Coming off of a 52-110 record heading into spring training 2022, a dream scenario for the Baltimore Orioles would have been a plus-.500 record and meaningful September games with the chance of playoff baseball in October. Behind stellar debuts of Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Felix Bautista, the 2022 Orioles turned this dream scenario into a reality.
The incredible 2022 season has upped the ante heading into 2023, as a new, dream scenario emerges: winning the American League East in 2023. And from there, we can dream bigger about what playoff baseball in Birdland would bring.
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Considering the progress the 2022 Orioles made on the field from 2021 and the steps back taken by the likes of the Red Sox, the division in 2023 is probably less of a "longshot" than what the Orioles accomplished in 2022. But like in 2022, achieving the dream season of a division title will take some good fortune. Here is what it will likely take for the Orioles to overtake the powerful Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays in the American League East.
1. Grayson Rodriguez Stars Out of the Gate
Grayson Rodriguez is arguably Major League Baseball's top pitching prospect and is expected to begin the year in the Orioles' starting rotation. As his stellar minor league numbers suggest, Rodriguez is more than capable of hitting the ground running this season, taking the ball every fifth day, and perhaps, emerging as Baltimore's best starting pitcher. For Rodriguez and his teammates, the biggest question will be his health, as Rodriguez missed a chunk of 2022 with a Grade 2 lat strain.
Atlanta Braves' second-year right-hander Spencer Strider provides a terrific guidepost for Rodriguez. In his first season with the Braves, Strider went 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 131.2 innings. Seattle rookie right-hander George Kirby put up a still good but slightly less impressive 8-5 record, 3.339 ERA, and 133 strike outs over 130 innings last season. For the Orioles to win the division, Rodriguez's rookie season needs to at least fall somewhere between Kirby and Strider. And the league's best pitching prospect is more than capable of doing just that.