It's good to be the king.
Unlike the Detroit Tigers, few critics expected the Oakland Athletics to be where they are today.
The Los Angeles Angels, one of the A’s division rivals, bolstered their roster in the offseason by acquiring Josh Hamilton to go along with Albert Pujols. Similarly, the Texas Rangers added stud pitcher Matt Garza at the trade deadline in an effort to challenge for the top spot in the AL West.
But, much like the A’s proved in 2012, they again were the team to beat in 2013. The Athletics bested the Angels and Rangers by 18 and 5.5 games, respectively, and took the top division honors.
But even though the Athletics posted a superior 96-66 record to the Tigers’ 93-69 mark, Detroit might still be the favorite in the series. With a roster headed by Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the scrappy A’s will have to pull out all the stops to prevent a Tigers victory in Game 1.
Read on to see the keys to each team winning Game 1 of the ALDS tonight.
Max Scherzer won 21 games in 2013.
With a rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer stood little chance of being the Detroit Tigers’ ace going into 2013.
But after trumping Verlander with a 2.90 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 145 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP and 4.29 K/BB this season, the right-handed Scherzer has earned his “ace of staff” title.
Scherzer added a curveball to his repertoire this offseason, but it’s really been his improved fastball and slider that have produced such great results. In fact, the 29-year-old’s fastball and slider have been worth 23.3 and 15.4 runs above average, respectively.
Even though the Athletics own a collective .295 batting average versus Scherzer in 2013, the ace has also held lefties to an impressive .222/.278/.367 line.
Jhonny Peralta is back and outfield bound.
Jhonny Peralta was en route to a great season in 2013. Peralta posted a .303 batting average, park-adjusted 119 OPS+ and 11 home runs while gloving an adequate 0.7 dWAR at shortstop.
But in early August, the 31-year-old was suspended for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal. Peralta sat out for 50 games, making his return on Sept. 27.
Since the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias in his absence, Peralta found himself without a starting job. That is, until the team suggested he try his hand at left field. Despite logging zero games at the position in his career, Peralta is now penciled in to be the Tigers’ starting left fielder in the ALDS.
If Peralta can provide his seasonal offense without sacrificing too much defensively at his new position, the former-shortstop could help the Tigers pull ahead in Game 1.
Bartolo Colon has been the clear Oakland Athletics ace all season long.
Despite posting a 2.65 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 141 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP and 4.03 K/BB, Bartolo Colon simply does not garner the respect he deserves.
The 40-year-old may no longer possess a blazing fastball, but the ace instead dominates opposing hitters with impeccable control. In addition to boasting a microscopic 1.37 BB/9 ratio, Colon’s fastball has been worth 17.2 runs above average. Considering his fastball averages just 89.9 miles per hour, Colon has obviously mastered its strike-zone placement.
That said, the Detroit Tigers have teed-off on Colon in 2013, posting a .300 batting average. But given Colon's season-long dominance, his regular season perforamnce versus the Tigers isn't the final word.
Josh Donaldson has been a pleasant surprise for the Oakland Athletics in 2013.
When most people talk about the MVP award, the conversation usually sways towards a “Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera” shouting match. But the MVP award race should also include a third player: Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson has hit to the tune of a .301 batting average, park-adjusted 148 OPS+ and 24 home runs. The 27-year-old has also gloved a sterling 1.8 dWAR at third base, making him an all-around elite player.
As the Oakland Athletics’ far and away best hitter, Donaldson needs to produce in Game 1 to give the team a legitimate chance. If not, the A’s stand little chance in a boxing match against the likes of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
The Detroit Tigers had their best internal closing option in Joaquin Benoit all along.
The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen caved various times in the playoffs last season. In fact, Jose Valverde, the Tigers’ closer in 2012, surrendered nine earned runs over just 2.2 innings of work.
But the Tigers’ bullpen has been better in 2013. After failed tests with Bruce Rondon and Valverde, skipper Jim Leyland finally handed the ball to Joaquin Benoit.
Benoit responded with a 2.01 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 209 ERA+), 1.03 WHIP, 3.32 K/BB and 24 saves. If Benoit can provide Leyland and the Tigers with a dependable relief option, then pulling Scherzer might not lead to a blown Game 1 victory.