A rematch of a wild postseason from a year ago will once again pit the Detroit Tigers against the Oakland A’s. Oakland holds home field advantage and the series will kick off on Friday in front of one of the most raucous crowds baseball has to offer.
Many fans around the Motor City are fearing the way the Tigers ended their season, which included losing 5 of their last 7 to a combination of the White Sox, Twins, and Marlins. The capper was being no-hit in the season finale. And what does that final stretch mean? Nothing.
The Tigers have four full off days before the playoffs begin. Had they won seven straight to end the season I’m guessing the same fans who are complaining about the lackluster finish would be barking about how all momentum would be lost due to the layoff. In baseball, end of season momentum rarely means anything substantial. But momentum can certainly be created once the curtain is drawn, and that remains the Tigers’ sole focus.
The Tigers won the AL Central with a 93-69 record. In the end they held off the red-hot Cleveland Indians by just one game in the standings.
The A’s ended up 96-66 and cleared the Texas Rangers by 5 games in the AL West.
Oakland won four of the seven games these teams played this year. Interestingly, both teams won their respective road series’. The Tigers took 2 of 3 from Oakland back in April and then the A’s came to Comerica Park and bashed their way to a three game to one series win in late August.
On the offensive
Both teams boast some high powered offenses. Detroit’s 796 runs were 2nd best in the big leagues this year while Oakland’s 767 ranked 4th.
Oakland’s 186 homers were 3rd best across all of baseball while the 176 knocked out by the Tigers was 7th best.
One big difference is in batting average. The Tigers hit .283, best in the business, while Oakland managed just a .254 batting average due to their propensity to strike out. The A’s struck out 1,178 times, or 105 times more than the Tigers did.
The Tigers’ offense is obviously led by MVP frontrunner Miguel Cabrera (.348 avg., 44 HR, 137 RBI). His abdomen and groin injuries of late have caused great concern across Tiger Town though. Much of Cabrera’s power has been sapped over the past six weeks while he’s battled these injuries, turning one of the game’s elite power hitters into an opposite field singles expert. Fortunately, Cabrera has some help in the form of Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez.
For the A’s it has been Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Jed Lowrie carrying the weight most of the year. Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick all have extreme long-ball ability and can hurt an opposing pitcher in a hurry.
Pitching wins in the postseason
Ask most baseball experts whether they’d prefer great pitching or great hitting come playoff time and the answer is almost always pitching.
The Tigers boast MLB’s best playoff rotation in what should shake out like this, from 1-4: Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Doug Fister.
In a 5-game set this would potentially give the likely AL Cy Young winner the ball two times and this setup would also give Verlander the home opener for Monday’s Game 3. Despite his struggles, that assignment might give him the fire he needs to roll through the A’s.
Oakland’s rotation is much younger and less known. Big ol’ Bartolo Colon will likely oppose Scherzer in Game 1. Colon had a dominant year. His 2.65 ERA was 2nd only to Detroit’s Sanchez (2.57).
From there the A’s will roll out some unseasoned guys in Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, and AJ Griffin. Gray is a rookie while Parker and Sanchez are both 2nd year guys who saw a lot of action in last year’s playoffs.
The Tigers’ starting rotation held a collective 3.44 ERA on the season, which was the AL’s best. Oakland’s starters were 2nd best in the AL at 3.72. The Tigers’ rotation struck out 981 hitters this year, by far the most in the majors (Cleveland was 2nd at 879). Oakland’s starting staff managed just 752.
Oakland boasts the better bullpen (3.22 ERA to Detroit’s 4.01). A’s closer Grant Balfour had a big year with 38 saves in 41 chances. Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit had 24 saves in 26 chances. The problem is both of his blown saves have come within the last week.
And the winner is….
The Tigers have the better overall offense (though probably not lately), the better starting rotation, and the burning desire to finish what they started last year. Oakland is a brash team that couldn’t care less about any of that. Oakland has been smoking hot most of the 2nd half. The Tigers have been staggering down the stretch.
To me, the x-factor is the Tigers’ rotation against the free swinging A’s. I know Oakland had their way in Detroit just over a month ago but when the pressure rises, Jim Leyland’s Tigers will outperform Bob Melvin’s crew. Detroit’s offense doesn’t have to carry the team, only do just enough to let Scherzer and company bring it home.
Tigers in 4
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