ALDS Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers

Adley Rutschman
Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2016, the Orioles are in the playoffs, and likewise for the Rangers, as both teams’ lengthy — and very different — rebuilding efforts have finally paid off. Under Brandon Hyde, the largely homegrown Orioles won 101 games, their highest total since 1979, and claimed the AL’s top seed, giving them a first-round bye. With future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy coming out of retirement, the Rangers, who have been built much more through trades and a whole lot of money spent in free agency, won 90 games but coughed up a 2.5-game AL West lead. As they finished with the same record as the Astros but lost the season series, 9–4, they wound up seeded fifth as a wild card but ran circles around the 99-win Rays in the first round, outscoring them 11–1 in two games in front of paltry Tropicana Field crowds.

Injuries will color this series, most notably the absences of the Orioles’ Félix Bautista, who dominated hitters for five months before tearing his UCL, and Max Scherzer, who came over via a deadline trade with the Mets and pitched well before straining his teres major. Rotation-mate Jon Gray is also out due to a forearm strain.

Team Offense Overview
Stat Orioles Rangers
RS/G 4.98 (7th) 5.44 (3rd)
wRC+ 105 (11th) 114 (4th)
wRC+ vs LHP 112 (8th) 115 (5th)
wRC+ vs RHP 102 (12th) 114 (4th)
AVG .255 (10th) .263 (2nd)
OBP .321 (15th) .337 (3rd)
SLG .421 (10th) .452 (3rd)
HR 183 (17th) 233 (3rd)
SB 114 (16th) 79 (27th)
BsR 13.3 (3rd) -9.6 (25th)
Rankings are among all 30 teams.

Aided somewhat by their ballpark, which favors lefty hitters but hurts righties, the Rangers have one of the majors’ most potent offenses. They’re led by Corey Seager, who despite being limited to 119 games due to hamstring and thumb injuries put together an MVP-caliber season, hitting .327/.390/.623 (169 wRC+); the batting average, slugging percentage, and wRC+ all ranked second in the AL, his 6.1 WAR third. They hit a ton of homers: Adolis García‘s 39 were second only to Shohei Ohtani’s 44, Seager tied for fourth with 33 despite the missed time, and Marcus Semien tied for 12th with 29. Josh Jung added 23 in just 122 games, and five other players reached double digits, three of them part-timers. With Seager currently healthy and with rookie left fielder Evan Carter hitting a sizzling .306/.413/.645 (180 wRC+) in 75 PA since begin recalled, they’re a more potent bunch than their season numbers indicate.

Updating a helpful table from Kyle Kishimoto’s Rangers-Rays preview, here’s a look at their platoon stats:

Rangers Lineup Platoon Stats
Position Player wRC+ vs. LHP wRC+ vs. RHP
2B Marcus Semien 120 128
SS Corey Seager* 138 186
DH Robbie Grossman# 158 75
RF Adolis García 136 121
1B Nathaniel Lowe* 78 132
C Jonah Heim# 134 97
CF Leody Taveras# 74 108
3B Josh Jung 168 95
LF Evan Carter* -78 207
* = bats lefthanded. # = switch-hitter.

Bochy favors a set lineup and can get away with it given the team’s balance against pitchers of either handedness. That said, the Orioles may not have a very big left-handed presence in this series, with John Means, who made four September starts in his first major league action since early-2022 Tommy John surgery, as their only possible lefty starter. Setup man Danny Coulombe and middle relievers Cionel Pérez and DL Hall will figure prominently in Hyde’s bullpen strategy, which has become more matchup-driven since Bautista went down.

The One Weird Thing above is the presence and placement of Grossman. Righty-swinging Mitch Garver, who raked against pitchers of either hand (170 wRC+ versus LHP, 131 versus RHP), was the DH for all but two of the team’s September starts against righties, but he didn’t play against either Rays righty in the Division Series. Grossman is dreadful against righties (.207/.314/.357, 88 wRC+ since 2020), but Bochy told reporters he’s liked the quality of his at-bats lately. Note that the lefty-swinging Carter’s numbers, which are all small-sample anyway, include an 0-for-10 showing against lefties; via Baseball Reference, he hit just .242/.349/.253 and went homerless in 106 PA against lefties this year including his time in the minors. Expect Grossman in left and Garver at DH if Means starts.

