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

Morris, Trammell, humbled and emotional at being elected to the Hall of Fame

Associated Press
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla — Jack Morris and Alan Trammell met the press 18 hours after learning that they were elected to the Hall of Fame. Trammell was still humbled. Morris was still emotional, breaking up numerous times as he answered reporters questions. When Morris did manage to compose himself, he said a couple of pretty interesting things. Even some funny things.

“I want all the writers to know, I’m not mad at any of you,” Morris said, addressing the baseball writers, who for 15 years failed to vote him into the Hall of Fame. Morris, who at some points over his time on the ballot was, in fact, quite cranky about not being elected, struck a more conciliatory tone this morning, admitting that he did not fully understand the baseball analytics upon which many voters relied in judging him more negatively than he was judged during his playing career. There was a suggestion in his tone that, perhaps, the voters had a point about his relative place in the game and that he understood that now a bit better than he might’ve a few years ago. Not that he’s too hung up on it. “Now that I’m in, I don’t have to worry about any of it,” Morris added.

Trammell never came particularly close to election when he was on the writer’s ballot while Morris only fell a couple of votes short. One could be excused, however, if one thought that he’d thought more about what he’d say on the occasion of his election than Morris did.  “To be part of a dream team, you can’t envision that. As a young boy, all I wanted was to become a major league baseball player,” Trammell said. “And now to be a Hall of Famer . . . it’s indescribable.” For Morris part, he said that he had a lot of practice over the years in responding to reporters asking him about not being elected and that he was prepared to do so again this week. He seemed genuinely surprised that he made it as evidenced by his emotional, off-the-cuff responses to questions.

Both players were asked about their longtime manager Sparky Anderson and both talked warmly about him while acknowledging his often tough love.

Morris said Sparky made him a ballplayer. Trammell said that he and the other young Tigers players who broke into pro ball in the mid-to-late 70s thought they knew what they were doing but that “Sparky showed me I didn’t know squat.” He said that he could field well when he was young but that his hitting lagged. Trammell would, of course, turn into an excellent offensive shortstop, and that a lot of that was due to Anderson’s motivation. “He batted me ninth and I didn’t want to bat ninth . . . he told me when I hit it looked like I was swinging a wet newspaper.” Morris said that he thought of Anderson as “a father and older brother in one.” He said Sparky would make him angry but that he’d never be the pitcher he was if it wasn’t for him.

Trammell, as expected, was asked about his longtime double play mate Lou Whitaker, who was also on the Veterans’ Committee Ballot but who did not gain induction despite a Hall-worthy resume.

“We’re linked together, as we should be,” Trammell said. He said that it has long been his dream to be inducted at the same time as Whitaker. “The dream didn’t happen that we’d go in together this year, but I’m hoping that someday it does happen.” Trammell said. “I’m entitled to my opinion and my dreams.”

Finally, both Morris and Whitaker were asked about Marvin Miller, the groundbreaking and history-making union chief who, once again, was denied election.

Trammell said he’s thankful for Miller and hopes the young players recognize what he did. He says he’d be shocked if Miller is not inducted one day. Morris echoed those comments. “There’s a whole generation of players who have no idea who he was or what he did . . . I’ll always be a strong supporter of him.”

Each player then left the stage and began to be swarmed by reporters in small group sessions. It’s just the beginning of a seven-month whirlwind between now and July 29, when each will be inducted to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.