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ALDS 2014: Get to know the Tigers with Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys

We checked in with our Tigers fan counterparts at Bless You Boys to get their perspective on the Orioles-Tigers Division Series matchup.

Leon Halip

With a postseason series coming up between the Orioles and the Tigers, who better to shed some light on Detroit than our counterparts at Bless You Boys, who follow them as closely as we do the O's? BYB's Rob Rogacki and I got together to do a little Q&A about the upcoming Division Series matchup. You can find my typical Eeyore take on the Orioles over there.

Here's Rob on the Tigers:

Mark: With the reigning back-to-back AL MVP, insane production from Victor Martinez, and the last three AL Cy Young winners on the team, it seems to an outsider like the Tigers should run away with their division. Do you see them ending up with 90 wins as an underachieving team?

Rob: The tight division race was a surprise, but I don't know that I can say that this team underachieved. Despite all of the star power on this team, they were not as good on paper as the 2013 squad, which won 93 games. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera got off to slow starts after rehabbing from core muscle repair surgeries last offseason, but seem to be rounding into form at the right time. Victor and J.D. Martinez (no relation) were amazing, but the bottom of the lineup struggled at times. Depth is an issue, and injuries to key role players like Andy Dirks, Bruce Rondon, Jose Iglesias, and Anibal Sanchez had a bigger impact than many imagined.

Mark: The Orioles' third base situation is unsettled, with no one able to both hit and field. A cursory glance at the Tigers batting lines makes me think that things might not be much better with Nick Castellanos, who has a 94 wRC+ to go along with an MLB-worst Defensive Runs Saved. Is he as bad as these statistics suggest?

Rob: Offensively, no. Castellanos' 94 wRC+ doesn't take into account a mammoth 28.5 percent line drive rate that somehow only resulted in a .307 BABIP. Sure, he has his issues - his contact rate was the third-worst in the American League and he struck out in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances - but he showed power to all fields and looks like a future middle-of-the-order bat. He might not be the answer in 2014, but the Tigers' unwillingness to trade him throughout his minor league career seems like it will pay off down the road.

Defensively... yeah, he's that bad. He has a strong, accurate arm, but his range did not appear to be any better than Miguel Cabrera's last year. He was also prone to occasional mental errors, though its worth noting that he spent all of 2013 playing in the outfield in the minor leagues. Will he improve? We hope so. But his bat will determine how long of a career he has.

Mark: The Tigers have been consistently one of the best-hitting teams all season. They hit lefties, righties, at home, on the road. Is there anything that's changed during the season's waning weeks, such as an injury or prolonged slump, to make you doubt that they can carry that into the postseason?

Rob: Not. One. Bit. The Tigers were one of the best offensive clubs in baseball all season long, and only got better in the second half. They scored the most runs in baseball after the All-Star break and were second in the American League in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. And if that's not enough, consider what Miguel Cabrera did down the stretch. After a brutal August, Cabrera hit .379/.409/.709 in September. He is much healthier than he was going into the postseason last October, and should be a major factor in this series.

Mark: The Tigers bullpen... okay, I don't want to rub it in. Is Joe Nathan going to keep being the closer into the playoffs? Will adding Anibal Sanchez into the mix improve things? (Don't worry about your bullpen, anyway; your starters might all pitch complete games against the Orioles.)

Rob: Our bullpen is downright terrifying. Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria could turn out to be a lockdown 1-2 punch in the late innings, but Brad Ausmus has not shown any hint of replacing Joe Nathan as the team's closer. Joba Chamberlain was also shaky in the second half, allowing a 4.97 ERA and 4.20 FIP. He improved in September (2.58 FIP in nine innings) but is still far from a sure thing.

The worst part about this ordeal is that Sanchez could have a huge impact if he is used properly. I had visions of 2012 Tim Lincecum in my head when it was announced that Sanchez would pitch out of the pen, but Ausmus' hesitancy to use him - Sanchez had just one relief appearance after coming off the disabled list on September 23rd - doesn't bode well for the upcoming series.

Mark: How do you expect the Tigers to deploy their star-studded rotation in this series? With Justin Verlander turning in a better second half than first half, is there even anyone in the rotation you are worried about?

(Editor's note: This exchange took place before the Tigers named their rotation on Tuesday. Rob gets his wish about the order of the starters.)

Rob: It's anyone's guess as to who starts the first two games of the series, but odds are that Max Scherzer will face off against Chris Tillman in Game 1. The reigning AL Cy Young winner, Scherzer was nearly as good in 2014, though faded slightly down the stretch. Still, he seems like a near-lock to start the first game of the series. He made a relief appearance in Game 4 of last season's ALDS and could be used in similar fashion this year if Ausmus deviates from his bullpen roles.

After that, who knows? My guess (and preference) would be that Justin Verlander gets the nod in Game 2, while David Price takes the ball at Comerica Park in Game 3. Price was the more homer prone pitcher in 2014, and I don't trust one season of data to tell me that Camden Yards is suddenly no longer a launch pad of a ballpark. Price's familiarity with the O's isn't necessarily a good thing despite some stellar career numbers against them.

This has been a sticking point among the Tigers' fanbase this week, but Rick Porcello is the starter I'm worried about in this series. Porcello faded down the stretch, allowing a 6.20 ERA and 4.19 FIP in five September starts. He failed to get through the fourth inning in three of them. It may be fatigue - Porcello topped 200 innings for the first time this season and is about 30 innings above his total last year - or it could just be a rough stretch. Either way, he's definitely the team's fourth starter in this series.

Mark: Baltimore has Steve Pearce. Detroit has J.D. Martinez. What can you tell Orioles fans about your team's surprise out-of-nowhere player?

Rob: That the Houston Astros made a big mistake. J.D. Martinez made some major changes to his swing during the offseason and got off to a blazing start in the minor leagues for the Tigers this year. He hit 10 home runs in 17 games at Triple-A Toledo, then hit .345/.367/.702 with seven home runs and 21 RBI at the big league level in June.

Martinez was a force in the later innings, hitting 13 of his 23 home runs in the seventh inning or later. This makes sense when you consider that he was one of the best fastball hitters in the major leagues this year, but struggled at times against good breaking stuff. He isn't without faults, though. Martinez's plate discipline is still lacking, and he struck out in 26.3 percent of his plate appearances this year. He can be bottled up, but will make you pay for any and all mistakes left out over the plate.


Some confident notes sounded by my opposite number in Tigers fandom. Based a cursory perusal of the comments left by other Tigers fans on BYB, I think that confidence seems to be shared. There are good reasons for them to feel confident. Within a week or so, we'll know whether or not Orioles Magic has pulled off another trick or if the Tigers star power is just too much for this team.