BALTIMORE—On Friday, the Orioles begin a nine-game road trip to Seattle, San Diego and Oakland with 47 games remaining in the season. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges confronting them:
The balanced schedule: In previous years, the Orioles’ final weeks would be packed with games against the other American League East teams. This season, things have changed. Instead of 19 games against each AL East opponent, there are 13.
Of the final 47 games, just 14 are against AL East teams — seven with Boston, including the final three games of the season, September 29th-October 1st. The Orioles play a three-game series against Toronto from August 22nd-24th, and a four-game set against Tampa Bay September 14th-17th.
They play just as many games against National League opponents as the AL East the rest of the season.
“I think it’s a little strange that we’re done with the Yankees,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “September is way different than in the past. I’m in favor of the balanced schedule. It’s the right thing to do from a playoff standpoint, a little bit more fair for teams in divisions that have good teams.”
It’s conceivable that the Orioles will spend the last two weeks of the season — when they play the Astros, Guardians, Nationals and Red Sox — watching the scoreboard and hoping the Rays lose.
“I think you’d like to play some of the teams you’re competing against toward the end of the season, but it’s a hard thing to do,” Hyde said. “Even though we call it balanced, it’s not really balanced. We’re still playing these teams 13 times. I do like the balanced schedule way better.”
Players who could help: Last season, the Orioles called up two of their brightest prospects, infielder Gunnar Henderson and left-hander DL Hall, for the playoff push.
Teams are required to add two players on September 1st, and with pitchers limited to 14 on a 28-man roster, only one pitcher will be added.
For many years, the rosters expanded from 25 to 40 after September 1st, but with 28 players, teams freely option and recall players from Triple-A as they do all season long.
Norfolk’s regular season runs through September 24th, and as first-half winners, will enter the playoffs during the Orioles’ final week of the regular season.
John Means, who’s just beginning his rehab assignment, won’t be ready for September 1st but could be ready sometime later in the month. Means began his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Thursday night. He hasn’t pitched since his Tommy John surgery in April 2022.
There’s been talk of adding Heston Kjerstad, who has been playing the outfield and first base for Norfolk, as an extra player.
The Orioles could also add another infielder, say Joey Ortiz, or an outfielder for pinch-running and as a defensive replacement.
Protecting the starters: The Orioles are likely to use six starters beginning this weekend in Seattle. Cole Irvin is being added to the rotation. Tyler Wells, who was sent to Bowie, will pitch again on Saturday.
Wells is likely to be recalled relatively soon, whether as a starter or another bullpen arm.
“I think this break is huge for him,” Hyde said. “He’s doing a lot of mechanical work, backing off this throwing. Hopefully, he’s a big part of our team down the stretch.”
Hyde is trying to keep his starters fresh since only Jack Flaherty and Kyle Gibson have pitched through an entire season and in the postseason.
Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, who pitched seven innings in Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Astros, will be closely monitored.
“We’re going to do the best we can to monitor innings and workload and keep these guys as healthy as possible these next  games,” Hyde said. “We’re going to see where we are after Tyler throws this next time. We’re coming down the stretch here, We’re day-to-day with everything, waiting to see when guys are going to be ready. As of now right now, we want to give some or our rotation guys some extra days.”
Eight is enough: The Orioles have eight players on the injured list. Two of them, outfielders Cedric Mullins and Aaron Hicks, are expected to come off the injured list on the road trip. Mullins should rejoin the team in Seattle. Hicks, who’s in Jacksonville with Norfolk, will play two games to test his strained left groin. He said he’ll rejoin the Orioles on Monday in San Diego.
Relief pitcher Danny Coulombe will be missed during his stint on the injured list because of left biceps tendonitis. He won’t be eligible to return until August 24th.
Besides Means, Keegan Akin (back), Mychal Givens (shoulder), Dillon Tate (elbow) and Austin Voth (elbow) are on the injured list. Means, Givens, Tate and Voth are on the 60-day injured list.