It's always tough to win a MLB Division Series-deciding game when you have to face not one but two Triple Crown winners. But the Oakland A's have a chance to do just that when they face the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers Thursday night in Oakland.
Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. In a year coming off winning the AL MVP, AL Cy Young Award, and the pitching Triple Crown (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks in 2011), Verlander dominated again in 2012, leading the league in innings pitched (238.1), strikeouts (250) and finishing second in ERA (2.61).
Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI), who won the first offensive Triple Crown since 1967, leads a high-powered Tigers offense that ranks sixth in runs scored and fifth in slugging percentage.
After Detroit took a 2-0 lead over the Athletics, it seemed that the A's stellar season was basically over.
But Brett Anderson shut down Detroit's offense in Game 3, and Coco Crisp capped a three-run ninth inning comeback in Game 4.
Momentum has shifted back to Oakland.
Overcoming deficits is nothing new for the upstart A's, who completed a 13-game comeback on the final day of the regular season to win the AL West championship.
But with Justin Verlander on the mound for Detroit in Game 5, all seems lost for the A's.
Or does it?
Verlander's best-kept secret is that he has been mediocre in postseason play. Despite dominating in the regular season (124-65, 3.40 ERA, 8.4 K/9, averages 6.2 innings per start), he is still waiting for a dominant postseason.
In his three career postseason runs with Detroit (2006, 2011, 2012), Verlander is 4-3 with a 4.96 ERA, and in both of his full postseasons to date, his ERA has been over 5.00; his performance in Game 1 pushed his career postseason mark below that figure. Yes, Verlander is 2-0 against Oakland in the playoffs, with one of those wins coming a few nights ago in Detroit (his 2006 win seems meaningless now).
His victory over Oakland in the series opener (7 IP, 1 ER, 11 Ks) was his first-ever quality postseason start in nine outings.
And 25 of his last 41 wins have ended Tigers losing streaks, so if anybody is up to the challenge of sending Detroit to its second-straight ALCS, it's Verlander.
While I'm not ready to start comparing Verlander's postseasons to Alex Rodriguez's (10 hits in his last 60 postseason at-bats), Justin needs to dominate this start to start avoid the comparisons.