The Baltimore Orioles are headed to their first American League Championship Series since 1997.
What were the keys to their sweeping the Detroit Tigers and what makes them dangerous moving forward? Three of them were on display in Game 3.
Difference-Maker: Nelson Cruz
This wasn’t the first time that Nelson Cruz has vexed the Tigers and it probably won’t be the last.
Cruz homered in Game 3, giving him eight homers in nine career postseason games against Detroit and 16 in his postseason career.
He has 16 postseason home runs over the past five seasons. No one else has more than nine in that time.
Cruz has 16 home runs in just 37 career postseason games. That’s more than Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio and Mark McGwire had in their postseason careers. All of those players played in more postseason games than Cruz.
Both the Royals and Angels could provide tougher matchups for Cruz. He had two home runs, but also struck out 10 times in seven games against the Royals this season. Cruz’s best scenario would be facing Jason Vargas, against whom he’s 10-for-30 with four home runs in his career.
He went 2-for-24 without a homer against Angels pitching this season.
Starting pitching depth
The Orioles don’t have a dominant starter, but they were deep enough that they were able to send a pitcher like Bud Norris out for Game 3 of a series.
The Orioles have won 10 of Norris’ past 12 starts dating back to the regular season. He has a 2.87 ERA, with 69 strikeouts in 69 innings in that span.
Norris has allowed one run in 13 1/3 innings against the Royals. He’s 4-0 with a 0.43 ERA in his career against the Angels.
The Orioles have the bullpen depth to make a deep run against whichever team they face the rest of the way. In Game 3, they got five outs from Andrew Miller for the second time in the series. They also got a game-ending double play from closer Zach Britton to end what looked like it was going to be a shaky ninth inning.
Britton had a ground-ball rate of 75 percent during the regular season, the highest in the majors for anyone who threw at least 50 innings.
The Orioles' bullpen allowed three runs in 12 innings in this series. The Tigers' bullpen allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings.