I was disappointed but not really surprised when the Orioles were swept out of the playoffs by the suddenly red-hot Texas Rangers who swept Tampa Bay Rays in two-game wild-card series. Baltimore ended the regular season in a team-wide hitting slump with the possible exception of Adley Rutschman.
And wouldn't you know it! Rutschman got only 1 hit against the Rangers and was outplayed by Texas catcher Jonah Heim, a former Oriole farmhand and fellow All-Star. Adley also couldn't guide young pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer out of the second inning in their ineffective starts in the second and final games.
I know it is a stretch to blame a catcher for a pitcher's inability to put batters away. But there were two instances when the games were still close that Texas batters kept fouling off pitches, obviously frustrating the hurlers. Couldn't Adley have visited the mound to suggest some other pitches or at least console them?
This is probably too picky. With Oriole bats largely silent, probably nothing could have changed the outcome. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Adley during the season. He has yet to play two full seasons in the majors and Rookie of the Year candidate Gunnar Henderson was in his first full season.
I believe they will be core members of a good team. Whether the Orioles become a great team remains to be seen. Spring training 2024 will be very important as the Birds try to figure out how to integrate top prospect Jackson Holliday, not yet 20, into the infield perhaps moving Gunnar permanently to third base. Also late-developing Joey Ortiz might find a utility role somewhere.
EVERY SEASON IS DIFFERENT is one of the few accurate generalizations about baseball. The Birds have 16 players eligible for arbitration and one key Oriole, switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander, is eligible for free agency after 2024.
Extending Santander would be one of my priorities if I had any influence. He is in his prime, not even 30, is durable, and has been with the team the longest, a Rule 5 pick who played 6 years in the minors for Cleveland after they signed him as a Venezuelan teenager.
He is an effective switch-hitter and an improving defensive outfielder. He also can handle first base at least competently. In the last series of the regular season, he alertly threw out a Red Sox runner trying to go from first to third when couldn't scoop the ball cleanly on a double play throw.
I know there are a lot of outfielders and infielders on the farm waiting for their chance. But I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping veterans who have been through the grind of a long season and who obviously love to play.
Which is why I wouldn't be hasty in letting Kyle Gibson go. He pitched very well in September, unlike 2022 when he faded out with the Phillies though he
did make their post-season roster. As I discussed in an earlier blog, Gibson talks about the art of pitching like a venerable schoolmaster, something the very young staff benefited from. He also led the AL with 24 double plays created + 1 in his brief but effective appearance in the final playoff game.
Having no team in the hunt in baseball's "Final Four," I'm only rooting for good games with plenty of action and not over-reliance on home runs and
strikeouts. I guess because they are relatively new to the party, Texas and Arizona might be a nice World Series matchup.
If third baseman Josh Jung had not missed a few weeks with a hand injury, he certainly would be in the running for the ROY award that Henderson will probably win. Jung is an impressive player on both sides of the ball. Brooks Robinson was his idol and when Brooks found that out, he befriended him
and sent him all kinds of baseball goodies. (As I mentioned in my last post, there will always be more heartwarming stories about Brooks Robinson.)
Arizona also has a very impressive rookie, outfielder Corbin Carroll who grew up a Seattle Mariners fan and used to watch Ichiro from upper deck left field seats and still idolizes him. With one early swing, Carroll's 430-foot HR off Brewers ace Corbin Burnes turned around Game 1 of the wild card series for Arizona and the Diamondbacks carried that momentum into sweeping the Dodgers as well.
I wouldn't have wanted a Dodger-Yankee rematch, but I can live with a Houston-Philadelphia rematch if fate so decrees. Houston has reached the ALCS for the 7th year in a row, the last 4 under Dusty Baker who was not around when the Astros were caught in the high tech and low tech sign-stealing scandal. (PBS aired a valuable Frontline documentary on October 3 about this scandal with reportage by Ben Reiter, former Sports Illustrated reporter and author of a glowing book ASTROBALL but he has now reconsidered and even repented. More on this subject in later blogs.)
Stopping Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez will be a key for the Rangers and the Phillies if they beat Arizona (I am happy to mention Alvarez because I misspelled his first name in a recent blog). Houston also has a feel-good story in the return of smooth-swinging Michael Brantley after injuries that cost him almost two seasons.
It should be noted that Philadelphia, if they dispense with Arizona, will have home-field advantage against Houston but not against Texas who will be playing in a closed new stadium. The raucous Philadelphia crowd and the team's potent offense will be ready for anything, of that I am sure. Since Arizona won only 84 games and the other 3 finished with 90 wins, Arizona will always start on the road and finish on the road if their series run long.
One other item of interest for this young octogenarian is the age of the managers. Torey Lovullo is the baby of the group at 58 = he grew up in LA, a show biz kid whose father produced TV's "Hee Haw" among other shows. Then we have Canadian-born Rob Thomson, 60, who was Joe Girardi's trusted coach in both New York and Philadelphia before he replaced Girardi in late May 2022.
Bruce Bochy, back from his 3-year retirement and previously winner of three World Series rings with the Giants, is 68, and venerable Johnnie "Dusty" Baker, Jr. checks in at 74. Their matchup will be fascinating to watch. They prove that retirement is overrated.
That's all for now - take it easy but take it, and stay positive test negative. I am happy to report I am on the mend from my mild Covid positive but
I intend to keep on masking in indoor settings.