Friday, October 3, 2014

ALDS: Orioles exploit Tigers’ weaknesses in Game 1

It’s just one game in a best-of-five series, but the Baltimore Orioles put the Detroit Tigers on alert Thursday with a 12-3 thumping before 47,872 fans at Camden Yards.

This wasn’t just about a Tigers bullpen that’s been struggling all season, but about teams going in very different directions since the All-Star break.

Let’s be honest, the Tigers have not played superior baseball in months. Their vaunted rotation has been victimized by defense and luck while their bullpen is atrocious. The offense has been their saving grace.

The Orioles?

Well, they traveled a very smooth road to the postseason by dismantling a humbled American League East division. They lost Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis. It didn’t matter. They do not have a single pitcher on the roster who anyone outside Baltimore contends is a one of the best in the game. Yet, they won -- a lot -- 96 games.

Yesterday, they trampled over Max Scherzer, smashing two homers in the process. While Scherzer had a stretch where he retired 11 straight, he couldn’t get through the eighth inning. The Detroit bullpen had a hard time getting through the eighth inning.

A tight 4-3 game turned into a laugher. Here’s the line for Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria and Phil Coke – 0.2 IP, 7 R (6 ER), 5 H, 2 BB, 0 K. In all the Orioles scored eight runs in the eighth and it felt they’d have to invoke the mercy rule before it would end.

The Tigers are obviously a good team, and they could surely still win this series. The problem is the bullpen is not all of the sudden going to figure things out. They had a 4.29 ERA (4.09 FIP) for the season. It was even worse after the All-Star break -- 4.33 ERA (4.47 FIP). Detroit will need their rotation to carry the load and while they have marquee names it’s not going to be simple.

After the All-Star break Detroit’s rotation had a 3.95 ERA (though a 2.98 FIP says they weren’t helped by the defense or luck) with batters hitting .262 against them. They went 26-27.

So the Tigers’ offense is going to have to score runs in bunches. They are certainly capable of doing this (their #2 regular season ranking in runs across MLB and three solo homers in Game 1 can attest), but it might not happen against the Orioles.

For the second half of the season, Baltimore’s entire pitching staff compiled an MLB-best 2.88 ERA (3.46 FIP) to finish out the regular season 44-24. They held opposing batters to a .226 average during the span. The Orioles bullpen is the antithesis to the Tigers, posting a 3.10 ERA (3.55 FIP) for the entire season.

Yesterday, even with the homers allowed, the Orioles were able to keep runners off the bases ahead of them. The pen worked four innings allowing just one run.

I’m stubbornly sticking by my preseason selection of the Tigers to reach the ALCS, but something has to change and quick or it’s the Orioles who will be moving on.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Orioles logo courtesy of

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In.