Over the course of a long professional baseball season, the unexpected often happens. There are times when the bats are perfectly balanced and wins are easy to come by, but there are also many times when injuries and poor performances by key players make it difficult to get a single win, which is why the key to a long season is to win as many games as possible during the good times, and to end losing streaks quickly when the team is in a downward spiral.
But things don’t always work out that way, and even the best teams get swept at the wrong time, and there’s one team in Major League Baseball (MLB) that hasn’t been swept in a whopping 69 straight series. That team is the Baltimore Orioles.
Since being swept in a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers from 13-15 May last year, Baltimore hasn’t lost a series in a year and two months. They’ve played 69 series in that time, winning at least one in every one.
No other team in the MLB has gone longer than Baltimore without a “sweep” – so long, in fact, that the current runner-up in that category is the Texas Rangers, who have gone 22 series without a sweep.
Not getting swept also means breaking losing streaks when you’re not doing well, and when you don’t have long losing streaks, you perform better, which is why Baltimore is doing so well this season. The Orioles are currently riding an eight-game winning streak and are 57-35 (.620 winning percentage), good for second in the American League (AL) and third in the league overall. The gap to the AL’s first-place Tampa Bay Rays is just one game.
Adley Rutchman, a key player in Baltimore’s rebuild. Photo.
A different Baltimore since Adley Rutchman’s call-up
But there’s something peculiar. It’s the timing of when the Orioles became this undefeated team. Let’s turn the clock back a year and two months.
On 21 May last year, Baltimore called up catcher Adley Rutchman, 25, then the league’s top prospect, to the big leagues. After being selected by Baltimore with the first overall pick in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft, Rutherford was described as “the complete package,” and he’s backed up that assessment in the minors.
In addition to his leadership and defensive prowess, he has excelled at both the plate, posting a career minor league batting average of .281 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .877.
After years of hovering near the bottom of the league due to intentional tanking, the Orioles made the decision to call up Lurchman last year, and since he joined the team, Baltimore has been a completely different team.
From a 16-24 record and a .400 winning percentage prior to Lurchman’s debut, the Orioles jumped to a 67-55 record and a .549 winning percentage with Lurchman, which is why they were able to compete for the AL wild card down the stretch last year.
And this year, with Lurchman playing full-time, the Orioles have become one of the best teams in the league. Since Lurchman became a major leaguer, the Orioles are 124-90 for a .579 winning percentage.
Of course, Lurchman hasn’t done it alone, but it’s clear that the team has changed since he became the starting catcher. In fact, Lurchman has continued his hot streak from last year (13 home runs in 113 games with an OPS of 0.807). With 12 homers, a .275 batting average, and an OPS of 0.801 in 89 games, there’s no sign of the ‘Sophomore’ jinx.
Lurchman’s role in the team, particularly in terms of defence and team chemistry, is reportedly huge, and it’s no secret that many of his teammates say, “I text him when I have questions and he always gives me the best advice.”
Gunner Henderson in his big league debut late last year. Photo = AP Yonhap News
How did Baltimore become a powerhouse?
So, is this article about the greatness of Rutchman, a second-year big leaguer who changed a team? Not really.
I think it’s more accurate to say that I wanted to make a point about Baltimore’s rebuilding process, which is often overshadowed by Lurchman.
After reaching the postseason in 2016, Baltimore won less than a fifth of its games in 2017 and failed to make it to autumn baseball. As the team falls further behind in 2018, Baltimore hits the reset button. They decide to sell off the team’s mainstays and finish last. Players who left the team that year included Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Jonathan Scoop.바카라사이트
Baltimore drafted Lurchman with the first overall pick they acquired as a “legacy of last place” and have since made it clear that they are confident in Lurchman’s development and will end their tanking in time for his call-up.
In subsequent drafts, Baltimore has followed a similar path in trades, focusing on players at an age where they could make their major league debuts late last year, this year, or early next year at the latest. The Orioles have been able to accumulate and develop a number of prospects who could make their major league debuts around the same time as Lurchman.
In fact, Baltimore sequentially debuted the team’s core prospects around Lurchman’s call-up last year. Right-hander Kyle Bradish (26), infielder Gunner Henderson (22), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (23), left-hander DL Hall (24), infielder Jordan Westberg (24), and outfielder Colton Cowher (23) – many of whom have earned a spot on the roster, transforming Baltimore into one of the youngest teams in the league.
Baltimore is on pace to lead the AL in wins. Photo.
■ Baltimore’s transformation from a seller to a buyer has paid off.
The jury is still out on how Baltimore will perform this season. The AL East is the most competitive division in the league, with even the lowly New York Yankees (50-44) falling to last place.
As a result of being in the AL East, the Orioles were “sellers” in the trade market last July, selling off their closer and centre fielder, saying “it’s not time yet”, even though they were on a 10-game winning streak and fall baseball was right around the corner. (One of the players who came to the team on the other side of the trade, Yoenis Cano, has developed into a perfect eighth inning closer this year).
And this year, Baltimore is finally willing to be a “buyer. The team has climbed as high as it has, and now it’s going to try to win for real – either by bolstering the starting rotation or the bullpen, both of which are perceived as weak areas.
Baltimore tanked and simultaneously overhauled its farm system, and now ranks among the league’s best in both quantity and quality of prospects.
The Orioles alone have eight prospects ranked in the league’s TOP 100 per MLB Pipeline, including the No. 1 prospect, shortstop Jayson Holliday (19). The only other team with eight prospects in the top 100 is Baltimore, which means they have plenty of prospects to “sacrifice” for immediate power.
Kyle Bradish is emerging as an ace in his second year. Photo = AP Yonhap
Baltimore’s rebuilding process can serve as a template for other MLB teams, as well as teams in the KBO. The way they’ve built their team’s core through development, with a medium- to long-term plan, and then immediately brought in the pieces they lacked – that’s what this article is about.
Obviously, one player didn’t change the team, but Baltimore didn’t just rely on that one player, they tried to change the team’s constitution around him, and it’s paying off this year. Which is why I’m even more curious to see where Baltimore ends up this year.
◆ Who is Hanjun Kim?
=> Head of Sports Team, MBN Culture and Sports Department
Kim has been a journalist since 2005 and has worked in the political, economic, and social sections. Baseball is his only hobby and speciality.