Sunday October 5th, 2014

Orioles at Tigers

Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET


Series: Orioles lead 2-0

Starting pitchers: Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65 ERA) vs. David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA)

The good news for the Detroit Tigers, who are down 0-2 in this best-of-five series, is that they are playing the next two games at home and have David Price on the mound Sunday afternoon to help them try to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. The bad news is that, even if they do win behind Price today, history is very strongly against them.

Prior to this year, 68 best-of-five series in postseason history began with one team taking a 2-0 lead. In 88 percent of those (60 of 68), the team leading after two games won the series. Sixty percent of those series (41 of 68) ended in sweeps. Of the 27 teams who managed to pull out a win in Game 3, 19 went on to lose in Game 4 or 5. Just eight of the 68 teams (12 percent) to fall behind 0-2 came back to win the series, most recently the Giants in the 2012 NLDS against the Reds. Of those eight, five played Game 5 at home, a luxury the Tigers will not have in this series.

The road to a title — or not — for every Division Series team

Price is coming off a season that was equal parts outstanding and confounding. He led the majors in innings pitched (248 1/3, averaging nearly 7 1/3 innings per start) and strikeouts (a whopping 271) and had a remarkable 7.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio thanks to his striking out nearly 10 men per nine innings and walking just 1.4 per nine (38 total on the season, one intentional). However, despite that dominance, he posted a 3.26 ERA (117 ERA+), good but not on par with his other numbers (his Fielding Independent Pitching was 2.78), and since being traded to the Tigers at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, has gone just 4-4 with a 3.59 ERA, a mark 1.14 runs higher than his FIP.

With the Rays, Price was a bit homer-prone, but not to a dramatic degree. With the Tigers, he dropped his home run rate, but was victimized by Detroit’s poor fielding as his opponents hit .318 on balls in play, though that’s not a wildly inflated figure, either. It may be more informative to simply note that he has been inconsistent. Take, for example, his six starts from August 21 to September 17. In three of them, he held his opponents to one run over seven or more innings. He allowed at least five runs in each of the other three. Price’s lone start against the Orioles this season was one of just three games this season in which he failed to record an out in the sixth inning. Price allowed three runs through five innings in that game, then was hooked after the first three men he faced in the sixth reached base (Brad Boxberger struck out the side to strand all three runners).

Price’s postseason track record is no more reassuring for Tigers fans, as Price has lost each of his four previous postseason starts. All of them came in the divisional round, posting a 5.81 ERA across those four games. Those statistics are a bit misleading, but only a little. Price turned in quality starts in two of those four games, but both were close to the minimum requirement for a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER), leaving him with a 4.26 ERA for those two games. Meanwhile, those postseason numbers don’t include his complete game win against the Rangers in Game 163 of last season, a one-game playoff to determine the final wild-card spot in the American League, though even if it did, he’d still be 1-4 with a 4.84 ERA in five playoff starts.

Price may have to complete this game as well given the performance of the Tigers’ bullpen in this series. In the first two games, Detroit’s relievers gave up a total of 11 runs in 3 2/3 innings pitched, not counting the two inherited runners they allowed to score. It may be unfair to tar the entire bullpen with those numbers, however. Two of those 3 2/3 innings were perfect frames pitched by re-purposed starter Anibal Sanchez in Game 2, and only three other men have come in to pitch from the Detroit 'pen, with two of them responsible for the bulk of the damage. Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria have combined to face 15 batters in this series and have retired just four of them. The reason the Tigers are down 2-0 in this series is that rookie Tigers manager Brad Ausmus went back to those two with a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning of Game 2. It took them just six batters to turn that three-run lead into a 7-6 deficit.

If we see either Chamberlain or Soria again in this series outside of mop-up duty, I’ll be shocked, even if that means the Detroit bullpen is reduced to five men. Although, the rest of the 'pen doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Among the remaining five are rookie lefty Kyle Lobstein, lefty Phil Coke (who retired one of three men he faced in Game 1) and closer Joe Nathan, who blew seven saves during the regular season and nearly lost the closer’s job on several occasions. Sanchez was outstanding in Game 2, but that was just the third relief appearance of his major league career. As a starter who missed a month and a half at the end of the season due to a strained pectoral, Sanchez needs ample time to warm up. It also remains to be seen whether he is capable of pitching effectively on one or no day’s rest.

Belt's 18th-inning blast puts Giants in command after six intense hours

Meanwhile, the Tigers will not have Rajai Davis in the starting lineup for this game, although he will be available off the bench. Davis has been battling a lower abdominal strain and came out of Game 2 after turning a would-be double into a single in the fourth inning. Ezequiel Carrera and Don Kelly are the underwhelming candidates to replace Davis, underscoring the fact that the Tigers sent Austin Jackson to Seattle in the three-team trade that brought Price to Detroit.

As for the Orioles, who haven’t reached the American League Championship Series since 1997, they’re sitting pretty having hit .309/.379/.500 as team through the first two games (thanks in large part to Chamberlain and Soria). Their Game 3 starter, 29-year-old Bud Norris, is coming off arguably his best major league season thanks in part to a career-low walk rate and a strong September in which he went 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine innings while the Orioles won all five of his starts. Norris has struggled in four career starts against the Tigers, going 0-3 with a 6.57 ERA with two of those starts coming earlier this year. However, unlike his Tigers counterpart, Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, who has proven a deft handler of the Orioles relief corps during his tenure in Baltimore, needn’t be shy with the hook should his starter falter. Through the first two games of this series, Orioles relievers have allowed just one run in 9 1/3 innings and stranded their only inherited runner.

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