The Orioles won’t find out whether they’re playing Tampa Bay or Texas in the American League Division Series until Wednesday or Thursday. That will give them two or three days before they need to finalize their roster and make decisions on who their starting pitchers will be.
Here are some questions that need to be answered before the American League Division Series begins on Saturday at Camden Yards.
Who will the Orioles play?
The Tampa Bay Rays host the Texas Rangers in the best-of-three wild-card series that begins on Tuesday, and Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he had no preference for an opponent.
All games will be played at Tropicana Field, and game times are scheduled for 3:08 p.m. on ABC.
In the regular season, the Orioles won eight of 13 games against the Rays, though the teams each scored 48 runs. The Orioles and Rangers split six games, though the teams haven’t met since May 27th. The day before that, Texas dealt the Orioles their second-most lopsided loss of the season, 12-2.
The Rangers won four of six games against Tampa Bay.
What will the roster look like?
The Orioles can carry 26 players, and no more than 13 pitchers in the postseason. Since September 1st, the Orioles have been carrying 28, so at least two current players won’t be participating in the ALDS.
It’s a best-of-five series, with games in Baltimore on Saturday and Sunday. Game 3, and if necessary, Game 4, will be played at Tampa Bay or Texas on October 10th and 11th. A fifth game would be played at Oriole Park on October 13th.
With off days, it’s possible that the Orioles could carry 12 pitchers and 14 position players, but Hyde’s liberal use of the bullpen could make him feel more comfortable with a 13-pitcher staff.
Since he won’t need more than four starters, the Orioles could have a nine-man bullpen, which is what Hyde has been using for the past month.
If the Orioles go with 13 pitchers, then one position player won’t make the initial cut, and they’ll have to decide if Heston Kjerstad will play in this round of the postseason.
Kjerstad, who got his first meaningful time in the outfield over the weekend, could be a left-handed designated hitter or a pinch-hitter. In his first 13 games, Kjerstad was 7-for-30 (.233) with two home runs and three RBIs. He struck out 10 times and walked twice.
Who will start for the Orioles?
It would be a shock if Kyle Bradish, who struck out five and walked one in two hitless innings in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Red Sox, didn’t start Game 1, regardless of the opponent.
Bradish had an outstanding season, going 12-7 with a 2.83 earned-run average, third in the American League. In the second half of the season, his ERA was just 2.34.
He was 1-2 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay, and he allowed just one run on five hits in 8 1/3 innings against Texas. Bradish suffered a bruised foot when he was hit by a batted ball in the second inning in his first start against Texas on April 3rd, but he returned after missing the minimum 15 days.
Grayson Rodriguez was 5-2 with a 2.38 ERA in the second half of the season, and he should start Game 2.
For Games 3, 4 and 5, Hyde can choose between Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer and John Means.
Gibson led the team in wins (15) and innings pitched (192), but he also led the American League with 198 hits allowed, and his ERA of 4.73 was the highest among the starters.
None of Kremer’s five September starts lasted more than 5 1/3 innings, but his ERA fell a bit from 4.20 to 4.12 at the end of the season.
Means had only four starts after returning from Tommy John surgery and had a 2.66 ERA. He’s given up just 13 hits in 23 2/3 innings and though he’s struck out only 10, he’s walked only four. Being the only left-hander among the starters doesn’t hurt his case.
Both the Rays and Rangers have slightly higher averages against left-handed pitching.
What will the bullpen look like?
The starter not chosen for the playoff rotation will go to the bullpen. That’s what happened with Gibson last year when the Philadelphia Phillies decided they had other starters better than he was.
If the Orioles carry 13 pitchers, that leaves eight other relievers. Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall, Cionel Pérez, Jacob Webb and Tyler Wells all had good seasons.
The Orioles could pick two more from Cole Irvin, Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami, who each have experience starting and ended the season with the club. They also could recall a pitcher from Triple-A Norfolk. Mike Baumann appeared in 60 games, fourth most among relievers and was 10-1 with a 3.76 ERA.
Should the Orioles win the Division Series, they can adjust their roster for the American League Championship Series.