The O's battle the New York Yankees in a winner-take-all Game 5 this evening. Whomever wins will advance to meet Detroit in a best-of-seven series beginning on Saturday.
Justin Verlander and Co. were in this position a year ago, tested over five games in the divisional round and set to oppose a team that had a superior regular-season record. It didn't work out, as the Tigers were eliminated from the 2011 ALCS in six games.
Against the Orioles, however, they would be poised to clinch a World Series berth for the following reasons.
The Detroit Tigers' pitching staff is stocked with power arms like Al Alburquerque, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Their effectiveness hinges on expanding the strike zone and enticing batters to chase.
Of Detroit's two potential ALCS opponents, the Baltimore Orioles are far less disciplined at the plate.
That's evident from a comparison of strikeout-to-walk ratios, where the O's checked in at an AL-worst 2.74. New York's lineup, meanwhile, was very reputable at about two-to-one.
In particular, Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds would struggle to make contact.
Facing southpaws ought to be a blessing for the Detroit Tigers and their numerous right-handed components.
However, New York Yankees' lefties include Boone Logan, Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia. All have considerable postseason experience and past success against current Tigers' players.
Baltimore Orioles' pitchers aren't nearly as imposing.
Joe Saunders, for example, would likely start Game 3 and the all-important Game 7 if his club survived. Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young dream of facing him under those circumstances (.400 AVG, 5 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI in 51 combined plate appearances).
There's also Troy Patton, who hasn't looked comfortable in these 2012 playoffs, and Brian Matusz, the reliever Buck Showalter is exhausting through overuse.
Let's not overlook the defensive differences between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.
With the former, you have center fielder Adam Jones. He ranks poorly at his position by almost every metric. Plus, Jones is less than two months removed from making an embarrassing three-base error at Comerica Park.
Curtis Granderson isn't exactly a Gold Glove candidate, but his first six MLB seasons were spent with the Detroit Tigers. During that period, he became accustomed to the ballpark's peculiarities. His 4.6 defensive WAR from 2004-2009 reflects that (via Baseball-Reference.com).
Obviously, hosting the majority of a series is an advantage.
That holds especially true for the Detroit Tigers, who won 50 games at Comerica Park in 2012 while posting a sub-.500 record on the road.
This team would get the opportunity to open—and if necessary, close—the American League Championship Series in Motown if they were paired with the Baltimore Orioles. Such a luxury would not be extended to them against the 95-win New York Yankees.
If fan encouragement means anything to the Tigers (and it does), they should be rooting vigorously for the O's to prevail in Game 5 tonight.