Keeping Prince Fielder at bay is one priority for the A's.
But if they want to succeed again and keep the dream alive, certain A's will have to come out victorious in their matchups.
A.J. Griffin is on the mound for Oakland. Max Scherzer takes the hill for the Tigers.
It's been three games of very close battles. So far, the Tigers have outscored the Athletics, 8-7. However, every victory by either team has come by a margin of two runs or less.
Game 4 should be no different.
In such a tight game, it comes down to the matchups. It's all about avoiding being the first to crack, and instead, being the guy or team who takes advantage of a slip.
Here's what to watch for during the Oct. 10 playoff game.
Josh Reddick has been plain awful.
The Oakland Athletics could not have made it to the postseason without Josh Reddick's ridiculously surprising production.
The Oakland Athletics are not going to make it much further with Josh Reddick's ridiculous and surprisingly awful postseason production.
He must get out of his own head.
In three games, he's batting .100. His only hit was a home run, which is great. Unfortunately, he's struck out six times. He also ground into a double play.
The postseason is not the place to soul search.
Advantage: His head. It's difficult to rebound in such a big spot with so much self-administered pressure.
Both men watch to see if the double play was turned.
Game 1 was decided by two runs. The game-changing moment came when rookie pitcher Jarrod Parker made an error flipping the ball to first base. A run scored, and the complexity of the game changed.
In Game 2, the Tigers won by one run. Two runs scored when Coco Crisp bobbled a ball in the outfield. One more run scored on a wild pitch.
An error in each of the first two games, accompanied by a loss.
Game 3 featured no errors, and in their place, two showings of fine glove work by the Oakland outfielders. The A's won, too.
Detroit base runners ran smart in the first two games.
They hustled on a pop fly and scored two runs, even though the hit was shallow. They hustled out of the box too, forcing a quick play netting them a run and a safe base runner. They took advantage when and how they could.
In Game 4, look for Detroit to keep on taking advantage of A's blunders.
It's up to Oakland to not let that happen.
Advantage: Oakland. Errors come few and far between, even for this team. This is the postseason, so you have to believe Oakland won't make any more head-scratching blunders that will allow for cheap runs.
Griffin likely leaves in the 6th inning, but is it with a lead or major work to be done?
Obviously, in the American League these two won't have to face each other physically, but they match up as much as anyone else in Game 4.
So far, this has been a series of pitchers' duels.
In Game 1, Jarrod Parker went toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander. Parker pitched well, but left the game earlier, struck out fewer batters, had a lower thrown-strikes percentage, hit a batter and gave up more hits and runs. The A's lost.
In Game 2, Tommy Milone and Doug Fister were very similar pitchers. The difference was, Milone left the game earlier and Fister struck out more batters during his time on the mound. The A's lost then, too.
Now in Game 3, Brett Anderson and Anibal Sanchez pitched about the same amount of time. But Anderson was more effective in all areas, and the A's won the game.
So now the questions are: Who between Griffin and Scherzer stays in longer, and who utilizes their time more efficiently?
On average, Scherzer remains in games longer. He also has way more strikeouts and a higher percentage (strikeouts-per-game and strikeouts-per-walk) overall.
Griffin may not last as long, but he has the better ERA and WHIP.
The Tigers will look for Scherzer to remain in the game as long as possible and rack up strikeouts, while the A's will likely hope for a solid six-inning effort from Griffin before handing it over to the pen.
Advantage: Scherzer, barely. Griffin has been more effective, but Scherzer has more overall experience and a much larger sample size.
Josh Reddick is safely on first with Scherzer on the mound.
Max Scherzer is second in all of baseball with the most strikeouts. That's not good for the A's, who lead the the league in team strikeouts.
The guys around the edges of the lineup, especially those at the top, have done a decent job of getting on base. Coco Crisp, Stephen Drew, Yoenis Cespedes and Cliff Pennington (No. 9 hitter, but if he gets on the lineup starts over) are hitting.
This makes it more important for No. 4 through No. 8 to hit.
Unfortunately, they've struck out in too many big situations. Brandon Moss has five strikeouts; Josh Reddick has six; Josh Donaldson has three; and the catchers (Derek Norris and George Kottaras) have a combined five.
As a team, the A's struck out four times in Game 3. But they scored just two runs.
Against Scherzer (and the wall), they must strikeout less and hit more. Sounds like a reasonable objective, but one that has to be accomplished by more than three or four hitters if there's to be any hope of winning.
Advantage: Scherzer. Re-read the first sentence of this slide for the specific reason.
Griffin gave up a HR to Fielder in their last meeting.
A.J. Griffin has been phenomenal thus far.
In 2012, he's started 15 games, pitching to a 7-1 record with a 3.06 ERA. He's also struck out about three times as many batters as he has walked.
The good news is, Griffin has not lost at home, ever. The bad news, though: He's 0-1 against Detroit.
In one start against the Tigers, Griffin allowed a career-high five runs and left the game with a 9.64 ERA. Furthermore, Miguel Cabrera went 2-for-2 against him, with a home run, a double and 2 RBI (h/t: John Schlegel of MLB.com).
But that was at Comerica.
So far in this series, Austin Jackson, Omar Infante and Prince Fielder have been held in check. Cabrera has been about average, but the key to his successful at-bats is the fact that he has come up with no runners on.
If Griffin hopes to succeed, he must keep this trend going.
Advantage: Detroit. Even if they haven't been hitting well, that lineup is intimidating—especially to a rookie who's only pitched in 15 games.
Al Alburquerque may have stirred the pot and put pressure on his staff.
There's been a lot of talk about the Tigers' bullpen not being very good. There's also been a ton of chatter about the A's bullpen being underrated.
Yet, in the 2012 ALDS, Tigers relievers have given up half as many hits (four to eight).
There's no argument to defend Oakland's pen, either. Both bullpens have been used the same amount. Detroit has just been more effective in shutting down the A's lineup.
Then there's emotion.
Fans have already seen Pat Neshek's gut-wrenching, tear-jerking performance. That of course was followed by Al Alburquerque's kiss of relief. Grant Balfour is his own category of emotion.
The question is: Which pen holds it together?
If Neshek, Balfour and the other A's relievers ride the momentum, they'll be just fine. If the Tigers' relievers keep their side locked up and don't allow the kissing incident to come back to haunt them, they have the upper hand right now.
Advantage: Oakland. Alburquerque provided more inspiration to a bullpen who didn't really need it. The A's side rides the momentum and ever-building incentive to dazzle.