Detroit Tigers vs Oakland A's: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 4
The Detroit Tigers' season will be on the line when Oakland and Detroit meet at Comerica Park on Tuesday for Game 4 of their American League Division Series with the A's holding a 2-1 series lead.
But that doesn't mean that Detroit has no chance of forcing a series-deciding Game 5 back in Oakland, something that the A's would certainly prefer to avoid.
Let's take a look at the keys for each team in achieving its goals in the crucial Game 4 matchup.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Key for Oakland: Challenge Miguel Cabrera Defensively
When he's perfectly healthy, Miguel Cabrera is still a terrible defensive third baseman.
When he's injured, Miguel Cabrera is a major defensive liability.
Everyone, including Oakland skipper Bob Melvin, knows this, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle confirms:
"Melvin said the other day he'd like to see #Athletics hitters hit it Cabrera's way; this is why."
The play that Slusser is referring to was Yoenis Cespedes' ground ball to Cabrera in the top of the third inning of Game 3 that Cabrera failed to field cleanly, allowing Coco Crisp to score the game's first run, as seen in the video above.
While it's not evident on that play, Cabrera's already limited range is compromised by the injuries to his abdomen and groin that have made him a shell of the hitter that he has been. Forcing Cabrera to make plays on balls hit to third can only end well for Oakland, and it's something that the A's should look to do more often in Game 4.
Key for Detroit: Outslug Oakland
Oakland hit the third-most home runs in baseball this season with 186 dingers. When the A's go deep more than their opponent, the game is typically over, as MLB.com's Jane Lee points out.
"A's 63-6 this year when hitting more home runs than their opponent," Lee tweeted.
That stat should come as no surprise to the Tigers, who went 0-2 against Oakland in the regular season when the A's hit more home runs than them. Detroit was 4-1 when the two teams tied in game homers or Detroit led the way in the power department.
While the whole concept of homering more than your opponents to beat them may seem to be an obvious rule of thumb, consider this: Seattle and Toronto finished second and fourth, respectively, when it came to hitting home runs this season. Those two teams combined to finish 34 games below .500.
If the Tigers are going to force a Game 5, they're going to have to go deep in Game 4.
Key for Oakland: Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position
Through the first three games of the ALDS against Detroit, Oakland has come to the plate 27 times with runners in scoring position. The A's have managed only two hits and four walks, striking out nearly 45 percent of the time:
That's not a recipe for success at any point during the season, especially in the playoffs.
While Detroit's lineup hasn't been able to muster much offense either, the A's can ill afford to leave runs on base when the opportunity presents itself. For a team that hit .268 during the regular season with runners in scoring position, Oakland's struggles thus far in the playoffs are a bit surprising.
*RISP stats courtesy of MLB.com.
Key for Detroit: Jim Lelyand Must Have a Quicker Hook
Jim Leyland is a hell of a manager who should be destined for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame once he decides to finally call it a career.
But even the best managers make mistakes, and Leyland made a crucial one in Game 3 of the ALDS—one that could ultimately cost his team its season.
It was obvious to anyone watching or listening to the game that Anibal Sanchez, the American League's ERA king, was nowhere near the top of his game. He struggled with his command and racked up an incredibly high pitch count early with 64 pitches through three innings.
After allowing a solo shot to Josh Reddick and a triple to Stephen Vogt in the top of the fourth inning with the A's ahead 2-0, Leyland got Rick Porcello up in the bullpen.
But he never came to the mound to make the switch.
By the time Leyland finally did pull Sanchez an inning later, it was too late. Oakland led 6-3, as Sanchez had allowed three home runs, and Detroit never recovered.
Leyland must be quicker with his hook in Game 4, going to the bullpen if starter Doug Fister gets himself into trouble or looks like he has nothing left.
Forget being loyal to the guys who got Detroit to this point. There's no tomorrow if the Tigers drop another game.
Key for Oakland: Muzzle Grant Balfour
While it's common knowledge that Oakland closer Grant Balfour has a big mouth, one that is constantly moving when he's on the mound, the A's are very lucky that it didn't cost them the lead in Game 3.
When the All-Star closer got into it with Detroit's Victor Martinez in the bottom of the ninth inning, leading to the benches and bullpens emptying, it energized what had been a comatose Comerica Park crowd.
Keeping the home crowd quiet might not seem like a big deal, but when the stands are raucous and rocking, it pumps up the home team. Think of an energized home crowd like a can of Red Bull or a shot of 5-hour Energy for the hosts.
While it doesn't always give the home team the extra boost that it needs to find success on the field, it certainly doesn't hurt its chances either.
If Balfour needs to run his mouth, let him do it when his back is to home plate—not when he's facing it. The last thing the A's can afford is for their closer to be tossed from the game or even worse—wind up on the receiving end of a punch from an irate Tigers batter.