Miguel Cabrera Getty

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 (93-69) vs. Oakland Athletics (96-66)

The Matchups

Game 1 Friday in Oakland: Max Scherzer vs. Bartolo Colon
Game 2 Saturday in Oakland: Justin Verlander vs. Sonny Gray
Game 3 Next Monday in Detroit: Jarrod Parker vs. Anibal Sanchez
Game 4 (if necessary) next Tuesday in Detroit: Dan Straily vs. Doug Fister
Game 5 (if necessary) next Thursday in Oakland

Overview

This is a rematch of last year’s ALDS, which lasted the full five games and ended with Justin Verlander throwing a four-hit shutout. The difference this time around is that the A’s will begin the series at home and will have resurgent Bartolo Colon available to pitch Game 1 and a potential deciding Game 5. As you’ll recall, Colon was unavailable for the playoffs last year following his 50-game PED suspension.

As opposed to last season, the Tigers didn’t have to pass anyone during the final month of the season in order to win the American League Central, but their September swoon (13-13) resulted in them winning the division over the Indians by just one game. With Miguel Cabrera hurting, they scored one run or fewer in seven out of 26 games in September. That’s not going to fly in October. On the bright side, Jim Leyland has one of the best starting rotations in the majors to fall back on, led by this year’s Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer, last year’s Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander, and this year’s AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez. It takes a pretty good group for Doug Fister to be listed fourth.

The Athletics have won back-to-back American League West titles, but there’s still a perception out there that they are a surprise team. Maybe it’s because they play on the West Coast. Maybe it’s because they don’t have many familiar faces. Whatever the case may be, don’t underestimate them. The Athletics were fourth in the majors in runs scored this season and seventh in ERA. Bob Melvin’s mix-and-match lineup featured four players (Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp) with at least 22 home runs. They also ranked first in the American League in defensive efficiency rating, which measures the amount of balls put into play which are converted into outs. In short, calling them an underdog would be a mistake.

Storylines

  • What can the Tigers realistically expect from Miguel Cabrera? The slugger has been hobbled for weeks with lingering issues with his groin, abdominal, and hip area. He’s also coming off an uncharacteristic September for his standards. Cabrera at 50 percent is probably better than most hitters at 100 percent, but he won’t be able to truly heal until the offseason. Getting contributions from their other key bats like Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder, and Torii Hunter will be critical.
  • While Cabrera is hurting for the Tigers, the Athletics have their own concerns about Cespedes and his right shoulder. He received a cortisone shot a couple of weeks back to deal with the pain, but aggravated the injury while swinging the bat over the weekend and may be limited to the DH spot initially during the series.
  • The Tigers have the clear edge in the starting rotation, but that doesn’t mean it’s a weakness for Oakland. Colon finished second in the AL in ERA this season while Jarrod Parker bounced back nicely from a slow start to the season and rookie Sonny Gray impressed down the stretch. A.J. Griffin is unavailable for the ALDS due to elbow tendinitis, so the A’s will turn to Dan Straily in Game 4.
  • What role with Jhonny Peralta play during the series? While he was the starting shortstop prior to his 50-game PED suspension, that job now belongs to defensive wizard Jose Iglesias. Peralta was groomed in left field during the instructional league and played a couple of games there over the weekend, but he’s still quite green out there. He figures to platoon with Andy Dirks at the very least.
  • Donaldson should garner support for the AL MVP Award and Cespedes is probably the closest thing the A’s have to a household name, but don’t sleep on Brandon Moss. He has a .550 slugging percentage dating back to the start of last season. Only Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Chris Davis, David Ortiz, and Miguel Cabrera have been better during that time. Moss does most of his damage against right-handed pitching, which is noteworthy since the Tigers won’t be throwing any left-handed starters during the series.
  • To their credit, the Tigers have come a long way with their bullpen since the start of the season, as Joaquin Benoit has pitched well in the closer role while Drew Smyly has emerged as a trusted late-inning arm. As for the A’s, they ranked sixth in the majors this season in bullpen ERA, with Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins, and Dan Otero proving to be an effective bridge to closer Grant Balfour. Having Rick Porcello available out of the bullpen in the middle innings could be big for the Tigers, but the A’s would still appear to have the advantage here.

Prediction

The Tigers have the star power and the dominant rotation, but this matchup is pretty darn close. The Athletics won 96 games for a reason and are solid in all phases of the game. With a raucous crowd at O.co Coliseum, having homefield is big for them. Melvin’s deep and dominant bullpen could be the difference-maker in this series, but it might not matter if Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, and Fister shut down the A’s bats. The Tigers just can’t count on Cabrera to carry the load here. He’s a huge question mark going into this series.

I think that Detroit’s starters, especially Scherzer, will prove to be too much for Oakland in the end. I’m picking the Tigers in another five-game series.

Orioles are eying Welington Castillo as their primary catcher target

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up prior to taking an at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 25, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.

Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.

For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.

Report: Phillies agree to minor league deal with Daniel Nava

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Daniel Nava #12 of the Kansas City Royals bats during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.

Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.