Series: 1–0, Baltimore
Time/Place: 12:07 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: TBS, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (15–12, 4.54 ERA) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (16–6, 3.54 ERA)
Chen is a 29-year-old left-hander from Taiwan who has spent three seasons in the major leagues, all with the Orioles. He is coming off his best season in terms of won-loss record and ERA, although he has been a fairly consistent mid-rotation type of starting pitcher. He has faced the Tigers just once, in 2012, when the Orioles managed a 7–5 victory over Detroit. He did not pitch against the Tigers in 2013 or 2014.
Chen is the lone left-hander in Baltimore's rotation. His platoon splits show nearly identical batting average and on-base percentages against left and right-handed hitters, but he allowed 20 home runs against right-handers to just three against left-handers in 2014. The Tigers led the league with a .789 OPS against left-handers, while posting a .745 OPS against right-handed pitchers.
The key for Detroit is Justin Verlander, the former Cy Young and most valuable player award winner, who has had his toughest season since 2008. Verlander's strikeout rate is way down, while his ERA and fielding independent pitching (FIP) numbers are up.
The Tigers are hoping that he has turned things around just in time. Verlander allowed just two earned runs with 10 strikeouts against no walks over 15 1/3 innings in his final two starts of the regular season. He went 3–0 with 2.89 ERA in his last four starts — all Tiger victories — and has won five of his last six decisions.
Verlander also has a nice record in the ALDS, he is 4–0 with a 1.79 ERA in seven games. He currently has a 30 inning scoreless streak in ALDS games. At Camden Yards, Verlander is 7–0 with a 2.84 ERA in eight career starts.
Current Orioles are hitting just .185 with a slugging percentage of .306 against Verlander in his career. Of significance is that, while his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up, his home run ratio has remained steady this season. As we know, when playing the Orioles, keeping the ball in the yard is a big key to success.
Hitter to fear: J.J. Hardy has hit just .235, but has three home runs in 34 at-bats.
Hitter to fail: Adam Jones (.182/.200/.303 in 33 at-bats)
Miserable mention: Nelson Cruz has a line of .200/.231/.360 with seven strikeouts in 25 at-bats.
No current Baltimore hitter has hit better than .250 against Verlander, while only Hardy and DeAza have a career OPS above .700. On the Tigers' side, Rajai Davis has the most dramatic platoon splits against left-handers, but he has been hobbling since the last day of the regular season.
Chen's weakness has been the home run ball, and the Tigers like hitting at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Max Scherzer lacked command early and served up a couple of home run balls to give Baltimore the runs they needed. That, and the usual problems on defense and in the bullpen killed the Tigers in the series opener.
If Verlander can keep the ball in the park and the Tigers don't beat themselves with shoddy defense or another bullpen implosion, they have an excellent shot at returning home with a split. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera is batting .471 with 12 homers and 26 RBIs in his last 22 games through Thursday's loss at Baltimore.
Look for Brad Ausmus to turn to the 2013 ERA champion Anibal Sanchez when Verlander is done for the day, and Joe Nathan in a save situation as the Tigers even the series.