Tigers vs. A's: Why the Tigers Are World Series Favorites
Behind a masterful complete game shutout from Justin Verlander, the Tigers dominated the A's in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, and move on to face the winner of the series between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.
Because the A's forced Game 5 against the Tigers, Verlander was pressed into action, the Tigers will most likely have to turn to Doug Fister to start Game 1 of the ALCS.
But because Detroit overcame the magic of the A's, and because of the way they earned the series victory, the Tigers are the World Series favorites from here on out.
Here are the five reasons the Tigers are favorites to be crowned World Champions:
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The Tigers' starting pitching was outstanding in the ALDS.
In five games, Detroit's starters combined to throw 34 2/3 innings, giving up just five earned runs, with 41 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Verlander threw 16 innings in two games, allowing just one earned run, while striking out an ALDS record 22 batters.
Because Verlander was forced to throw in the ALDS Game 5, he won't be available for Game 1 versus either the Yankees or the Orioles in the ALCS, but his supporting cast proved they can hold the rope.
Fister, who threw seven innings—giving up two earned runs on six hits, eight strikeouts and two walks in Game 2 of the ALDS—will almost assuredly be the Game 1 starter in the ALCS. Fister has been hot the last month, boasting a 2.34 ERA in September, and has given up three earned runs or less in seven of his last eight starts.
Max Scherzer dealt with a couple different injuries down the stretch, but quieted critics with his performance in Game 4. Despite the Tigers loss, Scherzer threw 5 1/3 innings, giving up zero earned runs on three hits, eight strikeouts and just one walk.
The Tigers newest starter, Anibal Sanchez, performed above expectations, as well, in the ALDS.
Sanchez, in his first career postseason appearance, threw 6 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits, and pitched well enough for the Tigers to win.
Fielder and Cabrera Didn't Produce
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The Tigers' monstrous 1-2 offensive punch, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, were almost non-existent in Detroit's victory over the A's.
Cabrera and Fielder combined to go 9-for-41 (.219), with one homerun and three RBI's in the Tigers' five-game series.
Fielder, who hit .313 during the regular season, earned the best average of his career, and Cabrera, who hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI's this regular season, won MLB's first Triple Crown since 1967.
And the Tigers advanced, essentially without them.
Detroit's dynamic duo proved all season that they won't be held down for long, and if the Tigers succeeded without either of them performing to expectations, imagine how well the Tigers will play with either, or both of them clicking on all cylinders.
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Despite a lower winning percentage, the Tigers have an advantage over every team remaining in the 2012 MLB Playoffs.
Detroit will face the winner of Friday's ALDS Game 5 between the Yankees and Orioles, and the Tigers have an edge over either team.
The Tigers went 4-6 against the Yankees this season, but beat New York in the 2011 ALDS and will carry the confidence of last year's series victory into this season's potential matchup.
Detroit went 3-3 against the Orioles this season, but Baltimore only finished the regular season with a plus-seven run differential and the Tigers will have home-field advantage against the O's if they advance to the ALCS.
The Cincinnati Reds were the favorite to represent the National League in the World Series and now that the Reds are done, if the Tigers win the AL, they'd be favorites against any of the remaining NL teams.
The Tigers have dominated the NL the last several years, and with Verlander and Scherzer probably getting four combined starts in a potential World Series matchup, Detroit would be tough to beat.
Bullpen Can't Get Much Worse
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The Tigers' bullpen was horrendous in the ALDS, and Detroit still managed to advance.
While many people will look at the relievers' struggles as a hinderance, I look at it as a blessing, because they literally can't get much worse.
The Tigers' bullpen will get a chance on Friday to look at some film, and get a much-needed day to figure out what went wrong in the ALDS.
Detroit had the A's dead to rights in Game 4, up 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but closer Jose Valverde blew his sixth save of 2012, and allowed Oakland to stay alive.
After Valverde threw a perfect 1-2-3 inning in Game 1, the Tigers' closer gave up four hits and three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in Wednesday's loss.
He took over in the ninth with a two-run lead, and should've closed the door, but there was an eery feeling even before Valverde toed the rubber.
Before Valverde came on in the ninth, Joaquin Benoit gave up a hit and a walk in the eighth inning and gave the A's confidence before handing the ball to the closer.
Benoit blew a save in Game 3 after giving up two earned runs, and finished the ALDS giving up four hits, and had an opponent average of .308.
The Tigers benefited from tremendous starting pitching in the ALDS and advanced despite the bullpen. The relievers' performance can only improve moving forward.
Role Players Emerging
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Raise your hand if you thought the Tigers would escape with an ALDS victory with their four best hitters being Omar Infante, Quintin Berry, Jhonny Peralta and Andy Dirks.
Infante, who hit .274 in the regular season, led the Tigers in the ALDS with a .353 average (6-for-17), and six runs scored. Peralta and Dirks finished the series against the A's not far behind, going 5-for-17 (.294), each. With a smaller sample, Berry averaged .300, going 3-for-10 in four ALDS games.
With Fielder and Cabrera struggling, the Tigers needed a boost from unexpected sources, and the Tigers' role players provided it.
Infante struck out six times, but led the team in average, and runs scored (six), and tied for the team lead in total bases against the A's, with seven.
The four role players combined for 18 total bases and eight runs scored, giving the Tigers a much-needed lift when the superstars fizzled.
If Detroit's power hitters begin to produce, and the role players continue to get on base, the Tigers will be unstoppable in the ALCS and beyond.