On the other side, Hyde’s lineups might look very different against lefties and righties, with some moving parts:

Orioles Lineup Platoon Stats
Position Player wRC+ vs. LHP Position Player wRC+ vs. RHP
DH Adley Rutschman# 153 SS Gunnar Henderson* 140
1B Ryan Mountcastle 185 C Adley Rutschman# 117
RF Anthony Santander# 122 RF Anthony Santander# 118
LF Austin Hays 115 1B Ryan O’Hearn* 119
3B Gunnar Henderson* 75 CF Cedric Mullins* 99
2B Jordan Westburg 121 LF Austin Hays 111
CF Aaron Hicks# 173 DH Ryan Mountcastle 77
C James McCann 57 2B Adam Frazier* 96
SS Jorge Mateo 108 3B Ramón Urías 104
* = bats lefthanded. # = switch-hitter.

Consider these lineups highly speculative. Given the Orioles’ September injuries, the late-season exposure they gave to young players such as Westburg and Heston Kjerstad (who may not be on the postseason roster), and the positional mobility of Henderson, Westburg, and others, I had a hard time discerning their recent patterns, so I based this more on what they looked like pre-trade deadline. The big things to know are that the team as a whole was only a couple hairs above average against righties, but that most of the likely configurations leave a potential hole against pitchers of either hand, though perhaps not as extreme as suggested above. Hyde gave Rutschman a break from catching when lefties started, aided by McCann’s career 104 wRC+ against them as opposed to this year’s struggles. Mountcastle’s career splits show a 130 wRC+ against lefties, 105 against righties.

Overall, Rutschman (.277/.374/.435, 127 wRC+) and Henderson (.255/.325/.489, 123 wRC+) are the lineup’s big studs, with O’Hearn enjoying a nice breakout (.289/.322/.480, 118 wRC+) in his age-30 season thanks to mechanical adjustments and playing almost exclusively against righties; he homered 14 times in just 368 PA. Santander and Henderson both hit 28 homers, and Rutschman 20, with five other players in double digits, but this is not a particularly powerful or homer-dependent team. In fact, among the playoff teams, only the Diamondbacks and the since-eliminated Brewers scored a lower percentage of their runs via homers. It’s worth remembering that power plays up in importance during the postseason, because it’s harder to string together the multiple events to score otherwise against better pitching.

The Orioles’ biggest edge on offense is via the basepaths. Mateo (32 SB, 86% success), Mullins (19 SB, 86%), Frazier (11 SB, 73%) and Henderson (10 SB, 7%) all reached double digits in steals, with the first two accompanying that with very high success rates. Only three Rangers stole at least 10 bases: Travis Jankowski (19, 95%), Semien (14, 82%), and Taveras (14, 78%). Supplanted by Carter, Jankowski could very well have some late-inning tactical value.

Team Defensive Overview
Stat Orioles Rangers
DefEff .696 (12th) .703 (5th)
DRS 35 (8th) 37 (7th)
UZR 28.8 (5th) 26.7 (6th)
RAA -12 (24th) 16 (6th)
FRM 6.0 (10th) 10.2 (7th)
CRAA 6 (9th) 16 (1st)
Z-Score 2.55 (5th) 5.35 (3rd)
FRM = framing runs. CRAA = Statcast framing, blocking, and throwing runs. Z-Scores from https://blogs.fangraphs.com/a-look-at-the-defenses-of-the-postseason-teams/

Earlier this week, I covered the playoff teams’ defenses, revisiting my midseason methodology of aggregating the major metrics into z-scores to account for their differing spreads in runs. Both of these teams ranked among the majors’ top five, with the big separator their ratings by RAA. I’m including slightly revised versions of each capsule here.

