Full Series Breakdown, Analysis for Oakland A's vs. Detroit Tigers ALDS Matchup
On Saturday, at approximately 6:07 p.m. EDT, the AL Central Division champion Detroit Tigers will take the field at Comerica Park to take on the surprise AL West Division champion Oakland Athletics.
Without question, the A's and Baltimore Orioles are the Cinderella teams of these playoffs. The A's, with the second-lowest payroll in baseball, according to USA Today, capitalized on trades made during the winter and prudent signings by general manager Billy Beane.
Beane traded off three-fifths of last year's starting rotation, along with the closer, and the vast majority of experts and prognosticators predicted Oakland would suffer through a miserable season as a result.
But the acquisitions—namely, Josh Reddick, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook—would turn out to be key contributors and all provided the A's with performances that helped springboard them to the AL West title.
For the Tigers, the hitting tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder helped the Tigers to their second straight AL Central title. It was a struggle getting there, however, as the offense was hit or miss for much of the summer, until it finally started to gel as a unit in September.
This article will break down the entire series and provide analysis for the starting lineups, starting rotations and bullpen. I'll also take a look at key intangibles for each team and give my best prediction as to who will ultimately move on to the ALCS.
Oakland A's Starting Lineup
A's Starting Lineup
-CF Coco Crisp (.259, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 39 SB)
-SS Stephen Drew (.223, 7, 28 with Diamondbacks and A’s)
-LF Yoenis Cespedes (.292, 23, 82, 16 SB)
-1B Brandon Moss (.291, 21, 52)
-RF Josh Reddick (.242, 32, 85, 15 outfield assists)
-3B Josh Donaldson (.241, 9, 33)
-DH Seth Smith (.240, 14, 52) or Jonny Gomes (.262, 18, 47)
-C George Kottaras (.212, 9, 31 with Brewers and A’s) or Derek Norris (.201, 7, 34)
-2B Cliff Pennington (.215, 6, 28) or Adam Rosales (.222, 2, 8)
Smith gets the start at DH against right-handers, and Gomes will likely face southpaws. Manager Bob Melvin will platoon at catcher as well, with Kottaras lining up against right-handers.
Overall, the A's hit .238—good for second to last in the American League. With a fairly even split between right-handers and left-handers, Melvin will play the percentages in platooning at catcher and designated hitter.
Detroit Tigers Starting Lineup
Tigers Starting Lineup
-CF Austin Jackson (.300, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 10 triples)
-LF Quintin Berry (.258, 2, 29, 21/21 SB)
-3B Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44, 139)
-1B Prince Fielder (.313, 30, 108)
-DH Delmon Young (.267, 18, 74)
-RF Andy Dirks (.322, 8, 35)
-SS Jhonny Peralta (.239, 13, 63)
-C Alex Avila (.243, 9, 48)
-2B Omar Infante (.274, 12, 53 with Marlins and Tigers)
This is the lineup that finally gelled in September for the Tigers. Jackson emerged as a top-flight leadoff man, and Berry provided plenty of speed.
Cabrera and Fielder are the obvious keys. A's starters will need to focus on keeping Jackson and Berry off the basepaths and keeping run-scoring opportunities limited for the meat of the batting order.
Rotation and Bullpen for Oakland A's
-RHP Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA)
-LHP Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74)
-LHP Brett Anderson (4-2, 2.57 in 6 starts)
-RHP A.J. Griffin (7-1, 3.06)
Anderson looked sharp after returning from the disabled list, but he strained his oblique on Sept. 19. He threw a bullpen session on Monday and had no issues, so manager Bob Melvin could insert him as the Game 3 starter on Tuesday in Oakland.
-Grant Balfour (2.53 ERA, 24 saves)
-Ryan Cook (2.09 ERA, 14 saves)
-Jerry Blevins (2.48 ERA, 63 appearances)
-Sean Doolittle (3.04 ERA, 18 holds)
-Evan Scribner (2.55 ERA, 30 appearances)
-Pat Neshek (1.37 ERA, 24 appearances)
-Dan Straily (3.89 ERA, 7 starts) or Pedro Figueroa (3.32 ERA, 19 appearances)
It's unknown if Neshek will be back for the start of the ALDS following the death of his infant son 23 hours after his birth. Straily and Figeuroa could then both be part of the bullpen, with Straily available for long relief.
The strength of this team all year long has been its bullpen, second in the American League with a 2.94 ERA. Balfour and Cook have been stellar in the eighth and ninth innings, and Melvin can confidently choose from any one of his youngsters to help out in a pinch.
Rotation and Bullpen for Detroit Tigers
-RHP Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64, 239 strikeouts)
-RHP Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45)
-RHP Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 with Marlins and Tigers)
-RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74, 231 strikeouts)
Verlander will work Game 1 and Game 5, if necessary. Rick Porcello will likely be left off the ALDS roster.
Fister is finally rounding into form after a season interrupted by two separate stints on the DL. Scherzer put together an outstanding second half (8-2, 2.69 ERA), and Sanchez closed strong in September with a 2.43 ERA in six starts.
This will be the third postseason appearance for Verlander—he'll be looking to show he can be a big-time pitcher in October after coming in with lifetime 5.57 ERA in eight playoff starts.
-Jose Valverde (3.78 ERA, 35 saves)
-Joaquin Benoit (3.68 ERA, 30 holds)
-Octavio Dotel (3.57 ERA, 57 appearances)
-Phil Coke (4.00 ERA, 66 appearances)
-Drew Smyly (3.99 ERA, 23 appearances)
-Brayan Villarreal (2.63 ERA, appearances)
-Al Albuquerque (0.68 ERA, 18 strikeouts in 13.1 innings)
The Tigers bullpen enters the playoffs with a 3.79 ERA—10th in the American League and worst of all AL teams in the postseason.
If the A's can be patient at the plate and elevate pitch counts early, they might stand a chance of inflicting some damage.
Intangibles for Oakland A's
-1B Chris Carter (.239, 16 HR, 39 RBI)
-DH Jonny Gomes (.262, 18 HR, 47 RBI)
-C Derek Norris (.201, 7 HR, 34 RBI)
-2B Adam Rosales (.222, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
The weakness for the A's is their offense. Their overall .238 average is the lowest for any playoff team since Detroit in 1968 (.235). Manager Bob Melvin will try to capitalize on matchups as much as possible.
The A's do have power on the bench, and that power shined through after the All-Star break. The A's hit a league-leading 112 homers in the second half.
The biggest intangible could come from the A's rotation. Oakland's rookie starters compiled 54 wins, the most ever for a playoff team. If the youngsters don't succumb to playoff jitters, the Tigers could have all they can handle.
On the other hand, only seven current A's players have any kind of playoff experience, including just two pitchers (Jarrod Parker, Grant Balfour).
Intangibles for Detroit Tigers
-OF Brennan Boesch (.240, 12 HR, 54 RBI)
-C Gerald Laird (.282, 2 HR, 11 RBI)
-OF Avisail Garcia (.319, 23 games)
-2B Ramon Santiago (.206, 2 HR, 17 RBI)
-UT Don Kelly (.186, 1 HR, 7 RBI)
If Tigers manager Jim Leyland has to turn to his bench in case of injury during the playoffs, he's essentially screwed.
The Tigers bench is probably the weakest of any of the 10 playoff teams. Rookie Avisail Garcia showed he can handle a bat following his call-up on Aug. 31, but it's a small sample size. Leyland has shown a complete lack of confidence in Boesch, inserting him in the lineup only three times after Sept. 17.
A stellar Oakland bullpen won't have many worries when it comes to late-inning bench firepower from the Tigers in this series.
ALDS Game 1 Prediction
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA) vs. Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA)
Verlander absolutely loves pitching at home. He has a 9-2 record and 1.65 ERA in 15 starts at Comerica Park this season.
Parker was 7-3 on the road, but with an ERA of 4.54—almost two runs higher than at spacious O.co Coliseum. This will be his first ever appearance at Comerica Park.
I like the Tigers in Game 1. The A' struck out 1,378 times during the season—the highest total in the majors. Verlander should have his way at home against the whiffing A's.
Game 1 Winner: Detroit Tigers
ALDS Game 2 Prediction
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA) vs. Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA)
Much like Jarrod Parker, Milone is not nearly as effective on the road (4.83 ERA) as he is at home (2.76 ERA). Fister (3.21 ERA at home) is certainly capable of strikeout stuff, setting the American League record by striking out nine consecutive batters for the Kansas City Royals in late September.
I again like Detroit in Game 2, and I look for Milone to be tagged early and often in this one.
Game 2 winner: Detroit Tigers
ALDS Game 3 Prediction
Game 3 Pitching Matchup: Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 3.74 ERA w/Tigers) vs. Brett Anderson (4-2, 2.57 ERA)
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Anderson is a go for Game 3. Anderson hasn't pitched since straining an oblique muscle on Sept. 19, so how deep he can work could be in question.
Sanchez got shelled by Oakland earlier this year, allowing five earned runs on six hits in 5.2 innings. I look for Oakland's bats to finally make an appearance in Game 3.
Game 3 Winner: Oakland Athletics
ALDS Game 4 Prediction
Game 4 Pitching Matchup: Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA) vs. A.J. Griffin (7-1, 3.06 ERA)
Scherzer threw well in his only appearance at O.co Coliseum earlier this season, allowing just two runs on five hits in 6.1 innings and striking out nine.
Though bothered by a muscle strain in his right shoulder late in the season, Scherzer started the final game of the regular season against the Kansas City Royals, allowing only three hits in four innings.
Griffin was spectacular following his call-up in late June before showing some kinks in the armor. He posted a 7.37 ERA in his final four starts.
Scherzer looked solid in his final start, and while there may be lingering doubts about his shoulder, I look for Scherzer to take control early. Oakland's bats will once again be neutralized.
Game 4 Winner: Detroit Tigers
ALDS Conclusion and Summary
As mentioned in the introductory slide, the Oakland A's were clearly one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season. Making a 20-game improvement over 2011 with a limited payroll and a roster laden with rookies was without a doubt a shock.
However, no one except the Tampa Bay Rays struck out more batters than the Detroit Tigers pitching staff. Matching up against an offense that led the majors in whiffs is not a good mix.
Oakland's batters will absolutely need to be patient at the plate and work up pitch counts if they're expecting to have a chance. While Oakland can also mash (195 home runs), the Tigers staff gave up the third fewest homers in the league.
Solid pitching and just enough offense will carry the Tigers into the ALCS for the second consecutive season.
Prediction: Detroit Tigers in four.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.