The final days of the 2023 MLB regular season are upon us. Five postseason spots remain up for grabs, plus the exact seeding is still to be determined. Awards candidates are putting the finishing touches on their seasons as well. Only five days remain in the regular season but still plenty is on the line.
Our bi-weekly series breaking down various trends across the league wraps up for the 2023 season with one contender's ability to avoid sweeps, another's overhauled bullpen, and one emerging pitcher's elite pitch..
The unsweepable O's
At 98-59 going into Wednesday night's game, the upstart Orioles are having their best season since the 1997 team went 98-64. They could be the sixth team in franchise history to win 100 games, joining the 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, and 1980 squads. At some point soon Baltimore will clinch its first AL East title since 2014. It has been a very exciting season in Charm City.
Every team, even one as good as the 2023 Orioles, will deal with a few losing streaks throughout the season. Dropping three or four or five in a row is inevitable. That's just baseball. Baltimore's longest losing streak this season is four games done several times, most recently Sept. 12-15. One thing the Orioles have not done this season is get swept in a series. Not once.
In fact, the O's streak of not getting swept dates all the way back to last May. The Orioles were last swept by the Tigers in a three-game series at Comerica Park from May 13-15, 2022. That predates the Adley Rutschman era. Rutschman was called up last May 21. The next time the Orioles get swept will be the first time they get swept with Rutschman on their MLB roster.
Tuesday's win over the Nationals stretched the O's streak to 90 straight series without being swept. All that stands between them and going the entire 2023 regular season without getting swept is four games with the Red Sox this weekend. That doesn't happen often -- six teams have gone a full 162-game season without being swept since 1990 -- though the Braves did it just last year.
More remarkable is Baltimore's 90-series streak of not getting swept. It's the third longest such streak in baseball history and the longest since World War II. Here are the longest streaks of not being swept in history (minimum two-game series):
- 1942-44 Cardinals: 125 series without being swept
- 1903-05 Giants: 106
- 2022-23 Orioles: 90 and counting
- 1922-24 Yankees: 83
- 1904-06 Athletics: 74
The last team to go even 70 consecutive series without being swept was the 2003-05 Braves (72 straight series). If this current Orioles streak lasts long enough to match the 1942-44 Cardinals streak, they will tie the record with their 125th consecutive series win next July 26-28 against the Padres, and beat it next July 29-31 against the Blue Jays. That Cardinals streak is incredible.
Baltimore has certainly had some close call along the way. During this impressive streak, the Orioles had to win the final game of a series 10 times to avoid being swept, most recently Aug. 8-10 against the Astros. . Houston won the first two games before the O's rallied to salvage the finale.
Again, even the best teams get swept during the course of the long season. The 2001 Mariners tied the MLB record with 116 wins and even they got swept once. Baltimore has gone nearly two full seasons without being swept though and that speaks to the club's overall talent, and their ability to avoid even medium-length losing streaks. It's awfully impressive.
Tampa's rebuilt bullpen
Rays had a surprisingly shaky bullpen despite their incredible start to the season. They were 35-15 at the time despite a bullpen that ranked 25th in win probability added, 29th in WAR, and 30th in strikeout rate. Tampa always seems to have a deep and dominant bullpen loaded with bat-missers. That wasn't the case earlier this season., we noted the
As they tend to do though, the Rays figured things out and rebuilt their bullpen on the fly. The bullpen they're poised to take into the bullpen doesn't look much like the bullpen they had back in May. Here are their in-season bullpen additions:
RHP Shawn Armstrong
Returned from IL (June 3)
1.44 ERA in 50 IP
LHP Jake Diekman
Signed as a free agent (May 10)
2.28 ERA in 43 1/3 IP
RHP Andrew Kittredge
Returned from IL (Aug. 17)
4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 IP
Trade with Pirates (June 3)
2.48 ERA in 36 1/3 IP
Armstrong missed the start of the season after suffering a neck injury in spring training. Kittredge had Tommy John surgery last June and the rehab carried into this season. Diekman allowed 14 runs in 11 1/3 innings with the White Sox, got released on May 6, then signed with the Rays a few days later. Tampa sent infield prospect Alika Williams to the Pirates for Stephenson.
Tampa also added depth arms Chris Devenski and Erasmo Ramírez in recent weeks, though those four guys above -- Armstrong, Diekman, Kittredge, Stephenson -- are the real impact additions. Those four along with closer Pete Fairbanks, lefty Colin Poche, and Rule 5 Draft pick Kevin Kelly give the Rays the sort of bullpen they usually have. It's deep, it's diverse, and it's dominant.
Here are the before and after numbers, using ouras the cutoff point:
|Through May 24||Since May 24|
4.48 (15th in MLB)
3.36 (3rd in MLB)
Night and day. The Rays went from having one of the least effective bullpens in the majors nearly two months into the season to having one of the best bullpens in the game the last four months. This is what the Rays do, right? They solve problems in-season and in ways that aren't splashy. The Diekman signing and Stephenson trade were afterthoughts moves that have paid off big.
Not all is well with Tampa's bullpen -- ace setup man Jason Adam just went back on the injured list with another oblique injury -- but, as things stand, the Rays are set to take another excellent relief crew into the postseason. They need it too, because their rotation has been decimated by injuries. When it comes to bullpens, don't doubt the Rays. They'll figure it out. They always do.
Sánchez's dominant changeup
The Phillies are in an enviable position. They have six bona fide MLB starting pitchers -- Michael Lorenzen, Aaron Nola, Cristopher Sánchez, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, Zack Wheeler -- and right now auditions are being held for postseason rotation spots behind Wheeler and Nola. Lorenzen has begun working out of the bullpen recently to prepare for a relief role in October.
Sánchez, meanwhile, is doing all he can to claim to a postseason roster spot. The lanky southpaw has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his last 17 starts, and this past Sunday he struck out 10 Mets in seven innings of two-run ball. All 10 strikeouts came on the changeup. This is some quality changeup work here:
That changeup is becoming one of the single most dominant pitches in the sport. It's a low-80s pitch Sánchez throws with the same arm speed as his sinker, and both pitches have very similar spin and movement profiles. In English, they look the same and move the same coming out of Sánchez's hand. The difference is about 10 mph in velocity, making it difficult to time the changeup.
The results on Sánchez's changeup are out-of-this-world good. The results speak for themselves:
|Sánchez's change||MLB average changeup|
Ground ball rate
Elite whiff rate, elite ground ball rate, and hitters are slugging under .300 against Sánchez's changeup. He's gaining more confidence in the pitch too. Sánchez has thrown 24 changeups to left-handed hitters in his last four starts. He threw 10 changeups to lefties in his previous 26 games this year, Triple-A included. It's becoming a weapon for same-side hitters now too.
Given the veteran depth ahead of him, Sánchez may not get a postseason rotation spot, but his changeup is an elite pitch and will be useful in the postseason in some role. There's a place for this guy and that pitch in October. And, looking ahead to next season, Sánchez has shown enough this year to be strongly considered for a starting job in 2024. The young man has very quietly had a strong season for a postseason-bound Phillies team.