Semien, who moved from shortstop to second base upon signing with the Rangers, is the current lineup’s only past Gold Glove winner and was the team’s defensive star (16 DRS, 10 RAA, 5.8 UZR), but he had plenty of help. García’s elite throwing arm in right field powered him to strong ratings in DRS (7) and UZR (6.8). Seager, utilityman Josh Smith, and Heim all had at least 5 DRS, with Heim fourth in the majors with 13 CRAA (Catching Runs Above Average, my aggregation of Statcast’s framing, blocking and throwing metrics) as well, driven by strong framing numbers. Taveras was above-average in all three metrics, and Jung was very good by UZR and RAA.

Henderson was exceptional in roughly equal time at shortstop and third base, combining for 14 DRS and 12.3 UZR, though he was just average according to RAA. Indeed, while the O’s fared well via DRS and UZR, they were below average according to RAA, with Frazier (-11 at second base) and Urías (-7 at third base) scoring particularly badly by those measures but better by the other two. Their outfield defense was generally a plus, with Mullins and Hays both at 7 DRS, with 6 RAA for the former and 6.6 UZR for the latter, plus average work by the third metric; Santander was closer to average, though Hicks was decidedly subpar across the board including his time with the Yankees. Rutschman was well above average in framing (6.8 runs by our metric, 5 by Statcast) but about average by other measures.

Team Starting Pitching Overview
Stat Orioles Rangers
SP ERA/ERA- 4.14/99 (15th) 3.96/90 (2nd)
SP FIP/FIP- 4.25/101 (14th) 4.23/96 (7th)
HR/9 1.28 (17th) 1.17 (4th)
K% 22.3% (17th) 21.8% (19th)
BB% 7.1% (7th) 8.0% (17th)
SP wOBA vs LHB .327 (18th) .315 (12th)
SP wOBA vs RHB .299 (4th) .310 (12th)
Rankings are among all 30 teams. ERA- and FIP- used for rankings

At this writing, neither manager has clarified his rotation, and it’s worth noting that the stats above may not be indicative of what we’ll see. Between Gray, Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom (out due to Tommy John surgery), the Rangers are down 43 mostly-good starts from the mix above, for example, though we won’t see contributions from less-effective starters such as Martín Pérez either. The Orioles starters we won’t see in this capacity (Tyler Wells, Cole Irvin, Jack Flaherty) trend toward the less effective end of the spectrum, and Grayson Rodriguez has become a much better pitcher since returning from the minors, so the gap is probably narrower than it appears above.

Given their injuries, the Rangers appear set to roll with righty Dane Dunning, lefty Jordan Montgomery, righty Nathan Eovaldi, and lefty Andrew Heaney. That order, lifted from Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS game-by-game projections, gives Montgomery, who was brilliant in the Wild Card Series opener and who has generally been stellar since being acquired from the Cardinals, two starts on four days of rest, and Eovaldi, who’s still trying to get back to full strength after missing seven weeks due to a forearm strain, one on five days of rest.

Regardless, the remaining group doesn’t rely on velocity — Eovaldi is the only one whose fastball averages higher than 93.4 mph — or miss many bats, instead getting by with above-average command. Dunning (3.70 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 19.4% K%) and Montgomery (3.20 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 21.4% K%) have two of the most effective sinkers in the game according to Statcast, with the former accompanying that with a good cutter and slider and the latter with a good curve and a so-so change. Eovaldi (3.63 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 22.9% K%) averaged 95.7 mph with his four-seam fastball overall; he was only about 93–94 in his post-injury starts, during which he was cuffed for a 9.30 ERA and 7.88 FIP, but averaged 94.9 mph in his 6.2-inning, eight-strikeout start against the Rays. Heaney (4.15 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 23.6% K%) is the only one of the group whose arsenal (four-seamer, slider, changeup in his case) scores as above average by both of our pitch-modeling metrics, PitchingBot and Stuff+, but also the one who has the hardest time keeping the ball in the park (1.40 HR/9) — not surprising given his fly ball-oriented tilt. Groundballers Eovaldi and Dunning do the best job in that area.

For the Orioles, Kyle Bradish is the logical choice to start Game 1 and a potential Game 5, with Rodriguez certain to take a start and then two from among Means, Dean Kremer, and Kyle Gibson for the other two games. Dan has Bradish, Means, Rodriguez, and Kremer in that order, with Gibson, who had the highest ERA (4.73) of the bunch but not the highest FIP (4.13), the odd man out.

