Orioles’ Talk: Weekly Roundtable
Every week, the Orioles analysts here at Baltimore Sports and Life will collaborate with a special guest from network partner at 24×7 Networks – Eutaw Street Report. We’ll have a Q&A roundtable discussion on a variety of topics around the O’s and MLB in general. This week, Matt Sroka joins BSL Analysts Chris Stoner, Patrick Dougherty, and Jeff Long.
Discuss this post and your responses on the BSL Forums here.
*Note: These questions assume Detroit wins the AL Central (they’re currently 1 game up on Kansas City). Technically speaking, KC still has a 14.1% chance to win the division and face the O’s.
Q1. The O’s are set to face the Tigers in the ALDS with the possibility for 3 games at Camden Yards. Which Oriole and which Tiger do you think will be the X-factor in the series for their respective teams?
Chris Stoner: JD Martinez has provided depth to the Tigers lineup. The 27 year old LF, posting a .928 OPS here in his Rookie year. While I was tempted to call him Detroit’s X-Factor, I’ll go with veteran 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler. My rationale being that Kinsler often leads off for the Tigers, despite his anemic .305 on-base %. (Which is something the Tigers can live with, since they lead MLB in on-base %.) The O’s will need to keep runners off-base in-front of the heart of the Detroit lineup.
I guess I’ll use similar logic with the O’s, and select Markakis as the Baltimore X-factor. After the several days of rest, it was good to see Nick show some life vs. the Yankees. Markakis posted a .746 OPS before the All-Star break, and a .683 OPS after. Having been injured on the hit-by-pitch by Sabathia, Markakis did not get the opportunity to participate in the 2012 Post-Season. Markakis will get his first taste of October baseball after 1,360+ games and 5,300+ ab’s in an Oriole uniform. Here’s to hoping he makes the most of it.
Patrick Dougherty: When I hear X-factor, I think of someone other than the usual suspects of Jones, Pearce, and Cruz. It has to be someone under the radar, someone people aren’t expecting. Someone divisive that can be a part of a good redemption/acceptance story when they change the course of the series. Someone I’ve written about. Someone… someone like Ryan Flaherty or David Lough! Both lefties against a righty-heavy rotation, both with extra base ability (one through power and the other through speed), both great defensively, and both maligned and overlooked. By the way, Comerica Park is 330 ft. down the right field line and each of Flaherty’s and Lough’s home runs this season would have been easily in the seats there.
That’s right, I’m doubling down on my preseason predictions so that if I win, I win big.
By the way, Flaherty hit the Orioles’ first postseason home run since 1997 and is the only active player on the 2014 postseason roster with a postseason home run in an Orioles uniform. Hooray for facts with qualifiers!
Matt Sroka: I’m doing my best to not write Delmon Young for my answer, as I keep on having flashbacks to Young in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers. Unfortunately for Young, he probably won’t have enough at bats to be considered an x-factor for this series. Of course, the right answer here is Nelson Cruz. Nelson Cruz’s numbers vs. David Price: seven hits in 19 at bats (avg. of .368) including 2 homeruns and 4 RBI. Pretty good numbers but it gets better. Against Max Scherzer Cruz is hitting .381 with a homerun and 4 RBI (over 21 plate appearances). So yeah, I’ll go with the most valuable Oriole to keep on doing his thing vs. the Tigers.
With less research, I’m taking Victor Martinez to be the x-factor for the Tigers. I expect Martinez to constantly be on base but rarely scoring. Okay, here’s a little research: Martinez gets on base .409 percent of the time, good enough for tops in all of baseball, but he’s only scored 87 times good enough for 21st in baseball. So look for Martinez to get on base a lot, but like a college version of me, look for him to have trouble getting past second base.
Jeff Long: I think for the O’s the X-factor is going to be Chris Tillman. He’s being asked to go up against Max Scherzer, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Tillman could pitch twice in this series matched up against Scherzer, and the O’s will be relying on him to keep the club in the game so the O’s can leverage their advantage in the bullpen. If Tillman can do his job well enough that the O’s can win game 1, they’ll have an enormous advantage in the series.
For the Tigers, the X-factor to me is going to be Torii Hunter. Hunter is no longer the defensive wizard he once was with Minnesota (though advanced stats might suggest he was never really an elite defender) so his bat has carried him to being a slightly above replacement level player this season. The tigers will likely keep Hunter in the heart of their lineup and he’ll need to produce if they want a shot at winning this series.
Q2. The Orioles will almost assuredly run out a “Stars and Scrubs” lineup featuring Hardy, Jones, Markakis, and Cruz, and Pierce being accompanied by Johnson, Flaherty, Lough, and Joseph. Will the O’s be able to generate enough offense to beat a terrific Detroit rotation with several guys expected to play bench roles coming into 2014 as starters?
