John Smoltz: These Baltimore Orioles are reminiscent of the ’90s Atlanta Braves

The Baltimore Orioles look like the next big thing in MLB. They have a mostly homegrown roster of top prospects who are performing well, and the team owns the third-best record in the sport at 43-26. Are the Orioles replicating another East Coast franchise’s success from three decades ago?

FOX Sports MLB Analyst John Smoltz compared the Orioles’ current rise to that of the 1990s Atlanta Braves, the franchise he pitched for from 1988-2008, on “Flippin’ Bats.”

“I see a similarity that we had in 1990 [with the Braves] in the second half when we started believing we could win and then 1991 of course the miracle happens, we chase down the Dodgers and Reds,” Smoltz said. “By no means were we in the kind of division that the Baltimore Orioles are in where it’s just from top to bottom that good, but they have a belief system. They’re young; they’re energetic; they play within the rules of the game, meaning the new rules are kind of advantageous for them. They hit, they run, and they pitch in the back end about as good as anybody. The Baltimore Orioles have been kind of the doormat of the AL East for a long time, and they no longer feel like that’s part of their DNA. And there’s a lot to say for that organization having the patience, having the time, probably way too long, and now they’re relevant again, and that’s great.

“So now they have the opportunity to do some things within their farm system. I’m not a big fan of thinking that the playoffs are gonna come around every year, so if you’ve gotta chance to maximize it, and you feel like you can make a deep run, then you go out and do some things, so I think they’re at that point.”

Baltimore finished the 2021 MLB season at 52-110, its fifth consecutive season missing the playoffs and third season where it failed to win 60 games (60 regular-season games were played in the 2020 season). They even lost 115 games in 2018. With that said, Baltimore’s youth began to reach the big leagues and prosper in 2022. 

Catcher Adley Rutschman, who the Orioles selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, was called up in May of last season and has since been the team’s primary catcher. Infielder Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ previous consensus top prospect, is coming into his own at the big-league level this season, owning a .792 OPS.

Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins have blossomed into everyday players and/or All-Star-caliber players over the last two seasons. All the while, the Orioles selected shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of former seven-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, with the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft.

On the hill, Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish and veteran Kyle Gibson are off to plausible starts for the Orioles, while Dean Kremer posted a 3.23 ERA in 22 appearances (21 starts) last season. Meanwhile, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, who the Orioles selected with the No. 11 pick in the 2018 draft, reached the show this season — albeit posting a 7.35 ERA across 10 starts before being sent down to Triple A. 

While they missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season — and traded veterans like Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez — the Orioles finished the 2022 season at 83-79 and are currently ahead of the New York Yankees (39-31) and Toronto Blue Jays (39-32) for second place in the AL East. 

Smoltz argued that the Orioles should look to acquire players under team control beyond this season and that they can compete with the Tampa Bay Rays (50-22) for the AL East.

As for the comparison at hand, the Braves failed to record a winning season from 1984-90, including five seasons where they failed to reach 70 wins. Then they turned a corner and became one of the best franchises in the sport.

Atlanta made the playoffs in all but one season (1994) from 1991-2005. They won the 1995 World Series, appeared in the Fall Classic five times and racked up six 100-plus-win seasons over that span. In doing so, the Braves sported mostly homegrown teams with many players who became perennial All-Stars if not Hall of Famers.

Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux — who the Braves signed for the 1993 season — formed one of the elite pitching trios in MLB history. Position players like Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff – who the Braves also acquired in 1993 — Andruw Jones, David Justice, Ron Gant and Ryan Klesko, among others, put together outstanding careers.

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