10/06/12 10:22 AM ET
ALDS position-by-position: Orioles-Yankees
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
Russell Martin finished strong for the Yankees, hitting .258 with an .886 OPS and seven homers over his final 89 at-bats, pushing his batting line for the season up to .211/.311/.403. But Matt Wieters, despite an 0-for-4 performance in the Wild Card game, is always a middle-of-the-order threat for the Orioles. Wieters hit .249 with a .764 OPS on the season, including a .296/.389/.541 line over his final 27 games.
This will be entirely dependent upon Mark Teixeira finding his timing after missing nearly a month with a Grade 1 left calf strain, something that has proven difficult for the Yankees first baseman since his return. When Teixeira is locked in, he can light up opposing pitchers like he did in July, when he had a .298/.386/.631 batting line. Mark Reynolds can just as easily send balls into the seats, but he's also more prone to games like Friday's 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
The Orioles' second-base platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Robert Andino combined to go 2-for-4 in Friday's win over the Rangers, but that's practically a bad day for Robinson Cano with how well the New York slugger has been hitting lately. Cano finished the year on an absolute rampage, batting .615 (24-for-39) with seven doubles and three homers over New York's final nine games. For the season, Cano hit .313 with 33 homers and 94 RBIs.
Without even taking into account Derek Jeter's 152 games of postseason experience or .307 lifetime batting average in the playoffs, the Yankees' captain looks primed for a strong October, as he's coming off his best offensive season since 2009, when the Bronx Bombers won their most recent World Series championship. J.J. Hardy put up strong defensive numbers for Baltimore and bashed 22 homers, but his .282 on-base percentage this season leaves something to be desired offensively.
The young Manny Machado grew up idolizing Alex Rodriguez and trains with the veteran third baseman in the offseason, and this matchup will be a true battle between youth and experience. Machado is a dynamic hitter and an athletic defender who is playing out of position at third base, while Rodriguez no longer looks quite like the three-time AL MVP Award winner of years past. If Rodriguez can put it all together, though, he's a more potent offensive threat right now.
Nate McLouth has certainly been a welcome surprise atop the order for Baltimore, batting .268 with 12 steals in 55 games since being signed after his release by the Pirates. But Ichiro Suzuki has looked completely rejuvenated since getting traded to the Yankees, hitting .322 with 13 doubles and 14 steals in 67 games. Ichiro played especially well down the stretch, batting .362 in September and October.
Coming off a 43-homer campaign in 2012, Curtis Granderson is fully capable of changing any postseason game with just one swing. The New York center fielder may offer the greatest power potential in the series. But Baltimore's Adam Jones is coming off a better year overall, crushing 39 doubles and 32 homers to go along with 16 stolen bases and a .287/.334/.505 batting line while playing all 162 games for the Orioles.
Matching up their statistics from the 2012 season, Nick Swisher and Chris Davis appear fairly evenly matched: Swisher hit .272 with an .837 OPS, while Davis batted .270 with an .827 OPS. Both finished the year swinging a hot bat, too, although Davis' was more powerful. Swisher batted .272 with six doubles and four homers in September and October, while Davis crushed 10 homers with a .320 average and .660 slugging percentage during that span.
Jim Thome is a viable threat to work a walk or go deep at any time for the Orioles, but he finished the season on a rough 0-for-10 skid with six strikeouts, and there's a lot of boom-or-bust potential in his bat. For the Yankees, meanwhile, Raul Ibanez flashed his flair for the dramatic in Tuesday's win over the Red Sox. He combined with Andruw Jones for much of the season to provide a formidable duo.
Nick Markakis' injury dramatically affected the makeup of Baltimore's bench, as Davis shifted to right field and Thome went from being a pinch-hitting option to full-time DH. That doesn't leave much in the Orioles' dugout aside from Endy Chavez, Lew Ford and the non-starting second baseman. New York, meanwhile, has plenty of options, with players like Eric Chavez (.281 average, .845 OPS, 16 homers and 37 RBIs), Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez waiting to be called into action.
The Orioles' starters just need to get the ball to their bullpen with any type of lead, something they have proven to be perfectly capable of doing. Miguel Gonzalez has been a huge surprise, and Chris Tillman is pitching well. The Yankees' playoff hopes, meanwhile, rest on the arms of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes. New York has the edge in terms of experience and proven ability, especially if Sabathia is on his game.
Baltimore's bullpen has been its strength all year, and that should remain true in the playoffs. The Orioles went 74-0 in the regular season when leading after seven innings, and they were 29-9 in one-run games, due largely to the success of relievers like Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton. The Yankees also feature a solid relief corps, led by right-hander David Robertson, but the Orioles' bullpen has been simply dominant.
Rafael Soriano has been excellent since being thrust into the closer role for the injured Mariano Rivera, converting 42 of 46 saves. But Soriano, who finished the year with a 2.26 ERA, has given up four homers in his past 12 innings, potentially a problem against an opportunistic Orioles team that thrives late in games. Much of Baltimore's success can be attributed to Jim Johnson, who led the Majors with 51 saves in 54 chances.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.