To say the pressure is on Justin Verlander to deliver a strong showing Friday would be quite the understatement. The Tigers might be dead in the water without one.
Already known headed into Thursday’s Game 1 was that the Orioles had a big advantage over the Tigers in the bullpen. It just became more obvious than ever when Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria and Phil Coke combined to give up seven runs — plus an inherited runner — in two-thirds of an inning after Max Scherzer left down 4-3 in the eighth. Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, Zach Britton and Tommy Hunter worked four innings for the Orioles, allowing just one run in the process to close out a 12-3 victory.
The eighth-inning meltdown also had a hidden cost for the Tigers; whereas closer Zach Britton was slated to be stretched into trying for his first career four-out save, the huge inning allowed the Orioles to save him for Friday. He threw just five pitches instead of the 20 or 30 he might have thrown otherwise. Miller could be tired Friday after throwing 32 pitches — if he’s used, it probably won’t be for a full inning — but everyone should be available.
After watching the events of Thursday, Verlander is probably thinking he’s going to need to throw at least eight innings on Friday. That’s something he did in two of his three starts during his awesome postseason last year (0.39 ERA in 23 IP). However, it happened just three times in 32 starts during the regular season this year. Fortunately, he has been stronger of late, allowing a total of two runs over 15 1/3 innings against the Royals and White Sox in his last two starts. Those outings lowered his season ERA from 4.81 to 4.54.
The Orioles will be going with underrated lefty Wei-Yin Chen opposite Verlander. Chen, who went 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA this season, has the advantage of the Tigers not having seen him since his rookie season in 2012. Verlander has faced the Orioles twice this year, going 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.
Perhaps the Tigers will get to Chen, but even if they do, the Orioles could just go to Kevin Gausman for multiple innings. It’s hard to see Detroit winning the game with bats alone. If the Tigers have to go to the bullpen more than once, most likely, they’re going to lose.