It is only one game, but wow what a game. No doubt the Detroit Tigers held the edge in national name recognition but the fans in Baltimore knew all along that their Birds held the advantage between the lines, where it counts. Now every baseball fan knows too. Whenever the slate gets wiped clean and the records are thrown out the hope for all fans is that their team will come out and make a statement like what the Orioles did in Baltimore tonight. A 12-3 beat down is a great way to start off the series.
While the game was not perfect it might as well have been. The contributions to the win came from all over the lineup and really established positive momentum and excitement going forward. Orioles’ ace Chris Tillman put in a solid performance going five innings, giving up only two runs on four hits with six strikeouts. While I am sure manager Buck Showalter would have preferred to get a couple more innings out of Tillman, the start was good enough to earn Tillman the win and being pulled at 105 total pitches should prevent him from being worn out for his next start regardless of when it comes.
So yes, 105 pitches over five innings is high but with 73 of them being strikes it shows that the high pitch count came more as a result of the Tigers hitters battling during at bats than it did from a struggling Tillman. Despite a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera, hard to hold that against anyone, and a little jam in the top of the ninth, the bullpen did a spectacular job of continuing to keep the high powered Tigers shut down.
At the plate the Orioles were equally as impressive. Solid showings from Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz were enough to earn the Birds a victory tonight alone but the rest of the lineup wanted in on the action. All but Adam Jones and Steve Pierce recorded an RBI but both Jones and Pierce scored a run. Jones made his presence felt on the basepath with his steal in the eighth inning setting up the eight run explosion that put the game well out of reach.
Cruz continues to be the catalyst of the offense with his two run homer in the first inning and three total RBI for the game. It was vital that Cruz got off to good start in this series. Too often do you see a team struggle in the post season because their big bats go cold in the post-season. Cruz getting the first homer of this post season out of the way early and going .500 at the plate alleviates any pressure to perform before it even starts to develop.
Before the eight innings offensive explosion this game looked very similar to what should be expected from the series. High pitch counts for the Orioles starters as Ian Kinsler is known for driving balls into the stands and extending at bats (Kinsler saw an astonishing 41 pitches in this game alone), while the Tigers push their starters deeper into innings to prolong rolling the dice on their bullpen as long as possible. The Orioles being able to get and hold the lead against the Tigers starter, in this game Max Scherzer, really gives them a heavy advantage in the series. As the eighth inning proved, the Tigers bullpen is a huge weak spot.
Next up for the Orioles is the suddenly mortal Justin Verlander. While still a formidable opponent, Verlander has not appeared to be the lights out pitcher he was in previous seasons. In his fourteen innings pitched over two games against Baltimore this year, Verlander has a one and one record with eleven hits and seven earned runs with only seven strikeouts. Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen (16-6) did not play against Detroit this season but for the year is sporting an admirable 3.14 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP.
The Orioles really have very little to tweak heading into the next game. Jones would likely want to improve at the plate but even without a hit, he impacted the game positively on offense. Lower pitch counts through five innings would be nice for Chen, but the Tigers are tough at the plate and it long battles are just something the Orioles will have to be prepared for. Overall, the outcome of game one is very repeatable for Baltimore and the pressure is very much on the Tigers to not only survive the series but simply avoid being swept.