Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics: 5 Biggest Matchups in Game 1 of ALDS
The Tigers have the first Triple Crown winner in over 45 years in Miguel Cabrera, while the Athletics overcame an unbelievable deficit to overtake the Texas Rangers for the AL West title.
However, it always comes down to the players. The guys who hit, pitch, catch and throw are the people who make the difference, not the storylines.
Here are the projected lineups for each team:
1. Austin Jackson
2. Quintin Berry
3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Prince Fielder
5. Delmon Young
6. Andy Dirks
7. Jhonny Peralta
8. Alex Avila
9. Omar Infante
P - Justin Verlander
1. Coco Crisp
2. Stephen Drew
3. Yoenis Cespedes
4. Brandon Moss
5. Josh Reddick
6. Josh Donaldson
7. Seth Smith
8. Derek Norris
9. Cliff Pennington
P - Jarrod Parker
Here's a look at the biggest matchups heading into Game 1 of the Tigers-Athletics division series.
Jarrod Parker vs. Justin Verlander
Pitching wins championships.
Or, in this case, pitching wins the first game of divisional playoff series.
It's always interesting to see which starters managers elect to throw on the mound for opening playoff games, but for the Detroit Tigers it had to have been an easy choice.
Justin Verlander is one of the best pitchers in the world. After winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011, all Verlander did in 2012 was lead the American League in innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts, while posting a minuscule 2.64 ERA.
For all intents and purposes, the Tigers have a distinct advantage.
The A's, in contrast, are sending out 23-year-old rookie Jarrod Parker. He's inexperienced, young, and simply not as talented as Verlander. But that doesn't mean he can't out-pitch him.
In September, Parker has been spectacular, winning four of six starts and throwing up a 2.63 ERA. In those two games where he did not earn a win, Parker threw 15 innings in total and allowed only three runs.
On paper, Verlander and Parker seem to be miles apart but don't be surprised to see Parker go shot-for-shot with the powerful Tigers ace.
Miguel Cabrera vs. Jarrod Parker
There's no player more dangerous or more intimidating than Miguel Cabrera, right now.
He just won the first Triple Crown since 1967 and did so by hitting .429 with two home runs and six RBI in his last six games. But that's just normal for Cabrera.
In a series with a clear mismatch in terms of experience, talent, celebrity and payroll, Cabrera has the ability to be a difference-maker. Not to mention a "series-maker." In short: he could single-handedly win this series for the Tigers.
And that's why this matchup in Game 1 is so crucial. If Cabrera can jump on Parker early, the game could be over after a few innings. With the Athletics feeding off of the momentum of knocking off the Texas Rangers for the AL West title, Cabrera could easily extinguish that momentum.
On the other hand, if Parker can shut Cabrera down, the Tigers may become fuel to the A's fire.
Momentum is a dangerously powerful thing and both Cabrera and Parker can control the direction of the ALDS.
Note: In the three at-bats Cabrera and Parker have faced each other, the Tigers third baseman has two hits and an RBI
Coco Crisp vs. Austin Jackson
Both the A's and the Tigers have had tremendous production from their respective leadoff hitters.
Coco Crisp has continued his fairly consistent play over his career, posting numbers just slightly above his career averages. More importantly though, Crisp had a .366 OBP in the final month of the season and was fourth in the AL in stolen bases with 39.
Crisp is an effective leadoff hitter with experience: something the upstart A's seem to lack.
Jackson, who has only three years of MLB experience, is one of the premier leadoff hitters in the major leagues. He had a phenomenal 2012, posting a stat line of .300/.377/.479 with a modest 12 stolen bases. If Jackson can get on base like he did during the regular season, the A's are going to have a lot of trouble keeping the game close.
Production at the top of the order should not be underestimated, and it will be very interesting to see whether Crisp or Jackson emerges as the more effective spark plug heading into Game 1.
Jose Valverde vs. Grant Balfour
While the leadoff hitters can often set the tone for a team's offensive production, a closer can hold the bottom line in a squad's performance.
Closers can either re-enforce a team's success or create—single-handedly—a team's misfortune. Both the Tigers' Jose Valverde and the A's Grant Balfour have a ton of pressure about to fall upon them.
Valverde is a bit of a Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams-type, who seems to try to give Tigers fans heart murmurs before closing games out. He's not the Mariano Riviera, "automatic" type of closer, but he's effective and powerful.
Balfour is only a recently re-appointed closer, but has been lights-out since. He hasn't allowed a hit or a walk in seven appearances and seems to be a comforting force at the back end of the Oakland bullpen.
EDGE: The Athletics have a clear advantage in the bullpen over the Tigers, but Valverde and Balfour have the power to make that advantage either irrelevant or overly glaring.
Other Players to Watch
Delmon Young, Tigers: Young has the ability to be the difference-maker in Game 1. If the A's pitching can pull off shutting down both Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Young could still create runs and steal the game for Detroit.
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics: Cespedes is the driving force of the A's offense. Without him, Oakland will have trouble scoring. However, he's a dynamic power hitter who can surprise pitchers. If the Tigers don't take Cespedes seriously, he could bite them—hard.
Alex Avila, Tigers: Over the last two years, Avila has disappeared whenever the games truly matter. In 44 postseason at-bats since 2010, Avila has a total of three hits. Three. While Avila isn't crucial to the Tigers offense, he has the ability to hit, and needs to be more productive when it counts.
Josh Reddick, Athletics: The Athletics' best power hitter can change the game with one swing. The A's play off of team performance, but facing a starter like Verlander, they may need a big individual showing and Reddick can do that.
Game 1 Prediction
Athletics 5, Tigers 3
Jarrod Parker: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER
Justin Verlander: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER
Josh Reddick: 4 AB, 1 H, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Miguel Cabrera: 5 AB, 2 H
In surprising fashion, Parker will out-pitch Verlander. For the most part, he'll shut down Cabrera and Fielder who will be reeling off of the Triple Crown publicity. Josh Reddick will hit a fifth-inning, three-run home run and the Athletics bullpen will carry them to victory in Game 1.
Balfour will allow two hits on his first two batters in the ninth inning, but will recover to strike out the next two. He'll force Andy Dirks into an easy double play to end the game.
The team on a roll seems to always jump out to a fast start in the MLB playoffs, and the ALDS will be no different on Saturday evening.