Sep 23, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander (35) delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Tigers – A’s Series Preview

Familiar foes meet once again in the ALDS. Last season the Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland A’s in five games in the divisional series. Last year, the divisional series was set up differently with the lower seed having home field advantage for the first two game and the final three games at the home of the higher seeded team which worked to the advantage of the Tigers who were in the identical spot that they were in last year. This year, the traditional 2-2-1 format resumes and the first two games will be played at Oakland who is the higher seed with a record of 96-66, the middle two games will be played in Detroit as Detroit is the lower seed with a 93-69 record in 2013, and the final game back in Oakland if necessary. Last year the Tigers took the first two games at home, dropped the next two in Oakland, and won game 5 by a score of 6-0 behind Justin Verlander’s second win of the series.

The A’s won the regular season series this year 4-3 over the Tigers and took 3 of 4 games at Comerica Park at the end of August. The A’s absolutely destroyed the Tigers’ pitching in this series. I do not expect this to happen in this series. This will be a scrappy series with a bunch of close games. The starting pitching on both sides should bode pretty well, but both of these lineups could explode at any second. This was shown in the season series with the two teams scoring a combined average of over 11 and almost 12 runs per game. This should be a fantastic series between two very good teams. Let’s take a look to see who has the advantage in starting pitching, lineup, and bullpen.

Starting Pitching Advantage: Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have the best starting rotation in the American League and arguably the best in the game. The Tigers have 3 pitchers that would be pitching game 1 for the Oakland A’s. Let’s look at the game by game matchups:

Game 1: Max Scherzer vs. Bartolo Colon

Push. Why push? The game is in Oakland. Based purely on stuff, this game easily goes to Scherzer. He is most likely the AL Cy Young this year. He has been fantastic this season for the Tigers and can decimate any opponent lineup. Somehow, Bartolo Colon is 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.16 ERA over 31 innings in September while maintaining an 85.5% fastball rate which had an average velocity of 91.2 mph. Colon has to basically be perfect with this location and the movement on it has to be late and deceptive. The O.co Coliseum will be an absolute madhouse which is obviously a huge advantage for the A’s. The team that scores first will probably win this game and it may only take 1 run to win it.

Game 2: Justin Verlander vs. Sonny Gray

Slight advantage Tigers. Just looking at the names, you instantly think major advantage Tigers, but that it not the case. Verlander was absolutely dominant over the A’s last postseason winning games 1 and 5 and Gray is just a 23 year old rookie. This season at home, Gray was 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA with a WHIP of 0.93. Gray will feed off of the crowd in Oakland which will be absolutely crazy. If the Tigers can get to Gray early, it can make for a long day for the A’s. If Verlander can pitch even close to what he did the last two seasons and last postseason and Oakland, this game has the makings of a 1-0 or 2-1 pitchers’ duel.

Game 3: Anibal Sanchez vs. Jarrod Parker

Advantage Tigers. Last season, Parker received the short end of the stick as he pitched against Verlander in games 1 and 5 last year in the ALDS receiving 2 losses against the Tigers. He may not have the confidence he needs against the Tigers to go out and pitch well at Comerica Park. The Tigers hit Parker to a tune of a 4.26 ERA. Anibal Sanchez was given a big contract this offseason by the Tigers and this year he has been worth every penny. Some people think that Sanchez should be pitching in game 1 for the Tigers against the A’s. He won the ERA title this year in the AL, was top 10 in WHIP and strikeouts, and pitches well in almost every situation. Sanchez has been outstanding this year and he will be pitching in the friendly confines of Comerica Park. The Tigers will be back at home where they play their best baseball and even though Oakland took 3 of 4, they Tigers should take this game.

