Justin Verlander headlines a pitching staff that has a nice mix of young arms and veterans with postseason experience. Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello round out the rotation, while Drew Smyly was added to the playoff roster for depth. As a group, they can pile up the strikeouts, but also can lose their command and issue too many walks. They should get plenty of run support with an offense that features Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, so the pitching likely just has to be good, not great, for the Tigers to advance.
The power of youth is on full display in the Oakland rotation, featuring four rookie pitchers who have made seamless transitions to the big leagues. Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker led the team in wins, while A.J Griffin, Tom Milone and Dan Straily all pitched well in 2012. Oakland also has an injured Brandon McCarthy (head) and Brett Anderson (oblique) in the wings, both of whom could be called on to pitch at some point in October. Their assignment won't be easy as the Tiger's showcase two of the best sluggers in baseball in the middle of their lineup in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder—both of whom have led the league in home runs at one point in their career.
With the first triple crown winner since 1967 in Miguel Cabrera, a perennial 40 home run threat in Prince Fielder and an emerging centerfielder in Austin Jackson, Detroit has the building blocks for one of the best lineups in baseball. They also have veterans with postseason success like Delmon Young and reliable bats like catcher Alex Avila, infielder Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta. Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry have also contributed as younger players in the lineup, while prospect Avisail Garcia has also been added to the playoff roster after an impressive September.
Live by the long ball, die by the long ball. It's something Oakland has done on several occasions in 2012, ranking sixth in the American League in home runs, despite finishing near the bottom in team batting average. With a lineup that resembles this trend, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss account for a powerful middle of the lineup that lives off pitcher's mistakes. Speedster and catalyst Coco Crisp ignites the offense from the leadoff spot, while third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Derek Norris have fared well as rookies for the A's near the bottom of the lineup.
Stephen Drew and Seth Smith were both additions this season for the A's and find themselves starting in October. It may be a case of when, not if, the A's will hit their first longball in the postseason—Oakland fans are just hoping it comes with runners on base.
While the Tigers had to play well at the end of the season to fight off the White Sox for the division, they don't have anywhere near the momentum Oakland has on their side. Their best attribute is their veteran presence, which will be crucial in slowing the red-hot A's.
No team in baseball had a more magical run to cap the season than Oakland, winning the division on the last day of the year and erasing a multiple game lead by the Texas Rangers that had been held for the majority of 2012. They are hot at the right time heading into October, riding a wave of momentum that could disrupt Detroit's postseason plans.
The 2012 ALDS will exemplify again whether it's the better team or the hotter team that wins in October. The Tigers were built to be contenders, adding Fielder in the offseason to compliment Cabrera and acquiring Fister last year to bolster the rotation behind Verlander.
The A's are the classic example of a team that is catching fire at the right time, a characteristic that often trumps talent in the postseason. It's hard to imagine a staff of rookies shutting down one of the best lineups in baseball, but crazier things have happened in Oakland this year. I can see a good series unfolding, I just can't see the upstart A's taking down a seasoned Detroit team; not this year at least.
ALDS Winner: Detroit in five games
ALDS MVP: Prince Fielder (DET)
ALDS Surprise: Avisail Garcia (DET)
ALDS Bust: Yoenis Cespedes (OAK)