Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles: ALDS Preview

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After a long regular season that had its share of ups and downs, the Detroit Tigers clinched their fourth straight AL Central division title with a 3-0 win over the Twins in their home finale.  The Tigers now look forward to the postseason, where they will begin their quest for the World Series with a division series matchup against the Baltimore Orioles.  The teams played six times in April and May, with the Tigers taking five of six from the Orioles.  As we inch closer to Game One of the ALDS on Thursday, let’s take a look at the matchup between these two division champions.

How We Got Here

The Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles took different routes to win their divisions and reach the ALDS.  The Tigers were expected to run away with the AL Central this year, but things did not go as planned.  After a red-hot 27-12 start to the season, the Tigers hit a rough patch between May and June, dropping their record to 36-32 on June 18th.  Detroit rebounded from that mini funk to post a 53-38 record heading into the all-star break.

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After the all-star break, the Tigers not only had to battle through their own inconsistent play, but also faced a major challenge from the upstart Kansas City Royals.  The Royals came out on fire after the break, drawing even in the division with the Tigers at the start of September.  The Tigers were able to hold off the Royals down the stretch, winning four of six from Kansas City in the last few weeks of the season.  Detroit secured their fourth consecutive AL Central crown and earned their 90th win on the last day of the regular season, finishing one game ahead of the Royals.

In a division that has been dominated by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for the better part of two decades, not much was expected from the Baltimore Orioles when the season started.  Most experts picked them to finish anywhere from third to fifth in the AL East, but Baltimore was out to prove that this was their breakout year.  The season did not start off well for Baltimore, with a 27-27 record at the end of May.  The Orioles were able to grind out some wins and play better baseball in June and July, improving their record to 52-42 at the all-star break.

The second half of the season is when Baltimore really started clicking on all cylinders.  With solid pitching and an improving offense, the Orioles started to run away with the division by the time the calendar hit September.  Unlike the Tigers, Baltimore didn’t have to worry about any teams chasing them in the AL East.  They built their division lead to ten games and never looked back.  The Orioles finished the year with a 96-66 record, 12 games ahead of the second place New York Yankees.

Head To Head Matchups

Detroit and Baltimore met six times early in the season, with the Tigers winning five of six.  The Tigers took two out of three from the Orioles at Comerica Park in early April and swept them at Camden Yards in May.  One of the more memorable moments of Detroit’s season took place on May 13th in Baltimore.  The Tigers were down 1-0 going into the top of the ninth inning.  With two outs, Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate and belted a three-run bomb to center field.  Joe Nathan then came on in the bottom of the ninth to secure the win for the Tigers.

May 13, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) hits the game-winning three-run home run in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Tigers defeated the Orioles 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Although Detroit easily took the regular season series from Baltimore, the Orioles are a vastly improved team now.  The Tigers will be facing a confident and hungry Orioles team in the ALDS.  Will the Tigers be up for the challenge?  Let’s review the position groups for both teams to see who has the edge in this matchup.

Starting Pitchers

In a five game series, starting pitching is usually the difference between advancing to the next round and going home.  The ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles will be no different as both teams have an excellent starting rotation.  Let’s take a look at both rotations to see who has the edge going into this series.

Sep 25, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher

Max Scherzer

(37) pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With three former Cy Young award winners at their disposal, the Tigers should feel great going into the ALDS.  Max Scherzer is currently the ace of Detroit’s staff.  He followed up a Cy Young season in 2013 with an 18-5 record and 3.15 ERA this year.  Max has also been great in the playoffs the last two seasons, with a combined 2.45 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP.  After Max, Brad Ausmus has the luxury of handing the ball to David Price and Justin Verlander.  Price has had his share of struggles since joining the Tigers, but came up big with a dominant performance in the season finale to secure the AL Central.  Justin Verlander has had a rough year, but has been known to come up huge in the postseason.  With an emerging Rick Porcello set to round out the rotation, the Tigers are very confident heading into this series.

The Baltimore Orioles may not have three Cy Young winners on their roster, but their starting rotation has been solid all year.  The leader of the staff, Chris Tillman, will get the ball in Game One.  Tillman has had a breakout season with a 13-6 record and 3.34 ERA.  He had a rocky start to the season, but was fantastic after the all-star break, going 6-1 with a 2.33 ERA.  Rounding out the rotation is Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris.  Each of these three pitchers boasts double-digit win totals and an average ERA of about 3.50.

