In Game 1 of an American League playoff series, the Baltimore Orioles trashed the Detroit Tigers 12-3. OK, sometimes blow-outs happen and it's just one game. But it exposed the Tigers for EXACTLY what they are. And are not.
Much has been made of their starting pitching rotation, but when one looks closer, is it really that great? Yes, reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (who took the loss in the above-mentioned game) has had another outstanding season. But former Cyster himself Justin Verlander was far from remarkable during the 2014 season. He won a couple more than he lost. Free agent acquisition (another former Cy) David Price is supposed to be an ace. But his record this year puts him in the average category with Verlander. Rick Porcello started out hot for the first few months, then swooned badly in September. Anabel Sanchez is fresh off the DL and Tigers don't know what to do with him. Playoff baseball only requires three starting pitchers.
Hitting wise -- the Tigers have two sluggers and a bunch of other guys they hope can contribute here and there at the right times.
They lack team speed, and their overall defense in the field is mediocre.
It's certainly no secret their bullpen is shaky at best.
And the game against the Orioles featured it all. Scherzer's an excellent pitcher, but not unbeatable, and he got tagged for 5 runs against a very good hitting team. The game was still close when Max exited in the 8th inning. Enter the bullpen. Enter batting practice for the Orioles. Against a parade of Tiger relievers, they were hitting the ball all over the park. They would go on to post a "snowman", known in poker as an 8 spot in that inning, turning it into a total rout.
What will likely go unreported elsewhere is how the Orioles ran the bases during the blitz. They weren't afraid to go for an unlikely extra base and dare a Tiger outfielder to throw them out. And that's a problem. Because the Tigers don't have any outfielders with strong accurate arms.
Likely to no one's great surprise, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both hit home runs for the Tigers. They even managed to chase the Baltimore starter after 5 innings due to his pitch count. But unlike Detroit, the O-Birds have a deep and reliable bull pen. They came on and mowed them down, an inning at a time. When they needed a tough out -- they got it. The only tough outs the Tigers' relievers got were trudging back to the dugout after being lit up like a pinball machine.
And remember, the Orioles are doing this with 3 of their best position players not available. Two were lost for the season due to injury, and the other continues to serve a ridiculous "drug" suspension for taking prescribed meds that were OK with baseball last year -- but not OK this year -- only because he didn't ask for permission. The government has nothing on Major League Baseball when it comes to bureaucratic stupidity.
But again, this one game showed off exactly what the Tigers are and aren't. The starting pitcher went into the 8th inning, a couple sluggers hit home runs along the way, and the hit or miss with the rest of the lineup missed this time. Then the bullpen self-destructed. Not to beat deceased equines, but did you know the Tigers ranked dead last in runs given up from the 7th inning on over the course of the season? That stat took another serious hit with the snowman mentioned above.
Still, it's only one game. Now the Puddy Tats face the daunting task of taking 3 out of 4 from the O-birds to move on. It's certainly possible. The Fastball Flakes man himself, Justin Verlander, is up next. (Question: Do they still make that stuff? Yours truly hasn't seen it on supermarket shelves in quite a while.)
Regardless, JV needs to be in his former Cy mode rather than how he pitched earlier in the season. Cuz if the Motowners go down 2-zip to the Crabcakers, that seem to be gaining more confidence every day -- well -- while still not impossible -- let's just say the odds of prevailing will get very long.
The Orioles haven't been able to successfully turn out the lights on a playoff series in quite some time. But I'm pretty sure they could round up a fat lady to sing if and when they do. Too many of those all-you-can-eat crabcake buffets can turn even the most well intentioned woman into something that should have "Goodyear" or "MetLife" emblazened on it's outer apparel.
On to Game 2......