May 25, 2024

Orioles make a statement in series win over the Yankees

BALTIMORE — It’s tough to make judgments this early in the season. But after watching the Baltimore Orioles win three of four games from the New York Yankees this week, this much is clear: The road to winning the American League East goes through Baltimore.

The O’s, who finished 19 games ahead of New York en route to winning the 2023 division, out-pitched, out-hit and outplayed the Yankees for much of the four-game set, with Thursday’s finale a 7-2 Orioles win in which Baltimore got a big boost with the return of last year’s breakout starter, Kyle Bradish.

With Thursday’s series win, Baltimore has not lost a series against an AL East opponent in more than a year, winning 12 of 16 series and splitting four over that stretch, which dates to April 26-28, 2023. The O’s are 36-17 against divisional opponents during that span and are 6-1 already this season. It’s early but it felt big, particularly because these teams play each other nine more times this season and won’t meet again until mid-June.

“You know the weight of division opponents, you try not to make it more than what it is, it’s just another game in April or May,” said Orioles catcher James McCann, “But come September it’s very easy to look back and say, ‘If only we would have won that game, if only we would have done this.’ You don’t want to do that, so we are very happy to leave that series winning three of four.”

The Yankees, now a game behind the Orioles in the AL East, are a much different team than a year ago with the additions of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo injecting energy and production. They entered the day as one of two teams in the AL already to 20 wins. Still, this week felt like a wake-up call for New York after suffering just its second series loss.

“They’re a complete team that you have to play well and (we) know we’re going to be there all year long and look forward to more battles with them,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “They’re certainly formidable.”

The Orioles and Yankees, arguably the two best teams in the American League, will be exchanging punches all season. This week’s series, which was managed by both sides like games in September, with five-out saves and a crowd engaged from the first pitch, was a prelude to what should be a fascinating, budding rivalry.

Every good rivalry needs a good villain and the red-hot Soto has emerged as an early candidate. He was booed all series at a volume that was cranked up following Tuesday’s comments. In that game, Soto homered and stared down Orioles starter Dean Kremer as he started his home run trot, later telling reporters, “He didn’t like the shuffle. I bet he didn’t like the homer either.”

Soto caused a brief delay in the third inning Thursday as he took issue with a watch in center field obstructing his vision. He was booed loudly, again. Soto, though, was one of the few Yankees hitters who showed up over the four-game set as New York scored just six runs total.

The Yankees also committed three errors, the latest of which was particularly costly on Thursday. With the score 3-1, Gleyber Torres dropped the throw at second from Anthony Volpe, allowing Ryan Mountcastle to reach safely. Jordan Westberg made it hurt with a two-run triple that chased Carlos Rodón from his worst start of the season. Rodón allowed a season-high seven runs, six earned, including three home runs. The Orioles lead the majors with 48 home runs, seven more than the next-best team, the Yankees.

Bradish went 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run in his season debut on 84 pitches, which Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said was about where his leash was. Bradish struck out five and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, pumping upper-90s fastballs reminiscent of 2023’s breakout campaign.

“He didn’t miss a beat,” marveled Hyde.

The same can be said of the Orioles, who shocked many last year en route to a 100-win season and whose dominance should no longer take anyone by surprise.

The Yankees are good, very good even, but to beat the Orioles they might have to be great.

New York is currently without Gerrit Cole and DJ LeMahieu. Aaron Judge has struggled to find consistency at the plate. The Orioles regained Bradish after placing Grayson Rodriguez on the injured list following his start on Monday. The O’s won three games without using closer Craig Kimbrel, who was likely unavailable the first half of the series while dealing with a back issue. Instead, they got a pair of magnificent outings from reliever Jacob Webb, who recorded eight outs, six via strikeout, and notched his first save of the season on Tuesday. Hyde called the four-game effort perhaps his team’s “best-pitched series” to date.

More injuries will happen. Rosters will shift. These teams could be in markedly different places the next time they meet. For now, though, the Orioles own Round 1. And they proved, yet again, why they’re the team to beat in the East.

(Photo of Kyle Bradish: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)