While the AL Wild Card spot is coming down to two sudden death games, one division series is set in stone. The Detroit Tigers will travel to face the Oakland Athletics in a best-of-five series beginning on Friday Oct. 4.
This series is a rematch of last year’s ALDS, as well as the 2006 ALCS, becoming somewhat of a playoff rivalry.
The Tigers were pushing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs in early September, but went 13-13, in the month, landing them in the 3rd seed.
While the Tigers have had the Athletics’ number in the playoffs over recent years, this year Oakland could present a much more difficult task.
So how do the teams stack up?
The Tigers rank first in team batting average in the AL with .285, while the A’s come in at 9th with .254. Detroit ranks second in runs scored with 796, while Oakland is right behind them in third with 758. With 186 home runs, Oakland sits in third place while Detroit is sixth with 176.
So offensively, the teams are pretty evenly matched, although experts would say the Tigers’ lineup overall is the one you would least want to face in all of baseball.
As far as pitching goes, the two teams are pretty even, again. The Tigers flaunt the MLB’s only 20-game winner in Max Scherzer (21), while Oakland’s ace is veteran Bartolo Colon (18-6, 2.65 ERA).
Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez owns the AL’s best ERA of 2.57.
Both teams have solid closers. Oakland’s Grant Balfour is 38-for-41, while Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit is 24-for-26.
As a whole, the A’s have a second-place 3.58 ERA with the Tigers right behind them at 3.63.
Where the Tigers’ staff holds a clear advantage is strikeouts. With an MLB-best 1,415 K’s, that could pay dividends for Detroit, as Oakland batters have 1,169 strikeouts on the year.
But, enough stats, already. Let’s look at the storylines in this series.
One of the biggest questions going into the playoffs is who will be in the Tigers rotation. Sure, Justin Verlander has had a down year, but he hasn’t been “terrible,” like many people have been saying. He’s 13-12, which isn’t his typical Cy-Young-worthy record, but he still deserves to have a spot in the rotation.
It will be interesting to see what Jim Leyland does, but probably the most logical rotation would be Scherzer and Sanchez in Oakland, then Verlander in Game 3 (JV doesn’t lose too many postseason home games – 4-0 in last two seasons) and Doug Fister in Game 4.
That leaves them with the choice of using Rick Porcello in long-relief bullpen situations, or even saving him for Game 5 if needed.
As for the A’s rotation, it looks like they, too, will likely go with a four-man rotation of Colon, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily, with Tommy Millone bolstering the bullpen.
And then we’ve got Jhonny Peralta. He sat out fifty games after being suspended for violating the league’s PED policy. Detroit was able to find a good replacement for him in Jose Iglesias, but now that Peralta’s back – going 3-for-12 with an RBI in three-game series at Miami– Leyland won’t want to miss out on his potential.
So he’s keeping Iglesias at shortstop and putting Peralta in left field. While they will be missing out on talent from youngsters Matt Tuiasosopo and Andy Dirks, the Tigers will have some good bats to go to in pinch-hitting situations.
Yoenis Cespedes has had a bit of a sophomore slump this year, batting just .240 with 80 RBI, but he was one of Oakland’s leaders in last year’s series, batting .316 with two RBI. He will be key if the A’s want to succeed in this series.
As for the Tigers’ leader, Miguel Cabrera is coming off his third-straight batting title, and he will be looking for redemption. He batted just .265 last postseason and capped it off with a looking strikeout in Game 4 of the World Series.
The Tigers went 5-5 in their last 10 games, and got no-hit by Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez in the final game of the season. While this may cause concern for a lot of people, keep in mind that they were resting most of the big names, as they had already clinched the Central Division.
Expect both teams to come out gunning. Both teams are starving for a World Series title, and both feel like they can pull it off this October. Oakland has gone 24 years without a crown, while Detroit has been waiting 29 years.
Both teams have the potential to make a run at it, but both teams also have the potential to fall flat. The Tigers haven’t quite lived up to the expectations that were given to them. They were supposed to be the dominant force in baseball over the last two seasons. And they have certainly showed signs of it, but they’ve also showed signs of being a little subpar.
While they do likely have the MVP and Cy Young winners, they could easily hit a slump like they had in May, losing 8 of 12 games. Or they could be more like the team that won 12 straight in August.
Which one will show up? It will obviously depend on Cabrera and Fielder at the plate and Scherzer and Verlander on the bump. But the guys that will play a big role will be the guys like leadoff hitter Austin Jackson and role players Omar Infante and Don Kelly.
The bullpen will also be key. They’ll be hoping for Jose Veras (acquired at the trade deadline) to finally settle in, as well as guys like Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque to be the reliable relievers they’re supposed to be.
This will be an intense, entertaining series (as most are in October). It’s actually quite up in the air. It could go either way. It doesn’t look like there’s a clear favorite. The Tigers have owned the A’s in the postseason, but the A’s owned the Tigers in 2013 – sort of (4-3 in favor of Oakland, outscoring Detroit 36-33).