The Detroit Tigers (88-74), boosted by the offseason addition of Prince Fielder, were fully expected to make the playoffs. The Oakland Athletics (94-68) were not. After 162 games, both teams earned berths and will now fight for a spot in the ALCS.
Even though Detroit ended up winning the AL Central by three games, it was an uphill battle for most of the season. It wasn't until September that the Tigers established themselves as the division's best team, but now they get a clean slate with a dangerous roster.
In early September, the Athletics trailed the Texas Rangers by 5.5 games in the AL West before storming back to win the division. It was an amazing run by a team with players many casual fans have never heard of, making Oakland an intriguing contender.
The series starts on Saturday afternoon and will follow a 2-3 format. Here's a look at the schedule, followed by a breakdown of both teams heading into the ALDS matchup.
|Game||Road Team||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|Game 1||Athletics||Tigers||Saturday, Oct. 6||6 p.m.||TBS|
|Game 2||Athletics||Tigers||Sunday, Oct. 7||TBA||TBS|
|Game 3||Tigers||Athletics||Tuesday, Oct. 9||TBA||TBS|
|Game 4*||Tigers||Athletics||Wednesday, Oct. 10||TBA||TBS|
|Game 5*||Tigers||Athletics||Thursday, Oct. 11||TBA||TBS|
*Denotes if necessary
Probable Oakland Lineup
1. CF Coco Crisp
2. SS Stephen Drew
3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
4. 1B Brandon Moss
5. RF Josh Reddick
6. 3B Josh Donaldson
7. DH Seth Smith
8. C Derek Norris
9. 2B Cliff Pennington
Lost in all the hoopla of Mike Trout's amazing rookie season for the Los Angeles Angels was an impressive debut campaign for Cespedes. The Cuban star hit .292 with 23 home runs and 16 stolen bases to pace the Oakland offense, untroubled by the transition to MLB.
Crisp, who is one of the few players in the Athletics lineup even the casual fans have probably heard of, sets the table. He stole 39 bases while being caught just four times. If the Tigers want to shut down Oakland's offense, they have to keep him off the bases.
The other player to keep an eye on is Moss. He's bounced around baseball—three organizations in the last three years—but has thrived since being given a starting role. The Georgia native hit 21 home runs and drove in 52 in just 84 games.
Probable Detroit Lineup
1. CF Austin Jackson
2. LF Quintin Berry
3. 3B Miguel Cabrera
4. 1B Prince Fielder
5. DH Delmon Young
6. RF Andy Dirks
7. SS Jhonny Peralta
8. C Alex Avila
9. 2B Omar Infante
To nobody's surprise, it all starts with Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in more than four decades. His sustained dominance from April to September was a sight to behold. He finished the season hitting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI.
Which team has the hitting edge?
He's backed up by Fielder, whose season mirrored that of the Tigers as a whole. He exploded after the All-Star break, smacking 15 home runs and posting a .448 on-base percentage. If he hits like that in the postseason, the Tigers are a serious title threat.
Finally, don't discount the importance of the top and bottom of the order. Jackson had a strong bounce-back season to finish second on the team in WAR (Fangraphs), and Infante gives the Tigers a reliable hitter to help turn the lineup over.
Athletics Probable Rotation and Closer
1. Jarrod Parker
2. Tommy Milone
3. Brett Anderson
4. A.J. Griffin
Closer: Grant Balfour
The Athletics starting rotation lost Bartolo Colon to suspension and Brandon McCarthy to injury and yet still managed to finish sixth in ERA. While spacious O.co Coliseum certainly played a role, you have to give a boatload of credit to the pitchers who stepped up.
Which team has the pitching edge?
Of the nine starters, including the four likely to make an impact in the postseason, who made at least five starts, only one (Tyson Ross) had an ERA above 3.90. That means Oakland will be in good shape on the mound no matter who's starting.
Balfour reclaimed the closer role from Ryan Cook in August and proceeded to convert all 17 of his save opportunities. The veteran held opponents to a .160 batting average en route to his third straight great season out of the bullpen.
Tigers Probable Rotation and Closer
1. Justin Verlander
2. Doug Fister
3. Max Scherzer
4. Anibal Sanchez
Closer: Jose Valverde
Having Verlander in a short series is a massive advantage. Once again on the shortlist of Cy Young candidates, the flamethrower went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA. That includes two starts against Oakland in which he gave up just one run in 13 innings.
Scherzer was bothered by an ankle injury down the stretch but was able to pitch four scoreless innings in the season finale to show he's ready for the playoffs. His presence gives the Tigers a solid rotation from top to bottom.
Valverde usually takes fans for a wild ride when he enters the game in the ninth. Yet, more often than not when the dust settles, he has closed the game out successfully. He converted 35 of 40 save chances with a 3.78 ERA in 2012.
The Athletics are a terrific story because few people gave them a chance to compete with the Angels and Rangers in the AL West. That said, the Tigers are too deep and too talented. They should be able to earn a trip to the American League Championship Series.
Tigers in 4 games