Ahead of schedule, Orioles returned to contention in 2022

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles surprised their own general manager with their progress in 2022.

Now they enter the offseason feeling like future contenders.

“I feel like this team is officially in the fight in the American League East," GM Mike Elias said Wednesday. "That’s a big achievement I think for us. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to be complacent about it.”

The Orioles went 83-79 this year, improving by 31 games over their 2021 record. It was their first full season with fewer than 108 losses since 2017. Top prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson made impressive debuts, and Baltimore stayed in the postseason race until the last few games.

After doing all of that with a young team and a meager payroll, the Orioles have an opportunity to be more aggressive in adding to their promising core.

“I don't want to announce a budget to the agent community nor the other 29 teams, but I do continue to view this as an offseason where we're going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I've been here,” Elias said. “We feel that the time is right from a strategic standpoint — in fact, the time is pressing to do that now that we have the foundation of the top farm system in baseball and a major league team that is young and talented.”

The Orioles were already showing signs of improvement at 35-44, then they went on a 10-game winning streak in early July. That success wasn't fleeting. They eventually peaked at 10 games over .500 in early September before declining a bit down the stretch.

“From November to March, we never heard that there was any sort of chance that this team was going to have a chance to make the postseason,” manager Brandon Hyde said late in the season. “To be able to play the way we have and put ourselves in position, I’m really proud of our players and coaches and everybody involved. I think the city of Baltimore and a lot of people enjoyed watching our team play this year.”

They ended up missing the final wild card in the American League by three games.

“It just crept up on us that this team was playing really well and the wins were stacking up," Elias said. "I think it was very organic, which was cool to see.”

MORE TO COME

Rutschman and Henderson look like they could be franchise cornerstones, but Baltimore has other young players that could help in the near future as well. Grayson Rodriguez, the game's top-ranked pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, had a setback this year when he strained a side muscle, but he was able to pitch again late in the season in the minors. The Orioles also had the No. 1 pick in the draft, which they used on shortstop Jackson Holliday.

LONG TERM

Elias was noncommittal when asked if the team might look to sign any of its top pre-arbitration players to long-term deals, the way Seattle did with star rookie Julio Rodríguez and Atlanta did with rookie Michael Harris II.

“We’ll see," he said. "It’s not something that you force, but if it makes sense for both sides, they tend to happen.”

PITCHING IMPROVES

The Orioles finished 10th in the American League in runs scored after they were 14th in 2021. They improved from 15th to ninth in runs allowed.

A year after allowing a major league-high 258 home runs, they allowed 171. That was after pushing the wall in left field at Camden Yards farther back from the plate before this season.

Elias said the ballpark will look the same next year, although there could be more changes when renovations occur over the next several seasons. The Orioles' pitching took a step forward even though opening day starter John Means made only two starts before having Tommy John surgery.

___

Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports