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2014 ALDS: Orioles' offense will prove to be a stiff test for Tigers pitching

The Baltimore Orioles were one of baseball's most powerful offenses in 2014, leading the majors in home runs by a wide margin. Can they out-slug the Tigers in the ALDS?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

For the last few years, the Baltimore Orioles have been known for their offense's ability to change the game with one swing of the bat. They lead baseball with 637 home runs since the start of the 2012 season, nearly 80 more than second place Toronto, who have 560. The 2012 Orioles ranked second to the Yankees with 212 home runs, and had five different players with 20+ homers. Chris Davis led the majors with 53 home runs in 2013, the first Oriole to top the half-century mark since Brady Anderson in 1996. Adam Jones narrowly missed hitting 30 home runs three seasons in a row after slugging 29 bombs this year.

The 2014 season was no different for the swingin' O's, as they led baseball again with 211 home runs. They ranked third in baseball with a .422 slugging average, and sixth with a .323 wOBA. However, they are not the best team at getting runners on base in front of all those sluggers. Their .311 on-base percentage was the eight-lowest total in baseball, and only two players -- Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce -- had an OBP above .340. They were a league-average team at drawing walks, but had the league's sixth-lowest batting average at .247. The Oakland Athletics were the only AL playoff team with a lower batting average and on-base percentage than the Orioles.

When you can bash the ball like the Orioles, baserunners aren't always necessary. The O's had a .311 on-base percentage as a team, the fifth-lowest mark in the American League. They were still able to score 705 runs, the league's sixth-highest total. Their +112 run differential was third-best in the AL, and more than double the Tigers' +52 run differential. The Orioles scored five runs or more in 67 of their games this year, and had 61 multi-homer games as a team.

Caleb Joseph 275 9 28 .207 .264 .354 .275 72 0.8
Nick Hundley 233 6 22 .243 .273 .358 .279 75 0.3

Matt Wieters missed most of the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in his right elbow, leaving the catching duties up to Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger. Clevenger appeared in a handful of games down the stretch, but only made three starts after May 24th this season, so don't expect him or his .626 OPS to be on the playoff roster. This leaves us Joseph and Hundley, who provided little offense but were solid defensively. Joseph threw out 23 of 57 potential base stealers in 2014, a 40 percent clip that led the league. Hundley was far worse at 19 percent in 49 games, and a passed ball cost the O's a game against the Tampa Bay Rays in early September. Still, his veteran presence -- he's 31, albeit with no playoff experience -- and superior defense will likely win him a backup role over Clevenger.

It's not likely we see anyone besides Joseph behind the plate, though. The 28 year old rookie was worth eight defensive runs saved and 1.5 wins behind the plate this season, partially thanks to the excellent caught stealing rate listed above. He wasn't one to throw behind runners, though, ending the season with zero pickoffs. Offensively, Joseph wasn't much of a threat. He hit just .207/.264/.354 and struck out in 25.1 percent of his plate appearances. He clubbed nine home runs in 275 plate appearances, with five coming on consecutive days in early August. Of particular note was how Joseph faltered down the stretch, hitting just .080/.132/.140 in 55 September plate appearances.

Steve Pearce 383 21 49 .293 .373 .556 .404 161 4.9
Jonathan Schoop 481 16 45 .209 .244 .354 .265 65 0.6
J.J. Hardy 569 9 52 .268 .309 .372 .303 91 3.4
Jimmy Paredes 65 2 8 .286 .308 .444 .330 110 0.0
Ryan Flaherty 312 7 32 .221 .288 .356 .287 79 0.6
Kelly Johnson 297 7 27 .215 .296 .362 .296 85 0.5

Steve Pearce was the surprise of the season for the Orioles, filling in for an ineffective (and sometimes injured) Chris Davis. Pearce didn't miss a beat from Davis' excellent 2013 season, hitting 21 home runs in 383 plate appearances with a 161 wRC+ that nearly matched Davis' 168 from last year. Pearce was a monster down the stretch, hitting .292/.394/.646 in August and September. He has always been a disciplined hitter, but maintaining a 10.4 percent walk rate in a career high number of plate appearances is still impressive. He absolutely demolished lefties this year, with a 1.109 OPS in 111 plate appearances.