Bradish broke out to finish third in the league in ERA (2.83) and fourth in FIP (3.27) in 168.2 innings, striking out 25% of hitters and allowing just 0.75 homers per nine, good for second in the league. His four-seamer averages 94.6 mph, but his curve (thrown more often to lefties) and slider (thrown more often to righties) are his go-tos; batters hit .142, slugged .165, and whiffed on 35.6% of their swings against his curve, with a .168 AVG/.272 SLG, and 36.4% whiff rate against his slider. The 23-year-old Rodriguez, who was 17th on our Top 100 list this spring, was knocked around for a 7.35 ERA and 5.91 FIP in his first 10 starts before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk. He’s been much improved since returning and abandoning his cutter, delivering a 2.58 ERA and 2.76 FIP with a 24% strikeout rate in 13 starts totaling 76.2 innings — a performance fit for a Cy Young race if maintained for longer. His changeup and slider are his best pitches; batters slugged .172 against the latter with a 35.5% whiff rate.

Kremer’s four-seamer, which averages 94.6 mph, is the best of the bunch according to Statcast, which valued it at 12 runs. He too showed considerable in-season improvement, posting a 4.78 ERA and 4.92 FIP in the first half and cutting those to 3.25 and 3.98 in the second, trimming his home run rate from 1.84 per nine to 0.84. Means was the team’s best pitcher during the rebuilding effort as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up and an All-Star in 2019, with a 3.73 ERA and 4.65 FIP in 345.1 innings from ’19 to ’21. In four starts since returning, he has a mere 11.4% strikeout rate, with a 2.66 ERA but a 5.24 FIP. Gibson began the season well but has alternated bad and good months since June and was hit hard by lefties all season; his value as an innings-eater is less in demand in October.

Team Relief Pitching Overview
Stat Orioles Rangers
RP ERA/ERA- 3.55/85 (6th) 4.77/109 (25th)
RP FIP/FIP- 3.56/84 (1st) 4.45/101 (22nd)
HR/9 0.81 (1st) 1.36 (29th)
K% 25.2% (7th) 23.3% (18th)
BB% 8.7% (8th) 8.5% (6th)
RP vs LHB .277 (1st) .304 (13th)
RP vs RHB .308 (17th) .313 (19th)
Rankings are among all 30 teams. ERA- and FIP- used for rankings

Even with Bautista out, the gap between the two bullpens may be the widest of any area under consideration here. In particular, the Orioles are much better against lefties, better at generating groundballs, and better at avoiding the longball.

In Bautista’s absence, Hyde has used righty Yennier Cano as his primary closer, with Pérez getting opportunities as well. Cano, a 29-year-old rookie with a sinker-heavy approach, posted a 2.11 ERA and 2.84 FIP with a 58% groundball rate and 23% strikeout rate; he minimized walks (4.6%) and barrels (5.4%). Pérez had an even higher groundball rate (60.7%) and lower strikeout rate (17.8%), posting a 3.54 ERA and 3.83 FIP; he held hitters to a 2.9% barrel rate and was much better against lefties than righties (.278 to .338 in wOBA). Soft-tossing lefty Coulombe was quite effective against hitters of either hand, pitching to a 2.81 ERA and 2.83 FIP and striking out 27.6% of batters faced thanks to his cutter-sweeper-curve combo. Righty Shintaro Fujinami offsets a four-seamer that averages 98.4 mph with a splitter, cutter, and sweeper, but he’s erratic due to his 12.6% walk rate; he pitched much better after being acquired by the Orioles (4.85 ERA, 4.13 FIP) from the A’s (8.57 ERA, 4.90 FIP). Hall, a heat-throwing rookie, pitched very well in his 19 major league innings (3.26 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 28.4% K%). Wells didn’t allow a run and ran a 25% strikeout rate in 10 innings after moving to the bullpen. Righties Jacob Webb and Flaherty will likely round out the bullpen.

