The reward for the Oakland Athletics’ extended and very stirring run to the American League West crown might not be as pleasant as Oakland fans envisioned.
Then again, we’ve learned to never underestimate this battling bunch of A’s.
Awaiting Oakland in the playoffs are the Detroit Tigers, who enter the postseason very hot themselves after putting away the White Sox in the last two weeks to draw clear in the AL Central. The A’s also get the chance to face the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera, and the pleasure of dealing with Detroit ace Justin Verlander in Game 1 and perhaps once again later in this series.
Action commences on Saturday at Comerica Park in Detroit as the Tigers host Game 1 of the ALDS. The Tigers will also host Game 2 before the remainder of the best-of-five series moves west to the Bay Area and the O.co Coliseum.
The aforementioned Verlander goes for Jim Leyland’s Detroit bunch in the Saturday opener, with Oakland manager Bob Melvin still deciding upon his starter as we go the press late in the week. Verlander will be a sizable favorite whichever pitcher Melvin decides to use, and a check with the Don Best MLB odds screen notes Detroit priced at -185/-190 on the win with Verlander, with the ‘under’ at 7½ and shaded to the ‘under’ at most Nevada wagering outlets.
First pitch on Saturday is slated for 6:05 p.m. (ET) with TBS providing the TV coverage.
Verlander presents quite a hurdle for the A’s, especially considering his recent form chart which includes not only four straight wins but an ERA of 0.64 in the process, allowing just two runs in his last 28 IP. Included in that recent stretch of success was a solid six innings of work vs. Oakland on September 19 at Comerica Park, allowing just five hits and no runs in the process as the Tigers went on to a 6-2 win.
Verlander also handcuffed the A’s on May 13 at Oakland, allowing just one run and two hits over seven innings of work in a 3-1 Tigers win. Over his career, Verlander is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 13 starts against the A’s.
Leyland will pitch Doug Fister in Game 2 on Sunday. Max Scherzer, who got a four-inning tuneup Wednesday to see if his right deltoid and right ankle were OK, will probably start Tuesday's game in Oakland. Anibal Sanchez will likely go if a Game 4 is necessary, with Verlander, if needed, either going in Game 5 or starting the opener of the ALCS if Detroit advances beyond this round.
Rick Porcello has not been included in Leyland’s four-man rotation, and whether he gets included on the divisional round roster could depend on whether manager Jim Leyland wants to carry two left-handed relievers or three. Leyland is scaling back from 12 pitchers to 11, opting for an extra position player because days off mean he can get by with four starters.
Leyland was looking ahead with his rotation more that a week ago, setting it up so Verlander could start either a 163rd game against the White Sox to determine the Central champ or the first game of the divisional playoff round. It also lets him pitch a fifth game, if one is necessary.
The combination of Cabrera’s Triple Crown numbers, and slugging 1B Prince Fielder batting behind him, creates a menacing look for the Tigers in the 3-4 spots in the batting order.
But the concerns for Detroit continue to involve defense, especially some shaky work around the infield, which proved costly on occasion, including the last time these teams faced on September 20 at Comerica. The Tigers were denied a three-game sweep due in part to shoddy defense, including 2B Omar Infante’s throwing error that gifted the A’s a run in the third inning, and a misplayed fly ball by CF Austin Jackson in the sixth inning that resulted in a two-run triple for George Kottaras. Oakland salvaged the final game of that series with a 12-4 win after being outscored 18-4 in the first two games of the set.
The A’s, however, are red-hot, having swept Seattle and Texas at home to conclude the regular season to dramatically collarthe Rangers at the wire to steal the AL West title and avoid the wild card play-in game. Oakland is an astounding 72-38 since June 1, when the A’s began their unlikely turnaround after entering that month with a 22-30 record...the same as the Houston Astros.
Manager Melvin, however, might be a bit reluctant to go with with starter Tommy Milone, who would figure to be up in the rotation but was ineffective in his last start on Sunday vs. the Mariners, allowing nine hits in 4 2/3 IP, after also allowing the same number of hits in the same number of innings in that recent September 20 game at Comerica Park vs. the Tigers.
Melvin’s other likely option appears to be Jarrod Parker, who last pitched on Monday in the 4-3 win over Texas that at the time clinched a wild card berth for the A’s. Parker lost his only start vs. the Tigers back on May 13 (vs. Verlander) but was not terribly ineffective, allowing two runs and six hits in 5 2/3 IP of an eventual 3-1 loss.
But May was a long time ago for the A’s, who became a different team once the calendar turned to June. They enter the postseason with an underrated bullpen having spun 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Oakland’s jerry-rigged lineup featuring career spare parts such as Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick plus electric Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, cracked 114 homers after the All-Star break, the best such mark in the majors as the A’s became known for their big-inning outbursts.
Indeed, the current Oakland edition might be the greatest masterpiece of GM Billy Beane’s well-documented career.
These sides have met in the postseason before, most recently in 2006, when Detroit swept the A’s in four straight to advance to the World Series. That was also Oakland’s last playoff appearance until this season.
There was also a memorable ALCS back in 1972, when Oakland’s Campy Campaneris was suspended after throwing his bat at Tiger pitcher Lerrin LaGrow in Game 2 at the Coliseum. The series went the full five games before the A’s pulled it out despite also losing Reggie Jackson at the end of the series due to a torn hamstring on a bang-bang play at the plate against Tiger C Bill Freehan as Reggie dramatically stole home base in a daring double steal ordered by manager Dick Williams. Oakland went on to its first of three straight World Series wins by beating the Reds in the World Series.
The teams met seven times this season, with the Tigers winning four of those, including two of three in the mid-September series at Comerica Park. The sides split a four-game set at Oakland between May 10-13.