After a solid regular season, Baltimore’s rotation will now need to prove themselves in October.  Detroit’s starting staff has the postseason experience and that will be a major factor in the outcome of the ALDS.  Edge: Tigers

Bullpen

As many Tiger fans know by now, the bullpen has been a weakness for the team this season.  Detroit finished among the bottom three teams in the American League in ERA, WHIP, and BAA.  Closing games has also been an adventure for the majority of the season.  Joe Nathan has blown seven saves this year, but has improved slightly after the all-star break with 16 of 18 save opportunities converted.  The Tigers will also be able to turn to Anibal Sanchez out of the bullpen.  The former starter is coming off an injury and could play a critical role for the Tigers in October.

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  • Unlike the Tigers, the Orioles have been able to count on their bullpen this season.  Baltimore relievers were among the top three in ERA (3.10) and WHIP (1.16) in the AL.  The back-end of the bullpen has been terrific with former Tiger Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, and closer Zach Britton.  The trio has been lights out in late innings with all three pitchers sporting an ERA under 1.70 and a WHIP under 0.90.

    If Baltimore’s starting rotation is able to limit runs, they will be in a great position to turn things over to their bullpen.  The Orioles have been able to count on their relievers to get the job done and look to continue that trend in the ALDS.  Edge: Orioles

    Lineups

    The Tigers and Orioles both have offenses that were ranked in the top ten in all of baseball in runs scored, batting average, and slugging percentage.  The one area where the Tigers have an advantage is on base percentage.  Detroit was second in baseball with a .331 OBP, while Baltimore ranked 17th with a .311 OBP.  Let’s take a look at the key players who may be pivotal in the outcome of this series.

    Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman

    Victor Martinez

    (41) at bat against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Tigers ranked first in baseball in batting average and second in runs scored in the regular season.  Their offensive attack is led by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.  Cabrera has been red hot since the beginning of September, hitting .379 with eight home runs.  Victor Martinez is having a career year, leading baseball with a .974 OPS.  He is second in baseball with a .335 batting average and a .409 OBP.  The middle of the Tigers order has been deadly with the emergence of J.D. Martinez, a relative unknown at the beginning of the season.  Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter will be counted on to reach base and give the big guys a chance to drive-in some runs.

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  • Although the Orioles have been hit hard by injuries this season, their offense has performed quite well.  Baltimore belted 211 home runs this season, the best in all of baseball.  The Orioles were also third in baseball with a .422 team slugging percentage.  Nelson Cruz came back from a PED suspension in 2013 to lead baseball with 40 home runs this year.  Center fielder Adam Jones also had a great year, batting .281 with 29 home runs.  Other key contributors for the Orioles include outfielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Steve Pearce.  Markakis has been around for awhile, but Pearce has really emerged this year with a breakout season.

    The Orioles will be without the services of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado (injuries) and Chris Davis (PED suspension) for the ALDS.  The Orioles rely on their power to score runs, while the Tigers not only have power but also have more guys that reach base on a consistent basis.  Edge: Tigers

    Summary

    The Detroit Tigers have been here before.  They have gone into the last few postseasons without home field advantage, but came out on top in the ALDS each time.  The Tigers know what it takes to win in October, while the Orioles will be playing postseason baseball for the first time since their wild card season of 2012.  Will they thrive or crack under the pressure of playoff baseball?  Another key factor in the series will be Brad Ausmus.  Will the rookie manager ride his starting rotation to a series win?  More importantly, will he properly use the bullpen late in games?

    May 13, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) reacts as Victor Martinez (41) enters the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Tigers defeated the Orioles 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

    The Orioles will rely on an energized crowd that has been waiting for playoff baseball to come back to Camden Yards.  The Tigers have been in crazy environments the past couple years against Oakland and walked away with series wins.  The road success of the Tigers this year will also give them the extra confidence they need to win this year’s ALDS.

    This series will be a fun one to watch.  The Orioles have had a magical season, but do they have what it takes to beat an experienced team like the Tigers in October?  The Tigers have the superior starting rotation, lineup, and are battle tested in these types of games.  There will be some nail-biters in this year’s ALDS, but the Tigers will advance to the ALCS.

    Prediction – Tigers win the ALDS 3-2

    Let us know your predictions and how you see this series playing out.

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