The Orioles chose the worst time imaginable to suffer their first sweep of the 2023 season, dropping three straight games against the Texas Rangers as a magical 2023 season ended. While there were a handful of players who shined this postseason, they could not overcome the playoff struggles of others. Unfortunately, when the lights were brightest and it mattered the most, these Orioles couldn't get the job done.
This article reviews, in no particular order, 5 Orioles who's struggles most profoundly contributed to the Orioles' quick exit from the 2023 playoffs.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP: 1.2 Innings, 5 Earned Runs, 4 walks, 27.00 ERA
Like his first handful of starts in the big leagues, the much-anticipated playoff debut of fireballer Grayson Rodriguez did not go well. The Texas Rangers pelted Rodriguez for 5 earned runs over just 1.2 innings, with an RBI single by Jonah Heim capping a Texas five-run second inning and chasing Rodriguez from Game 2.
Although Rodriguez threw a scoreless first inning, even that wasn't easy: Texas loaded the bases against Rodriguez on two walks and a single, before Rodriguez coaxed a flyout to left from Heim to end the threat.
What made Rodriguez's start even more frustrating was his failure to secure a shutdown inning in the top of the second after the Orioles took their first (and only) lead of the series on Aaron Hicks' two run single. Pitching against the Rangers for the third time this season, Rodriguez simply didn't have it, allowing four walks and multiple two-strike hits. Rodriguez heads into his first offseason as a big leaguer, ready to grow from an otherwise solid season.
Jacob Webb, RP: 2 Innings Pitched, 2 Home Runs Allowed, 9.00 ERA
For Orioles' right-hander Jacob Webb, it was not so much the amount of hits allowed - two in two innings - that hurt him, but the amount of damage each hit caused. After the Orioles closed to within 2-1 in Game 1, and with momentum seemingly swinging their way, Webb allowed a solo home run to Josh Jung, giving Texas a 3-1 lead. In Game 2, Webb served up a monstrous grand slam to left off the bat of Mitch Garver, turning the game from 5-2 to 9-2 in the blink of an eye.
Despite the struggles in the playoffs, Webb will likely be back in a middle-relief role for the 2024 season.
Cedric Mullins, CF: 0-12 at the plate
There was much anticipation for the playoff debut of Cedric Mullins, the Orioles outstanding centerfielder who finally reached the playoffs in his fifth season with the team. After notoriously giving up switch hitting heading into the 2021 season, Mullins became a fixture in the Orioles' lineup, starting the 2021 All-Star Game, securing the first 30-30 season in team history (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in one year), and becoming a sparkplug for the offense. But Mullins had a quiet series, going hitless in 12 at bats.
The Orioles did not lose because of Mullins, but he was a big reason why the offense combined for only 3 runs in Games 1 and 3. Never fear Mullins fans. Mullins will enter Spring Training 2024 as the Orioles starting center fielder, now with some playoff experience under his belt.
Dean Kremer, RHP: 1.2 Innings, 6 Earned Runs, 32.40 ERA
Let me be perfectly clear: Israeli citizen Dean Kremer showed a lot of heart pitching in Game 3 of this series, a mere three days after Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel and barbarically attacked innocent civilians in their homes and at a music festival. As far as I am concerned, he is a hero for even putting on the uniform and pitching. It was beautiful seeing many around the baseball world rally behind Kremer, who is the first ever Israeli to put on a Major League uniform.
But Kremer simply did not have it in Game 3. After coaxing a pop out from Marcus Semien to lead off the game, Kremer allowed a booming home run to Corey Seager before the wheels truly came off in the second inning.
It appeared the pressure was just too much for Kremer who, with two outs and the score remaining at 1-0, allowed Texas to score 5 unanswered runs and was removed from the game. It put the Orioles in a hole they simply could not get out of.
The Orioles scratched out a run thanks to Gunnar Henderson's two-out RBI single in the top of the fifth, but the damage had been done. The Orioles' offense also deserves a lot of the blame for Game 3, with Henderson's RBI single being the only run the team would score. Six hits and one run in an elimination game is simply unacceptable, and Texas responded accordingly.
My heart hurts for Kremer - and everyone else affected by the horrific attacks in Israel. But unfortunately, Kremer's start never gave the Orioles a chance in Game 3.
Perhaps Brandon Hyde should not have started Kremer so close to the Hamas terrorist attacks. Perhaps Kremer told him he was fine to pitch, when really, he wasn't. Either way, Kremer's successful 2023 season - which included a 13-5 record and 4.15 ERA - likely secures him a spot in the 2024 starting rotation.
Bryan Baker/Brandon Hyde
I struggled with whether to include Bryan Baker on this list. In his lone appearance in the series, Baker walked three straight batters before Brandon Hyde took the ball from him and summoned Jacob Webb who, as stated above, allowed Mitch Garver's grand slam. A 5-2 game in the third inning - still within reach - became 9-2, largely because of the ineffectiveness of Baker.
It's not that Baker had a terrible season: he went 4-3 on the year with a 3.50 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 45 innings. But the decision to put Baker on the playoff roster in the first place, after he had pitched only one time since July 29 - was baffling.
After being optioned on August 2, Baker struggled in 11 appearances in Norfolk, pitching to a 5.40 ERA before being recalled on September 14. After pitching in one game for the Orioles, Baker returned to Norfolk, where he continued to struggle, ultimately posting a 6.75 ERA in 13 games.
There was much discussion about who would make the Orioles 26-man playoff roster. But few expected manager Brandon Hyde to include Baker, who had struggled in the minors and only pitched once since July with the Orioles. Seemingly better options, such as Cole Irvin, Mike Baumann (0.00 ERA in Norfolk in six games after spending most of the season in Baltimore) and even Nick Vespi were available.
But, Hyde selected Baker. Perhaps even worse, he put him into a 5-2 game that was well within reach. While Baker pitched poorly, this failure rests just as much with Hyde, who otherwise had a terrific year managing the club.
Would thinks have turned out differently in Game 2 if Hyde could have turned to Irvin, Baumann, or someone else altogether? We'll never know. But walking three straight batters in a three-run game further called Hyde's decision to carry and use Baker in the series into question.
The Orioles' season ended in disappointing fashion on Tuesday night in Texas. Would things have been different if some, or all, of these five players had played better in the series? We will never know. But with the exception of Baker and potentially Webb, the Orioles will likely be counting on these players to bounce back from a disappointing postseason to be major contributors in 2024.