Friday, October 3, 2014
Naturally, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have other ideas, and both perceived underdogs threw a wrench in that plan Thursday with Game 1 victories in AL Division Series action.
The Orioles took advantage of Detroit's leaky defense and lousy bullpen by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking open a tight contest on their way to a 12-3 victory.
Meanwhile, third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Angels.
Baltimore's rotation: Better than we think?
Anyone else think the experts are underestimating the Orioles? They won 96 games this year. They must have done something right.
I keep hearing Detroit has an overpowering edge in starting pitching. I'll be honest: I disagree with that. Detroit's starting pitchers are all prominent media names, but they haven't necessarily pitched better than the guys in the Baltimore rotation throughout the season.
We saw today how things don't always go the way you might expect. Quite a few observers assumed Detroit ace Max Scherzer was going to own Baltimore's Game 1 starter, Chris Tillman.
That did not happen. Tillman only lasted five innings, but he allowed just two runs and left the mound with his team leading, 3-2. He ended up getting the win.
Scherzer took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 7.1 innings pitched.
Shocking? Not really.
Scherzer had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP this year. In comparison, Tillman had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure, you would have to give Scherzer the edge on paper in that matchup, but not decisively so.
The Game 2 matchup in this series is an interesting one. Detroit's Justin Verlander has the Cy Young awards and the playoff experience. He also has a puffy 4.54 ERA, his worst since the 2008 season. Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen is unfamiliar to casual fans, but don't underestimate him: He won 16 games this year and posted a 3.54 ERA -- a full run better than Verlander. It's hard to bet against Verlander in the playoffs, but his mound opponent is formidable. Game 2 is hardly a slam dunk for the Tigers.
Looking ahead to Game 3, Detroit will send David Price to the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. Again, Price has a Cy Young award and the playoff experience. But it's Gonzalez who posted the better ERA this year (3.23 to 3.26).
This isn't to say the Detroit starters won't ultimately outpitch the Baltimore starters over the course of this five-game series. They might. But keep this in mind: The Orioles have a great chance to win if their starters are good enough to keep the game close into the late innings.
Here's why: Baltimore has a nasty bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and his power 96 mph sinker totaled 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA this year. The Orioles have a outstanding lefty-righty combination setting him up. Midseason acquisition Andrew Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with the O's since coming over from Boston. Darren O'Day, the right-handed setup guy, posted a 1.70 ERA this season.
We saw all three of those relievers in Thursday's game. The Tigers found out they are pretty tough to beat.
Two of the relievers Detroit is counting on to work in high-leverage situations, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria, contributed to that eight-run eighth inning meltdown in this opening loss. You better believe the bullpen is a huge concern for the Tigers. Detroit's 4.29 bullpen ERA was third worst in the majors this year.
Yes, Detroit has a bit of an edge in starting pitching, primarily because of all that playoff experience among Scherzer, Verlander and Price. However, I don't believe it's a huge edge. If there's a huge edge in this series, it's the advantage the Baltimore bullpen enjoys over the Detroit relievers.
All the Oriole starters really need to do is keep it close into the late innings. That's what Tillman did Thursday. Baltimore got its desired result.
Can the Royals pull it off?
If you're looking for a reason to believe Kansas City can upset the 98-win Angels, here it is: Los Angeles has a starting pitching staff that is in disarray.
Jered Weaver is the Angels' lone reliable starter, and he pitched well in Game 1 on Thursday. However, Kansas City's Jason Vargas matched him. The game was tied, 2-2, when the starters left, and the Angels' bullpen blinked first with Moustakas hitting the home run off Fernando Salas.
Los Angeles has burned up its best starter and trails in the series. The Angels will be counting on rookie Matt Shoemaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15 due to an oblique strain, in Game 2. C.J. Wilson is in line to pitch Game 3 for Los Angeles. Wilson has had a terrible second half -- his ERA is 6.05 over his last 16 starts.
The Angels definitely miss ace Garrett Richards, who is gone for the year with a serious knee injury.
Kansas City has a shot if it can take advantage of the iffy Angels starters. The Royals are 65-4 when leading after six innings, so it could be tough for Los Angeles if its pitchers put them behind early in games.