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.

Dodgers acquire Matt Kemp in five-player trade with Braves

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The Dodgers have pulled off their first blockbuster trade of the offseason, sending Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez and cash considerations to the Braves for Matt Kemp, per announcements from both teams. The Braves are set to designate Gonzalez for assignment on Monday, making him a free agent.

Kemp, 33, had a down year with the Braves in 2017, hitting a career-low -0.5 fWAR in 115 games with the club. At the plate, he slashed a modest .276/.318/.463 with 19 home runs and a .781 OPS through 467 plate appearances, but was hampered by a nagging left hamstring strain through most of the season. This will be his 10th campaign with the Dodgers.

Whether or not Kemp can rebound during his second stint in Los Angeles is almost beside the point, however. The deal is effectively a salary dump to end all salary dumps. Offloading multiple one-year contracts for McCarthy, Kazmir and Gonzalez should bring the Dodgers back under the $197 million luxury tax threshold and position them to make a run at some of the big fish in next year’s free agent pool. It’s also worth noting that they may not keep Kemp around for long — per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, the club appears as likely to flip the veteran outfielder as they are to use him. As for the Braves, they not only rid themselves of the $43 million due Kemp through 2020, but added some rotation and infield depth with McCarthy and Culberson and can now give top prospect Ronald Acuna a legitimate tryout in left field.