BALTIMORE (AP) — The Detroit Tigers’ starting pitchers in the first three games of the AL Division Series have a combined 329 wins, three Cy Young Awards and 35 games of postseason experience.
Baltimore’s starters carry less impressive credentials, yet they don’t necessarily have to outpitch their Detroit counterparts for the Orioles to advance.
All they have to do is keep it close, then hand the baseball over to one of the best bullpens in major leagues.
Detroit (90-72) didn’t win as many games as the Orioles (96-66), who ran away with the AL East title to earn home-field advantage in the best-of-five series that begins Thursday. But the AL Central-champion Tigers have been installed as a slight favorite — mainly because of their formidable starting rotation.
Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) starts on Thursday, followed by Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54) and David Price (15-12, 3.26). That also happens to be a list of the last three AL Cy Young winners.
“I think we all know what it looks like on paper,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday. “But there’s a lot of things that look a certain way on paper for us that we were able to overcome.”
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA) will make his first foray into the postseason in the opener. Although Showalter declined the announced his starters for Friday and Sunday, they will likely be Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54) and Miguel Gonzalez (10-9, 3.23), each of whom has pitched in exactly one playoff game.
If playoff experience and Cy Young Awards mean anything, then Detroit has a decent chance to reach the AL Championship Series for a fourth straight year.
“Pitching. That’s what wins ballgames,” Price said. “If we put up zeroes early, that kind of gives our offense a chance to kind of settle into the game. They know they don’t have to put up a three- or four-spot because we’re down.”
But if a game is close in the seventh inning, the Orioles like their chances.
“We’ve got a good bullpen, we have a good starting staff,” said closer Zach Britton, who finished with 37 saves. “Anytime there’s a close game, we’re confident we can pull it out, and we’ve done that a lot this year.”
Britton (1.65 ERA) usually works the ninth inning. Andrew Miller (1.35 ERA in 23 games with Baltimore) or Darren O’Day (1.70) take care of the eighth, following hard-throwing Tommy Hunter.
Back in May, when Detroit last played the Orioles, Hunter (3-2, 2.97 ERA) was the closer and Miller was still pitching for Boston.
Much has changed.
“Britton has really established himself since we last saw Baltimore. He’s one of the best closers in the game,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “They acquired Andrew Miller, who obviously had a track record coming in. And now you’ve got a closer who can pitch the sixth or seventh inning. That’s not a bad position to be in if you’re the Orioles. Their bullpen has done a good job, and that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful.”
Ausmus has been calling upon Joba Chamberlain to work the eighth and Joe Nathan to get the final three outs. The duo experienced mixed results during the regular season — Chamberlain was 2-5 with four blown saves and a 3.57 ERA, and Nathan finished 5-4 with seven blown saves and a lofty 4.81 ERA.
“Britton, from what I’ve seen, his ball’s moving all over the place,” Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. “They’ve got a nice little bullpen over there. We’ve seen some dirty pitching (in the AL Central), so I don’t think it will be new, but it will be tough. Those guys are good.”
Scherzer, meanwhile, hasn’t faced the Orioles since June 17, 2013. He knows this much: Baltimore led the majors with 211 home runs, so the right-hander had better be careful.
“A team that swings the bat like that, they’re dangerous,” he said. “They’re dangerous one through nine. That’s something I know going into the start. They need to have a good game plan against me and I need to have a good game plan against them.”
In other news, Ausmus declined to name his 25-man roster in part because of the status of injured outfielder Rajai Davis, who has pelvic strain.
“Rajai came in today, felt much better, but we’ve got to get past the point of his making some baseball moves in terms of running, exploding out of the box and taking swings, which he hasn’t done yet,” said Ausmus, who has until 10 a.m. Thursday to make his final decision.