Time/Place: 5:37 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: TBS, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA)
Chris Tillman was one of the best starters in baseball for five months, allowing a 2.82 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. Unfortunately for him, there are six months in the baseball season, and Tillman was awful in May. He made seven starts, allowing a 5.68 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 38 innings. The majority of the damage came in a one inning, eight run meltdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 21st, but he followed that up with a six run implosion against the Milwaukee Brewers five days later. Tillman also kicked off the month of June with another one inning outing, allowing five runs against the Texas Rangers.
Since then, Tillman has been lights out. He allowed a 2.38 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 21 starts, 15 of which were Orioles victories. He benefitted from the Orioles' excellent defense as much as anyone on the staff, allowing a .252 BABIP during that stretch and .267 on the season. His home run per fly ball rate was 8.3 percent, just over half of last year's mark and well below the 10.7 percent rate he posted in 2012. Right-handed batters were particularly unfortunate, with a .244 BABIP in 391 plate appearances (though they did have a higher home run rate). Tillman allowed a home run in his lone start against the Tigers this season, but was otherwise stellar, holding the Tigers to just one run and five hits in eight innings.
Max Scherzer didn't make a start against the Orioles in the 2014 regular season, but he picked up a combined 20 strikeouts in two meetings with the O's in 2013. As we know, the high strikeout totals are nothing new for Max, whose 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings was the third-highest rate in baseball. Scherzer maintained that high strikeout rate down the stretch while allowing a 2.48 ERA in September -- a number that surprised me, frankly. He struggled with his command at times, walking 13 batters in his final 32 2/3 innings, but was a big reason why the Tigers were able to clinch the division. The Tigers went 8-1 in Scherzer's final nine starts this season.
Hitter to fear: Nelson Cruz (.440/.462/.800 in 26 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: J.J. Hardy (.174/.208/.348 in 25 plate appearances)
Uh oh. Nelson Cruz gave Tigers fans nightmares in the 2011 ALCS when he hit .364/.440/1.273 with six home runs and 13 RBI in 25 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers. Cruz was a monster all season long in the middle of the Orioles' order, and has posted some gaudy numbers against Scherzer throughout his career. Things get slightly better if you remove Cruz's 2011 ALCS performance, but he is still 8 for 21 with a homer against Max in the regular season. Adam Jones has also fared well, with nine hits (including a homer) in 18 at-bats.
If you ignore the Kansas City Royals' amazing comeback on Tuesday for a moment, you can appreciate how dangerous a team with power like the Oakland Athletics -- or, in this case, the Orioles -- can be. Brandon Moss and the A's put the Royals on the ropes with just two swings, something that these Orioles are more than capable of doing. The O's led baseball in home runs by a wide margin and were eighth in the majors in runs scored. And when they got the lead, they held onto it more often than not. Despite a shaky start, the Orioles' bullpen ranked third in the AL with a 3.10 ERA, a figure that dropped to 2.66 in the second half.
Luckily, Scherzer has a couple things working in his favor tonight. For one, the O's sport a righty-heavy lineup that is fairly strikeout prone. They had the fifth highest strikeout rate in the American League this season while Scherzer sported a 5.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio against right-handed hitters. Additionally, the Orioles have struggled against power pitchers. They hit just .241/.305/.374 against power arms this year, well below their team average of .256/.311/.422.
The Tigers go up 1-0 in the ALDS for the third year in a row.