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It’ll be a battle of big-name MLB rookies when Gunnar Henderson and the Orioles take on Masataka Yoshida and the Red Sox on Thursday, and you can stream this highly anticipated matchup for free on MLB.TV.
While these were the only two AL East teams to miss the playoffs last season, their 2022 performances starkly contrasted one another relative to each team’s expectations. Baltimore’s 83-79 record was three games shy of a playoff berth, but that still represented its first winning season since the O’s went 89-73 in 2016. The Orioles won a staggering 31 more games than they did in 2021, the largest year-to-year jump by any team in the 21st century (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season).
Henderson, ranked as the No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, made a splash after being called up to the big leagues late last season. Though plate discipline was somewhat of an issue (34 strikeouts in 132 plate appearances), he finished with a strong .788 OPS in 34 games, including a stellar .316/.500/.579 line in seven games against Boston. MLB.com’s Sam Dykstra remarked that he did a better job hitting the ground running at the top level than Julio Rodríguez, Bobby Witt Jr. and even Rutschman himself. The 21-year-old is an overwhelming favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year, and if he does, Baltimore might be able to catch up to the reigning playoff teams in its division.
Consequently, while Baltimore was content to mainly run with the status quo after a better-than-expected 2022 season, Boston did anything but. The exodus of talent from the Red Sox’s 2018 World Series-winning core continued, with Xander Bogaerts (Padres), J.D. Martinez (Dodgers) and Nathan Eovaldi (Rangers) among the big names to depart this offseason.
As for who arrived? The list includes Adalberto Mondesi, Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen and Opening Day starter Corey Kluber — but the biggest wild card of all might be Yoshida, arriving from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to make his MLB debut at age 29.
Boston made headlines by signing Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract after he batted .327/.421/.539 in his seven NPB seasons. It was the largest contract ever awarded to a position player coming from Japan to the U.S.
But Boston’s goal is to win again soon, and Yoshida has done nothing but win over the past year.
In 2022, Yoshida led the Orix Buffaloes to their first Japan Series title in 26 years. But most American fans got their introduction to him during the World Baseball Classic, when he was the only Japanese player not named Ohtani to make the All-Tournament team. Yoshida finished with a WBC-record 13 RBIs, helping Japan become the first three-time WBC champion. That included a game-tying three-run shot in the seventh inning against Mexico, part of a semifinal win that stands as MLB.com’s greatest game in WBC history.
Yoshida is expected to bat in the middle of the order, and if he can be as successful as Red Sox brass is anticipating, Boston may not be spending very much time in the AL East cellar.
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