Game 4*: Doug Fister vs. Dan Straily

Push. These two faced off against each other earlier this year in the series at the end of August. Fister was lit up by the A’s giving up 7 runs in 5 innings picking up the loss and Straily only gave up 1 run in 6 innings picking up the win. Fister had a better regular season than Straily and was better at home. Straily had an ERA of 4.11 on the road this year, but I still look at this as a push. The big problem with Fister this season has not been walks or giving up a multitude of home runs, it is limiting the inning that has 3 singles, a walk, and a double and all of the sudden there are 3 or 4 runs on the board. Leyland will have to keep a shorter leash on Fister because a big inning in the postseason is usually the difference in the game.

Game 5*: Max Scherzer vs. Bartolo Colon

Slight advantage Tigers. The Tigers do not want to be here, but they will have the slight advantage. Flying back across the country and entering what will be a madder house than normal does not bode well for the Tigers. Yes, the Tigers won game 5 last year in Oakland behind a complete game shutout performance from Verlander. It may take a similar performance from Scherzer to bring home a series win if it goes 5 games. Stuff usually wins out because the early postseason nerves should be gone by this point in the series even though it is a win or go home game. Scherzer’s stuff is better than Colon’s and it should win out.

*if necessary

Lineup Advantage: Tigers

When these two teams played against each other this year, the winning team scored 4, 7, 10, 8, 6, 14, and 7 runs. In the 7 games played between these two teams, 82 runs were scored which is an average of 11.7 runs per game. If these games are played anything like the regular season matchups, plenty of runs will be scored, maybe enough for the fringe fan to be entertained! The Tigers were 2nd in all of baseball in run scoring and the A’s were 4th. Both of these teams are top 10 in ERA on the season, but this time the hitting may win out over pitching.

The key to the Tigers offense in the postseason will be Austin Jackson. He is the key to getting this offense started. When he gets on base, a hole opens up on the right side of the infield for Torii Hunter to punch a base hit to right and then have men on base for Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez. When Austin Jackson scores a run, the Tigers win more than 70% of the time. If he can get on base and score some runs, this could be a long series for Oakland.

The key for Oakland in this series offensively is Brandon Moss. Moss absolutely ate the Tigers alive when these teams met this season. In 26 AB’s against the Tigers this year, Moss has 5 walks, 7 hits (4 of them home runs), 10 RBI, and 7 runs scored. If the Tigers can shut down Moss in this series or at least pitch around him, they could limit the damage. The A’s are pretty balanced in their lineup, especially with their power. The A’s have 4 players with more than 20 home runs so the ball could be out of the ballpark at any time.

The Tigers have more balance in their lineup. The Tigers are at their best when they are a station to station team which will lump together singles and some extra base hits. The A’s can explode at any time, but the Tigers are just a bit more complete.

Bullpen Advantage: A’s

This is where there is the biggest disparity between the two teams. The A’s may have the best bullpen of any team in the playoffs. The Tigers have a strong back end to their bullpen, but the front and middle parts of the bullpen are not that strong. If the Tigers are going to be successful, they will need to get starts of at least 6 innings from their starters. In an ideal situation, the starter will go 7 innings and the combination of Drew Smyly, Jose Veras, and Joaquin Benoit will close out the game. Bruce Rondon is not on the ALDS roster. This means that Al Albuquerque and Rick Porcello will have to pitch in high leverage situations when the starters get into trouble.

Oakland’s bullpen is a different story. Oakland has the lowest bullpen ERA of the American League playoff teams. The A’s issued the fewest walks which are killers especially in the postseason. Grant Balfour was knocked around once by the Tigers, but he set the record for consecutive saves in Oakland A’s history. The A’s want their starters to give them 6 innings because they have the 7th, 8th and 9th on lockdown with Sean Doolittle in the 7th, Ryan Cook in the 8th and Balfour in the 9th.

Prediction: Tigers in 4.

The Tigers limped into the playoffs, but that does not matter. There were 6 days between their last game in which they were no hit. The Tigers will go into Oakland and take one of the first two games behind the starting pitching of Scherzer and Verlander. They will then come home and protect home field advantage behind their starting pitching. Pitching wins championships and if the Tigers are going to move on, they will have to tame the Oakland lineup which knocked them around in the end of August which I think will be the case.

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