TORONTO — In a 2022 MLB season full of intrigue and drama, no team has been as surprising as the Baltimore Orioles.
Expected to languish between 90 and 100 losses, the Orioles have looked like a completely different club from the one that finished a baseball-worst 52-110 in 2021. Nine games below .500 in early July, they won 10 consecutive games to surpass the .500 mark and went 17-10 in August to remain in the American League wild-card race. Entering Thursday, Baltimore is four games behind the Seattle Mariners for the AL’s final playoff spot.
The influence of youth has been impactful. The transition began with the arrival of top prospect Adley Rutschman in May, and it continued when Baltimore’s mixture of young talent and veterans meshed, giving the Orioles a confidence that has carried into September.
But you can’t talk about Baltimore’s leap forward without discussing its clear change in mindset. Unlike prior years, teams in baseball’s toughest division — the American League East — haven’t been able to take the Orioles lightly. Their will to compete has been noticed around the league.
“It's been really cool,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said. “I think one of the things that always got me excited was when I would see the turnaround. Because I always knew it was coming. It was one of those things where I got to make sure I focus on my part to kind of help lead that way.
“You see some of these guys coming up and making a huge difference, even guys coming from other teams. It’s been amazing how far we’ve come.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has been through the tough times in Baltimore, taking over a team that suffered a franchise-record 115 losses in 2018. What his Orioles have achieved this season is quite familiar for the 48-year-old Hyde, who was on the Chicago Cubs’ coaching staff when they won the World Series in 2016.
“It can turn quickly with confidence and with talent. I've seen how quickly it can turn,” Hyde said. “And I feel like in the second half, our guys have felt that, like we're good. And we're playing with confidence. And that's just winning series and beating good teams.”
Winning baseball has come quicker than expected in Baltimore, especially for a team with a $44 million payroll entering the season. Older players like Mullins, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle were the first to reach the big leagues before the celebrated call-ups of Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. Did they see this success on the horizon?
“Honestly, not really,” Mountcastle said with a smile. “Going from the worst team last year to being in a playoff push this year, I didn't really expect it, but we're where we are. We expect to win every night. So we're trying to do that.”
A change in perception brings about a change in expectation. After years of being a team expected to lose, the Orioles have shown they can win consistently and are capable of beating the best of playoff teams on any night.
“It's kind of funny how quickly that switches,” Mullins said. “I think just kind of having that winning mindset every single day. Being intense and playing hard is really paying off for us. I think just locking in on what helps us win has been big for our success.”
Baltimore’s season likely won’t end with a postseason berth. However, missing the playoffs won’t change the fact that major progress has been made. It’s not easy to develop talent and win at the same time, and the Orioles managed to accomplish both this year.
This story can’t end with a quiet fade into the offseason. While there is no expectation for Baltimore to spend big this winter, the ownership and front office must keep things moving forward. The Orioles have formed a nucleus of exciting talent with more prospects on the way. They could use supplemental pieces to surround their young core.
It's now your move, Mike Elias.