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Orioles Look Forward To Brighter Days Ahead, Their Dismal Rebuild Days Behind Them

The Orioles are hot.

Baltimore has won 10 straight games and catapulted to 45-44 on the season,  a mere one and a half games back of the third American League wild card.

The Orioles called up Adley Rutschman on May 21, posted their first winning month since 2017 in June and have gone 29-20 overall with the preseason No. 1 prospect in baseball in tow.

In other words, the Orioles appear to have turned the corner on their rebuild and now have postseason contention within their sights. If not this season, then next.

But the road from there to here involved losing. Lots of losing.

Over the course of the five preceding seasons, as the organization rebuilt its prospect foundation and fielded noncompetitive major league rosters, the Orioles lost at a rate rarely seen.

From 2017 to 2021, Baltimore had a winning percentage of just .357. Few teams have won at a rate that low for that long since the dawn of the expansion era in 1961—and the only team to lose more frequently was, in fact, the hapless expansion Mets.

Top 10 Lowest Winning Percentages Over A Five-Year Span Since 1961

1962-66 Mets*.322
2017-21 Orioles.357
1977-81 Blue Jays*.359
1969-73 Padres*.368
2001-05 Tigers.379
2010-14 Astros.380
1961-65 Senators*.382
1977-81 Mariners*.384
2017-21 Tigers.390
2002-06 Rays.391

Note: An asterisk (*) denotes expansion franchise

Some of these clubs’ ineptitude stretched beyond the sample window, creating additional five-year entries that would crack the top 10, but each franchise string receives only one entry.

What we see with the table above is the slow buildup for five of the 10 expansion franchises of the 1960s and ’70s. The exceptions are the Royals (.476 in first five seasons), Angels (.474), Expos (.430), Brewers (.420) and Astros (.412).

The 1990s expansion franchises all avoided this ignominious list, the Rays (.394) just barely. The D-backs (.543), Rockies (.486) and Marlins (.476) were all three of the more successful expansion franchises ever. The D-backs and Marlins even won the World Series within five years of inception.

Regardless, the lowest sustained winning percentage list is one that established franchises want to avoid. That’s what makes the 2017-21 Orioles’ placement so notable. They lost more frequently over a five-year span than any club in the past 60 years but the expansion Mets, the gold standard for bad baseball in living memory.

The Orioles of the five preceding seasons were a historically bad team for an extended spell—they averaged 111 losses in 2018, 2019 and 2021—but taking their seasons individually, they placed only one entrant on the list of top 10 worst seasonal run differentials since 1961.

Top 10 Worst Run Differential In A Season Since 1961

2003 Tigers–337
2019 Tigers–333
1962 Mets–331
1996 Tigers–320
2021 Orioles–297
1974 Padres–289
2002 Tigers–289
1979 Athletics–287
2004 D-backs–284
2010 Pirates–279

Note: The 2018 and 2019 Orioles just miss the cutoff at No. 13 and No. 16. 

The logical conclusion to be drawn from the above is that Baltimore’s record was distorted to some degree by the strength of the American League East.


Prospect Report: Adley Rutschman Keeps Soaring For Orioles

Adley Rutschman had another excellent night for Baltimore.

The Orioles have annually played 47% of their schedule versus the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays—and that would cut into any team’s win-loss record. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Orioles’ 2017-21 winning percentage probably would be higher if they had played in a division other than the AL East.

The good news for the Orioles is that beginning in 2023, all MLB teams will play a more balanced schedule, one that includes games against all of the other 29 teams. For Baltimore that means 20 fewer games versus AL East opponents each season, with the share of intradivision games shrinking from nearly half of scheduled games to 35% of them.

The schedule change reduces the number of marquee division rivalry games each season, such as Yankees-Red Sox, but helps level the playing field for wild card contenders. Now, the three teams vying for wild cards in each league will play schedules more similar to each other than the ones they play this season.

That will serve to benefit teams like the Orioles who play in rugged divisions, because it places them on more equal footing with teams from weaker divisions.

With Rutschman in tow and a wave of prospects ready to contribute in 2023, things are definitely looking up in Baltimore.

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