Adiós to the Orioles
So this arrived in the mail yesterday:
Rangers 7, Orioles 1 (Rangers sweep into the ALCS)
This is a weird and unfinished thought … but as I watched the Rangers sweep the Orioles, slapping an unceremonious ending on one of baseball’s best stories, I kept thinking that the broadcast crew and pregame hosts and so on did not quite get what had made the Orioles so good in the first place. Or maybe they got it, but they didn’t convey it well at all.
For instance, it seemed like John Smoltz kept talking about how dominant the Orioles’ pitching was. Only: It isn’t true. The Orioles pitching wasn’t dominant at all. Kyle Bradish had an excellent season. Félix Bautista was a force before his elbow blew up. And the rest of the pitching was … pretty meh. The Orioles were ninth in the league in strikeouts, ninth in hits allowed. They were very good at keeping fly balls in the park and pretty good at throwing strikes, but this was not the Jim Palmer Orioles.
Another thing everybody kept talking about was how young the Orioles are … and they certainly are led by terrific young players like Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman and Bradish (though he did just turn 27) and there are more ultra-talented kids on the way … but overall, this wasn’t that young a team. Their average age of 28.1 was middle of the pack, tied with San Francisco, Colorado and Arizona for 14th in the league. The Phillies, just as one perhaps unexpected example, are younger overall.
No, what made the Orioles such a great story was how well they performed all season when games were in the balance. I believe we’ve talked about the Orioles’ incredible high-leverage hitting this year but here it is again; they were just a different lineup in high-leverage spots:
That’s a staggering difference. The Orioles were 10th in batting average across baseball this year. But they had the BEST batting average with runners in scoring position. We can argue all day about clutch hitting and how repeatable it is and so on, but the Orioles were a clutch-hitting monster all season long.
Crazily, the same was generally true of their pitching. Look at the slash-lines for hitters against Orioles pitching:
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