5:37 PM EST, TBS – Line: Detroit -111
The American League Division Series kicks off today as the Baltimore Orioles host the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards. It’s been a magical season thus far for the Orioles (96-66), whom secured their first American League East Title since 1997, despite a number of injuries and suspensions. Buck Showalter has done a masterful job of building this young team, which has now advanced to the postseason for the second time in the past three years, which is something that the franchise hasn’t done since the 1980’s. Filling the void left by the aging Yankees and the crumbling Red Sox, the O’s won the division by a remarkable twelve games, on the strength of one of the most powerful lineups in the Majors and arguably the best Bullpen left in the Playoffs; in 2014 they jacked a MLB-best 211 home runs, while the Bullpen registered a league-best 53 saves. However, at some point one would have to figure they will succumb to attrition, after season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters , coupled with the abrupt 25-game suspension of Chris Davis for testing positive for amphetamines. Together those three players accounted for 53 home runs and 122 RBIs, yet this resilient team has continued to find a way to plug the holes left by their fallen stars.
For example, Rookie Catcher Caleb Joseph was called up from the Minors to replace Wieters, and has for all intents and purposes performed admirably; the 28-year old batted .209 with nine homers, nine doubles, and 28 RBIs, all the while proving to be solid behind the plate with the highest Caught Stealing Percentage (40.0%) in the league. Showalter has also gotten plenty of mileage from a trio of utility men; Steve Pearce has played all over the place, settling into Davis’ place in the lineup, batting .293 with 21 home runs and 49 RBIs, while Delmon Young and Ryan Flaherty have combined for fourteen homers and 62 RBIs, batting .302 and .221 respectively. However, as is oftentimes the case, postseason success can be attributed to starting pitching, which will dictate just how far these birds fly. While nowhere near an heralded as the rotation they will be facing in this five-game series, Baltimore does boast a group of quality arms. Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA) was an easy choice for Showalter, after the young right-hander led the O’s in Innings Pitched (207.1) and Strikeouts (150). Today’s start, marks Tillman’s first voyage into the Playoffs, and you can expect that Showalter will be prepared to turn to his Bullpen if things go awry; relievers Zach Britton (1.65 ERA, 37 Saves), Andrew Miller (1.35 ERA, 1 Save), Darren O’Day (1.70 ERA, 4 Saves), and Tommy Hunter (2.97 ERA, 11 Saves) comprise a deep Bullpen that figures to receive plenty of work in the postseason.
Meanwhile, if you’re Brad Ausmus and you’re looking at your rotation heading into the ALDS, the question becomes which Cy Young-winner do you turn to in Game One? The Tigers (90-72) may have stumbled after the All-Star Break, but they still possess the requisite pitching to make another long run through the Playoffs. So, does he select Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54 ERA), the 2011 award-winner, whom rediscovered his stuff late this season to win five of his final seven starts? Or how about David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA), 2012’s winner whom Detroit acquired midseason who led the American League in Innings Pitched (248.1), Strikeouts (271), and fewest hits allowed (230)? With that said, neither ace will get the nod today, as Max Sherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) will see his number called to face the most powerful lineup in the Majors. Sherzer, last year’s Cy Young-winner, led the Tigers’ staff in Wins (18), ERA (3.15), Starts (33), and Strikeouts per Nine Innings (10.3), while yielding it’s fewest Hits per Nine Innings (8.0) this season. Ausmus’ club has won eight of the last nine games in which the big right-hander started, including five straight. However, Sherzer hasn’t faced the Orioles since 2013, but he is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in six career starts against them with 45 strikeouts and just nine walks over 39.0 innings of work.
However, a potential problem could be the Bullpen, which has paled in comparison to their cohorts in the rotation. If Baltimore’s relievers can be described as stellar, one would have to call this group sketchy at best; the duo of Joe Nathan (4.81 ERA, 35 Saves) and Joba Chamberlain (3.57 ERA, 2 Saves), hasn’t quite performed to standard, with the former posting a 5-4 record and seven blown saves, while the latter has gone 2-5 with four saves blown. Nathan has struggled in 2013, owning a 1.534 WHIP, allowing an average of 9.3 Hits per Nine Innings, 4.5 Walks per Nine Innings, and a poor 1.86 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. With that said, the former Twins’ Closer has regained some confidence of late; Nathan has earned a Save in six of his last eight appearances, blowing one while earning a win on the other two. Given the uncertainty on the back-end, Ausmus will count on his own prolific offense to provide a sizable cushion for his arms; Detroit ranked first in the American League in Batting Average (.277), Hits (1,557), Doubles (325), On-Base Percentage (.331), Slugging Percentage (.426), and OPS (757), while finishing fourth in Home Runs (106). One through nine, these guys can rake, with DH Victor Martinez jacking a career-high 32 home runs, J.D. Martinez tagging 23 homers and 30 doubles, and reigning two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera batting .313 with 52 doubles, 25 homers, and 109 RBIs. Cabrera, in particular has been deadly against the Orioles, batting .391 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs in 51 career meetings.