Miguel Cabrera

ALDS Preview: Tigers vs. Athletics

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Tigers and Athletics have in store for us in the American League Division Series.

The Teams

Detroit Tigers (88-74) vs. Oakland Athletics (94-68)

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in Detroit: Jarrod Parker vs. Justin Verlander
Game 2 Sunday in Detroit: Tommy Milone vs. Doug Fister
Game 3 Tuesday in Oakland: Undecided (likely Brett Anderson) vs. Anibal Sanchez
Game 4 (if necessary) Wednesday in Oakland
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Oakland

Analysis: As impressive as the A’s group of rookie starting pitchers have been, they just don’t have someone on the level of Justin Verlander, who is primed to start two games in the series if necessary. By the way, he allowed one run in 13 innings over two starts against the A’s this season. It’s a pretty interesting call to use Milone in Game 2 in Detroit, given that he had a 4.83 ERA on the road this season compared to a 2.74 ERA at home. It wouldn’t shock me if the Tigers head to Oakland up 2-0.

Athletics manager Bob Melvin hasn’t officially announced who he will use in Game 3, but it’s expected to be Brett Anderson, who hasn’t pitched since September 19 due to an oblique injury. That’s a big deal, as he had a 2.57 ERA and 25/7 K/BB ratio in 35 innings through his first six starts back from Tommy John surgery. Anibal Sanchez got off to a bit of a rough start after coming over from the Marlins, but he allowed three earned runs or less in seven out of his final eight starts during the regular season. Max Scherzer will start Game 4 for the Tigers if it gets that far. He probably would have pitched sooner if it wasn’t for recent shoulder and ankle injuries. A.J. Griffin figures to pitch Game 4 for the A’s.

The Storylines

  • The Tigers took the season series 4-3 while outscoring the Athletics 40-37.
  • The Tigers were tied with the Cardinals for the worst road record (38-43) among the playoff teams, so it’s important for them to take advantage of playing the first two games of the series at Comerica Park.
  • Strikeouts. We’re probably going to see a lot of them. The Athletics hit a ton of home runs (they were seventh in the majors with 195), but they also set an American League record by striking out 1,387 times. Meanwhile, Tigers pitchers were fifth in the majors this season with 1,318 strikeouts.
  • It’s a good thing Tigers’ pitchers are adept at getting strikeouts, because their defense is easily the worst of any team in the playoffs. They managed to win the American League Central in spite of it, but the margin for error is quite literally much smaller now.
  • Miguel Cabrera was awesome against pretty much everyone this season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that he put a hurting on the Athletics. The Triple Crown winner went 14-for-29 (.483) with three home runs and 14 RBI in seven games against A’s pitching. That’s nice and all, but the Tigers need contributions from other key bats like Austin Jackson and Prince Fielder so that Cabrera actually sees something to hit. The Tigers’ lineup doesn’t have a ton of depth.
  • Thanks to an unlikely cast, including Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, the A’s do have some pop. But they were also second-to-last in the American League in batting average and third from the bottom in on-base percentage. Meanwhile, Tigers pitchers gave up the third least home runs in the American League. What happens if he power isn’t there?
  • The Athletics don’t get on base a lot, but they steal bases when they do. They had 122 stolen bases during the regular season, the most among all playoff teams. Coco Crisp was fourth in the American League with 39 steals while Cespedes, Cliff Pennington and Reddick were all over double-digits. The Tigers were 29th in the majors this season with 59 steals.
  • The Tigers have the edge in the rotation, but they were 10th in the AL with a 3.79 bullpen ERA while the A’s were second at 2.94. The Tigers have the big names like Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, but the under-the-radar trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle were untouchable down the stretch for Oakland. Things could get dicey if Jim Leyland is forced to pull one of his starters early.

Prediction

The Athletics went 72-38 after June 2 and came back from 13 games down to win the American League West. With their rookie starting pitchers, a strong bullpen and an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, they might be the most interesting story in this entire playoffs. Assuming you don’t have a horse in this race, this scrappy and inexperienced bunch is going to be awful difficult to root against. Still, I must separate my head from my heart here. And in doing so, I think the Tigers starting pitching will prove to be too much.

TIGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-1

Dodgers sign Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million deal

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs in game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.

Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.

Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.

UPDATE: Giants agree to a deal with Mark Melancon

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Mark Melancon #43 of the Washington Nationals reacts after the final out as the Nationals defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-3 in game three of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.

12:15 PMKen Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.

Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.

The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.

What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.

Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.