The first pitch of Orioles postseason is just hours away. For me, like just about everyone in Birdland, it can't come soon enough. Who else has had trouble sleeping this week? It feels like forever since the O's took the field, even longer since they were at Camden Yards.
While the American League East champs have prepared for the Detroit Tigers to come to town, this nervous fan has spent days researching the Birds opponent from every possible angle. After reading thousands of words in preview columns, listening to hours of conversation on radio and podcasts about the matchup, and watching every clip the Internet has to offer about this game, I feel prepared to deliver my take. I'll break it down in this post in four different sections, starting pitching, bullpen, offense and defense.
Let's start with the rotations. This season, Tigers starters have pitched a 3.89 ERA (3.38 FIP) while the O's rotation has posted a 3.61 ERA (4.18 FIP). We'll get back to the ERA-FIP variation in a minute. Detroit's starters have recorded strikeouts a higher pace than the O's staff, and have been more effective limiting both walks and home runs. Both staffs have induced ground balls at about the same pace (40 percent for the Tigers, 42 percent for the O's).
It's easy to give the Tigers the advantage in this category, since they have the names and the postseason experience when it comes to their rotation. The first three starters the Orioles will face have won the last three Cy Young Awards in the American League. How scary is that? While their staff has performed better this season, the Orioles starters have certainly improved in the second half, with a 2.98 ERA (3.66 FIP) and stingy 0.88 home runs per nine innings. I'll still give the Tigers the edge here, but it's closer than some may think.
As far as bullpens go, the Orioles are the far superior club. The Tigers 'pen has an ERA of over a run more than the O's (4.29 to 3.10). Detroit's bullpen surrenders more walks than the Orioles and slightly more homers per nine. With the addition of Andrew Miller at the trade deadline, Baltimore has solidified one of the league's best 7-8-9 trios in baseball with Darren O'Day and Zach Britton. Meanwhile, closer Joe Nathan, who Detroit inked to a two-year, $20 million deal last winter, has blown seven saves and allowed over a base runner and a half per inning this season. Advantage: Birds.
The Orioles offense, as fans are all too familiar with hearing, is very dependent on the longball. Not only did Baltimore lead Major League Baseball with 211 homers (25 more than the second-place Colorado Rockies), but 47.80 percent of their runs scored this season came from the longball (the highest percentage of any club). Detroit on the other hand, led baseball in batting average during the regular season (.277) and was second in both on-base percentage .333 and slugging percentage (.445). While the narrative that homer-dependent ball clubs can't score in the postseason has been debunked, you still have to give the offensive advantage to Detroit.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend of the last couple weeks of the O's season was their declining defense at third base. Orioles third baseman committed seven errors in the last 10 games of the regular season. Compared to the Tigers, however, Baltimore's defensive woes are nothing. This is what has led to that difference in ERA and FIP that I mentioned above.
I dove deeply into the defensive metrics of both clubs and concluded that, according to defensive runs saved, the Tigers have just one fielder playing at a Gold Glove-caliber level, second baseman Ian Kinsler, while four positions classify as average or below average and two are awful. As a team, Detroit posted a minus-65 defensive runs saved this season, compared to the Orioles' plus-49. Only one Orioles projected starter has defended below average according to defensive runs saved, Alejandro De Aza in left field. Advantage: O's.
To me, the big X factor in this series is Buck Showalter, an experienced manager who knows how to take advantage of opponent's weaknesses, manage a pitching staff and, most importantly, has been in October before. Detroit on the other hand, has rookie skipper Brad Ausmus, who will be experiencing the postseason for the first time as a manager and is tasked with working around a below-average bullpen. A managerial move could be the difference between moving on the ALCS and going home.
Of course, everything changes in October. That's probably why I'm having such a hard time sleeping.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.