When Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette introduced Nelson Cruz to the media back in February, he was quick to point out the slugger's postseason accolades.
There's no doubt the Orioles have gotten their money's worth in their one-year, $8 million investment in the 34-year-old pending free agent, but could the true payoff be ahead?
Cruz will head into the Orioles' American League Division League Series matchup against the Detroit Tigers with 34 postseason games under his belt. He is by far is the Orioles' most-experienced playoff player.
He has 14 career postseason home runs, which is fifth-most among active players (if you count Derek Jeter, who has played his final game).
And Cruz mashed against Detroit in the 2011 American League Championship Series, hitting six homers and driving in 13 runs in six games on his way to winning the series MVP award.
In that series, Cruz hit homers in five of the six games, including two in Game 2 (one of those coming of Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer). He won Game 2 with a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Cruz also homered off Justin Verlander twice, once in Game 1 and again in the decisive Game 6. He hit a three-run homer off Jose Valverde in the 11th inning of a Game 5 extra-inning win.
And after struggling for most of the second half, Cruz is going into the postseason hitting .349/.384/.604 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 26 games in September.
Needless to say, the Tigers won't be looking forward to seeing Cruz this week.
-- Orioles manager Buck Showalter met with his staff Monday to iron out the roster for the ALDS.
Beyond announcing Chris Tillman as the Orioles' Game 1 starter, Showalter hasn't announced the rest of his rotation. Pitchers are in line to pitch certain games – Wei-Yin Chen in Game 2, Miguel Gonzalez in Game 3 and Bud Norris in Game 4 – but Showalter insisted Sunday in Toronto that that wasn't definite.
He is considering carrying just 10 or 11 pitchers and having his Game 3 and 4 starters available in the bullpen for Game 1 and 2. Gonzalez and Norris would fit into a those bullpen roles more than Chen, who has never worked in relief in his career.
Chen has not pitched against Detroit and their lineup that is dominated by right-handed hitters this season, but he is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against the Tigers. He held Detroit to a .220 average in those two outings.
Gonzalez is 6-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 14 road starts, but he did get roughed up for seven runs and nine hits in Detroit during the first weekend of the season. But overall, he is pitching tremendously, with a 2.19 ERA in the second half and a 1.69 ERA in five September starts.
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Norris has some pretty dramatic home-road splits, going 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 13 starts at Camden Yards and 7-6 with a 4.80 ERA away. He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings at Comerica Park during the first weekend of the season, but he's 8-2 with a 3.27 ERA overall in the second half. Norris was scheduled to throw a bullpen session today, which would make him available for Thursday or Friday in relief.
Showalter has made it clear he's going to be aggressive in winning each game. He said he's not playing for another day. If a starter struggles early after a couple innings, he will be prepared to pull him. As he has said this weekend, it's all hands on deck.
He also said the rotation order would hinge on who the Orioles play and they didn't know their opponent until moments after their final regular-season game in Toronto.
We also know that Showalter doesn't like to give the opponent more information than he has to. He's the manager who brought both Joe Saunders and Chris Tillman to the podium the day before Game 4 of the ALDS in 2012 in the news conference with the next day starter.
That's not saying he'd do that with Gonzalez and Norris in Games 3 and 4. Maybe it will become clear quickly on Wednesday, the media's first access to Showalter since the end of the regular season, but rest assured that Showalter will leave no stone unturned and even though he's managing for today that he has the possible ALCS matchups in mind.