On Saturday evening at 6:07 eastern time, Justin Verlander will fire the first pitch of the ALDS for the Detroit Tigers in front of a raucous Comerica Park crowd. Standing in the batter’s box will be Coco Crisp of the upstart Oakland A’s. These two teams played 7 times during the regular season with the Tigers coming out on top 4 times.
And that’s all they need to do this time around. Win one more game than the team who authored the feel good story of the year in a short, 5-game series.
The Tigers and A’s, despite dramatic philosophical differences between the 2 front offices, mainly driven by payroll opportunities afforded (or not) by ownership, are unfortunately a fairly evenly matched duo. The Tigers shelled out over $133 million to grab just 88 wins, yet enough for an AL Central crown by a 3-game margin over the White Sox.
A’s GM Billy Beane, in the year that “Moneyball” hit the big screen, authorized a mere $52M in payroll to field the 94-win A’s, the 2nd best team in the American League.
Oakland’s highest paid player is rookie Yoenis Cespedes at $6.5M. The Tigers employ 3 players that make over $20M/season (Cabrera, Fielder, and Verlander).
So why aren’t the Tigers overwhelming favorites? Because they had several players underperform for large parts of the season, then mix in Oakland’s tenacity, and anything goes.
Offensively, only 13 runs separated these two teams during the regular season. The Tigers scored 726 times to 713 by Oakland. The Tigers did have the 3rd best team average in the American League at .268. This was due almost entirely to the efforts of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, and Andy Dirks though and is far from an indicator of the team’s overall ability to put an inning together. Oakland had the 2nd worst team batting average in the AL at just .238.
From a pitching perspective, the teams are also well matched. Detroit uses a young, yet veteran, starting rotation to get their outs while the A’s go as their rookies go. The two teams tied for the American League lead along with Tampa Bay with 90 quality starts. Oakland ranks 2nd in team ERA while the Tigers are 3rd.
The A’s, due to a dramatically superior bullpen, gave up just 614 runs on the season to 670 by the Tigers. The A’s bullpen was 2nd in the AL with a 2.94 combined ERA. The Tigers ranked 10th at 3.79.
To nobody’s surprise, the A’s boast a better defensive team as well. They allowed just 45 unearned runs on the season. The Tigers gave away 74.
Since August 16th, the A’s have been dominating almost all comers. Over their final 46 games they went a sparkling 33-13. The Tigers haven’t been too shabby either. They went 15-7 over their final, and critical, 22 games.
The Tigers are going to expect heroics from their superstars, and they should get it. How far unproven guys like Josh Reddick (32 homers), Brandon Moss (21 homers in just 265 at-bats), and Cespedes (.292, 23 HR’s, 82 RBI’s) can take the A’s against some elite frontline pitching from the Tigers will probably determine the outcome of this series.
After Verlander in Game 1, expect the Tigers to go with Doug Fister in Sunday’s Game 2, and Max Scherzer out in Oakland for Game 3.
Oakland has some decisions to make. Brett Anderson is back from injury and probably ready to start. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the better lefties in the American League. Jarrod Parker will surely get one of the first 3 games. AJ Griffin will pitch and Tommy Milone will likely get a shot as well. Parker, Griffin, and Milone are all rookies. It’s truly astounding what the A’s pulled off with basically an all-rookie starting rotation.
As much as the offensive output against the Tigers is an uncertainty for Bob Melvin’s team, so is the predictability of throwing a bunch of rookies onto the bump and under the bright lights of the postseason.
This may not be the matchup that you wanted to see from a superstar standpoint, but make no mistake, the Oakland A’s are on fire, they are playing with gobs of chemistry and passion, and they are set to give the Tigers hell.