Tigers, O's will have to get reacquainted in ALDS

Tigers, O's will have to get reacquainted in ALDS

DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers saw the Orioles, Detroit was a Zubaz-clad juggernaut in the midst of its 27-12 start to begin the season with the Majors' best record. Baltimore was atop the American League East, but just a couple games over .500.

Their fortunes have veered since. So, for that matter, have their rosters. As the Tigers celebrated their division title Sunday afternoon, however, they weren't thinking ahead that far yet. Game 1 of the AL Division series is set for Thursday night at 5:37 p.m. ET on TBS.

"I couldn't even tell you their rotation," Ian Kinsler said. "I know they've got [Chris] Tillman and [Wei-Yin] Chen, Bud Norris. They've got a pretty good bullpen. They've got guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

"They're in the playoffs for a reason. The best of the best make it to the playoffs. Baseball's not hockey or basketball, where half the league makes it. The Wild Card's nice, it's good for the fans, and it's exciting, but the best of the best make it to the playoffs, and we don't expect anything less from Baltimore. They're going to be tough for us."

As close as the Tigers were to clinching for most of the week, they weren't falling into the trap looking ahead. They've had their own worries this week, and their opposition research focused on a Twins lineup that had piled up runs on their pitching for most of the weekend.

With the division clinched Sunday afternoon, they wanted to take the day to soak that in.

"We'll start [researching] tomorrow," catcher Alex Avila said.

They'll find a Orioles squad that won 96 games, tied for baseball's second-best record behind the Angels, and ran away with the AL East down the stretch, going 55-27 from June 30 to season's end. They'll find a team that -- despite losing Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to injuries, and losing Chris Davis this month to suspension -- led the league in home runs, finished second in slugging percentage and third in OPS. They've been powered the whole time by Nelson Cruz, a Spring Training signing turned AL MVP Award candidate.

More surprising, they'll find a pitching staff that ranked third in the AL in ERA, led by workhorse youngster Tillman and 16-game winner Chen.

The Tigers won the season series against Baltimore, including a three-game sweep at Camden Yards in May. One of those wins was a 4-1 victory that swung on a four-run ninth-inning rally, fueled by Miguel Cabrera's three-run homer off then-closer Tommy Hunter.

The Tigers took two of three from the O's in the season's opening weekend at Comerica Park.

In short, in the ALDS, the Tigers will find a familiar spot for themselves to counter. For all the success the Tigers have had the last four years, they've been the third seed in the AL postseason each year. They haven't had home-field advantage for a playoff series in the entire run.

They've gone into the Division Series facing a team with a better record each time. Each time, they've come out on top.

To Victor Martinez, the start of the postseason cleans the slate on the regular season.

"From here on, I don't care [about records and opponents], because I've seen teams winning 100 games and they'd be out in the first round," Martinez said. "I really believe in my team, in what we've got. So it's a fresh start."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.