The Orioles’ streak of 91 regular-season series without being swept defined their 2023 campaign before the club’s unprecedented year ended in “ironic” fashion, as center fielder Cedric Mullins put it, with a sweep in the American League Division Series.
That streak is technically still intact, but the next time Baltimore is in the playoffs, a new one will be the focus.
With their three-and-out in the ALDS against the Rangers, the Orioles have lost eight consecutive postseason games — the worst stretch in franchise history and the longest active streak in the sport. Only nine teams in MLB history have suffered a longer such streak.
“You never want to be on a streak,” Orioles fan Nathan Skidmore said before Game 3 of the ALDS. “You never want people to be able to pull that up on a graphic and be like, ‘Eight in a row.’
“Anytime you’re on a streak like that, I think you start to worry like, ‘Are we ever going to win again?’
Entering the playoffs, the Minnesota Twins owned one of MLB’s most ignominious records. From 2004 to 2020, they lost 18 straight postseason games, but with their win over the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card round (which Minnesota swept), the Twins finally exorcised their playoff demons.
The active leaders then became the Tampa Bay Rays, who were swept by the Rangers in the wild-card round, and Blue Jays at seven consecutive playoff losses. That is, until the Orioles, the AL’s top seed by tallying 101 wins in the regular season, failed to record any in the 2023 playoffs.
“I’m glad they got the experience,” manager Brandon Hyde said after Tuesday’s loss at Globe Life Field. “I hate the outcome because these guys deserve all the credit in the world for the season they just had. I hope people can recognize that.”
Baltimore fans need no reminder, but the streak dates to the gut-wrenching 2014 AL Championship Series. Those Orioles won 96 games and an AL East title, sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS to enter the ALCS versus the Kansas City Royals as World Series favorites. Then, the Royals swept the Orioles by a difference of only six runs — a pair of two-run losses at Camden Yards and two one-run defeats in Kansas City.
Two years later, lest fans forget, Baltimore lost to the Blue Jays in the wild-card game, as the most recent playoff season before 2023 ended with Ubaldo Jiménez giving up a walk-off home run to Edwin Encarnación after Buck Showalter chose not to bring in All-Star closer Zack Britton in extra innings.
Those who were a part of the successful 2014 and 2016 seasons and the subsequent postseason collapses had virtually nothing to do with the 2023 playoff failure. The front office has been overhauled. A new manager is on the dugout’s top step. And virtually no players on either of those teams played for Baltimore in 2023 after the franchise’s painful rebuild bore fruit this year.
The constant throughout the eight playoff losses has been Baltimore fans — those who experienced the Royals small-ball the Orioles to elimination and then two years later screamed at their televisions as Britton sat in the bullpen. They watched each one with high hopes, only to be let down time after time — a now-playoff tradition that continued into 2023. This year, they cheered from Camden Yards’ stands during the one-run loss Saturday and the walk-fest Sunday, only to see one of the best teams in the Orioles’ 70-season history get swept out of the postseason on the road in Game 3.
“I’m hopeful that the team will learn something,” said Dan Bollinger, a lifelong Orioles fan who attended Game 2 in Baltimore and Game 3 in Arlington, Texas. “Going from over 100 losses to this year’s record is great. It’s been tough being an Orioles fan for the last few years, but I’m still hopeful.”
What makes the ALDS sweep harder to swallow is the missed opportunity it represents. A 101-win team should, in theory, be a World Series contender, but the Rangers, who won 11 fewer games than Baltimore, were more apt for the rigors of October baseball. A bevy of smart decisions by the Orioles’ front office over the past five years is what allowed them to be the AL’s top team, but its reluctance to make significant investments similar to those made by their opponents proved costly.
Whether executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, who has yet to hand out a multiyear contract to a free agent since he was hired to shepherd the rebuild in November 2018, or, more importantly, Chairman and CEO John Angelos are willing to spend to bolster this roster and keep the Orioles’ young core intact remains a question. Large-market teams, in theory, can have a wider championship window given their financial advantages, but the club’s reluctance thus far to spend anywhere near those teams — the Orioles ranked 29th out of 30 teams in payroll entering the season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts — could make the squandering of 2023′s opportunity sting even more.
“What I worry about more than bringing in big free agents is, ‘Are they going to extend our guys?’ I like the guys on this team. I like Adley Rutschman. I like Gunnar Henderson,” said Skidmore, a 25-year-old Northern Virginia native who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas. “When it comes to the owner spending money, I almost don’t want them to spend on free agents so we can extend our guys.
“But John Angelos doesn’t fill me with confidence as someone that’s going to do what it takes to make sure the team is on top.”
With playoff expansion over the years, streaks such as the Orioles’ are becoming more common. Six of the nine teams in MLB history with longer streaks had them end after the wild-card era began in 1994. Currently, all five clubs in the AL East — considered the sport’s most daunting division — have playoff losing streaks of at least three games. The Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have combined to lose 29 consecutive postseason games, seven of which occurred this postseason as all three AL East clubs to qualify were swept.
Yet, amid the sadness in the Orioles’ clubhouse Tuesday night was optimism for the future. Baltimore believes this is just the beginning, and it’s not hard to envision why. Henderson, Rutschman, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad are all 25 or younger. Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez blossomed into legitimate top-of-the-rotation starters in the second half. And the organization boasts the sport’s top-ranked farm system, according to Baseball America, with prospects Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo and Chayce McDermott on the cusp of the big leagues.
“I think a lot of us are disappointed, are sad,” pitcher Tyler Wells said. “But I think, too, this is something that we’re gonna hold onto and carry that chip on our shoulder.”
Still, though, the next time the Orioles are in the postseason, the streak will follow the club — and the fan base — like a dark cloud. Austin Hays, one of the players who survived the 100-loss seasons of the rebuild, stated after Tuesday’s loss what his goal is in 2024 and beyond: to deliver a playoff win — and much more — to Baltimore fans.
“The most rewarding thing was just seeing our fans come back into that stadium and get to see that playoff atmosphere at home,” Hays said. “That’s what I want. That’s what I want to play for. I want to be in that environment.
“I want to play all 162 knowing we’re gonna get back to that next year and get back to that moving forward cause that was a hell of an experience.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.