DETROIT - Now that we know the Orioles’ starter for Game 3 of the American League Division Series, we can start playing around with the lineup that will face Tigers left-hander David Price.
It appears that Ryan Flaherty will make another start at third base despite the presence of a southpaw on the mound. Manager Buck Showalter trusts Flaherty’s defense. Also, left-handers are batting .258 against Price this season and right-handers are hitting .234.
Flaherty batted .288 in September and he contributed an RBI single in the eighth inning in Game 1 of the ALDS, but the Orioles are more dependent on his glovework. The offense is a bonus.
Orioles third basemen committed seven errors in the final 10 games of the regular season, a glitch that raised concerns among fans, but didn’t rattle the players.
“It was definitely a sloppy 10-day to two-week stretch there with the defense, especially over there at third, but try to clean it up,” Flaherty said. “Obviously, this organization puts a lot of emphasis on defense and in the postseason, defense is huge, so you’ve got to try to make plays.
“You can’t really put your finger on exactly what it is when something like that is going on. Just bear down on it, pay attention to details and take care of it, because in the postseason, defense definitely helps win games.”
Flaherty made a sensational diving stop to his left yesterday on a Miguel Cabrera grounder and threw to second to start a double play. Shortstop J.J. Hardy dived behind Flaherty, uncertain whether he’d get to the ball.
“I didn’t even know it happened,” Flaherty said. “He mentioned something about it the next inning. Maybe he assumed I didn’t have very much range. It was kind of funny watching us both diving for the ball.
“It was kind of weird because I was just trying to get an out, but I think Jonathan’s arm combined with, Miguel’s not in there for his speed, the combination of both of those got it done.”
Showalter clearly had become agitated with the defensive lapses down the stretch, but he also considered how the Orioles were resting some of the regulars.
“I think we’ve said all along that, without trying to throw anybody under the bus, you’ve got to look at who’s making them,” he said, adding that a few errors could have been prevented if the first baseman had been able to handle the throws. “There was also the turf. And there’s a lot of anxiety.
“Those guys all knew what was going on, whether it be (Jimmy) Paredes, whether it be Kelly (Johnson). They know what’s going on about the evaluation. You get into this, there’s more of a kind of (exhales). You can relax a little bit. You can want something too much.
“Chris Davis, we were trading a lot of texts last night and we were talking about that.”
As I wrote previously, Davis is headed back to Sarasota on Sunday and will play in the final two instructional league games. He’s served 19 games of his 25-game suspension.
The Orioles will consider keeping a spot open for Davis on their ALCS roster if they advance, but they’d rather not play a man short for an extended period. He would have five games remaining on his suspension if the Orioles sweep the Tigers.
“Well, if we don’t win one more game against Detroit, nothing is going to come next,” Showalter said. “That’s something we will turn our attention to if and when his days are up. Right now, we’re focused on trying to figure out a way to win another game from these guys, and that’s going to be enough to take up our full plate.
“I talk with Chris as often as possible. We’ve admitted that texting is talking, right? So, we were texting last night. He’s engaged in every pitch.”
Going back to the Game 3 lineup, I’d also expect Nick Hundley to get another start behind the plate. Jonathan Schoop will remain at second base, and Showalter most likely will put Nelson Cruz in left field and use Delmon Young as his designated hitter.
Young is 5-for-16 (.313) with a double and home run against Price. Cruz is 10-for-28 (.357) with a double and three home runs, Hardy is 12-for-36 (.333) with five doubles and Steve Pearce is 4-for-12 (.333) with a home run.
The Orioles bullpen is rested and dominant. The Tigers might be able to sell its fans on the rested part, but that’s it.
Showalter was asked whether the bullpen takes on greater importance in the playoffs, considering that the Orioles and Royals hold 2-0 advantages in their respective series.
“No, I think it’s obviously very important during the season. It’s been a strength for us,” Showalter said.
“I think the thing that allows you to be consistently competitive is starting pitching, because if guys are spitting the bit in the third, fourth inning for multiple times during a stretch, it’s hard to keep a bullpen healthy and put them in a situation that best suits their skills.
“It’s hard to say. One doesn’t happen without the other. It really doesn’t. I’ve said many times it’s the greatest team game ever invented because you can score enough to overcome something or defend well enough to overcome something. Defend the bases enough, that might make a difference. But over the season, consistency has to come from starting pitching. That’s kind of where it starts. But I know there is a mentality with making runs matter, and on a given night when you don’t score many runs against a good pitcher and your bullpen can make that stand up, there is a real mental... It’s a good feeling to a clubhouse when you feel you’ve got that dynamic, too.”
Showalter wanted no part of a question pertaining to the Tigers bullpen struggles.
“No, no, I’m not going to reflect on somebody else’s abilities or what have you,” he said. “They won the American League Central and they did some really good things with all their players.
“I said before when this thing is over, the team that wins is going to have weaknesses and teams that are eliminated are going to have strengths. But it’s a cold world this time of year. I don’t care who starts for anybody. If he pitches nine innings, you’re probably going to lose. And pitch counts this time of year, if we can get this guy to X‑number of pitches, you know, it’s about...
“Brad (Ausmus) and their pitching people do a great job of monitoring and looking at things. That’s the reason why their people stayed healthy for so long.”
Showalter was asked what will be the toughest part about getting their third win in this short series.
“Many things. It’s hard to pinpoint one,” he replied.
“One, their pitching. It’s like I talked to you all in September, that September is an eternity. Trying to close out a good season is a real challenge and nothing is handed to you this time of year and we know that.
“The only thing that we’ve gained is we know there is going to be another game played in Baltimore. That’s it. We think it’s a given that we’re going to have a real challenge to win another game, and I think our guys respect how hard this is to do.”
The Orioles aren’t letting up simply because they won the first two games at home.
“We’re just going to go out there and play our game, continue to play the same ball we’ve been playing all year,” Pearce said. “We’re just going to go out there and try our hardest.
“We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas pedal. They’re a good team and we don’t want to let them back in it.”
The Orioles no longer feel the warmth of their fans or anything else related to heat, with temperatures here down into the 40s.
“That’s why we’re practicing today,” he said. “It’s cold out there and it’s windy. It will be nice to get this day under our belt.”
Players loved the crowd’s enthusiasm during the first two games, especially the thunderous ovation yesterday that followed Young’s base-clearing double in the eighth.
“That crowd was electric,” Pearce said. “When they got into it, you could almost see it in the opponent’s faces that it was getting to them a little bit.”
It’s the Tigers’ turn to crank up the volume.
“It’s going to be a challenge because they’re a good team and they’re going to have a big crowd also,” Pearce said. “We’re going to have to find a way to overcome it.”
The Orioles went 46-35 on the road this season. They can survive without the home cooking.
“We just have a resiliency,” Pearce said. “When we’ve lost a game, we come back and we win a game. It’s been like that all year. It’s almost like we play better in situations that don’t favor us. We’ve been playing good against better pitchers and we’ve been play a lot better on the road, too.”