The Tigers were perhaps the team in baseball that was most likely to win their division before the season began. The Oakland Athletics may not have actually been considered the least likely, but there’s a good chance they would have been in the conversation (had such a conversation existed). Yet here we are, on the eve of the playoffs, discussing both teams as division champions and upcoming American League Division Series opponents.
The A’s didn’t look like the Cinderella team from the start. They stumbled through April and May (much like the Tigers), and found themselves nine games below .500 on June 10 with a 26-35 record. They were dead last in the AL West, and possessed the third worst record in the American League. But then a funny thing happened: they stopped losing.
I mean they didn’t stop losing completely, that would be nearly impossible, but they stopped losing at any sort of elevated rate. Through their first 61 games they lost 35 times, but they would go on to lose only 33 times in their next 101 games. They entered October needing a three game sweep in their head-to-head series with the Texas Rangers to win the division, and they did just that. I don’t believe in teams of destiny, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the Oakland A’s do.
Oakland isn’t an incredibly skilled offensive club – they have a combined wRC+ of 98 this year – but they do possess a surprising amount of power – their .166 ISO is fourth in the AL. It’s not really a surprise that this was the team that picked up Brandon Inge because he’s a pretty good descriptor of their offense (think more like peak year Inge): lots of strikeouts, a good number of walks, a low batting average, but a surprising bit of power. Not overly great, but will get the job done for you, especially considering the defense. It’s a shame that Inge is hurt and won’t play in this series; the outpouring of love/hate for him from different types of Tigers fans would have been tremendous.
The bread and butter of this A’s team (as is typical for good Oakland squads) is the pitching staff. They’ve lost several guys – Bartolo Colon due to PED’s, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson (who may or may not be back for this series) due to injury – and have needed nine different players to start at least six games for them, but only one of those nine has put up an ERA above four (and six of the nine are 25 years old or younger). They don’t have a Justin Verlander, yet they’ve exactly matched Detroit’s 3.77 starter’s ERA for the season (entering Wednesday). The Oakland bullpen isn’t anything to mess with either. They’re one of only two AL teams to finish the year with a bullpen ERA south of 3.00.
Detroit and Oakland played fairly evenly this season. The Tigers took the season series 4-3 (2-2 on the road and 2-1 at home). They may not have the names that Texas, New York, or Detroit possess, but they were one Yankees loss away from claiming the top seed in the American League.
Game one will take place in Detroit on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:07 PM.