Now that the Orioles have clinched the AL East and secured a spot in the ALDS, the question remains about the opponent they would face. At this point, the O's are three games behind the Angels for the best record in the league. Assuming, the O's do not leapfrog the Angels, they will face the winner of the AL Central, which remains a close race with the Tigers leading the Royals by 1.5 games. Who should the Orioles root for in the final two weeks of the regular season to become their opponent in the ALDS?
The Tigers have perhaps the most dominant rotation in all of baseball, with only the Nationals and the A's coming close in my mind. When Justin Verlander might be the odd man out of the rotation in the playoffs, you know that your rotation is in very good shape. That might indeed be the case, as the foursome of David Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello have outpitched Verlander significantly this season, though Sanchez's injury has clouded the situation. On the other hand, the Royals' rotation is similar the O's in a lot of ways, consisting of roughly league-average starters at all spots. There is not much difference among Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy, the likely starters for the second, third and fourth games of the ALDS if they can line up their rotation. The key difference between the O's and the Royals is that the Royals have a legitimate front-line starter in James Shields. Against the Tigers, the O's would face a lopsided pitching matchup in every game of the series. Against the Royals, Shields is the only opponent the O's would be worried about.
The strength of the Royals' pitching staff lies in its bullpen. Their top relievers in terms of innings pitched, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland, have an average ERA of 1.31 and an average FIP of 1.96. The bullpen collectively has an ERA of 3.39 that only ranks 12th in the league, but that is still miles ahead of the Tigers which ranks 27th in the league in terms of bullpen ERA with 4.23. The Tigers have struggled to find a consistent reliever all year, with Joe Nathan floundering in the closer role with a 5.10 ERA. The other top relievers in terms of innings pitched include Joba Chamberlain with a 3.64 ERA, Phil Coke with a 3.70 ERA and Al Alburquerque with a 2.53 ERA. Against the Tigers, there is a much higher chance of coming back from behind, and that is necessary given the rotation of the Tigers.
The Tigers have the fourth best lineup in the league in terms of wRC+ at 112. This comes amid a down season from Miguel Cabrera Among the eight position players with the most PA (the ninth being Austin Jackson who has been traded for Price), only Nick Castellanos has a wRC+ lower than 100 at 98. Victor Martinez has been the third best hitter in baseball by wRC+ at 163, behind Mike Trout and Jose Abreu. Miguel Cabrera, even in a down season, ranks 12th in wRC+ at 146 among qualified hitters. JD Martinez has been an even better hitter than Cabrera this season with a wRC+ of 156. Meanwhile, the Royals rank 23rd in wRC+ at 92. Among the nine position players with the most PA, only Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain have wRC+ above the league average of 100. The Royals are a singles-hitting machine, having the second-most singles in the league behind only the Tigers. Unlike the Tigers which also possess plenty of power, the Royals have the lowest ISO in the league, coupled with the lowest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate (I know, it's hard to imagine a team walking less the O's). Singles are just not that threatening, and the Tigers' power is much more worrying.
The Royals rank third in the league in UZR behind the O's and the Red Sox. They rank 7th in DRS (the O's rank second behind the Cardinals). Meanwhile, the Tigers rank 28th in UZR and 29th in DRS. This point doesn't need further elaboration.
Overall, the Royals seem like a very similar team to the O's. Both teams rely on their superior bullpen and defense to support their average-ish rotation. The O's have a better lineup, which is why they have won nine more games than the Royals. The Tigers have superior talent and the shinier names, but the Royals make up for their deficit by employing a dynamite bullpen and one the best defenses. Nevertheless, talent wins out majority of the time, and the pitching advantage the Tigers have over the O's would be especially difficult to overcome. I will be rooting hard for the Royals for the rest of the regular season, so the O's can have an easier road to the World Series.