Sunday afternoon was a tough day for the Oakland Athletics and starting pitcher Jarrod Parker. The Detroit Tigers won the series rubber game, 10-1, one day after dominating the A’s in a 7-3 Saturday victory.
Heading into the three-game set at home against the defending American League champion Tigers, the A’s looked impenetrable, ranking in the top two in the league in both runs scored and team ERA, creating an unbeatable formula that requires no Moneyball mathematics: Score the most runs and allow the fewest, and you should always win.
With the A’s completely red-hot, the next big question was whether they could take down the AL-pennant-winning Tigers, the same team that defeated them in five games in the division series of last year’s playoffs. Could Oakland exact some revenge by possibly winning two of three games last weekend?
Additionally, would the A’s somehow beat all-world ace Justin Verlander, who dominated them twice in the aforementioned 2012 postseason series?
Here are five things we learned from this past weekend’s series against the Detroit Tigers.
If anybody was wondering how good Detroit was going to be this season, the answer is pretty obvious: very good.
Last year’s World Series run was obviously no fluke. The Tigers deserved to be there, largely because they are a great all-around team with pitching depth, a potent offense and supreme managing.
In fact, their roster is so respected around baseball that 27 baseball experts from ESPN.com predicted that the Tigers will repeat as American League champions. 17 of whom think they will win the World Series this time around.
That is why this series against the Athletics was a true measuring stick for both teams. The A’s were looking to prove that their scorching 8-2 start, coming off a remarkable 2012 season, was the real deal. Winning a series against the defending AL champs, who popped Oakland's balloon in last year’s postseason, would be a great statement.
And for Detroit, knocking off a playoff-caliber team like Oakland that was riding an eight-game win streak would be its own early statement.
The A’s took the first game on Friday night, 4-3 in extra innings, extending their win streak to nine in a row.
But Detroit squashed Oakland over the weekend, winning the next two games by a combined score of 17-4, banging out 24 hits, four home runs and thoroughly pounded A’s starters Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker in the process. It was the kind of abuse that brought the high-flying Athletics back down to earth. With a thud.
Though it’s still early in the 2013 campaign, a statement series is still a statement series. By taking two of three games on the road, the Tigers seemed to make the stronger declaration: If Oakland is to meet their aspirations of a deep playoff run, it’ll eventually have to overcome Detroit.
And the Tigers proved last weekend that that will not be an easy thing to do.
Oakland’s winning streak last week was marred by a recurring theme in the team clubhouse: injuries. Coupled with the devastating news that Scott Sizemore suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland suffered two more casualties against the Tigers.
Outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp were both banged up in Friday night’s contest—Crisp suffering a groin pull and Cespedes spraining a muscle in his left hand, resulting in a stint on the 15-day disabled list.
Though the A’s roster is built to withstand such unforeseen injuries with depth at all positions, it’s impossible not to be affected by the absence of several key players. Especially all at once.
Yes, the A’s can pencil in players off the bench who have experience as starters (i.e. Chris Young, Seth Smith and Eric Sogard), but the omissions of multiple starters keeps the batting lineup and defensive setup askew. And with right fielder Josh Reddick mired in a deep slump to start the season, it’s important for the Athletics to have two of their offensive weapons, Crisp and Cespedes, at full strength.
In Saturday and Sunday’s games, the Oakland offense was less intimidating without its injured stars, scoring only four combined runs on only 10 base hits. It was a feeble showing that was amplified by the fact that A’s pitchers gave up 17 runs in those two games.
The A’s are dramatically slowed by the absence of Crisp, who is the engine of the team’s offense. Through Friday, he had been leading the league in runs scored (14), leading the team with four home runs and sporting a .333 batting average through 11 games.
Meanwhile, Cespedes is the driving force behind the Athletics’ offense: Oakland’s record was only 12-22 when he wasn’t in the lineup in 2012. It is imperative that he regain his health and form if the A’s want to remain in contention in the division and meet their long-term postseason goals.
First off, losing to Justin Verlander is not the worst thing in the world. The 30-year-old is smack dab in his prime and the best pitcher in baseball, nearly impossible to beat on any given day.
The A’s know this firsthand: Verlander completely owned the A’s in last postseason’s divisional series, going 2-0 with an 0.56 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 16 innings, including a four-hit shutout in the clinching Game 5. He single-handedly kept Oakland from advancing in the playoffs.
