Taking a couple days to catch their breath after their best regular season since 1979, the Orioles now know their opponent for the American League Division Series, which will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
After sweeping Tampa Bay in the best-of-three wild-card round, the Texas Rangers will meet Baltimore in the postseason for the first time since 2012 when the Orioles won 5-1 in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game played in Arlington. The teams split the season series with the Orioles winning two of three at Globe Life Field in early April and the Rangers taking two out of three at Camden Yards in late May. This October marks the first postseason appearance for both teams since 2016.
Despite losing its grip on the AL West over the final weekend of the season, Texas (90-72) led the AL in runs scored and was second to only the Rays in run differential, demonstrating what kind of challenge Orioles pitching will face. The Rangers will also come to Baltimore feeling good about themselves after disposing of 99-win Tampa Bay by a combined 11-1 scoring margin.
Meeting with reporters after Wednesday’s workout, manager Brandon Hyde wasn’t ready to reveal his Game 1 starter, which is widely expected to be staff ace Kyle Bradish. Though Bradish became the first qualified Orioles pitcher to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA since Mike Mussina in 1992, his 2023 began in unsettling fashion against the Rangers when All-Star catcher and former Baltimore prospect Jonah Heim smashed a line drive off the right-hander’s right foot in his season debut. The resulting contusion landed Bradish on the injured list, but the 27-year-old was able to return after the 15-day minimum and quickly emerged as the Orioles’ best starter.
Rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez made his major league debut at Texas on April 5 and made arguably his worst start of the season against the Rangers on May 26, a game that resulted in a 12-2 loss and the 23-year-old being sent back to the minors. Needless to say, Rodriguez has come a long way since that demotion with a 2.58 ERA in his final 13 starts covering 76 2/3 innings.
While many ponder how the Orioles will respond to five straight days without a real game, the two other playoff qualifiers in the AL East experienced the harsh reality of the best-of-three opening round as both the Rays and Toronto were swept. After last year’s top two seeds in the NL — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta — were bounced in the Division Series, Baltimore is trying to strike a balance between getting some rest and remaining sharp for the Rangers.
“Everybody learned a little bit of how they want to prepare over these five days,” said Kyle Gibson, citing the debut of the current playoff format last October. “Hitters, it’s important to see live pitching because it’s easy to come out of the All-Star break — and that’s only 3 1/2, four days — and be flat.
“This is five days, and it’s going to be easy to be flat if you’re not out there with that sense of urgency, with that sense of motivation and understanding, ‘Hey, this is like the last five days of spring training; this is not a five-day break. This is preparing for the start of something fun.'”