Ranking the 90-win Orioles teams of the last 30 years

How do the last Orioles 90-win teams stack up?
Baltimore Orioles v Arizona Diamondbacks
Baltimore Orioles v Arizona Diamondbacks / Norm Hall/GettyImages

Baltimore Orioles left fielder Austin Hays triumphantly raised both hands to the sky after catching the final out of a wild, 13-12 victory at Fenway Park this past Saturday night. While Hays was celebrating the end of a seemingly endless game, the Orioles had done something else worth celebrating. They had reached 90 wins in their 2023 dream season, only the fourth time in the last 30 years that they had reached that mark.

By comparison, the Yankees have 20 90-win seasons over the last 30 years. The Red Sox have 15. So, when the Orioles reach the 90-win mark, we cherish it. We celebrate it. And we hope for more of the same in the playoffs. Let's take a look at how these 90-win clubs of the last 30 years stack up against one another.

How do the last four 90-win Orioles teams stack up against each other?

(4) 2012 Baltimore Orioles: 93-69

Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Xavier Avery
Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Xavier Avery celebrate a late night win in Seattle during their magical 2012 season / Otto Greule Jr/GettyImages

Those of us fortunate to remember the Orioles magical 2012 season can recall all of the hallmarks with ease: surprisingly solid starting pitching from previously unheralded Jason Hammel, Wei Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman. Chris Davis carrying the Orioles' offense in his first full season in Baltimore.

Mark Reynolds' prodigious power and fancy footwork at first. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters' steady leadership. Gary Thorne's incredible voice capturing it all. The young Manny Machado and the ageless Jim Thome sharing the diamond. And the Orioles' first winning season in 14 years and playoff appearance in 15 years.

2012 also featured the first ever American League Wild Card game, with the Orioles traveling down to Texas and riding recent acquisition Joe Saunders to a 5-1 win. This team went from 69-93 in 2011 to 93-69 in 2012 and was an absolute joy to watch. I spent the summer working in Chicago, and my purchase of MLB TV that summer was well worth it.

Perhaps what made this team so special was how unexpected this all was. The Orioles made very few improvements in the offseason following the 69-93 2011 season, adding the unheard-of Wei Yin Chen, Jason Hammel in a seemingly lateral move for Jeremy Guthrie, Wilson Betemit, and Endy Chavez. Under Buck Showalter's tutelage, the growth of young pitchers Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, and a shutdown bullpen anchored by Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day, this surprising bunch won 93 games. What a great summer that was in Baltimore.

(3) 2014 Baltimore Orioles: 96-66

Nelson Cruz
ALCS - Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles - Game One / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Two years after the magical run in 2012, the Orioles won 96 games and took their first American League East crown since 1997. Not surprisingly, my article compiling the best Orioles' team from 2000-2023 featured several members of the 2014 squad, including Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Chris Tillman, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters.

This incredible group had 41 comeback wins, 10 walk-off wins, and spent 91 days in first place en route to a dominating finish. The next closest team was the New York Yankees, who finished 12 games back of the O's at 84-78. Nelson Cruz led the Orioles with 40 home runs. Steve Pearce posted a surprising .930 OPS. Wei Yin Chen won 16 games, while Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez won 15, 13, and 10 games, respectively.

Zack Britton saved 37 games and posted a 1.65 ERA in his first season as the Orioles' closer. Unfortunately, injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, as well as a suspension of Chris Davis, capped this potential World Series' contender's potential. After sweeping the Tigers in the Divisional Round, the Orioles were swept out of the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals. While this was a dominant season, Orioles fans can only wonder what could have been if the full cavalry was available in the playoffs.

But we will never forget this moment in Game 2 of the ALDS when Camden Yards was rocking.

(2) 1997 Baltimore Orioles: 98-64

Cal Ripken Jr
Baltimore Orioles / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

The 1997 Baltimore Orioles went wire-to-wire, leading the American League East from Mike Mussina's Opening Day win over Kansas City through their final game, a 7-6 win over the then-American League's Brewers. Managed by the great Davey Johnson, the '97 Orioles had a winning record throughout the season, 42 comeback wins, and a lineup including future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Mike Mussina. Much like the 2023 Orioles, the 1997 Orioles were better on the road than at home, going 52-29 away from Camden Yards and "only" 46-34 at home.

The 1997 offense was loaded. Rafael Palmeiro led the way with 38 home runs and 110 RBI, while second-baseman Roberto Alomar hit .333 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI. Coming off of a 50-home run season, leadoff man and centerfielder Brady Anderson returned to earth a bit but slugged 18 home runs and posted an outstanding .863 OPS, better than anyone on the current Orioles team.

The pitching was just as dominant. Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key each won 16 games, with ace Mike Mussina winning 15 games and posting a starters' best ERA of 3.20. The bullpen featured Randy Myers (45 saves) and relief studs Arthur Rhodes (10-3 record, 3.02 ERA), Jesse Orosco (2.32 ERA), and Armando Benitez (2.45 ERA). Ripken, Anderson, Alomar, Key, and Mussina were All-Stars.

This team defeated the powerful Seattle Mariners in the ALDS before falling in six games to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. Brutally, this would be the last time the Orioles would make the playoffs until 2012. However, with 98 wins and a wire-to-wire finish, the 1997 O's check in at second on our list.

(1) 2023 Baltimore Orioles: Currently 91-52 (before play 9/12), on pace for 103-59

Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Ryan McKenna
Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

What more can be said about the incredible 2023 Orioles that has not already been said? While many people expected the team with the number one prospect in back-to-back seasons (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson) to be good, no one expected them to have the second best record in the league halfway through September.

In fact, people are still doubting them. But the 2023 Orioles just keep winning, setting historic records, and having a whole lot of fun while doing it. At 91-52, the Orioles would need to go 8-10 to avoid the team's first 100-win season since 1980, before any of us at Birds Watcher was born. The 1997 wire-to-wire Birds won 98 games; this team is on pace to win 103.

The 2023 Orioles were well-represented at the All-Star game, with Adley Rutschman, Yennier Cano, Felix Bautista, and Austin Hays representing the Orioles in Seattle. Rutschman also competed in the Home Run Derby. Several young players have burst onto the scene, including Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, Yennier Cano, and Dean Kremer. As these players are still in their pre-arbitration years, they will be Orioles for a while longer.

Unlike the 1997 Orioles, the 2023 Orioles have had no losing months. They have 46 comeback wins, five thrilling walk-offs, and have now been in first place for 50 days. At 91-52, they are currently 39 games over .500, which is the highest over .500 the 1997 team got. Unlike the 1997 Orioles, which were comprised of several veterans, the 2023 Orioles are young and hungry. Their average age is 28.4 years old. The 1997 O's had an average age of 30.7.

It's not just that the 2023 Orioles are on pace to win more games than any Orioles team in over 40 years. Nor is it just that they have no losing months and are a younger group. Best yet, unlike the 1997, 2012, and 2014 teams, we don't know how this story ends.

Certainly, the 2023 Orioles could get swept out of the first round. But they could also make the team's first World Series since 1983. As things stand, the Orioles would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, with a raucous Camden Yards crowd behind them.

Perhaps it's recency bias, or perhaps it is me being a fan of this exciting team. But as of now, the 2023 Orioles are the best Orioles team of the last 30 years. Let's hope they can write a storybook ending.