This may be a controversial opinion, but it’s not fun when the Red Sox lose. Especially not when they take a loss from the jaws of victory. Usually, when we lose, there’s another team consistently losing right along with us, making the sting hurt just a little less. That team is usually the birds of Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles, who have occupied that last place slot every year since 2016, if we pretend that the shortened and crowd-noise-piped season of 2020 didn’t exist, which I’d be perfectly fine with.
This should be the Orioles right now.
Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to think.
But, come 2023, and beyond, we may have to recondition the machinations of our minds.
You probably don’t need a sports blog to tell you this, but, excluding the 2012-2014 days of “Crush” Davis, young Schoop, Chen and that brilliant bullpen, the Orioles have long been non-contenders. Younger talent is incorrectly utilized and then subsequently shipped out. The major league talent is prone to seasons of no consequence. In more recent years, that franchise, to both outsiders and perhaps more so to their fans, seemed to simply lack purpose.
Until now. If we’re going to get out of a battle for last place and into a battle for first place, we need to think of every interaction with a team in our division as a war. Bidding war, reaction war, whatever. But you can’t even call it a war, because wars end. Our front office simply needs to be more diligent than they’ve been, and that starts with looking at how teams with lesser payrolls than us succeed, while also realizing that we have a higher payroll and can bring talent in more expeditiously. And that begins with watching the Orioles’ promising (well, at least to them…) rise.
Although The O’s’ playoff hopes are all but dead at this point (not nearly as dead as the Red Sox’s, but close) the Orioles have solidified themselves as a team that could be a scary matchup on the schedule. The aggressive and youthful vigor of newcomers Adley Ruschmann and Gunnar Henderson has been welcome for the team as well as for the league as a whole (check out their warm-hearted call up videos that made the rounds on social media). Their power is a great addition to a team that managed to stay alive for much longer than they’ve been known to in recent years, especially in this competitive division that may see three teams in the postseason. Mainstay outfielder/designated hitter Anthony Santander has emerged as the bat executives have clamored he could be for quite some time, and he’s flaunting home run numbers and WAR numbers far higher than we’ve come to expect. Rougned Odor shaved his Yankees beard but hasn’t shaved anything off his productivity, and Ramon Urias is finally coming into his own. The team even parlayed sending off their beloved first baseman, Trey Mancini, into a few future arms that have potential for development… and then they kept winning after that deal. The product is simply more explosive than it has been, to the chagrin of the entire rest of the division.
As vivacious as Baltimore’s bats have looked, the pitching staff is getting there, too. Owner of a great first name Dean Kremer is also seeing his best performance in the majors thus far, and despite a rocky start from Kyle Bradish, he can also join Kremer in the “Guys Who Are Primed For A Great 2023 Club” list. And that’s truly the tip of the iceberg. Guys like Cionel Perez, DL Hall and Alex Wells are all players that could make an impact as the Orioles ascend to “hey, these guys may not end up in last place every year” status. Even Keegan Akin, whose 2021 stats as a starter were quite gruesome, is finding his footing as a solid reliever in decently high leverage situations. Also, the aforementioned Ruschmann and Henderson aren’t going anywhere, and Ruschmann projects as a very formidable power-hitting catcher, a guy most Red Sox fans won’t get butterflies at the thought of facing for the next several years.
So, if you’re wondering why I’m harping on the Orioles’ foundation for the future, it’s because with this article, I’m taking the Negative Nancy route and assuming, in this division, that (1) the Red Sox are going to have to wheel and deal this offseason to make something not resembling a last place team, and (2), I, along with what seems like most of you, am not entirely sure Chaim Bloom and John Henry have it in them to develop this highly touted farm system of ours as a strength, despite every word in interviews doing lip service to the contrary. This, in addition to the lingering arguments for and against keeping Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nate Eovaldi, and the contrast of how the teams handle their burning questions in recent offseasons, speaks volumes to the Orioles’ resilience, despite their repeated somber results. The Orioles seem to have established a roadmap, and the Red Sox, who inexplicably became another middling team a season after being thrown into a situation where they were two wins from being in the World Series, do not have the same type of road map. Statler and Waldorf backup Peter Angelos, despite his old age, is allowing GM Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde to try new things with his money. In no time at all, Baltimore has become Balti-Most improved… and I’m waiting for my services as a writer to be terminated upon anyone on the Over The Monster team reading that joke (Ed. Note: he’s been warned).
All joking aside, that trial and error of player personnel working to Baltimore’s favor is what I am going to be paying a lot of attention to this week, as well as Boston’s reaction to it, not just in this series, but going into the most important offseason this franchise has seen in almost two decades. Is it all just sheer luck? Or lack thereof, in some of our recently called-up prospect’s cases? Is it less of an exact science than it would seem? Does Cora’s trademarked pulling of a young reliever and not letting him pitch out a tricky situation, opting instead to go with a reliever who will end up allowing the runners to score anyway, speak to the short leash that extends all the way up the ladder? And does that ladder reach just short of the ceiling?
The Red Sox look to win or tie a season series with a team that ended up much better than anticipated this season; it’s currently 8-7, Baltimore. Unfortunately, we as fans can’t look to a 3-game series such as this one against Baltimore and see it as an easy two or three wins, anymore. It’s what the front office does with this news that will define just how deep the cellar the Red Sox organization will have to climb themselves out of will be for 2023, and for many years following that, too. Far be it from me to leave a very obvious reference to The Wire out of an article about Baltimore (though I did sneak one in earlier), so “a man must have a code” applies nicely here. Either we’re all in on succeeding in this congested division in the foreseeable future, or we’re not. It’s up to Mr. Bloom and Mr. Henry to decide, and for us to merely observe our division rivals gaining ground by the day.
Monday 9/26 @ 7:10 PM - Connor Seabold vs Jordan Lyles
Tuesday 9/27 @ 7:10 PM - Michael Wacha vs Kyle Bradish
Wednesday 9/28 @ 7:10 PM - Rich Hill vs Dean Kremer (Happy birthday to me!)
Thursday 9/29 @ 1:35 PM - Nathan Eovaldi vs Mike Baumann