ALDS PREVIEW - Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles

The O's had to overcome a pair of serious injuries along the way, as catcher Matt Wieters was lost for the season in June with an elbow injury, while promising third baseman Manny Machado was again befelled by a serious leg injury that required surgery in August.

Then as if that wasn't enough last year's home run champion Chris Davis was suspended for the use of amphetamines in September. His suspension will keep him out of this series and he likely won't be available to the O's unless they reach the World Series.

Still it didn't slow the Orioles down from an offensive standpoint, as they hit a league high 211 dingers, with Nelson Cruz leading the way with an MLB- best 40.

Detroit, meanwhile, needed all 162 games before it finally clinched its fourth straight AL Central title with a win on the final day of the season. The four straight playoff appearances are tied for the longest active streak of postseason appearances in the major leagues.

While as good of a story it would have been had the postseason-starved Kansas City Royals overtaken Detroit, it would have been a disaster for a Tigers team that was an overwhelming favorite at the start of the year and one that went all-in at the non-waiver trade deadline with the acquisition of left-hander David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Regardless, Detroit is trying to get back to the World Series for the second time in three years, as it chases its first title since 1984.

These two teams have never met one another in the postseason, but the Tigers were 5-1 against the O's in the regular season.

Below we take a look at three keys for each team to move on.

BALTIMORE

1. FIND OTHER WAYS TO SCORE

To say the home run wasn't a big part of what the Orioles do is a giant understatement. Home runs accounted for 14.7 percent of the O's hits this season and they were the only team in the league to hit over 200 of them.

Detroit knows all too well the damage Cruz can do, as he hit six home runs against them in the 2011 ALCS as a member of the Texas Rangers.

Traditionally that hasn't been the recipe for success in October, especially against a Tigers rotation that features the last three AL Cy Young Award winners.

The Orioles are going to have to find other ways to score if they want to advance. While it is true that teams that tend to rely on the longball seem to be neutralized in October, the Orioles could take advantage of maybe the worst bullpen in the postseason.

Detroit's bullpen is too unreliable not to blow at least one win in this series.

2. GIVE THE BULLPEN A LEAD

Baltimore opened its season with Tommy Hunter closing games. That seems like a long time ago, though, doesn't it?

Whatever perceived disadvantage Baltimore may have in the rotation, the O's more than make up for it with one of the better bullpens in baseball. Closer Zach Britton is as underrated as any pitcher in the game and Orioles relievers combined for a 3.10 ERA, which was the third-lowest mark in the AL, and a 1.16 WHIP, tied for the second lowest.

Left-hander Andrew Miller and righty Darren O'Day will set the bridge to Britton. If the O's do get by, you can bet it's on the strength of their pitchers late in games.

Baltimore needs to get the bullpen a lead, as opponents are batting .216 against the O's from the eighth inning on.

By the way don't sleep on the Orioles starting staff. They may not have the Cy Young resumes as the Tigers, but they did have three 13-game winners (Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman) for the first time since '97, when Scott Erickson, Jimmy Key and Mike Mussina helped pitch the O's to their last division title.

3. ADAM JONES

With all due respect to the great season had by Cruz, Baltimore has one legitimate superstar and that is Adam Jones. But the Orioles are going to need more from him in this series than what he gave them during his first trip to the postseason in 2012.

Jones only managed two hits in 27 at-bats in two series against the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

If Baltimore wants to move on he's going to need to resemble the hitter who drove in 96 runs and collected 30 doubles and 29 homers, while hitting .281 in the three-hole for the Orioles this season.

DETROIT

1. STARTING PITCHING

You are not going to find a better starting staff in this year's playoffs than what Detroit is going to throw out there. At least on paper.

Max Scherzer will get the call in Game One and be followed by fellow Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Price. Rick Porcello will get the call in a potential fourth game after a breakout season, while Anibal Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen.

Scherzer and Verlander could be asked to start a potential Game 5 matchup in Baltimore on Oct. 8 based on the number of days of rest between Game 2 and Game 5.

There shouldn't be one matchup in this series that the Tigers won't have the advantage in the starting pitching department.

2. CAN THE BULLPEN BE AT LEAST SERVICEABLE?

It seems like we have the same discussion every year with the Tigers. Can the bullpen deliver in October? For as good as this team is it's incredible they always seem to enter the postseason in the same predicament.

Joe Nathan was believed to be the answer, but he more often than not looked like a pitcher who was 39. Things came to a head with him in September when he flipped off the Comerica Park crowd after yet another blown save.

As bad as it has been at times, though, Nathan has two blown saves and a 2.95 ERA since July 23.

In all, the group, which also includes former closers Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain, combined for a 4.29 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and .270 batting average against to finish among the bottom three teams in the AL in each statistic.

One player to watch here in the playoffs could be Sanchez, who has been bumped from the rotation. Sanchez missed time in the second half with a pectoral strain, but could be a huge factor for the Tigers bullpen. The reigning AL ERA champion has only made one appearance since Aug. 9 and it's unknown if he'll be able to go on back-to-back nights.

3. MIGUEL CABRERA

We can talk about the incredible potential of the starting staff or the bullpen deficiencies all we want, this Tigers team will only go as far as two- time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera will carry them.

Cabrera had a down year by his standards, but at the end of the day he was still the fourth player in Major League history to post 11 consecutive seasons with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBI.

And in case you haven't noticed, he's getting hot at the right time, hitting .379 in the final month of the season along with eight homers and 18 RBI. Plus he's healthy, something he couldn't have said last October.

PREDICTION: This series comes down to one thing: Can Detroit keep Baltimore in the ballpark? That's it. It doesn't matter if it's the starters or the Tigers beleaguered pen, which isn't as bad as it has been in the past. If Baltimore gets homer happy they will win. It just won't happen. Games slow down in October. Baltimore's starting staff is perhaps the most underrated unit in this matchup and they will steal a game at some point. When it comes down to it, though, I just can't imagine Baltimore's staff being able to outduel the Tigers' rotation over the course of the series.

TIGERS in FOUR

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