Baltimore has the best record in the American League this season. The Birds passed Tampa Bay after their red-hot start, but thanks to a series of losses by the Rays and consistent baseball from the Orioles, the Orioles have taken the AL East lead.
Since then, they have held onto it and could do so until the playoffs. Despite their steady performances, many writers and sports sites do not have the Orioles projected to go far in the postseason. That is something other teams should pay no attention to, as this squad is stacked with talent and ready to take on any club.
The Orioles are a dangerous team to underestimate
Birdland is stringing together a series of performances that no team should want to play against in October. After going 18-9 in April, the Orioles had a mediocre April and May that only just saw them have a winning record. Since July, though, Camden Yards and wherever the Birds have gone has been witness to some incredible baseball. Hyde's squad managed a 17-9 record in July followed by another 18-9 showing in August.
So far in September, they have not slowed down. Their winning ways have led them to the top of the American League, with their biggest competitors being the Rays. Second only to Atlanta in the overall standings, Birdland has a lot going for them. Not enough going for them, though, according to some. It seems that no matter how many games the Orioles win, some will have to see them succeed in the postseason before they believe it.
A few days ago, ESPN asked some of their baseball experts to give their end-of-season and playoff predictions. One of them saw the Orioles besting the Atlanta Braves for the top record, while 14 saw Baltimore topping Tampa Bay to win the AL East, and essentially clinching the top record in the AL. Many or most praised how Hyde rebuilt the team and the youthful determination of this young Birdland squad. But none of them had the Orioles making the World Series.
Eight of the experts voted for the Astros to represent the AL in the October Classic. Three apiece for Texas and Seattle, while the Twins, Blue Jays, and Rays all ended with one vote. A prediction from one expert had Minnesota squaring off against the Brewers. When asked about it, he stated, "given the unpredictable nature of this season... I'm going with an unlikely World Series matchup."
This campaign has been exciting to experience, but going as far to predict two outsiders to make the World Series instead of a more proven team seems to be ignoring the higher quality that Baltimore has been playing baseball with.
The squad depth is a big factor in determining that they should be successful in October. The Birds' record against potential playoff opponents is impressive, and clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs could make them nearly unstoppable.
Another site that does not favor Baltimore the way that their impressive record should suggest is Fan Duel. While betting odds vary in level of complexity or simplicity depending on one's knowledge of them, what shows clearly is that three teams are "ahead" of the Orioles.
The Astros in particular are an interesting pick, but much of that comes down to experts favoring them to make the World Series. The Birds are ahead of the remaining AL playoff teams, but only by a little.
Enough about who is putting Birdland down, and more about why those people will be regretting their words in a month. Baltimore has, and still is, putting together an elite pitching rotation. Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez are already pitching well. John Means should soon return to the roster, and while he might not be a starter, he would likely be able to provide a long-relief outing if a starter goes down early.
There have been some doubts about the bullpen, especially since each reliever seems to hit a hiccup at the worst possible moment, but that does not mean the O's do not have a strong pen. Shintaro Fujinami has pitched well in his September and late August outings.
Yennier Cano, not as untouchable as he was at the start of the season, is still very reliable, and DL Hall has been a pleasant surprise to the squad, to say nothing of other key pieces who deserve their own mentions such as Jacob Webb, Joey Krehbiel, and the much-improved Danny Coulombe.
The Birds have come a long way from the group that opened the season. They have benefitted from the progress their farm system has shown and called up players like Jordan Westburg who have made an immediate impact.
In particular, the consistent hitting has given their strong outings on the mound enough support to win key games. Of all Orioles players, only Ryan O'Hearn is batting over .300, but only James McCann and Jorge Mateo are below .245. A well-rounded team, Baltimore can create a rally from anywhere in the order.
October is just under a month away, and until then people can and maybe will continue to play-down the success that Hyde and the boys have been achieving out on the diamond. Come October, though, the youthful O's will have the chance to prove their doubters wrong.
With a strong pitching staff, a powerful lineup of capable batters, and a passionate fanbase ready to see their team return to the glory days, Baltimore looks set to have a playoff run that could take them all the way to the World Series.