Texas and Baltimore begin their division series in just a matter of hours at Orioles Park. These two teams met six times during the regular season split the season series 3-3. They each won series at the opposing teams' park. That was way back in April and May and so much has changed for both of these organizations since then. One thing that has not changed in a significant way is the youth of the Orioles and the experience of the Texas Rangers.
Baltimore has almost exclusively relied upon their ability to draft and develop players to build their team. They have a mostly homegrown pitching staff and lineup. They decided to do the painful rebuild and experienced multiple 100-loss seasons along the way. Their fans were forced to remain patient as these players worked their way through the minor leagues and onto the major league roster. The tide started to turn in 2022 when 2019 number-one overall pick Adley Rutschman made his debut. Since then several young players have made their debut. The amount of talent has continued to increase and under the management of Brandon Hyde they were able to put together a 101-win season. It is the first 100-win season for the franchise since 1980.
The one question mark regarding this team is about the lack of experience. They have a few veterans who have been there. Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, James McCann, and Jack Flaherty. None of those players are in leading roles for this team. Hicks and McCann if they make the postseason roster will be bench players. Gibson and Flaherty may start games 3 and 4, but that is a question mark. It has been a while since we have seen a team this good that is so inexperienced. It is impossible to know how they will perform under the bright lights of October baseball.
Texas on the other hand has experienced losing seasons. The Rangers experienced six consecutive losing seasons prior to 2023. The intentional tanking did not take place midway through 2020. It helped them land the number two, number three, and number four picks between the 2021 to 2023 MLB Drafts. In 2021 the decision was made by ownership and the front office to change direction. They decided to short-circuit the painful rebuild, inject huge contracts onto the team, and make aggressive trades at the deadline to give themselves a better shot this season.
Texas does have youth on this team with Josh Jung, Evan Carter, Leody Taveras, and Dane Dunning. Texas is not led by the youth. The young players are supplemental to Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Adolis Garcia, Jordan Montgomery, and Nathan Eovaldi. Those five are the leaders currently and the young players just add to that talent level. Texas after losing 102 games and 94 games the last two seasons has shot up in the standings in 2023 with a 90-win season.
Experience vs inexperience, which side wins out?
Texas is loaded with players who have significant playoff experience and some with actual World Series' rings in their possession. The Orioles are loaded with future all-stars and some MVP talent all over the field. They continue to boast the best or one of the best farm systems in baseball. October is a completely different animal compared to regular-season baseball. Texas has already experienced it in sweeping the two-game series against Tampa Bay. The question becomes is Baltimore's lack of experience going to be a deciding factor in this series?
Texas can do a few things to expose this inexperience. First, work every at-bat. Force the Orioles pitchers to throw strikes. Hitters will need to be able to stay away from chasing. Texas did that against Tampa Bay and forced both Glasnow and Eflin out of the game much earlier than was expected. Baltimore is starting two pitchers who have great stuff, but zero postseason experience. Texas needs to make them work early. The job has to be to drive up their pitch count and maybe force an early exit.
Second, score early runs. This will be vitally important. If they can put Baltimore down early and generate shut down innings that could cause the young Orioles' players to start pressing. Orioles Park in games 1 and 2 should both be sellouts. The crowd is going to be loud on nearly every pitch. The Orioles' fans have not seen a home playoff game since 2014 when that Orioles team made a run to the ALCS. I expect that stadium to be rocking much like we saw in Philadelphia this week.
Texas will have a shot to win one of these first two games if they can score early runs and the pitching staff can limit the Orioles offense. Texas will face a much more difficult road environment than the one they just finished playing in Tampa Bay.
The final thing Texas can do is be aggressive on the basepaths. This means going first to third on a base hit. It means stealing bases if the opportunity arises. It means sometimes risking being thrown out at the plate to be able to score a run. If Texas can accomplish this, they will score more runs than if they had been passive. Texas is once again the underdog. They need to also be the aggressors in this matchup. That will force Baltimore needs to be forced to react to what Texas does rather Texas reacting to what Baltimore is doing. Whoever can set the tone in this matchup will have the advantage in winning this series.
The Texas Rangers win this series if .......
The recipe for success for Texas in this series is keeping the pressure on Baltimore by playing a clean game, being aggressive on the basepaths, and by not being too aggressive in the batters' box.
The Orioles have a chance to win the World Series in the coming seasons but are they ready to do it this season? I do not believe so. If Texas can score early, defend well, and stay away from handing out free passes they will win this series. It is easier said than done I am sure. Texas for the most part has a group of players that have been through this round and are not going to be scared by a loud crowd. If Texas can do their job then maybe it will be Baltimore who will fold under the pressure. If Texas is to win this series they need to split one of these first two games in Baltimore and then win both in Arlington. Do that and Texas will move onto the American League Championship series and be four wins away from making the World Series.