The Baltimore Orioles opened their season with a three-game home series against the Boston Red Sox and wound up dropping two of three. They now face another tough task in taking on Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. The Birds went 4-2 against the Tigers last season and are 17-10 against them since the start of the 2010 season. While the Orioles luck out by not having to face reigning Cy Young champion Max Scherzer in this series, they still have to deal with Anibal Sanchez, the emerging Rick Porcello, and one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the American League – Justin Verlander.
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Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and staff ace Chris Tillman will be the Orioles starters going up against the Tigers formidable lineup, led by none other than Miguel Cabrera. It will be there job to stifle the second-highest scoring offense in all of baseball from 2013. Granted, they traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder in exchange for Ian Kinsler and are counting on 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez, who was acquired from Baltimore for utility man Steve Lombardozzi, to produce defensively at shortstop. However, that doesn’t mean the Orioles pitching staff shouldn’t tread carefully.
Miguel Gonzalez versus Anibal Sanchez
In game one of this series we will witness one of the more underrated starting pitchers in the American League, Miguel Gonzalez, oppose Anibal Sanchez and attempt to set the tone for the rest of the series and get the Birds back to .500. Even though Gonzalez has very quietly become one of the Orioles most reliable starters since 2012, throwing 276 and two-thirds innings and earning a 3.58 ERA over that time period, he has not had much success in limited exposure to the Tigers.
He’s started just two games against the Tigers in his career but he’s lasted a total of just 11 and two-thirds innings, giving up eight earned runs on 13 hits, three home runs, and eight walks while striking out nine.
Bud Norris versus Rick Porcello
If spring training stats were a true indicator of regular season success then we would fully expect Bud Norris to toss a shutout against the Tigers in game two of the series. Norris had a particularly strong spring, pitching 17 innings over five starts and striking out 15 batters with an ERA of 2.65. However, his 4.80 ERA over 50 and two-thirds innings of work with the Orioles after being acquired from the Houston Astros last season is still enough cause for concern.
Rick Porcello has been viewed as a starter on the verge of breaking out for several seasons in a row now, but he’s coming off some putrid performances in spring training and his lowest ERA in any season since coming into the big leagues was 3.97 in his rookie year (2009). What bodes well for the Orioles offense in this game is that over seven career starts against them and 42 innings of work, Porcello has given up a total of 24 earned runs on 56 hits.
Chris Tillman versus Justin Verlander
In the premier pitching match-up of this series, Orioles staff ace Chris Tillman opposes Tigers proven ace and veteran hurler Justin Verlander. Tillman is coming off a decent outing against the Boston Red Sox that saw him give up just one run over five innings of work, but if he wants to have another solid start he’ll need to be more economical with his pitches and get deeper into the game for his team. Tillman wasn’t particularly solid against the Tigers in his lone start against them last season, giving up three earned runs on seven hits over just five innings, but there’s always the potential for a gem when Tillman takes the mound.
Players to Watch
Justin Verlander – the Tigers perennial Cy Young candidate and ace is 8-1 with a 3.26 ERA over 13 starts and 91 innings against the Orioles in his career.
Nelson Cruz – the Orioles most recent addition to the lineup is a career .274/.351/.446 hitter against Detroit over his career and he’s also connected for eight home runs, but he’s collected just eight hits over 46 at-bats in his career against Verlander and Porcello combined.
Chris Davis – the slugger connected for an Orioles franchise record 53 home runs last season and he’ll look to do more of the same against Porcello, who he’s launched three bombs against over 12 at-bats while hitting .333 against him.