The numbers – at least some of them – suggested the Tigers would win Game 2. Justin Verlander was on the mound with a record of 7-0 and a 2.84 ERA in eight starts at Camden Yards. His record in seven ALDS starts was 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA. Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen had a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against Detroit and had never pitched in the postseason.
There was also perception. While not without flaws, the Tigers are a superstar-laden club capable of turning it on at any time. The Orioles – you know the refrain by now – aren’t as good as their record and destined to fall to earth.
Of course, this is baseball. Verlander out-pitched Chen, but the story often goes well beyond the starting pitchers. And while Detroit’s all-too-predictable bullpen implosion is going to get the most ink, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that a resilient team was once again resilient. This game wasn’t only about the Tigers losing.
I wrote it last night and it bears repeating: The Orioles are good. This is not a statement based on a two-game sample, nor is it bandwagon jumping. I predicted a postseason berth for Buck Showalter’s team in March and they certainly held up their end of the bargain. The team no one seems to respect is now 98-66.
According to writers covering the ALDS, Orioles fans aren’t off base in complaining their team doesn’t get the credit they deserve. Everyone I queried was in accord with that belief. Lack of star power, particularly in the starting rotation, was a common theme. Also mentioned was market. Baltimore isn’t Boston or New York.
As for projections and how the Orioles got to this point – one win from the ALCS – allow me to say something atypical of a FanGraphs article:
Fans who see this team on a daily basis might understand them better than many analysts do. Buck Showalter certainly does. That’s not meant as an indictment of analytics, it’s just that… well, this is baseball and some things are harder to quantify than others. Maybe the best explanation is that the Orioles aren’t what they’re supposed to be. They are what they are.
Following today’s game I ventured into the Tigers clubhouse to ask about the lack of respect the Orioles are getting on a national level. To say they have a different perception than the masses – especially the media masses – would be an understatement.
The first player I approached was Ian Kinsler, who initially said he had no idea why the Orioles don’t get more credit. When I related to him that one theory is a lack of stars, he was almost incredulous.
“Their lack of stars? That’s an interesting opinion,” Kinsler said, punctuating his response with a laugh.“Don’t you think they have great players?” When I told him I feel they do, but some don’t, he opened up with both barrels.
“Media dictates everything,” opined Kinsler. “In that division there’s the Yankees and there’s Boston, and Tampa is always the media darling – they think they’re the gift to baseball or something – so the Orioles get overlooked. That’s the case for a lot of teams. They’re good. They’re a postseason team that won the East and they played well today. We played well today too, they just had a big inning.”
Max Scherzer had the same initial response, and a similar follow-up. “I have no idea,” said Scherzer. “That’s the national media and I don’t control the media and what people think. They’re a good team. They’re solid all the way through. I don’t know if there’s a way to quantify that or not – having a complete team – but they’re tough. Regardless of how they go about doing it, they’re one of those clubs.”
“From a player’s perspective, we don’t think that,” Joba Chamberlain told me. “We know what kind of lineup they have. I think maybe people perceive their starting staff as not really having a huge name, but they have some guys who throw the ball really well from top to bottom. As players, and as a team, we don’t perceive them that way. They’ve had a lot of guys step up in big situations. They’re good.”
David Price, who will start for the Tigers in Game 3, was asked on Wednesday about the Orioles’ aggressiveness with the bat. On the heels of two tough losses – Delmon Young’s first pitch game-winning double is notable from a strategic standpoint – here is a look back at what Price said:
“With a team that scores runs at the high rate they do with home runs, that can open doors for a lot of other stuff. It takes kind of a big swing to hit a home run, If you can execute your pitch, that can definitely play in your favor.”
Execution. Right now, the Tigers simply don’t have anyone in the bullpen who can do that, at least with any kind of consistency. Young didn’t leave the yard, but his hit was as loud as a bomb. Joakim Soria, who made the fatal pitch, described it this way:
“One day you make a quality pitch and they hit it. One day you make a mistake and they hit a fly ball. That’s baseball. [Young] is a fastball hitter who will swing at the first pitch, and I threw him a slider. He was on it. It wasn’t that bad of a pitch – it was a low pitch – but he hit it well.”
In other words, Soria threw the right pitch – a slider to a first-pitch-fastball hitter – with the game on the line, and it was rifled into the left-field corner. It went exactly as scripted: The team that’s not supposed to keep winning won again.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.