Orioles to Face Hot Royals in ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles lost five out of six games to the Detroit Tigers during the regular season, including being swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards May 12-14. However, the Orioles have become a different team since the first two months of the season, and it showed against the A.L. Central champions.

Detroit didn’t wrap up their division title until the last day of the regular season on Sept. 28. Four days later, they found themselves facing a raucous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 48,000. It didn’t take long for perhaps the Tigers’ biggest nemesis to land another body blow against them in October.

In the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, right fielder Nick Markakis led off as he did so often during the season: with a single. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza was hit by a pitch, and center fielder Adam Jones hit into a fielder’s choice, getting Markakis to third with one out. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz came up, and drilled a first-pitch fastball over the grounds crew’s shed to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and launch the crowd into a frenzy. Cruz hit .364 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in during the 2011 American League Championship Series to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 series win and their second straight World Series appearance. Detroit answered in the top of the second with back-to-back homers by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. However, the Orioles came right back and retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drew a walk with one out, and went to third on a two-out single by Jonathan Schoop. That turned the lineup over for Markakis, who singled to right to drive in Flaherty and give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. That score held through the middle innings, which saw starter Chris Tillman leave after throwing 105 pitches in five innings thanks to a lot of pitches that were fouled off. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 of the 30 pitches he saw from Tillman. In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd roared to life again when shortstop J.J. Hardy drove a 1-1 change-up into the left-center field bleachers to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead. That home run, along with a line drive double play the Orioles turned in the eighth, would loom large after two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer to right center to cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3. That led to a bottom of the eighth that would turn the tide for the rest of the series.

The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, and scored eight runs to turn a close game into a blowout. Schoop hit a two-run double, and De Aza capped the outburst by also hitting a two-run double, his second two-bagger of the inning, to make it 12-3.

In Game 2, Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer off the top of the grounds crew shed in the third inning. The homer off Justin Verlander was upheld after a Detroit challenge. The Tigers responded by scoring five runs in the fourth to knock Wei-Yin Chen out of the game. J.D. Martinez had the big blow with a three-run homer, and Nick Castellanos followed with a home run of his own. Hardy hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3.

In the top of the eighth, Victor Martinez hit an RBI double to make it 6-3 Tigers, but Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Jones was hit by a pitch, and Cruz singled. Jones scored on Steve Pearce’s single. Hardy walked to load the bases, and on the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joakim Soria, pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a bases-clearing double to the left-field wall, scoring all three runners to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead and sending another standing-room-only crowd into delirium. Zach Britton retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up the save and send the Orioles off to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

In Game 3, Cruz once again made his presence felt, hitting a two-run homer off David Price to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and send a subdued Detroit crowd into dead silence. In his postseason career, Cruz now has a .353 average with 8 homers and 22 RBI against Detroit. The Tigers didn’t score until the bottom of the ninth, when Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez started the inning with back-to-back doubles. Castellanos was intentionally walked, and then pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hit into a double play to end the game and the series, sending the Orioles into the ALCS for the first time since 1997.

The Orioles will be facing a Royals team that they went 3-4 against during the season. The Royals walked off with a 9-8 win over Oakland in 12 innings on Sept. 30, and then defeated the Angels twice in 11 innings in Anaheim on the way to a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS will be at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 10, followed by Game 2 at 4:07 p.m. the next day. The series will shift to Kansas City for Games 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Games 6 and 7 will be at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 in Baltimore.

Orioles Notebook: O’s Above .500 Despite Struggling Starting Pitching

By Andrew R. Koch

A full month of Major League Baseball is in the books, and the Baltimore Orioles are in the thick of a wide-open American League East race. While the Orioles are one percentage point ahead of the rival Yankees in the division, starting pitching is proving to be an Achilles’ heel, much like it has been for the last couple of seasons.

The Orioles went 12-12 in April, playing without Manny Machado and losing first baseman Chris Davis due to a strained oblique. Heading into the start of their second series with the Tampa Bay Rays, Orioles starting pitchers have gone less than five and a third innings in four of the last five games. The lone exception was Ubaldo Jimenez, who struck out 10 in 7 and a third shutout innings in the May 2 series opener at Minnesota. It was his first win of the season after signing a four-year, $50 million contract. Chris Tillman (3-1) and Wei-Yin Chen (3-2) are the only starters who are above .500. Baltimore has among the fewest starts of at least seven innings of any team in Major League Baseball. Six relievers have already appeared in 12 or more games, and the bullpen has already thrown a total of 93 innings. Following the Orioles’ 5-2 loss on May 4 in the rubber game of the series in Minnesota, in which Miguel Gonzalez fell apart and failed to get out of the fifth inning, manager Buck Showalter said in his post-game press conference of the starting rotation, “We’ve just got to be better.” Showalter went on to say that he’ll do what he can to avoid overusing the relievers, saying he wasn’t “going to put those guys in harm’s way.”

The Orioles’ regular sluggers haven’t been producing the power numbers fans are used to seeing. Davis only had six extra-base hits (four doubles, two home runs) before going on the DL. Center fielder Adam Jones has 10 extra-base hits (six doubles, one triple, three home runs, including two on May 7 at Tampa Bay), and J.J. Hardy–while he’s hitting more line drives and is bringing his batting average up–has just four doubles and is still looking for his first long ball of the season. Meanwhile, Matt Wieters and outfielder Nelson Cruz are picking up the slack in the power department. Wieters is leading the team in batting average, hitting .341 to go with five homers and 18 RBI. He’s hitting .370 left-handed as he looks to bounce back from a poor 2013 season. Cruz is leading the team in slugging with nine homers, six doubles, 29 RBI and a .568 slugging percentage.

Roster Moves

Manny Machado returned to the roster on May 1 for the second game of the Orioles’ doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was scheduled to be activated from the disabled list for the start of the series on April 29, but the games both that day and the following day were rained out. Reliever Troy Patton was also activated from the restricted list after serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. To make room for Machado and Patton, the Orioles sent infielder Steve Lombardozzi to Triple-A Norfolk along with relievers Evan Meek and Josh Stinson, who was outrighted. Baltimore recalled reliever Brad Brach from Norfolk. Another roster move may be necessary when Davis comes off the 15-day DL, which is scheduled to be May 11.

Wieters traveled to Pensacola, Florida on May 7 to meet with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews (of Tommy John surgery fame.) Wieters has been dealing with soreness in his right elbow since the Orioles’ series in Boston in April. He says he first felt what was initially diagnosed as a sore forearm when he made a throw to second base on a cold night in Boston. He underwent an MRI exam on May 5, and surgery has been ruled out following his visit with Dr. Andrews. Caleb Joseph has been recalled from Norfolk to share the catching duties with Steve Clevenger.

UPDATED MAY 12: Davis was activated from the 15-day DL after appearing in a game with the Double-A Bowie Baysox on a rehab assignment. He played for the Orioles in the series finale at home against Houston. Wieters was placed on the DL to rest his sore elbow. The Orioles also optioned T.J. McFarland to Norfolk following the game. McFarland struck out four and allowed two runs on seven hits in three innings, including a two-run home run to the Astros’ Marc Krauss that gave Houston some insurance to salvage the series finale.