The Orioles made this season far more enjoyable than expected.
The Baltimore Orioles had a greatly improved 2022 season, much better than the nightmare most of us expected. As today is Halloween, what better way is there to celebrate than by looking back at the team in orange and black? Here are five treats from the surprisingly enjoyable season.
5. A Competitive Pitching Staff
Much of the reason why the Orioles were so hard to watch from 2018-2021 was due to truly horrendous pitching. That changed dramatically in 2022, with the team ERA improving by close to two runs, from 5.84 last year to 3.97 this year. That 5.84 figure was the worst by more than .70 runs, while the 3.97 number ranked 17th in the Majors.
The improvement was true across the board. Dean Kremer went from unplayable (7.55 in 2021) to leading the rotation in ERA at 3.23. Spencer Watkins also improved his ERA by over three full runs. Keegan Akin went from failed starter to reliable reliever alongside hidden gems Cionel Perez, Felix Bautista, Joey Krehbiel, and Bryan Baker. They replaced guys like Cesar Valdez, Adam Plutko, and Travis Lakins who are all out of the big leagues. Even when the offense struggled at times in 2022, the pitching staff kept the Orioles in far more games than past seasons.
4. Brandon Hyde Can Manage
There is a segment of the fanbase that thinks Brandon Hyde is a weak manager, and they must be in denial at Hyde deservedly winning Sporting News Manager of the Year. After years of taking out awful pitchers to bring in other awful pitchers, he finally got to show he has a serious feel for the flow of baseball games. For the most part, Hyde made sound decisions about when to pull his starters and which relievers to put in. Many people got annoyed by all the “punt” lineups when multiple bench players would start at the same time, but those decisions more often come from the front office.
It is close to impossible to gauge how a manager handles the clubhouse, but it is clear the team bonded well. From the binoculars hand motion to creating the home run chain to the ten-year service time celebration for Robinson Chirinos, the roster had fun together and made showing up to the park something worth looking forward to instead of a slog. Yes, the players make their own fun, but the manager plays an important role in shaping the clubhouse culture. Improving by 30 wins says a lot about the man in charge and his coaching staff.
3. Improvement on the Farm
The Orioles have held arguably the top spot of the farm system rankings all season long, and that is due to certain good prospects taking big steps forward. Gunnar Henderson went from the back of the Top 100 to one of the first slots by hitting through three levels as one of the youngest players. The power surges of Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, and Connor Norby show how the middle infield is the real strength of the system.
Taking steps forward is not the only way to hold steady. The front office added another talented draft class, led by first overall pick Jackson Holliday. There are also a few additions via trade, with Cade Povich being the highlight. The other top prospects also held serve, with Coby Mayo and Colton Cowser looking like everyday players. Heston Kjerstad is back on the field and currently raking in the AFL. Grayson Rodriguez is still one of the best pitchers in the minors despite missing half the year. Even though Mike Elias will likely push in some chips to bolster the big league roster, the system will still be very strong next year.
2. The Uber-Prospects Have Arrived
The main reason why the Orioles were so competitive this year is because of the plethora of star rookies. Generational talent Adley Rutschman finally debuted on May 21, and the team’s fortunes turned around soon after. He set the team catching and rookie record for doubles, might win Rookie of the Year, and is now up for a Silver Slugger Award. His stellar defense and rapport with his battery mates is part of how the pitching improved, and hopefully he will be around for the long term.
Gunnar Henderson quickly replaced Rutschman as the top prospect, and he ended up debuting at the end of August. He posted a .788 OPS, an admirable number for his first 132 plate appearances, and he will enter 2023 as the Rookie of the Year favorite. DL Hall is still a work in progress after debuting in mid-August but showed flashes of his high-end potential. Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavra don’t have defined roles yet but will likely be key contributors next year. Oh, and Felix Bautista transformed into an elite closer with an appropriate entrance to boot.
1. A Winning Record
If making a Cinderella run to the playoffs is like getting a full-sized Milky Way, then a surprise winning record is like a mega Crunch bar: it’s not the best treat available, but you’ll still tell your friends about it. The Orioles improved from 52 wins to 83 wins in one season and drew positive media attention to Baltimore for the first time in years.
This team went on a ten-game winning streak, pitched 15 shutouts, hit nine walk offs, and had a bunch of comeback wins. They stood up to their AL East opponents and finished above the Red Sox. An ugly month of April only made the summer months more stunning. The 2022 Orioles were undeniably fun, and they were a treat to watch.