2014 American League Division Series Preview: Detroit vs. Baltimore

We’ve made it to the American League Divisional round after one of the most exciting playoff games in recent memory. Now it’s time for the series that you probably care about the most, as the Orioles take on the Tigers. This preview will be the same general overview I provided for the Wild Card games. For a more detailed preview, head over to ESPN Sweetspot Network blogs for the Orioles (Camden Depot) and Tigers (Walkoff Woodward), where Pat Holden of Camden Depot and Grey Papke of Walkoff Woodward hold a Q&A with each other about the series.

Starting Pitching

While the Tigers have announced their starting pitchers for the series, the Orioles haven’t mentioned anything other than Chris Tillman starting Game 1. There have been rumors circulating for a couple of weeks now that the Orioles rotation will include Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez* in some order (and I’ve explained why I think using Gonzalez instead of Kevin Gausman would not be a good idea). So while the Baltimore rotation hasn’t been announced, I have no choice but to assume (never a good idea) that they’ll go with their best 4 starters.

Starters

EDGE: Detroit. Even with the absence of Anibal Sanchez from the playoff rotation, the Tigers still hold the edge in starting pitching, although it’s closer than it looks. The charts cover the entire season, so it doesn’t exactly capture how good the Orioles starters have been in the second half. Baltimore starters have been almost a run better than the Tigers staff in ERA since the All-Star break, although Detroit’s FIP advantage over that same time period is still a little more than a half a run.

Bullpens

Same rules as before. Top 3 relievers for each team (by fWAR).

Relievers

EDGE: Baltimore. As mentioned above, the Tigers will have Sanchez available in the bullpen, which helps, but it’s unknown how effective he’ll be after missing a month and a half due to a right chest strain. Additionally, he’s only seen relief duty twice in his major league career (with one of them being last week). Despite the presence of Sanchez, the Orioles hold a bullpen edge that’s even larger than the table indicates because of how Detroit uses their bullpen. Their best reliever, Joakim Soria (who’s actually been below replacement level with the Tigers) doesn’t typically pitch in high leverage situations, and Joe Nathan still gets the 9th inning, despite his 4.81 ERA.

Offense

Offense

EDGE: Detroit. There is no doubt that the Orioles have a good offensive team, but they can’t match Detroit. This could change slightly is Rajai Davis misses the series, as Ezequiel Carrera (his probable replacement) is a big step down offensively. Matt Perez had a good piece on Detroit’s offensive Four Headed Monster earlier this week on Camden Depot.

Baserunning

Baserunning

EDGE: Detroit. There’s nothing really to see here as baserunning shouldn’t really influence the outcome of this series.

Defense

Defense

EDGE: Baltimore, and the divide is big enough that it could play a major factor in how this series plays out.

Verdict

While Detroit has the edge in the majority of the categories I’ve listed above, the difference in the quality of Baltimore’s bullpen and defense compared to that of Detroit’s is so large that I think it leads the Orioles to the series victory. If the Orioles offense can wear down Detroit’s starting pitching and get to their bullpen early, they’ll have a good chance to do some damage. Similarly, if Baltimore can keep a lead through the first 5 or 6 innings, there may not be a better bullpen in baseball to hold it.

Additionally, Detroit’s defense has the potential to swing the outcome of the series, as just a little bit of good luck for the Orioles’ batters could spark some big innings, especially with the way they hit home runs. However, the Tigers can punish opposing pitching, so if the Orioles starters aren’t sharp, they may not even get to take advantage of their superior bullpen. One more aspect not mentioned above are the two managers involved. With respect to Brad Ausmus and Buck Showalter, the Orioles have an obvious advantage. How much managerial decisions affect a game’s outcome during the regular season can be limited, but it could be a factor during the postseason.

*DEFINITIONS: FIP, wRC+, UBR, wSB, DRS, UZR/150

*Editor’s Note: Following the completion of this write-up (but technically prior to posting, the Orioles announced that Kevin Gausman will pitch out of the bullpen during the ALDS.

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