But his mastering of the Athletics goes beyond last October.
The A’s have traditionally struggled against the right-hander. For his career, not including the 2012 ALDS, Verlander is 8-5 against the Athletics with 88 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA. Of all the teams in the American League, only the Texas Rangers have a lower ERA (2.02) against him. The Athletics are batting only .209 against him in 14 career starts.
And Saturday’s matchup was not much different from all of the rest. Verlander stifled the A’s bats, rendering their three hits and one run scored in six innings pitched utterly harmless. With Oakland starting pitcher Brett Anderson struggling, giving up eight hits and seven runs on three homers in 5.2 innings of work, Verlander’s outing was that much easier.
Yes, it’s not a shame to lose to one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. But it’s certainly a disappointment for the team not to be able to avenge its playoff defeats. It would have been a psychological feather in the cap to at least batter him around a bit.
But instead, it’s just another tip of the cap to the best in the business. Better luck next time.
Yes, it’s just April, but the trend is still somewhat surprising, starting to become an area of potential concern. In three starts this season, A’s righty Jarrod Parker is toting a ghastly 10.80 ERA, with 23 base hits and eight walks allowed in a slender 11.2 innings of work. Sunday’s 10-1 defeat to Detroit was the worst of the worst for Parker: eight runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings.
Is this just a funk? Or is this a precursor of a major issue? Either way, what is up with the youngster?
After an impressive rookie season in which he finished 13-8, one would come to the conclusion that this is simply a little slump. But little is a rather relative term. After all, opponents are batting .426 against him this season, and he wasn’t in command this spring training, as he tallied an 0-2 record in five starts with a 7.45 ERA.
This little stretch of bad outings could turn into a big deal.
Even though the A’s don’t want to be worried, they know they should be, especially since it’s so early in the season. In 2012, Parker struggled a tad during July and August, a testament to his first full campaign in the majors and the length of the season. But considering it’s early April, one would hope that Parker would be in full form.
So far he has not been.
On the flip side, it is still early enough in the year that things can only get better. One would assume that to be the case.
But right now, Oakland needs him to find his form quickly. If the A’s want to vie for a division crown, they’ll need their No. 2 starter to be at the top of his game. With righty Dan Straily waiting in the wings in Triple-A, another couple of unsightly outings for Parker could prompt a demotion to Sacramento in order for him to revise his mechanics.
Sunday’s outing certainly didn’t help.
As far as rivalries go, Detroit-Oakland doesn’t bring the venom, intensity or geographical proximity that other cities or teams do.
That’s what makes this matchup so tantalizing. Both teams are primed for long-term success in different ways. The Tigers are teeming with All-Star talent up and down the lineup, from sluggers Prince Fielder and Triple Crown king Miguel Cabrera to all-universe right-hander Justin Verlander.
Meanwhile, the A’s are a mix and match of assembly-line parts, ready to take down any big-market team despite their minuscule payroll and star power.
The talent spread out on both rosters, along with their tenacious recent postseason battle, has Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com suggesting the Athletics and Tigers could be engaging in a good old-fashioned rivalry for the foreseeable future.
For the A’s, however, it’s probably more personal. Any time your team is knocked out of the playoffs, there is some anger toward that opponent. That's particularly true in this case, where Detroit went on to represent the AL in the World Series.
The Athletics want to be where the Tigers have been; but the Tigers are always in the way. Detroit has ended Oakland’s playoff run twice in the past seven seasons, counting the 2006 ALCS.
So from the Athletics’ perspective, if they are to get to the promised land eventually, they’ll need to overcome the Tigers somehow, some way. The little guys on the West Coast will have to take down the heavily favored, supremely built Detroit team in much the same way the A’s of the early 2000s had to supplant the New York Yankees.
While A’s fans might be tiring of Detroit’s slight stranglehold of the Athletics, the only way for the rivalry to grow in intensity, importance and relevance is if these two teams meet again in the postseason. So far, it looks like they could.
And if the Tigers and A’s end up squaring off in the playoffs, then the A’s will need to find a way to take them down.
Otherwise, Detroit-Oakland is just a one-sided rivalry, with the Tigers always winning when it matters most. And we all know those are the worst kind.
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