In a brutally ironic turn, the Orioles' 2023 season concluded at the hands of a sweep - something the Orioles had avoided since May 2022 - against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series. In what many, including us at Birds watcher, predicted would be a tight series, the Texas Rangers offense and pitching elevated to another level, while the Orioles offense and pitching struggled mightily at the worst time of the season. A magical, record-setting season over in three brutal games.
The vast majority of the Orioles were experiencing the MLB Postseason for the first time in their careers. Perhaps they got stage fright, performing, for the first time, on the MLB version of Broadway. While the Orioles team was unable to secure their first playoff win since 2014, there were certain individual performances that stood out and, hopefully, will provide something positive for us to think about heading into a long offseason.
In this article, we will look at the top 5 Oriole performances in the ALDS, counting them down from 5 to 1.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Hicks, OF: 2/9, 1 HR, 5 RBIs
Aaron Hicks started 2 of the 3 ALDS games for the Orioles and, in fact, gave the team their lone lead of the series with a two out, two-run single off of Jordan Montgomery in the first inning of Game 2. Hicks bookended the Orioles Game 2 scoring with a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that pulled the Orioles within 3 runs at 11-8, which was the closest they would get. With a chance to get the Orioles back into the game, Hicks bounced out as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
5) Jorge Mateo, SS: 4-5, 2 doubles
With Jorge Mateo, you truly never know what you are going to get. The Orioles got the good version of Jorge Mateo in Game 2, a game in which Mateo went 4-5 with two doubles, 1 RBI, and 1 run scored. The Orioles' gamble in starting Mateo, who posted a .607 OPS and hit only one home run after April paid off, and perhaps they should have kept hit hot bat in the lineup for Game 3. The Orioles enter the offseason facing many questions, with Jorge Mateo's future near the top of the list.
4) Anthony Santander, RF:.930 OPS, 1 HR, 1RBI
Anthony Santander's postseason debut with the Orioles was a solid one, as the longest-tenured Oriole notched the first hit of the 2023 postseason with a solid single to center off of Rangers lefthander Andrew Heaney. Santander's biggest contribution came in the bottom of the sixth inning, with his 420-foot home run trimming the Rangers lead to 3-2.
Santander also tied for the team lead in walks with 2. With just one year left on his contract, it is possible the Orioles deal Santander this offseason to open up more playing time for Heston Kjerstad and/or Colton Cowser.
3) Tyler Wells, RHP: 3 Games, 3.1 IP, 0 runs, 3 Ks, 0.30 WHIP
Tyler Wells had an interesting, but overall successful, 2023 season with the Orioles. Although he started fast out the gate in the Orioles rotation, Wells struggled after the All-Star Break and was, somewhat surprisingly, optioned to the minors.
However, Wells returned to the Orioles in late September with a vengeance, throwing 5 hitless innings and earning himself a spot as a late-inning reliever for the playoffs. The only Oriole to pitch in all three games of the ALDS, Wells looked dominant out of the bullpen, flashing above average stuff that should put him in the running for the closer's spot in 2024 with Felix Bautista out for the season.
2) DL Hall, LHP: 3.1 innings, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts, 0.60 WHIP
DL Hall's electric stuff was on full display during the 2023 ALDS, as the lefthander struck out 6 of the 12 Rangers he faced with high 90s fastballs and a sharp-breaking slider baffling Rangers hitters. Hall, whom the Orioles recalled following Felix Bautista's devastating elbow injury sustained on August 25 against Colorado, was an absolute weapon out of the Orioles' bullpen over 21 total games this season.
He figures to break camp with the team in 2024 as either a starter or high leverage reliever. It is too bad the season ended so abruptly, as Hall was seemingly just getting heated up in the 2023 postseason.
1) Gunnar Henderson: 3B/SS: 6/12, 1.288 OPS, 1 HR, 2 RBIs
Not surprisingly, the Orioles best player during the 2023 regular season was their best player in the postseason, as Henderson led the Orioles with 6 hits, got on base over 50% of the time, and launched his first postseason home run into the Camden Yards crowd.
Henderson also drove in the Orioles only run in Game 3, with his single to right field plating Jordan Westburg from second base and trimming the Rangers deficit to 6-1. The good news is the Orioles get to enjoy at least 5 more years of Henderson at the top of their lineup. The only question is whether he remains at short with MLB's number one prospect Jackson Holliday ready to debut sometime in 2024.
The Orioles' players, coaches, and fans will need some time to lick their wounds from an abrupt and disappointing end to the 2023 season. But we can take some solace in knowing that these five players succeeded on baseball's biggest stage. It can only help heading into 2024, when simply making the playoffs will, simply, not be good enough.