Jonathan Schoop was the Orioles' version of Nick Castellanos in 2014, but with a glove-first approach. A 22 year old rookie, Schoop kept his head above water by providing nearly two wins with his glove at second base, but a .265 wOBA and 65 wRC+ were lacking. He got away from the patient approach that he demonstrated in the minor leagues, walking just 13 times in 481 plate appearances.

J.J. Hardy has been a mainstay at shortstop for the Orioles over the past four years, providing at least 2.7 WAR per season. His power declined to an all-time low this year, resulting in just nine home runs and a .104 ISO in 569 plate appearances. However, his stellar defense didn't go anywhere. Hardy graded out as the American League's best shortstop in 2014, leading the league in UZR, UZR/150, and defensive runs saved.

Third base has been a problem area for the Orioles for a large part of the season. Reigning AL Platinum Glove winner Manny Machado only played 82 games in 2014 due to multiple injuries, including a right knee injury that ended his season in mid-August. Six other players spent time at third base for the O's this year, but odds are the hot corner will be manned by some combination of Ryan Flaherty and Jimmy Paredes in the ALDS. The left-handed Flaherty is the Orioles' version of Don Kelly, both offensively and defensively. Paredes spent most of his season in the minors, hitting .289/.317/.436 at the Triple A level. Kelly Johnson is also a possibility for the 25 man roster, especially if Buck Showalter wants a left-handed bench bat.

Nelson Cruz 678 40 108 .271 .333 .525 .370 137 3.9
Adam Jones 682 29 96 .281 .311 .469 .340 117 5.4
Nick Markakis 710 14 50 .276 .342 .386 .325 106 2.5
Delmon Young 255 7 30 .302 .337 .442 .345 120 0.9
Alejandro De Aza 528 8 41 .252 .314 .386 .310 95 1.4
David Lough 197 4 16 .247 .309 .385 .309 95 1.9

Nelson Cruz obliterated all expectations that anyone had for him before the season, leading the American League with 40 home runs and 108 RBI. Both were career highs for him, while his batting average and WAR were both his highest since 2010. Cruz split time between the outfield and the designated hitter slot early in the year, but only played five games in the field in September. Without Chris Davis in the lineup, expect Cruz to be the Orioles' primary DH in this series.

Adam Jones will likely get some publicity as a dark horse MVP candidate in the coming days, and deservedly so (even if he doesn't actually deserve the award). Jones crossed the five win mark for the first time in his career, compiling 5.4 WAR while hitting .281/.311/.469 with 29 home runs and 96 RBI. Jones narrowly missed his third consecutive 30-homer season. Advanced defensive metrics were much kinder to the reigning Gold Glove winner in 2014, ranking third among qualified AL centerfielders with 8.3 UZR. His 94 out-of-zone plays ranked second only to Texas' Leonys Martin.

There was plenty of reason to worry about Nick Markakis before the 2014 season started. He was due to get paid $15 million dollars after the worst season of his career, when he put up career lows in just about every significant statistical category you can think of. He bounced back in a big way this season, producing a solid .325 wOBA and 106 wRC+ at the plate with league average defense in right field. He was two wins better than Torii Hunter with his glove alone, and only slightly worse offensively. Does he deserve that $17 million team option for 2015? I don't think so, but the Orioles might be hard pressed to decline it if he has a big postseason.

Alejandro de Aza was a late season acquisition from the Chicago White Sox, and the new surroundings seem to have rejuvenated the 30 year old outfielder. De Aza hit .293/.341/.537 in 89 plate appearances with the Orioles down the stretch, delivering multiple big hits in key situations. De Aza will likely get the lion's share of playing time in left field in this series, but could give way to David Lough whenever Buck Showalter wants Lough's superior glove in the game. Lough's .309 wOBA was passable in 197 plate appearances, but his biggest contribution to the team was a full win in just under 400 innings in the outfield.

Buck Showalter seemingly unlocked the secret that is Delmon Young during the regular season, allowing the former Tiger to hit .302/.337/.442 in 255 plate appearances. Only one-third of those plate appearances came against left-handed pitchers, whom Young has handled well throughout his career. Surprisingly, Young was better against right-handed pitchers in 2014, hitting .312/.357/.452 in 168 plate appearances. This was aided by a .379 BABIP, for what it's worth. With Young's previous postseason heroics fresh in the mind of most Tigers fans, any pinch-hitting appearances by the 29 year old -- seriously, he's only 29 -- will be must-see TV.