It was the Orioles’ first postseason sweep since the 1971 American League Championship Series. It was the first postseason series victory in manager Buck Showalter’s 16-season career. And it put the O’s in an ALCS for the first time since 1997. Here’s what happened and why.
Game 1: 12-3 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 2
Game 2: 7-6 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 3
Game 3: 2-1 win at Comerica Park on Oct. 5
1. A tale of two bullpens
We knew that the Orioles’ bullpen was a strength and that the Tigers’ bullpen was a weakness entering the series. Still, the extent to which those two principles held true was stunning.
Orioles relievers combined to allow three runs in 12 innings in the series, totaling 11 strikeouts. Andrew Miller threw 3 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings in the series.
Tigers relievers combined to 11 runs (10 earned) in just 4 2/3 innings in the series. Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria combined to allow 10 runs (nine earned) in 1 1/3 innings in the series.
The Orioles went 8-for-23 with three walks off Tigers relievers in the series.
2. Two magical eighth innings
This is of course tied to the Tigers’ bullpen. But credit the O’s for exploding for 12 runs in the eighth innings of Games 1 and 2.
The O’s scored eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 1, totaling six hits and benefiting from two errors. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop and left fielder Alejandro De Aza each had a two-run double in the inning.
The O’s then scored four runs in the eighth inning of Game 2, getting an RBI single from first baseman Steve Pearce and a go-ahead three-run pinch double from Delmon Young in the inning.
3. Nelson Cruz was a monster
He served as the DH in all three games and went 6-for-12 in the series, totaling two homers, four singles, five RBI and four runs. Cruz had a two-run homer and an RBI single in Game 1, two singles in Game 2 and a two-run homer in Game 3. The one major negative from him was getting picked off at first base to end the top of the eighth in Game 3.
The success of the Cruz signing is well-documented: MLB-leading 40 homers and team highs in OPS (.859), slugging percentage (.525) and RBI (108) this past regular season on a one-year deal reportedly worth just $8 million. Throw in his performance in this series, and how is this not one of the best one-year deals in MLB history?
Another thing with Cruz: he’s a Tigers killer. He now has 16 career postseason homers, eight of which have come against the Tigers.
4. Seemingly every move by Buck worked
There’s no such thing as a perfect series, but consider the many decisions by Buck that worked out beautifully:
• Ryan Flaherty started all three games at third base, presumably due to his defensive skills (the O’s struggled defensively at third base late in the regular season). Flaherty made maybe the play of the series in the top of the fifth in Game 2, diving to his left and then throwing from his knees to second base for a double play. And Flaherty, who has been a bad offensive player over his three seasons with the O’s, didn’t embarrass himself offensively in the series, providing an RBI single in the eight-run eighth in Game 1 and finishing 2-for-9 with a walk.
• Batting De Aza in the no. 2 spot in Games 1 and 2 (he did not play in Game 3) resulted in him going 3-for-8 with two doubles in the series.
• Pinch-hitting Young for Flaherty in the eighth inning of Game 2 resulted in Young’s go-ahead three-run double.
• Starting Bud Norris in Game 3 instead of Miguel Gonzalez resulted in Norris tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings on six strikeouts versus two hits, two walks and a wild pitch. Buck’s decision to remove Norris from a game in which he was tossing a shutout also worked, as Miller came in and provided 1 2/3 perfect innings.
• Intentionally walking third baseman Nick Castellanos in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 with two outs and a runner on second and the Tigers having already scored a run off closer Zach Britton yielded the next batter, pinch hitter Hernan Perez, grounding into a series-ending double play.
5. The O’s swept this series despite…
…their starting pitching being mediocre in Game 1 (Chris Tillman threw 105 pitches and gave up two homers in lasting just five innings) and terrible in Game 2 (Wei-Yin Chen allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings on seven hits, including two homers).
…three of the Tigers’ big bats producing. First baseman Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez and left fielder J.D. Martinez went a combined 11-for-35 with four homers.