Tigers-Orioles division series is too close to call

Tom Gage
The Detroit News
The Tigers and Orioles get the party started Thursday in Baltimore.

Detroit – Psst, the Tigers are expected to get farther than this. Pass it on.

They had a great time celebrating Sunday after clinching their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title.

They celebrated like there was no tomorrow. But, of course, there was, and it now focuses on taking the next step.

Suffice to say, the Tigers won't be completely happy, or feel completely fulfilled, unless they celebrate four times. One won't be enough. Three won't be enough.

They are in search of the elusive fourth party — the one that would follow winning the World Series.

Namely, the one that's eluded them since they became a team to be reckoned with anually.

Along the way, there've been many memorable scenes: Jim Leyland moonwalking, Max Scherzer wearing blue-and-brown goggles while celebrating to match the color of his eyes, and a bunch of players tempting fate by treating the protective plastic on the floor like a slip-and-side.

But the ultimate celebration has eluded the Tigers, although Monday, TBS analyst Pedro Martinez said "they have all the tools to become a champion. If they focus and continue to want it, I think Detroit is the team to beat."

The Tigers know better than anyone, however, it's a process of one party at a time, each one better than the last.

And the way to the next party happens to go through the Orioles, whom the Tigers were seemingly done with as an opponent in mid-May.

The Tigers beat them five of six, losing one of three at home in April before sweeping a three-game series at Camden Yards in May.

The two series were part of the 27-12 start, back when it looked like the Tigers were the next "Super Team." But are the dynamics at play different on the heels of the Tigers being 63-60 since then?

In the same time frame, the Orioles were 75-48, making them what they are — a force to be reckoned with.

So, here are five ways the Tigers can win the series, followed by five ways the Orioles can win.

They are not to be construed as ways either will actually win the series, but it's difficult not to envision the Tigers getting that done in four games.

At the moment, though, it's strictly up for grabs.

The Tigers win because ...

■A lot will be made of the power of the Orioles. They hit 211 home runs while the Tigers hit 155. But the Tigers had the higher slugging percentage (.426-.422) because of doubles, and they'll hit enough doubles to offset the Orioles home runs.

■Those who finished hot are likely to stay hot. The Tigers had four mainstays who hit at least .300 in September, including three of him at .350 or above — Miguel Cabrera hit .379, Victor Martinez .378, J.D. Martinez .354 and Torii Hunter .304.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera has "gotten hot again, and it's well-timed."

Cabrera finished with eight home runs and 18 RBIs in September after hitting .252 with one home run and 10 RBIs in August.

■The Tigers hit .292 in September, their best month, after .263 in August, their worst.

■Teams don't win just because of their stars. So keep this in mind: After hitting .192 in July and .196 in August, Andrew Romine hit .298 in 15 September games.

■If the Orioles don't hit home runs, they might find it difficult to score. Their 18 stolen bases after the All-Star break were the lowest in the majors, and the number of times they struck out (583) after the break led the AL.

The Orioles win because ...

■There's a reason the Orioles didn't hesitate to name Chris Tillman the Game 1 starter — in the 10 starts before his last of the regular season, he went 6-0, the Orioles went 10-0 and Tillman had a 1.79 ERA with a opponents' batting average of .197.

■The Orioles finished with some hot hitters, too — like Nelson Cruz, who hit .349 in September with five home runs and 19 RBIs.

Plus, Cruz has been known to hurt the Tigers before — he was 2011 Championship Series MVP for the Rangers with six home runs and 13 RBIs in six games.

■The Orioles made their home runs count. They led the majors with the 46 they hit with runners in scoring position. Then again, they also led the majors with 119 solo home runs.

■Their closer, Zach Britton, didn't get the attention he deserved. At 0.90, he had the lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) among the nine relievers in the AL with at least 24 saves. Britton finished fourth in the league with 37 saves.

■Stats aside, they just win. In their last 81 games, the Orioles were 54-27. In their last 81, the Tigers were 43-38.