Round: American League Division Series
Matchup: Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Season Series: Oakland wins 4-3
How They Got Here: Oakland- American League West Champions
Detroit- American League Central Champions
For the second straight season, the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers will meet the American League West Champion Oakland Athletics in the best of five divisional series. Last season, the Athletics came into this series as the surprise team in baseball, beating the Texas Rangers on the last day of the regular season to capture the AL West crown and a date with the Tigers in the first round. This season, the Athletics have not taken anyone by surprise, easily winning the AL West by 5.5 games behind strong pitching and an offense that can put up a lot of runs. The Tigers come into this playoff series as a team that had high expectations all season being considered one of the best teams in baseball. That was not the case however as the Tigers limped through the month of September and the final weekend of the series that saw them get swept by the Miami Marlins and have a no hitter thrown against them. All of that is erased though as a whole new season starts where anyone can get hot at any time and make a run. One of these teams has to win this series so here are a few key areas that can distinguish a winner:
The Tigers come into this series with arguably the best rotation in baseball and that is where their real post season strength lies. The Athletics and Tigers finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in the American League in team ERA though the Tigers are able to boast having potential Cy Young Max Scherzer, former Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander, and AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez, as their one through three starters. The Tigers also have Doug Fister as their number four starter who would be easily a number two starter on many playoff rosters. No other teams in the post season have that kind of depth at starting pitching and it is often said that starting pitching is the key to winning the World Series. Behind Cy Young candidate Bartolo Colon, Oakland sports a very young starting rotation who does not have much post season experience. I will take the experience and depth any day.
This is where the Tigers can get into trouble against the Athletics. If it comes down to a one or two run Oakland advantage late in the game, the Athletics have the bullpen strength to shut the door on the Tigers to finish the game. Grant Balfour was able to convert on 38 of 41 save opportunities this season and if it weren’t for a 9th inning meltdown against Detroit, it would have been 39 of 41. The Tigers have Joaquin Benoit closing out games for them, who was very good all season after being promoted to the closer spot until blowing two saves towards the end of the season. Despite that, Benoit converted on 24 of 26 save opportunities while posting a 2.01 ERA. As much as I wish the relief pitching was even, the Athletics are much deeper than the Tigers in the bullpen.
With a healthy Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers would easily have the advantage over the Athletics here. The fact of the matter though is Cabrera is not close to 100% healthy which hurts the Tigers more than anything. Cabrera has had five days to rest which will help him, though it is not enough time for him to get 100%. Despite Cabrera’s various injuries, the Tigers will still trot out one of the best lineups in the postseason. The Tigers posted an AL best .283 average this season while Oakland was nearly 30 points worse at .254. Oakland has picked up the pace offensively towards the end of the season while the Tigers have slowed down, but that should not be anything to worry about for the Tigers who can score 10 runs a night with the strong options they have. I’ll take the Tigers who trot out a top seven that is as good as any in baseball.
Advantage: Detroit (only slightly though)
Without a doubt, the Tigers got better defensively with the addition of Jose Iglesias playing shortstop over Jhonny Peralta. One positional player does not win you World Series titles though as the Tigers are lacking defensively in a couple of key areas. As previously stated, Cabrera’s injuries are hurting his play at the plate but most importantly in the field. He is unable to charge a ball with any speed and it hurts him to do so. The A’s may try to take advantage of this fact by trying to bunt down the third base line. The Tigers also lack defensive strength in left field, especially if they decide to use Jhonny Peralta as a starter there or late in the game for his bat. The Athletics are a solid defensive team, led by Coco Crisp in center field. Crisp is a player who uses his speed to make any park look small and is capable of taking gappers away from any player.
The Tigers will come away winners in this series if they are able to get strong starting pitching and score early runs. If they get into a pitchers duel in any games where it will come down to the battle of the bullpens, the A’s will have the considerable advantage in those games. Despite the mass difference in payrolls, the Tigers and Athletics are very evenly matched teams and this series definitely has the ability to go the distance.
BD- This series comes down to starting pitching for me. The Tigers have superior starting pitching that will carry them throughout the playoffs. Oakland rocked the Tigers starting pitching the last time these two teams met, but I am willing to throw those games out the window considering what the Tigers staff has done this season. The offense will be better than it has been the final month of the season and Cabrera should be slightly healthier with 5 days of rest.
Tigers in 4
JD- The Tigers have arguably the best starting rotation in the playoffs, and they’re going to need their starters to go deep if they want to win. Rick Porcello will help mend the bullpen issues, but will it be enough? The key to this series will be the late innings. Detroit’s offense has been ice cold all season with runners on from the 7th inning onward. With Miguel Cabrera still nursing a variety of injuries, Prince Fielder will need to improve upon his .128 postseason average for the Tigers to have a chance. If the pitching is good, and they get timely hits, there’s no reason why the Tigers can’t win it all.
Tigers in 4