Monday, September 18, 2023

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, September 18, 2023 -- "The Orioles' Future is Now"


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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: The Orioles' Future is Now
Vol. 15, No. 98
September 18, 2023

It just had to be Adley Rutschman.

Sunday afternoon, first place in the balance, 37,000 people on their feet, it had to be Adley Rutschman scoring the winning run, maybe the clinching run, the run that would send the Orioles back to the playoffs, maybe to the AL East title. Rutschman, on third base playing the role of the Manfred Man, trotted home easily on Cedric Mullins’s 11th-inning fly ball to give the Orioles a 5-4 win and a two-game lead, effectively two-and-a-half game lead, over the Rays with two weeks to play.

Rutschman was the reason the game was even in the 11th. With two outs in the tenth, down a run, Rutschman fisted a single just to the right of second base to drive home Aaron Hicks with the tying run. 

It had to be Adley Rutschman. More than anyone else, it’s Rutschman, the first pick of the 2019 draft, the first pick of the Orioles’ long rebuild, who represents this new era of Orioles baseball. He’s a throwback to the Earl Weaver Orioles, who drew walks and hit homers and played defense and didn’t beat themselves. Rutschman has started 245 games in his MLB career, and in those games his Orioles are a .600 team. In the two biggest games of his career to date, Saturday and Sunday, Rutschman went 4-for-8 with a homer and a walk.

It wasn’t just Rutschman, though. In fact, Sunday’s heroics were set up by two losses in which the catcher went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, the Orioles letting the Rays tie them atop the division, scoring just four runs in two games. That set up a Saturday night battle for first place that went like this:

In the top of the first, Grayson Rodriguez retired three batters on 11 pitches, striking out two.

In the bottom of the first, Gunnar Henderson lined Tyler Glasnow’s first pitch into center field for a single, and then scored the game’s first run a few minutes later.

In the top of the second, Grayson Rodriguez retired three batters on 14 pitches, striking out two.

In the bottom of the second, Gunnar Henderson hit Glasnow’s first pitch way out to center field to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead.

A year ago, Rodriguez was the best pitching prospect in baseball and Henderson the best position player prospect. This weekend, the two combined to fend off the Rays’ challenge, keeping the Orioles in first place and locking up the tiebreaker between the two. Their work Saturday set up Rutschman’s Sunday. Now on Monday, the Orioles have a magic number of ten.

No one’s future is guaranteed. Six years ago, I wrote a piece that declared the Cubs an emergent dynasty, yet their 2016 championship turned out to be their most recent one. The Orioles have Rutschman and Henderson and Rodriguez, and they have Jordan Westburg and Heston Kjerstad, and around the corner there’s Jackson Holliday and Colton Cowser. Their future is as bright as any team’s.

This weekend, over 36 hours at Camden Yards, we saw their present, and it was glorious.