On the Rangers’ side, lefty Will Smith was outstanding during the Braves’ 2021 title run but two years later was unable to keep the closer job for an entire season. Since mid-August, lefty Aroldis Chapman and righty José Leclerc have shared closer duties, though things haven’t improved much. Including his time with the Royals before being acquired on June 30, Chapman has pitched to a 3.09 ERA with a 2.52 FIP and a 41.4% strikeout rate, but in 14 appearances since Smith’s demotion, he’s been rocked for a 6.23 ERA and 6.33 FIP in 13 innings, going 3-for-5 in saves and taking three losses. Leclerc’s three blown saves in that span came in the eighth inning; he’s pitched to a 2.68 ERA and 3.62 FIP overall, with a 28.8% strikeout rate. Both have fared much better against righties than lefties, though walks against the latter have been a bigger problem than contact. Smith hasn’t pitched well since the demotion to a setup role, with his ERA swelling from 3.27 to 4.40, though that’s well ahead his 3.36 FIP.

The others getting medium- or high-leverage work lately — lefty Brock Burke and righties Chris Stratton and Josh Sborz — don’t inspire a ton of confidence. Burke has served up 1.96 homers per nine in pitching to a 4.37 ERA and 4.90 FIP, and lefties haven’t fared much worse against him than righties. Sborz owns a 5.50 ERA and 3.75 FIP, but his 30.7% strikeout rate and 46.9% groundball rate both stand out. Stratton, acquired from the Cardinals in the Montgomery trade, has pitched to a 3.92 ERA and 3.53 FIP overall; his strikeout rate is way down and his homer way rate up since joining the Rangers, but he’s held hitters of both hands to sub-.300 wOBAs, as has Sborz. Pérez and righty Jonathan Hernández will likely fill out the bullpen.

It should be fun to see these two excited fan bases and particularly the Orioles’ youngsters in a playoff setting for the first time. By contrast to our general Playoff Odds, which have undersold Baltimore all year — just ask any Orioles fan — and give them just a 46% chance of winning this series, our ZiPS game-by-game odds with the presumptive pitching matchups give them a 56% chance. I tend to think the series will tilt that way.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
sadtrombonemember
4 months ago

If the Rangers had an opportunity to reset their rotation fully, I think I’d definitely favor them because I think they would have an advantage in the rotation that outweighs the O’s better bullpen. But Eovaldi is only going to be able to pitch once and Montgomery isn’t slated to pitch a second time until Game 5 at best, so I’m less certain about this. Likewise, if I would be confident that the Rangers would play Garver, I would definitely favor them because I think that lineup is better, but I’m not confident of that either.

I do think that ZiPS is underrating the Rangers beyond these factors, however. It gave lousy odds against the Rays and they’re getting lousy odds against the Orioles now. The projected Montgomery – Means matchup gives the Rangers a 49.4% chance to win. John Means, the guy still working his way back into shape after returning from injury? Who struck out only 10 batters in 23 innings? ZiPS must either really like the O’s lineup or really dislike the Rangers lineup a lot more than me. I think the Rangers are going to be scoring a lot whenever Bradish isn’t pitching (and maybe even when he is).

Ivan_Grushenkomember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

FWIW Depth Charts shows the Orioles + 60 batting and the Rangers + 28. It thinks all the Orioles are non horrible but Taveras and Carter are bad and García and Heim are average.

SucramRenrutmember
4 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

What sport are you watching? 98 wRC, 180 wRC, 124 wRC, 103 wRC (as a catcher). FWIW 3 Orioles regulars under 100.

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

That doesn’t look right. What I’m looking at says the Orioles are at +26.4 batting, +13.7 pitching, and the rangers at +24.6 batting, +21.1 pitching.

IMO, I don’t see how the Rangers are projected to have worse position players than the Orioles. Maybe it’s a playing time thing. But the projections on the Orioles’ pitching is low, especially for the bullpen.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I was looking at Depth Charts. I thought playing time was fixed for the total team

baachou
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I suspect that they’re giving Montgomery a penalty for pitching on 3 days’ rest. He’s going to have to do so twice if he wants to appear in 2 games. His ZIPS projection is better than all the O’s pitchers, so him being tilted 53-47 against Rodriguez (who has a worse ZIPS projection) has to be because of the rest issue.