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ALDS 2014: Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young could be difference makers against the Tigers

First-year Orioles Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young have had postseason glory in the past. If they can recapture that magic (and Cruz can continue to thrash Tigers' pitching) the Orioles will be in a good place.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the Orioles signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal just before the start of spring training, it's unlikely that they could have imagined that he'd work out so well. He put his best numbers at the plate in four seasons and became a favorite both in the stands and in the clubhouse.

And when the Orioles signed Delmon Young to a minor-league contract last January, many fans were put off by Young's troubles off the field as well as uneven performance over his baseball career. But Young ended up playing a valuable role off of the bench for the entire season, and not once did he appear to be anything other than a model citizen.

Could these two players be difference makers in the upcoming series with the Tigers and the rest of the playoffs, should the Orioles make it any further? Their history suggest that they could.

Nelson Cruz

After a red-hot start to the season in 2014, Cruz cooled down considerably in June and July. His overall numbers still looked good, but they were being propped up by his 13-homer, 1.135 OPS month of May. But he looked better in August, and spent the month of September on fire. He finished out the season by hitting .349/.384/.604 with eight doubles and five home runs over his final 26 games. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll still be hot when the Orioles start back up on Thursday, but it's better than the alternative.

The Tigers recently announced that their ALDS starting rotation will be Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Rick Porcello. As has been stated ad nauseum, that's a pretty scary lineup. But for Nelson Cruz, it's not so bad. While Cruz doesn't have enough at-bats against any of these pitchers to keep away the small sample size police, he has at least faced each of them between 26-32 times each.

Game one starter Max Scherzer has had a lot of success over the past several years, including a few dominating performances against the Orioles in 2013. But Cruz has been very good against him. In 26 career plate appearances against Scherzer, he has gone 11-for-25 with three doubles and two home runs. That's a hitting line of .440/.462/.800. Of players that Scherzer has faced at least 25 times, only David Ortiz and Shin-Soo Choo have hit better against him than Cruz.

Against Justin Verlander, Cruz hasn't had nearly same success, but of his seven career hits against him, three have been home runs and one was a double. That's enough for a .548 SLG, which is easily the best of any of the current Orioles, who as a team slug .335 against Verlander. It's true that Verlander hasn't been his usual dominant self this season, but given his track record that's not something I'd bank on in the playoffs.

David Price is scheduled to start game three of this series, and he is another very good starting pitcher that Cruz has hit very well against. In 30 plate appearances against Price, Cruz has gone 10-for-28 with a double and three home runs. That's a hitting line of .357/.400/.714.

Unfortunately I can't also report that Nelson Cruz has done amazing things against game four starter Rick Porcello. In 26 career plate appearances against him, Cruz has just four singles. So that stinks. But let me lift your spirits over that by telling you that against all current Tigers, Cruz has accumulated 154 at-bats with a eight doubles and 13 home runs, and a hitting line of .305/.348/.610. Simply put, Nelson Cruz has been very good against the Tigers.

But wait, there's more! Cruz has played in 34 postseason games in his career and has looked good doing it. In those 34 games he has hit .278 (35-for-126) with nine doubles and fourteen home runs. That includes the 2011 ALCS against the Tigers in which was just ridiculous. He had eight hits in that series, two doubles and six home runs. He knocked in 13 runs with a 1.713 OPS. You might remember he was the MVP of that series.

The Orioles have already gotten more from their one-year, $8M contract with Cruz than they probably bargained for. If he can produce in the playoffs the way he has in the past, it might end up as the best $8M the Orioles have ever spent.

Delmon Young

When Young made the team out of spring training, I don't recall many people who were excited about it. He seemed like a redundant part. He isn't good at defense, but the Orioles had a better DH option in Cruz. And he's always hit lefties well, but the Orioles already had Steve Pearce.

But once again the Orioles proved that they're smarter than me, as Young proved himself to be a valuable member of the team as a bench player. He only played in 83 games, but he hit .302/.377/.442 with 11 doubles and seven home runs in 255 plate appearances. That's well above average, and he consistently came through when he was called upon. In 24 pinch-hit plate appearances this season, Young reached base 14 times. Seriously. he went 10-for-20 with three walks and one hit-by-pitch.

If Young gets a start in the series, it will be when David Price is on the mound. Young has hit Price well over his career, going 5-for-16 with a double and a home run. And as I mentioned, he's hit lefties well over his career. His .806 career OPS against lefties is nearly 100 points higher than his OPS against right-handed pitchers.

Earlier this season Buck Showalter started Young against Rick Porcello due to their track record. It didn't work out as Young went 0-for-2, but he could see playing time against him if the series goes four games. I don't anticipate it, but Buck has proved his willingness to do it in the past. Young has hit .333 (8-for-24) against Porcello with two doubles and a home run.

Like Cruz, Young has found success in the postseason. He has played in nine postseason series with the Twins, Tigers, and Rays. In 33 games he has gone 31-for-117 (.265) with three doubles, nine homers, and eight walks. The Tigers are quite familiar with what he's capable of, as he took home MVP honors for them in the 2012 ALCS against the Yankees. In that series he went 6-for-17 with two home runs, and then went on to another great performance against the Giants in the Tigers' World Series loss.

There's no way to know what will happen when the ALDS start on Thursday, but the Orioles could see big things from these two first-year Orioles. And if that does happen, the O's will find themselves in very good position to move on to the next round.