|AL East foes meet in a David vs. Goliath match, otherwise known as the Jeffrey Maier Bowl. (US Presswire)|
The Orioles just keep shocking the world, as Friday night they went into Rangers Ballpark and knocked off the two-time defending American League champion Rangers. That victory gives them a date with their division-rival Yankees in the American League Division Series, and boy is this a juicy matchup.
First off, this has a certain David vs. Goliath feel. The Yankees have made the playoffs 17 of the last 18 seasons. The Orioles hadn't made the playoffs since 1997 until this season. The Yankees' payroll approaches $200 million -- tops in baseball -- while the Orioles' payroll this season was just over $80 million (19th in baseball). The Yankees were a heavy AL East favorite entering the season while many believed the Orioles were an easy pick to finish last.
Also, let us not forget the last time these two teams met in the postseason. Remember Jeffrey Maier?
So, yes, this series has plenty of drama heading in. Let's break it down.
Martin has good power and handles the Yankees pitching staff well, but he's clearly outclassed here. Wieters is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, has more power and gets on base at a higher clip. He's one of the more underappreciated players in baseball, actually, so this playoff series is a chance at a showcase for the young backstop.
These two are actually close to similar offensively at this point, though Teixeira still holds the advantage in the rate stats and Reynolds has more pure power. Also, Reynolds strikes out a ton more. Teixeira is a far superior defensive player, but he's just a few days removed from returning from a calf injury. That could be a serious factor here.
Cano is one of the most valuable players in baseball, year-in, year-out. He's also the most fearful member of the powerful Yankees lineup that led the majors in home runs by a wide margin this season. Andino hit .211/.283/.305 in the regular season. That significant edge graphic does no justice for this thing. The baseball you see above should actually have already shattered through the Yankees' side and be off to the right of your computer screen by now.
You know what's funny? I couldn't help but think of the AL MVP debate between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout here because Hardy has a higher WAR than Jeter. It's due to Jeter's lack of defensive range. Hardy does have an advantage in home-run power, too, though it isn't significant. Jeter hit .316/.362/.429 this season while Hardy hit .238/.282/.389. Sue me, but I'm considering postseason history here, too. Gimme Jeter and you can have Hardy. I like my chances.
In two years, this will be a significant edge for the Orioles, but Machado -- while he had several great moments -- still had an on-base percentage below .300 after joining the Orioles. A-Rod is still a productive bat but has struggled to stay healthy this season and had just one extra-base hit in his last 17 games. He's also been bad in his last three postseason series. Tough call here, so we'll go with the toss up.
It's the battle of change-of-scenery rejuvenated players. Ichiro hit .322/.340/.454 with the Yankees while McLouth hit .268/.342/.435 for the Orioles. I will preach that OBP means a lot more than batting average and the OBPs between these two guys are basically the same. Both have been very solid on the basepaths and adequate in the field (though Ichiro's range continues to wane), too.
Granderson had 43 homers, 106 RBI and 103 runs this year, but that's about all there is to like about his line. He only hit .232 while striking out 195 times and putting up less than 20 doubles. Jones hit .287 with 32 homers, 39 doubles, 82 RBI and 103 runs and also plays a bit better defense.
Davis has the type of power that draws thousands just to watch him take batting practice. When he gets one -- like this one -- it's such a pleasure to watch. He's also miscast as a right fielder. Swisher, on the other hand, gets on base at a higher clip (.364 to .326) is better defensively and has some good power of his own.
Ibanez is hitting .248/.319/.492 against righties. Jones is hitting .202/.294/.411 against lefties. In his time with the Orioles, Thome is hitting .257/.348/.396. Ibanez gains a few bonus points here for his penchant for clutch homers this season, too.
When the Yankees' big three is firing on all cylinders, it's the type of rotation that can lead a team with this kind of power and solid back-end of the bullpen to a World Series championship. It actually just happened in 2009, the only difference this time around is they have Kuroda instead of A.J. Burnett. We don't know what we're going to get from much of the Orioles' rotation, as they are new to the postseason and the actual order hasn't even been revealed yet. Tillman has great potential and whoever the Orioles seem to send out there in a big game seems to get the job done. Still, the Yankees appear superior here on paper (we'll get to that in a second).
The Yankees' back-end duo is stellar, but the Orioles had a 3.00 bullpen ERA during the regular season and have five relievers with an ERA under 3.00. Also, do not ignore what has happened with left-hander Brian Matusz since he moved to the bullpen. He had a 1.35 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in the regular season and made Josh Hamilton look silly in the AL wild-card game.
Fielding percentage shows the Yankees as slighty better, but we all know the perils of counting on that as a primary defensive metric by now (as in, if you can't get to a ball, you can't make an error). Advanced metrics aren't kind to either team, as both show range issues. The Yankees simply show fewer range issues, with the biggest culprits for the Orioles being Davis and Reynolds. Cano over Andino at second base looms large as well.
Don't even think about trying to add together all the "edge" points above and drawing a conclusion. The Orioles have defied the odds all season and attempting to rely on any sort of matchup breakdown or "on paper" measure to predict this matchup is complete folly with Buck Showalter's bunch.
Still, the Yankees are primed and ready for a deep playoff run. They have an age-old formula for postseason success with top-end starting pitching, serious power hitting and a lights-out back-end of the bullpen. It's going to be an epic series, but somehow the Yankees claw by in five games. In a weird way, though, I think I'll actually be surprised if I'm right. These Orioles are playing in a bizarro world. Buckle up.