By listening to what the Baltimore Orioles leadership is saying, the rebuilding process is over, it’s time to compete in 2023.
But the so-called pundits are saying temper those expectations a bit. The Orioles still reside in the ultra-rich American League East.
Following the Orioles this spring, it’s impossible to turn on the radio or television and not hear the discussions about what a young and talented team could blossom into this season.
Or, the reality, that as spring turns to summer, and summer heats up, the young and talented players may simply wilt as the season turns older.
Earlier this week on the MLB Network, some of the talking heads said that it was indeed possible that the Orioles could continue to progress on the field and finish last in the AL East.
Bottom line: regardless of whether the expectations are high or low, they’re there.
They formed last season when the Orioles compiled their first winning record since 2016. The expectations grew during the hot-stove season, even though the Orioles didn’t exactly hit a grand slam in the free-agent market.
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias only accelerated fans’ hopes by declaring the long rebuild was over.
The declaration by Elias that the rebuild was over served one purpose for certain, as the Orioles reported a 40 percent increase in ticket presales.
On WBAL radio Tuesday, manager Brandon Hyde said “that for the first time since I’ve been here, we are able to build off of last year from the expectation standpoint.”
As spring training ends and opening day looms Thursday in Boston against the Red Sox, the Orioles no longer find themselves playing for next year.
In 2023, Baltimore is aiming to make the postseason, building upon the 83 wins from a year ago. Those 83 wins came as a shock to many, but Baltimore won’t have the element of surprise working for them starting Thursday in BeanTown.
So, is now the time for the Orioles?
I think the biggest difference coming into this year for the Orioles is knowing what the current roster can do, based on last year’s success.
Baltimore got some in-season boosts last season, for sure. The club stood 16-24 before top prospect Adley Rutschman made his debut in late May. From then on, the Orioles went 67-55, finishing three games back of a wild-card berth.
While the Orioles didn’t make the big headlines in offseason acquisitions, they did address specific needs. Baltimore picked up inning-eating pitchers in Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, while adding former Gold Glove-winning second baseman Adam Frazier from Seattle.
Late spring training injuries forced the Orioles to redesign their bullpen before Thursday. The final product is almost complete. No Grayson Rodriguez or DL Hall, the top two pitching prospects who will open the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
Pitchers Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens will begin the season on the injured list. Both Tate and Givens were key components in the Orioles bullpen, which was considered among the best in the American League.
If the club can stay healthy, then there’s no reason a playoff spot in 2023 is out of reach.
The future is now, and tomorrow for Baltimore
Finally, the 2023 regular season is here. Baseball that counts and a potentially extremely exciting season for the Orioles is about to begin.
The Orioles gained 31 wins last year from the 2021 season. That won’t happen again this season, and it doesn’t have to for the 2023 campaign to be an enormous success.
The last time the O’s won more than 83 was also the last time they made the playoffs, as an AL wild-card team with 89 wins in 2016.
With just two of the top prospects on the current roster, Rutschman and third baseman Gunnar Henderson, and more on the cusp of joining the big-league team, there’s tremendous hope for now and the next decade of Orioles baseball.
Has the worm turned in Baltimore? Maybe. The Orioles have found themselves in a position to grab a bigger chunk of the media high ground in Charm City, with the Baltimore Ravens continuing to engage in a peeing contest with Lamar Jackson.
The Orioles are amid their most upbeat spring training in years. The reality is that the Orioles and Ravens fan bases are populated largely by the same group of customers.
This season, the baseball birds of Baltimore offer that group the opportunity to see meaningful baseball played all season. A possibility of easing the sting of watching Jackson leave town.