American League Division action began last night, and for the second consecutive year, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics meet in this round of the playoffs, which will once again to be an intriguing match up for both teams. Last year the Tigers won this ALDS series match up three games to two, but that was last year and this year could be different this time around.
The Tigers came into the series with a third straight American League Central Division title and a lineup that was one of the best in baseball. This year the Tigers collectively as a team at the plate, were either ranked first or second in several offensive categories. Among which were first in batting average, and second in runs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. They were offensively sound this year, and one could argue one of the best lineups in baseball. It also doesn’t hurt having the reigning triple crown winner and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera batting in the middle of the lineup.
Pitching wise, Detroit again also boasted a solid staff of pitchers, even with Justin Verlander having the down year that he had. They were ranked first in quality starts, and in the top ten in ERA and WHIP. Three of their five starters finished the regular season with 200 or more stirkeouts. Four out of five starters made 20 or more quality starts. To put it simply, the Tigers’ pitching this year was top notch, but this year centered on Max Scherzer, who this season was one of if not the best pitcher in the American League. Since joining the Tigers he’s been steadily improving as a pitcher and this season was his breakout year with a record of 21-3, with an ERA of 2.90. Also doesn’t hurt having Anibal Sanchez or Doug Fister in the rotation as well. The only down side to the Tigers is the argument, that they had a weak schedule, due in part to playing the AL Central, they did have a winning record against all other AL Central teams, with the exception of the Kansas City Royals, who won the season series against the Tigers.
On the other side of the coin is the Oakland Athletics coming off their second consecutive American League West Division title. They are also a team that is a serious contender in these playoffs. This season, the Athletics were a unique team to watch, but from the start were in the mix for the division along with the Texas Rangers, which they had to outlast again. This time it did not take the entire season like last year, as Oakland was able to pull away in late August, early September. To say that the A’s have been up to their moneyball ways would be putting it in simple terms. This season they put together a much more improved group of players. At the plate A’s were ranked fourth in runs and in slugging percentage as well, and also eighth in on base percentage as well. However they were ranked fourteenth in batting average, as the lineup that was featured was more power heavy, with the likes of the Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, and Josh Donaldson providing power at the plate. Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp in particular, were the main threats in the A’s lineup, especially Donaldson who had an all star caliber season, and deserves to at least be a part of the MVP discussion.
On the mound the A’s were consistent with a cast of young starters and old veterans, in particular Bartolo Colon, who at the age of 40, put together a spectacular season on the mound. Colon led the team with eighteen wins and an ERA of 2.65. Aside from Colon, the A’s this season also got solid pitching from A.J. Griffin and call up Sonny Gray as well. They were in the top ten in most if not all pitching categories, with the most notable being fourth in batting average against, and third in WHIP. One could make the argument that their strength on the mound was what put then over the top in the AL West.
During the regular season, the Athletics won the regular season series, 4-3, but that is irrelevant now, as it comes down to match ups and other intangibles in the postseason. It also doesn’t hurt to have a manager who has been here before, which is the case of both teams. To Jim Leyland this is nothing new, and he has his game plan in place. Same can be said for the A’s manager Bob Melvin who has been here with Arizona and now with Oakland.
With match ups in mind, let’s take a look at the match ups for this series.
Game one was the match up of aces for both sides as Max Scherzer and Bartolo Colon faced off. Not much else can be said about either pitcher as enough has been said, but this one could be a duel or could be one sided if Scherzer gets to the lineup early enough with his fastball and off speed pitches, especially his change up which has been one of his best out pitches. Colon, will have to rely more so on his location of pitches and also on his defense to back him up.
Game two will be one of the more interesting match ups of the series as Justin Verlander will be on the mound for Detroit. Verlander, who this season was not as his best, as it took him awhile to get going, he could also be mystery for the Athletics, depending on how he is on the mound as well. Opposite of him will be rookie Sonny Gray who has never pitched against Detroit in his young career and could prove to be a mystery match up for the Tigers.
Game three, will feature Jarrod Parker against Anibal Sanchez, who is the American League ERA champion, and also proves how talented this Tigers pitching staff is. Depending on how game two goes, this will be either the clinching game for the Tigers or not. Parker, who was cold at the start of the season is now hot, going 10-3 to close out the season.
Game four, which may or may not be necessary depending on how the first three games in the series go, will feature rookie Dan Straily for Oakland, another talented rookie for the A’s against Doug Fister, another talented pitcher for the Tigers. If this game is played, this will also be an interesting match up to watch. Unlike Gray, Straily did make one start against Detroit this season, earning the win in that start.
Game five, will feature Max Scherzer again for the Tigers, but for the A’s, they will be playing this one by ear as a game five starter has not yet been announced. Leaves it to the imagination to who they will choose. It could be a toss up between Colon, Gray, or even A.J. Griffin who was not on the starters list for Oakland. If the series makes it to a game five, it should be interesting to who they choose.
This is going to be an interesting series, there is no doubt about it. These two teams are talented and have the drive to make a deep run in the playoffs, but I have to give a slight edge to Detroit in this series. With their lineup and rotation, it is a talented team and that will take them over the top in this series. However it will be a close series that could go five games, but we shall see what happens over the course of this series.