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AL Division Series Preview: Orioles vs Tigers

October. The leaves change. The weather cools. Playoff baseball commences. 162 games have lead to these precious few moments. One series, one game, one single play can decide the next world champion of baseball.

Orioles vs Tigers

On Thursday, the Baltimore Orioles (96-66) and Detroit Tigers (90-72) will face off in the first game of the American League Division Series in Camden Yards in Baltimore. The Tigers held off a late-season surge by the Kansas City Royals to win the American League Central Division title. The Orioles benefited from down years on the parts of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox en route to capturing the AL East. So, who has the edge in the ALDS? Let’s find out.

Neither team has set a starting lineup yet, but Detroit will probably roll with something like this: 1. 2B Ian Kinsler; 2. RF Torii Hunter; 3. 1B Miguel Cabrera; 4. DH Victor Martinez; 5. LF J.D. Martinez; 6. 3B Nick Castellanos; 7. C Alex Avila; 8. CF Rajai Davis; 9. SS Andrew Romine.

The Orioles lineup, once decided, should feature RF Nick Markakis leading off, followed, in order, by LF Alejandro De Aza, CF Adam Jones, DH Nelson Cruz, 1B Steve Pearce, SS J.J. Hardy, 3B Ryan Flaherty, 2B Jonathan Schoop, and C Caleb Joseph.


The Tigers are just three wins away from advancing to their fourth-consecutive American League Championship Series, and have enough juice in their bats to get them their. First baseman Miguel Cabrera led the majors in doubles with 52, and put up a slash line of .313/.371/.524. He’s also had a successful postseason career, collecting hits in 10 of 11 playoff games last year. Against Baltimore’s game one starter, Chirs Tillman, Cabrera has a career .385 batting average with a home run and four runs batted in. At second base, Ian Kinsler finished in the top five in the American League in runs scored, hits, and doubles. In 34 career postseason starts, he owns a .311 average. As if that weren’t enough, designated hitter Victor Martinez is entering the playoffs riding the wake of the best offensive season of his career. He lead all of baseball with a .974 OPS and lead the AL with a .409 on-base percentage. What makes the Tigers most dangerous is that those three do not have to carry the offense on their own; as a team, the Tigers led the American League in slugging percentage (.426) and OPS (.757).

The Orioles are no slouches with the bat, either. Nelson Cruz lead baseball with 40 home runs, and finished third in the AL with 108 RBI. The Orioles topped the majors with 211 home runs, finished third overall in slugging percentage (.422), and tied for the fifth-best OPS (.734). Still, it would appear that the Tigers have the advantage on offense. With few, if any soft spots in Detroit’s lineup, the Orioles’ pitchers can afford few mistakes if they intend to keep these upcoming games close


Max Scherzer will take the mound in game one for Detroit. He is 3-1 with a 3.92 earned run average in his career against Baltimore. Led by a trio of former Cy Young Award winners who also have post season experience – Justin Verlander, Scherzer, and David Price – the Tigers also would seem to have an advantage over the O’s when it comes to pitching. However, the Orioles put up the sixth-best team ERA (.343), while the Tigers finished 24th (.408) in that category, and while Cabrera has had success against the O’s game one starter, overall Tillman is 3-0 with a 3.58 ERA lifetime against the Tigers. The low team ERA is likely due in large part to the O’s outstanding bullpen, an area which gives them a clear advantage over the tigers. With closer Zach Britton, right-hander Darren O’Day, and lefty Andrew Miller, the Orioles will be in a good position to win if they can take a narrow lead late into the late innings of a game. Detroit’s bullpen, on the other hand, is a serious weakness. The Tigers’ relievers finished in the bottom three in the AL in ERA, WHIP, and batting average against.


If these games do come down to the late innings, they could very easily be decided by which team makes fewer mistakes in the field, or, more likely, which team makes a mistake first, and Baltimore would undoubtedly have the advantage. The O’s finished third in the AL in team fielding percentage and defensive efficiency rating. Detroit, on the other had, finished ninth in fielding percentage and 13th in DER. Detroit also allowed 111 stolen bases, the most in the AL, while the Orioles allowed the fourth fewest steals. However, the Orioles do not run very often. Left fielder David Lough led the team with just eight. Look for Baltimore to run more in this series.


If the Tigers are going to move on, they will have to rely on their starting pitching to hold Cruz and the Orioles in check and on their hitters to get to Baltimore’s starters early and often. If the Orioles are able to keep the score close late into games, their relievers will keep it that way, while Detroit’s biggest liabilities, its bullpen and defense, will be forced to play larger roles than the Tigers would probably like. I think Baltimore finds a way to keep three games close enough to win late, and takes the series in five. The first pitch of game one of the AL Division Series is set for Thursday at 5:37 pm.


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photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc


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