After a regular season that saw them come out of nowhere to win the American League West, the Oakland A's keep refusing to go away, getting three runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers to force Game 5 on Thursday.
Once again, the A's have proven that momentum in baseball means nothing. The Tigers had it on their side after winning the first two games. They had it in this game with Max Scherzer on the mound before the bullpen imploded.
Anything we think we know about Game 5, we might as well forget it. The one thing that does seem to fit is the home record for the A's (50-31 in regular season) and the road record for the Tigers (38-43).
As we prepare ourselves for what is sure to be a memorable do-or-die game, here is a look at where the advantages lie.
Justin Verlander vs. Jarrod Parker
The Game 1 pitching matchup went Verlander's way, as the defending AL MVP and Cy Young winner went seven innings, allowing three hits, four walks and one run and striking out 11 in a 3-1 victory.
Parker, while not as dominant as Verlander, pitched a very effective game. He went 6.1 innings and gave up seven hits, two earned runs and a walk with five strikeouts.
Verlander clearly has the advantage on stuff and history, though he does have a 4.96 ERA in 49 career postseason innings.
That last number doesn't strike me as a huge concern, at least in this game. Verlander is pitching in a huge ballpark against a team that swings and misses more than any other team in baseball. He is going to have a much longer leash than Scherzer did on Wednesday.
Parker won't be intimidated in this game. He has been very effective at home, as have all of Oakland's starters. He had a 2.61 ERA in 100 innings at the O.co Coliseum this season. He needs to be on top of his game, because Verlander is not likely to make many mistakes in this situation.
Here is where the A's have a decided advantage over the Tigers, but the A's have to do enough damage against Verlander to get the game to the bullpen.
Jose Valverde is a closer that has gotten by on a lot of smoke and mirrors in recent years. His strikeout rate continues to decline, and it's down to a career-low 6.26/9 IP in 2012.
Joaquin Benoit is the best reliever the Tigers have, though he did give up 14 home runs in the regular season in just 71 innings.
Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel are their lefty and righty specialists, though Jim Leyland has shown this series that he will leave one or both in to face opposite-handed hitters.
For the A's, Grant Balfour has been terrific, allowing just 69 baserunners in 74.2 innings in the regular season. Ryan Cook is the setup man extraordinaire. Sean Doolittle has gotten hit in this series, allowing five hits in 2.2 innings.
Don't be shocked if Bob Melvin goes straight from Parker to Cook, depending on when he wants to pull his starter and how close the game is.
This one really needs little explanation. The Tigers finished the regular season 27th in all of baseball in Team UZR (minus-28.1) and 25th in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-32) (per Fangraphs).
On the flip side, the A's are one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball. They finished sixth (24.3) and 10th (14), respectively, in those same two categories this season.
The great equalizer is Verlander, because he has the ability to miss a ton of bats, so the defense probably isn't going to be asked to do as much as the A's will be.
For all the talk about the duo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the former has just two extra-base hits in the series. Fielder has been crushing the ball in Oakland, but only has the one home run to show for it thanks to Coco Crisp's spectacular catch in Game 3.
The Tigers don't boast a deep lineup, but they do have those two big bats in the middle and Austin Jackson at the top. They are so dependent on those three to produce that if they struggle, the offense isn't going to score.
If you take away the two-run error from Crisp in Game 2, the Tigers have only scored nine runs through four games.
The A's have more power throughout their lineup than the Tigers, but they are also likely to strike out 20 times tonight.
Yoenis Cespedes is easily the best offensive player for the A's, but he isn't driving the ball right now. They need to get something out of Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick in this game to help drive Verlander out of the game early.
Even with Verlander on the mound, I see this being an incredibly tense and close game, as you would expect if you have seen this series.
But because Verlander is who he is, you almost have to give the Tigers the slightest of edges. It should be a lot of fun to watch, though.
Tigers 3, Athletics 1
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