2018. After a disappointing 2017 season, the Orioles flat-lined in 2018 with a 47-115 record. The club hasn’t won more than 54 games since and in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Orioles still only won 41 percent of their games.

Those outside Baltimore expected the same in 2022, but fans knew differently. We knew the curve was beginning to turn, and with the arrival of The Savior (Adley Rutschman) and some all-around growth, suddenly nobody is laughing at the Orioles anymore.

In the toughest division in baseball, Baltimore is 22-31 as of June 3, dueling with the Boston Red Sox for fourth place in the AL East. For comparison, Baltimore has spent $45.5 million to win 22 games so far, while the Philadelphia Phillies have spent more than $233 million to win the same number of games.

That’s not to say that the O’s are contenders for the playoffs because clearly they aren’t. But what it does show is that this rebuild is looking more and more like it might work.

The biggest improvement has been on the mound, where the Orioles finally look like they have a competent pitching staff. Baltimore is 19th in total team earned run average (ERA) and their relievers are fifth in total team ERA.

The pitching success is coming from younger arms, too. Second-year pitcher Tyler Wells has successfully stretched out into being a starter and boasts a 3.71 ERA and a 1.076 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). Former Yankees prospect Dillon Tate is blossoming in his age-28 season, allowing just five earned runs over 26.2 innings. Felix Bautista has come out of nowhere with five earned runs allowed over 21 innings of work. Twenty-six-year-old Cionel Perez has just two earned runs allowed in 16.2 innings. Keegan Akin might not have worked out as a starter, but his conversion to long reliever has him at a 1.60 ERA through 33.2 innings.

So while the offense has sputtered at various times this season, the Orioles’ arms have kept them in ballgames. And that hasn’t been the case since 2014, when the club reached the ALCS.

I jokingly referred to MLB’s top prospect Adley Rutschman as The Savior, but in a sense, his impending arrival has had that effect. Rutschman effuses confidence and dedication, and his May 22 arrival marked a critical point in the O’s timeline. He’s off to a slow start at the plate through his first few games, but nobody in Birdland is worried about his bat.

Those around him know that with him in the clubhouse, there’s reason to believe that the days of losing 100-plus games are in the rear view mirror.

So what does Baltimore’s future look like? Decisions loom on the horizon as Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander and John Means come up for contract discussions. Eventually, we’ll figure out if the Orioles are committed to the Austin Hays-Cedric Mullins tandem in the outfield, or if Baltimore wants to see the strength of its minor league system — their outfielders — take the mantle.

A lot is going to happen in Baltimore over the next two-to-three seasons. I’m not entirely sure what those things will be, but I am sure that the Orioles will be contending for the playoffs within that window. The young talent already in an Orioles uniform is exciting enough, but knowing that Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall aren’t far off makes it even better.

I know one more thing too — anyone still mocking or dismissing the Orioles won’t be doing so for much longer. The evidence is right in front of our faces.

All we have to do is enjoy the product and hope this process reaches its desired conclusion.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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