Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 2

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIOctober 5, 2013

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 2

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics will compete in Game 2 of the ALDS Saturday after the Tigers took Game 1, 3-2.

    With the Tigers up in the series, the A's have some work to do in Game 2. Any mistake could be the difference between being down 2-0 or tied 1-1 heading to Detroit.

    So, what does each team need to do to ensure they come out on top Saturday?

    Here's a look at a few keys for each team to succeed in Game 2.

     

    Note: All stats obtained from Baseball-Reference.com.

Tigers' Key: Justin Verlander Has to Be an Ace

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    Justin Verlander has pitched well this year, but he hasn't been the ace we've been accustomed to seeing. In the regular season, Verlander was 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts.

    Verlander has had a drop in velocity this year, as shown in the table below compiled with data from Brooks Baseball:

    Pitch TypeVelocity in 2012Velocity in 2013
    Fastball95.0793.91
    Changeup86.2784.62
    Slider84.9886.58
    Curveball80.0379.57

    Out of all of his pitches, only the slider saw an increase in velocity. His fastball lost more than a mile per hour, and his changeup lost more than 1.5 mph.

    He's only struck out 74 batters with his fastball, while getting 70 with his curveball. Add in the fact that hitters are batting .283 off of his fastball, compared to .246 last year.

    The fastball hasn't been working, but Verlander has been able to do a lot with his curve, striking out 70 batters and allowing opponents to hit .189 against it.

    Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have both been good this year, but the Tigers need Verlander to return to ace-form for the playoffs. He has a career 2.67 ERA in the ALDS and that's what the Tigers need out of him again.

Athletics' Key: Sonny Gray Can't Pitch Like a Rookie

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    Sonny Gray is a rookie, but he can't pitch like one against the Tigers.

    Gray went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in the regular season, which included 10 starts. He has not faced the Tigers this year, which adds another dynamic to this matchup.

    The rookie uses three main pitches, according to Brooks Baseball—a fastball, sinker and curveball. The fastball has an average velocity of 93.97, while the sinker comes in at 93.34 and the curveball is at 80.29.

    Gray hasn't faced the class of hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder all year. With those two back-to-back in the lineup, Gray has his work cut out for him. His manager, Bob Melvin, has full confidence in him, though, telling the Associated Press (via ESPN), "I think he will do well. We wouldn't have put him in that spot if we didn't think so."

    We'll have to see if Melvin's faith in Gray pays off.

Tigers' Key: Sound Defense

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    When you look at both lineups, the Tigers have an obvious advantage with guys like Cabrera and Fielder in the heart of the order.

    During the regular season, Detroit hit .283 as a team, while Oakland had an average of .254. All signs point to a Tigers lineup that should put more runs on the board. But as we saw in Game 1, that's not always the case.

    With Verlander set to go on the mound, the Detroit defense has to be sound behind him like they have been all year. There has only been six Detroit errors in games Verlander has pitched.

    With the huge dimensions in Oakland, Detroit outfielders have to keep the ball in front of them and not let one of Oakland's seven hitters who had 20-plus doubles during the regular season take the extra base on a ball in the gap.

    Good defense will be the key in Game 2, especially if it's as close as Game 1 was.

Athletics' Key: Hitting Behind Coco Crisp

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Coco Crisp walked three times in Game 1 of the ALDS. However, Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson combined to go 0-for-8 behind him.

    In the third inning, it was a groundout by Lowrie that left Crisp on second base, while a one-out walk in the sixth saw Crisp stranded again by Lowrie and Donaldson. Then again in the eighth, Crisp walked with one out and Lowrie and Donaldson left him hanging again.

    If Oakland is going to win Game 2, the No. 2 and 3 hitters have to do something when Crisp is on base. He's doing his job as the leadoff hitter, but those behind him aren't doing their jobs.

Tigers' Key: Top of the Lineup Getting on Base

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    Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are going to be key for the Tigers throughout this series.

    As was evident in Friday's first inning, Jackson and Hunter both getting on base gave the Tigers chances to score runs, especially with Cabrera and Fielder behind them.

    However, after the first inning, only Hunter was  able to get on base and he was then thrown out trying to steal second. The result...the Tigers didn't score any runs after the opening frame.

    There's a reason why Cabrera and Fielder are considered big hitters, but they can't be the big hitters they're paid to be if Jackson and Hunter aren't getting on base.

    The pair have to give the big hitters opportunities to knock them in if the Tigers are going to win Game 2.

Athletics' Key: Don't Strike out

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Detroit will be sending Verlander to the mound, and much like Max Scherzer in Game 1, he's a strikeout pitcher.

    In Game 1, Oakland struck out 16 times, including 11 times against Scherzer. Even worse, 10 of those strikeouts from the No. 3-6 hitters. That's no way to give yourself a chance to win.

    The only way you can put runs on the board is by putting the ball in play. By not doing that, the A's made it easier for Scherzer to dominate.

    Verlander is going to try to do the same thing, and if he can replicate Scherzer's success against the A's middle of the order, Oakland could be headed to Detroit 2-0.