CS: Heading into the last days of the regular season, the Orioles are 6th overall in runs scored (3rd in Slugging %, 16th in On-base %). They cannot change who they are. It would be nice to be entering the ALDS with Machado, Wieters, and Davis; but those guys are not walking through the door. It would be nice if they walked at a higher-rate, but the power is legitimate. They’ve outscored their opposition by 90 runs over the last 64 games entering play tonight (9/25).
Showalter continues to use the phrase ‘Grind it out.’ That mind-set should help the Birds in the ALDS. We talked above about X-Factor’s as players, but an X-Factor for the series is will the O’s be able to get to Detroit bullpen leading, or with the game at-least tied. If the O’s can be even with Detroit for the first 5 or 6 innings, Baltimore will be good shape.
I also note that Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh posted an article today on ‘Playoff Myths to Ignore.’ One such myth identified was ‘In the land of decreased scoring, small ball is king.’ This partly addresses the worry I’ve had about how the O’s offense might fare against better pitching, if the homers are not flying, if the homers are not flying at the same rate they have in the regular season. Ultimately the bottom-line is the Orioles will need a group of different players to step-up, like has consistently happened during this year.
PD: Unequivocally yes. A few months ago, Pearce would have been part of the scrubs list! This team gets contributions from everywhere, offensively and defensively. I’m already saying Flaherty and Lough will be X-factors. The O’s are scoring runs at a torrid pace right now, and Detroit’s starters are beatable. The Orioles are 95-63 for a reason, and they prove it in this series.
MS: If you asked me this question at the beginning of the season, I would say it looked bleak for the Orioles. However, despite what the analysts say, and despite what it looks like on paper, the Orioles have trotted out less the ideal lineups all year but have continued to win. Moreover, the Orioles do not need to generate much offense with their significantly improved starting pitching and a bullpen that has shortened the game to six innings. The answer to the above question is an unequivocal yes.
JL: The O’s power-heavy offense went from putting up 4.4 runs per game in the 2012 regular season to just 2 runs per game in the 2012 ALDS. The Yankees scored 6 more runs than the O’s largely because they got on base via walks nearly twice as often. Scoring goes down in the playoffs so base runners are even more precious than ever before.
Ben Lindbergh’s research about run production from power-hitting teams going down less than small ball teams is promising, but I’m still concerned about the O’s ability to get on base enough to do damage during a 5-game series. This season’s O’s have only a marginally better (.312) OBP than the 2012 O’s (.311) OBP. It’ll take more than solo home runs to beat a stacked Tigers squad that’s underachieved for much of the season.
All that said, the O’s offense has found ways to get it done throughout the course of the season despite a variety of hurdles they’ve had to clear. It’ll take guys like Kelly Johnson, Delmon Young, and Alejandro De Aza stepping up though.
Q3. The last time the O’s played in the ALDS, the Birds and the Yankees combined to score just 5.2 runs per game. Do you expect another low-scoring series, this time against Detroit? Or do you think that offense will prevail despite the pitching matchups?
CS: The further we get from baseball’s steroid era, we increasingly see offense across the game becoming more scarce. So, just in a general sense, we might have reason to see another low-scoring series. Further to that, the pitching improves in the Post-Season, and the importance of each game increases (forcing a higher impetus of playing for today) as well. Those seem like logical reasons to expect reduced offense. On the other-hand, this ALDS will feature two of the top 6 run scoring offenses in baseball, and we’re talking about a short Best-of-Five series. One breakout game from either offense could skew the numbers.
PD: I’m going to make a prediction grounded in very little reality just like I did before 2012’s postseason (I can’t find the tweet but I said the Orioles would beat the Rangers without hitting a HR): the Orioles blow this series out. I think the offense puts runs on the board and the starters keep the Tigers’ bats in check. In 2 of the 3 necessary wins to move on, it’s not even a save situation.
MS: With Detroit’s excellent rotation and Baltimore’s excellent rotation (yes, I put the Orioles starting rotation on the same level as the Tigers) I certainly expect this to be a low scoring series. The Orioles of course will try to take advantage of the Tigers inept bullpen late in the game whereas the Tigers will try to score early before having to face the trio of Miller, O’Day, and Britton.
JL: As I mentioned before, the 2012 ALDS between the O’s and Yankees saw 26 runs scored between the two teams over 5 games. The other series that season, OAK vs. DET, saw 28 runs scored over 5 games. Last season offense in the ALDS was up slightly as Boston and Tampa scored 38 runs over 4 games and Detroit and Oakland combined to score 32 runs over 5 games.
