Why Orioles are the team Red Sox should fear in the AL East
2023 was supposed to be a fresh start for the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had made some notable signings in Kenley Jansen (among others) to reinforce the bullpen, Adam Duvall and Masataka Yoshida to add outfield depth, and they had even signed Jorge Alfaro to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training to add depth to the catching position.
While they weren't necessarily picked to win the American League East to begin the year, no one could have predicted the hole they -- and the rest of the division -- would be in just 18 games into the season. As of April 19, Boston sits six games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, who won their first 13 games, tying the MLB record.
While the number may sound astronomical to start the season, no one in the division is less than four games behind the Rays. The Toronto Blue Jays sit at four games back, and the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles sit at 4.5 back, then just 1.5 back of a tie for third place -- and six games back of first place - are the Red Sox. Safe to say it's a tight race for second place.
Why the Baltimore Orioles stand in the Red Sox's way
Now, that's not normally something you hear, but this year it seems to be Tampa Bay's year to run away with the division. Now, sure, there are still 144 games left to play in the regular season and it's really anyone's division at this point, but the team that really should be on Red Sox radar to look out for in the race for second isn't who you'd think. It's not the Blue Jays, it's not the Yankees: it's the Orioles.
Why are they the team to look out for you might ask? While they may not have the pitching depth that some teams have, they have the one thing that most teams crave in today's baseball: youth. Every single player on their active roster - with two exceptions - were born in the 1990s, and their investment in young players has paid dividends to say the least.
This year, the Orioles are coming with some firepower with Ryan Mountcastle who already has six home runs, not to mention 20 RBI through 18 games: nine of which came against the Oakland Athletics on April 11.
Second-year catcher Adley Rutschman is not far behind him with four home runs, and 13 RBI -- the former of which ties him for the league lead for catchers. Rutschman also set a record by reaching base six times on Opening Day, the most by a catcher in MLB history.
More Red Sox news and analysis
Now that we've covered the power aspect, let's cover the other to aspects that are nothing to sneeze at either: speed on the bases, and hitting for contact.
The Orioles have two players who currently sit, not only in the top 10 for stolen bases in the league, but in the top five according to MLB.com: center fielder Cedric Mullins, and shortstop Jorge Mateo - with nine and three, respectively.
When you combine that with Austin Hays already with six doubles on the young season, along with a triple, you've got a pretty dangerous offense.
I know, I know, I hear you. "It's too early to speculate", "It's too early to really evaluate teams", "It's too early to be making any predictions." But when you look at the Yankees and the Blue Jays, and where they sit in the standings, along with all of their dynamic duos of Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, or Matt Chapman and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., you'd expect them to be doing better.
However, when both are in the lineup, there is an expectation of success and if one is off their game, the other will attempt to pick up the slack. If there is no success for either, the team will generally not be successful, in turn, hence each squads up-and-down start to the season.
Think about it: with the Rays running away with the division the way they are, and with the race as close as it is outside of the Boston, it seems like the position of second place could switch hands at any point in the season.
With Baltimore's potent offense, and continuing stretch of games where they take on easier teams like the Washington Nationals, and Detroit Tigers -- with the Red Sox sandwiched in there -- then continuing on with the Kansas City Royals, and another series with the Tigers, they are in prime position to keep their competitive edge going.
While the Boston has been going on a bit of a run themselves with successful starts from Chris Sale, effective bullpen performances by Josh Winckowski, Kutter Crawford, and, of course its closer, Jansen, as well as, excellent hitting from guys like Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, and Kike Hernandez, they should watch out for the Orioles who seem to have all wheels turning in the right direction.
With the Red Sox looking in, and Tampa Bay seemingly running away with the division, it's time for Boston to ramp it up and collect more wins and hope it turns into climbing into the running for second place.