Baltimore Orioles' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season

Mar 2, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) looks on during
Mar 2, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) looks on during / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been decades since the Baltimore Orioles came into a season as consensus divisional favorites. But none of those previous Oriole teams had a catcher as talented as Adley Rutschman or a prospect as heralded as Jackson Holliday.

For all of those reasons, and also because the Orioles won an AL-best 101 games last season, Orioles fans have justifiably high hopes in 2024.

Baltimore Orioles' Best-Case Scenario for 2024 Season

In the 284 games the Orioles have played since Rutschman’s debut, they’re 168-116. In the 284 games they played immediately prior to Rutschman’s debut, they were 96-188. Coincidence?

Well, probably somewhat. Rutschman can’t get all the credit for re-shaping the pitching staff, revitalizing the offense and generally elevating the Orioles from divisional cellar-dwellers to powerhouse. The facts, however, remain: Baltimore’s ascendency perfectly coincides with Rutschman’s arrival.

Last year, Rutschman produced an .809 OPS, and while his defensive stats moderated somewhat from that 2022 rookie season, he still directed a staff that ranked seventh in fewest runs allowed per game. He was an All-Star and a top-10 MVP candidate, and entering his age-26 season, the learning curve remains upward.

The Orioles also ranked seventh in runs scored per game. That means the offense was good enough to challenge for the division (and beyond) even before Holliday hits the big time, which he seems increasingly likely to do on Opening Day.

He’ll join a cast that includes first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, and third baseman Gunnar Henderson, all in their 20s and coming off strong seasons.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that GM Mike Elias made what could turn out to be the deal of the off-season when he got Corbin Burnes from Milwaukee.  A plausible argument could be made that Burnes, the 2021 Cy Young Award winner, has been the National League’s best pitcher over the last three seasons. Burnes’ 3.39 ERA in 32 starts last season was his worst since becoming a full-timer, which is actually a very nice thing to say of a pitcher.

Add Burnes and Holliday to a 101-win team and you have the makings of a World Series contender.

Baltimore Orioles' Worst-Case Scenario for 2024 Season

When a team is as young, deep and talented as the Orioles, the major concern is always health. Guess what? Injuries are already commanding attention.

In Baltimore’s case, the concern involves Kyle Bradish, probably the team’s ace last year. Bradish made 30 starts with a 2.83 ERA and started Game 1 of the Division Series that Baltimore lost to Texas in three straight.

But a UCL sprain has slowed his development this spring to the point where manager Brandon Hyde now concedes there is ‘no firm timetable’ for his return.  

With Burnes joining a rotation that also includes Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer, the Orioles have the arms to survive a prolonged Bradish absence. But let’s not kid ourselves. Rodriguez and Kremer both benefitted from offensive support last season, and Means spent most of 2023 on the injured list.

Until those three demonstrate otherwise, the rotation is an area of concern. And that concern is doubled by the loss for all of 2024 of esteemed closer Felix Bautista. The Orioles have signed Craig Kimbrel to cover for Bautista’s absence, but Kimbrel is 35 and, like most relievers, his performance can ebb and flow unpredictably.

If Bradish doesn’t come around and Rodriguez, Means and Kremer don’t comprise the guts of a front-line rotation, there could be trouble.

Most Realistic Scenario for 2024 Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore’s everyday lineup looks so good, and Holliday’s future looks so secure, that the Orioles’ fate really rides with its pitching. Hyde has as close to a sure pitching thing as there is in Burnes, but the sooner Bradish returns, the better.

Rodriguez is a major key. He ran up a 7.35 ERA in his first 10 starts, did some minor league time and returned at the All-Star break. From then on, he had a 2.58 ERA in 13 starts.  He has to show the Orioles they can count on his second-half showing for a full season.

Absent a pitching collapse, the Orioles are a chalk bet to reach postseason play for a second consecutive season. The postseason? Too many upsets occur to even try to predict that. But the Orioles have as good a chance as any team to reach that postseason as one of the favorites to win it all.

Houston Astros' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 (