I suspect that this series between the O’s and Tigers will see a little over 6 runs per game being scored, which puts you around 30-34 runs over 5 games, close to the pace set by Detroit and Oakland last season. Both teams have potentially potent offenses, and I think that the O’s starters and Tigers bullpen will end up surrendering some runs.
Q4. Chris Tillman has been named the Game 1 starter for the ALDS, and he’s been on quite the run over his past 20 starts or so. How much confidence do you have in Tillman to go up against Max Scherzer or David Price in the first game of the series?
CS: I’m quite comfortable with Tillman, and the rest of the O’s rotation to give the O’s a reasonable chance to win in each game. If you don’t go into this series expecting Tillman and the O’s starters to dominate, I think the only way one could be disappointed by them – is if one totally implodes early.
Based on what Tillman’s done over these last 20 starts, and particularly since the All-Star break; has me excited to see him take the ball in Game 1. I greatly appreciate his competitiveness. If I have any worry about Tillman, it’s just hoping he gets through the 1st unscathed. (Patrick Dougherty wrote about Tillman’s historical 1st inning struggles back in August.)
PD: Both Scherzer and Price have been proven mortal this season. They have famous names, but Tillman can pitch just as effectively as either of them (albeit not as efficiently). I like the matchup better against Scherzer because I think our offense would handle him better than they would Price, but I don’t see any reason why the Orioles would be worried about game 1.
MS: Max Scherzer and David Price are both better pitchers than Chris Tillman. This is a fact that’s hard to dispute. However, what is more important, reputation and past performance or current performance? I would venture to say that when trying to gauge how a pitcher will perform, recent performance is more significant than past performance. Since the all-star break David Price has been average with an ERA of 3.97. Scherzer has been better with an ERA of 2.97. However, both of these pitchers fall well short of Chris Tillman who’s pitched to an ERA of 2.06 over this time period. Post all-star break Tillman’s has a WHIP under one and is holding opposing batters to a .201 batting average. That’s silly good. Ask any somewhat knowledgeable fan who’s the better pitcher Tillman or Scherzer/ Price and they will all say (and maybe rightfully so) Scherzer or Price. However this year, with this team, call me a homer, but I’ll take Chris Tillman over Price and Scherzer. (And it doesn’t hurt that recent stats back me up on this opinion).
JL: I mentioned that Tillman will be an X-factor for the O’s, though I didn’t mention the level of confidence I have in him matching up against Detroit’s ace(s). From a true talent level perspective Tillman is a step behind both Price and Scherzer. I expect both Price and Scherzer to come out and be lights out in this series, with the O’s being lucky to score 3 runs off them in either of their starts.
That said, I do have faith in Tillman to go out and keep pace with the Tigers. I don’t think Tillman will look as dominant, but he’s adept at limiting damage, and can keep the O’s in the game. I suspect this series will see the O’s coming back from early leads late in games, though I don’t think the O’s will have too much of an uphill climb in front of them during Tillman’s starts.
Q5. Make your prediction for the ALDS. Which team wins, how many games, etc.
CS: The best team doesn’t always win in a 5 or 7 Game series. Detroit has enough going for it (strong offense, high-end starters) that it certainly should not shock anyone if the Tigers win. I do like the O’s to win in 4 though, with Baltimore’s advantages in the bullpen, and defensively proving to be the difference.
PD: O’s in 4. 1 save situation and 1 perfect inning from Britton. Baseball says, “wow,” after they see the Orioles steamroll the Tigers. I’m clearly incredibly bullish about this team in the postseason.
MS: Buck Showalter has me falling completely, hook, line, and sinker for this team. I know on paper some will argue that Baltimore should be the underdogs; these arguments are becoming quite familiar to me. I’ll take the Orioles motley infield and unappreciated starting pitching staff to supplement their stars at the plate and dominating bullpen. Give me the Orioles in 4 games.
JL: After three guys pick the O’s in four games, it seems obvious that Baltimore is pretty excited about the O’s prospects. I too will pick the O’s, but I’m taking 5 games for the series. While I will say that the O’s have a foot up on the Tigers going into this series, the margin is maybe 52-48 AT BEST, so it could easily fall either way. Expect a close series with a nail-biting finale in Camden Yards.
Jeff was the owner of the Orioles blog Warehouse Worthy, which focused on making advanced statistics a part of the conversation for the average fan. Outside of baseball, Jeff is a graduate of Loyola University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration. The Maryland native currently works for an Advertising Agency in downtown Baltimore. Previously a contributor to Beyond the Boxscore, he joined Baseball Prospectus in September 2014. You can reach him at [email protected]