The Orioles have spent much of Brandon Hyde’s tenure being looked down upon. They’ve spent almost six months craning necks upward.
Sunday, the Orioles clinched their first playoff berth since 2016, the culmination of a rebuilding process that fully launched in the winter of 2018 when Mike Elias was brought in as executive vice president and general manager and hired Hyde as manager to steward a club designed to struggle.
They inherited the worst team in the majors, an organization with bad contracts and bad infrastructure. In each of Hyde’s first three years, Baltimore finished with one of baseball’s five worst records, twice losing at least 108 games as his lineups and pitching staffs were littered with overmatched players.
The tide unexpectedly began to turn in 2022, when a team projected for another year as a bottom-feeder instead finished as the best team in the American League to miss the playoffs. With the Texas Rangers’ loss Sunday, the Orioles and the Tampa Bay both became the first AL teams to lock up postseason spots in 2023 amid their series finale at Camden Yards, with Baltimore adding an exclamation to the day with a 5-4 victory in 11 innings on Cedric Mullins’ sacrifice fly. The win gave the Orioles (93-56) a two-game lead in the AL East..
After the Orioles won 83 games in 2022, a quiet offseason and a roster built on youth left many projection systems and sportsbooks forecasting them to take a step back. Even before a playoff berth was secured, Hyde acknowledged that those outside expectations did not go unnoticed in Baltimore’s clubhouse.
“We were disrespected, honestly, going into this year,” Hyde said Sunday morning. “Just from where we were from projections, smart people thinking they know what the records are gonna be at the end of the year, casinos, et cetera. I thought we were underappreciated. Everybody thought we were going to have a setback this year. I wanted our players to be offended by that a little bit, the guys that were here last year. I thought that wasn’t accurate.
“I thought we were going to be better than everybody thought.”
They quickly established that to be the case, playing with a level of consistency atypical of a club lacking experience. The Orioles have posted a winning record every month of the season. Their longest losing streak of the year is four games. They have not been swept in a multi-game series since May 2022, an AL-record streak that began shortly before they promoted catcher Adley Rutschman, the player selected with the first overall pick in 2019 that was awarded to Baltimore for its 115 losses the year before.
The only players who have been more valuable to this year’s club than Rutschman are also a pair who arrived in the majors last season in infielder Gunnar Henderson — drafted 41 picks after Rutschman and the favorite to be AL Rookie of the Year — and right-hander Kyle Bradish, the club’s top starter who is one of several players who joined the organization via trades of veterans during the preceding years.
After enduring odysseys to reach Baltimore, two other second-year pitchers, All-Stars Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano, have anchored Hyde’s bullpen, a particular point of weakness on the Orioles’ rebuilding teams. More products of Baltimore’s top-ranked minor league system, built not only from early draft choices but also investments in technology and development practices, have contributed to its success, with rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez pitching eight scoreless innings Saturday to position the Orioles to clinch Sunday.
But the players who weathered Hyde’s early seasons are the team’s core. Outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander; infielders Ryan Mountcastle and Ramón Urías; and starters John Means and Dean Kremer arrived on bad baseball teams, their inexperience at times contributing to their struggles. Each has said that what they endured in those seasons has made the club’s tastes of success all the sweeter.
“Our guys just expect to win when they come to the ballpark,” Hyde said Saturday. “A lot of our guys have lost a lot in this league, and they have a lot of confidence now. … Our young guys kind of maybe don’t know better. They’re just playing their butts off every single night.”
The club’s modest additions leading into and during the rebuild have paid off in the form of veteran presences and occasional impact performances. In Kyle Gibson, Danny Coulombe, James McCann, Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks, the Orioles added experience to their rotation, bullpen, catching group, infield and outfield. Left-handed slugger Ryan O’Hearn has emerged as one of their top hitters after the Kansas City Royals — now in Baltimore’s former position as one of the major’s worst teams — designated him for assignment and traded him to Baltimore for cash.
That mix, of top prospects and castoffs, of rebuild endurers and fresh faces, is heading to playoffs. Few aren’t looking up at them now.
This story will be updated.