The Baltimore Orioles let one slip away in Game 1 of the ALDS and now find themselves heading into a virtual must-win game on Monday night. The chances of Baltimore digging out of an 0-2 hole against the New York Yankees are slim to none, and closer to none.
It also doesn't help that this year's schedule for the division series features a 2-3 format, which means the final three games of the matchup will take place at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had the best home record in baseball at 51-30.
In other words, the Orioles should treat Game 2 like an elimination game. They will send rookie Wei-Yin Chen to the mound to face off with one of the most decorated postseason pitchers of all time in Andy Pettitte.
On paper, it's a huge mismatch. Pettitte has made 42 career postseason starts with a record of 19-10. Chen has never faced the type of atmosphere he will during a playoff game at Camden Yards, one of the best parks in the league with the fans to match.
Yet, when you dig a little deeper, the Orioles shouldn't be completely written off. Pettitte is making just his fourth start after missing an extended period of time with an ankle injury. He hasn't gone longer than six innings in the previous three.
On the flip side, Chen has kept the vaunted Yankees offense at or below three earned runs in all but one of his four starts against New York this season. That's a solid showing when you consider the Yankees ranked second in runs scored.
The key for Baltimore will be working the count against Pettitte. When you consider his age (40) and lack of starts down the stretch, it's hard to imagine he'll be at full strength for tonight. The more the Orioles make him work, the quicker they can get into the bullpen.
Chen won't be able to completely shut down the Yankees offense, but he's certainly capable of doing what Jason Hammel did on Sunday night, which is give the team a chance to win by giving up only two runs.
If Chen keeps the Yankees to three runs or less again and the Orioles can get Pettitte out of the game before the seventh inning—both realistic goals—they'll have a chance.
That's where the offense comes in. While Baltimore can't match the star power of the Yankees, manager Buck Showalter has done a terrific job of bringing together a combination of young talent and castoffs to form a potent group.
The combination of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters gives the Orioles a solid one-two punch in the middle of the order, and they are surrounded by unheralded role players like Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy. Casual fans might not know their names, but they're getting the job done.
Even though Baltimore isn't going to win a slugfest with the Yankees, the Orioles will have a chance in a close, low-scoring game. They have a deep enough lineup to survive that type of battle.
All told, it comes down to getting a solid start from Chen and coming through in key situations. They didn't do that in Game 1, going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, allowing the Yankees to finally take advantage in the ninth.
If they don't do better in Game 2, the team's surprising run will be on the brink of collapse.
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