The Orioles’ enthralling 2023 came to an end Tuesday night, a sweep in the American League Division Series halting their season almost a month sooner than they hoped.
In only that way — that they will join 28 other teams in not winning the World Series — could the campaign be considered a disappointment.
Asked whether he viewed Baltimore’s season as a success, manager Brandon Hyde practically scoffed as he responded, “How can I not?”
“We were supposed to win 76 games,” Hyde said, referring to preseason estimates from sportsbooks and public projection systems. “Won 101, won the American League East. Really proud of our group. They defied all the odds. Nobody gave us a chance. These guys played their butts off for six months. We just didn’t play well for these last three, unfortunately. And it’s definitely a successful season, and these guys are going to be really good going forward.”
This Baltimore club was consistently captivating. Players arrived at spring training with their eyes on the playoffs even when few outsiders thought they could reach them. They proved those doubters wrong, the sense of inevitability they induced in the regular season allowing for continued hope even as they found themselves needing wins in three straight elimination games to continue their season.
They managed none. The Texas Rangers’ 7-1 victory Tuesday made them the first team since May 2022 to sweep the Orioles in a multi-game series. During that period, a stretch of 91 series, Baltimore emerged from its painful rebuild, first as an upstart club looking to cause chaos and then as one that appeared to be a legitimate World Series contender despite having one of Major League Baseball’s lowest payrolls.
“I hope the city of Baltimore is proud of us, what we were able to accomplish this year based off of expectations,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said. “It’s definitely a group that I could tell is hungry for more. They’re definitely not satisfied with what we did this year, but we hold our heads high knowing that we can achieve better next year. It’s a matter of taking that time off, getting healthy, learn from those experiences and come back with that dog in us and that fight in us.”
Mullins is among the players who began the teardown with the organization, made it to the other side and now form the roster’s core, with top-end young talent and complementary veterans bookending it. Viewed as a team that would be fortunate to finish anything other than last in the AL East, the Orioles instead won baseball’s most fearsome division. Only the National League’s Atlanta Braves won more regular-season games than Baltimore’s 101.
That represented the Orioles’ most since 1979 and seemingly positioned the club for its first World Series run since 1983. But that drought reached a fifth decade with Tuesday’s defeat at Texas’ Globe Life Field.
“The goal is the World Series,” said right-hander Dean Kremer, who gave up six runs and recorded five outs as Tuesday’s starter. “But step by step, we’ll get there.”
The postseason sweep marked a quiet finish for a team that was exceptionally boisterous in the regular season. In September, the Orioles introduced the marketing slogan “Soak It In,” accounting for not only the thrills and joys this season prompted but also the team’s water-based hijinks. Each chug from the homer hose or sprinkler dance at second base — and the accompanying water-spitting from the dugout — showed how much fun these players had with one another.
That camaraderie funneled to the field. No team finished with more come-from-behind victories as these Orioles never believed a game was out of their reach. They tied the Atlanta Braves for the sport’s most road wins, playing better in hostile environments than they did at Camden Yards. They posted a winning record in every full month of the campaign, never enduring an elongated slump.
Those factors led them to believe they were built for October, a confidence earned over the preceding six months.
“We expected to win the last game of the year,” left fielder Austin Hays said.
With the AL’s best record, the Orioles got to skip the wild-card round and were guaranteed home-field advantage in both this ALDS and the AL Championship Series to come. They lost their only two home games, both in front of sold-out crowds who had waited nearly a decade for playoff baseball to return to Camden Yards.
They can hope it’ll be back next year, and the youth and bond of this season’s team hints at that possibility.
“The most rewarding thing was just seeing our fans come back into that stadium and get to see that playoff atmosphere at home, and I’m definitely going to take that away,” Hays said. “That’s what I want. That’s what I want to play for. I want to be in that environment.”
But regardless of what 2024 brings, 2023 featured too many bright spots for this final series to define Baltimore’s season.
These Orioles didn’t bring a World Series title to Baltimore, but they provided hope, joy and a reason to watch each night. They were a team that epitomized the city: looked down upon by outsiders but carrying a belief of what it’s capable of.
“I think we showed that we’re gonna be here for a long time, we’re gonna be here to stay,” rookie left-hander DL Hall said. “This organization isn’t a joke. I think the talent, the record and what these guys did all year speaks for itself, and nobody can take that away.”