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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.

Chapman has trouble remembering convo with Cubs management about off-field behavior

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CHICAGO — Star closer Aroldis Chapman joined the Cubs on Tuesday, arriving to a mixed reaction in Chicago and saying he couldn’t remember what management told him about off-field expectations and behavior.

After Chapman’s awkward introductory news conference, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein insisted Chapman understands what the Cubs expect of him after an offseason domestic violence incident.

When the Cubs announced the trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, the team released a statement from Chairman Tom Ricketts saying they were aware of his 29-game suspension to begin the season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

Ricketts said he and Epstein talked by phone with Chapman before the deal was completed and “shared with him the high expectations we set for our players,” adding that Chapman was “comfortable” with them.

But when asked repeatedly about that phone conversation before Tuesday’s game against the crosstown White Sox, Chapman said through an interpreter that he couldn’t recall details because he was taking a nap at the time the call came in.

The question was asked several more times. A Cubs spokesman once asked the question himself to the interpreter, coach Henry Blanco.

“It’s been a long day,” Chapman said. “Trying to remember.”

Asked again several minutes later during the group interview if he could now remember what Ricketts said, Chapman shook his head.

“I still don’t remember,” he said in Spanish.

Epstein called it a misunderstanding and that Chapman was “pretty nervous” as he faced seven cameras and more than two dozen reporters.

“I was on the call, Tom was on the call, Aroldis was on the call and Barry Praver, his agent, was on the call. It happened and it was real,” Epstein said before the Cubs’ 3-0 loss to the White Sox.

Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight gunshots in the garage of a Florida home in October. The woman later changed her story and no charges were filed.

“You learn from the mistakes that you make,” Chapman said.

The case caused the Los Angeles Dodgers to back out of an offseason trade for Chapman. Cincinnati eventually traded him to the Yankees, and after his suspension, the 28-year-old Cuban converted 20 of 21 save chances for New York.

The Cubs have long boasted of stocking their roster with high-character players, helping earn the “lovable losers” label they’ve carried for decades since their last World Series title in 1908.

But the Cubs (59-40) have retooled their roster under Epstein and have the best record in the major leagues despite Tuesday’s loss in which Chapman didn’t pitch. Chapman, who threw a 105 mph fastball last week, fills perhaps the team’s largest hole as he replaces Hector Rondon as closer.

The Cubs sent four players to the Yankees, including shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, to get one of the game’s top relievers. Epstein said they wouldn’t have made the deal if not for the phone call he and Ricketts had with Chapman.

“Tom laid out the exact same standards that he lays out to everyone in spring training,” Epstein said. “He said, extremely clearly, `Look, Aroldis, I tell all the players this in spring training and it’s important you hear it and I need to hear from you on this. We expect our players to behave. We hold our players to a very high standard for their behavior off the field. And we need to know you can meet that standard.’

“Aroldis said `I understand. Absolutely, I can.'”

The Cubs activated Chapman before Tuesday’s game and designated left-hander Clayton Richard for assignment.

Reaction to Chapman’s acquisition in Chicago has been tepid. While there were supportive fans on talk radio, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page column Tuesday criticizing the move. The back of the Chicago Sun-Times tabloid read “Spin City” over a picture of Epstein.

Chapman said he expected a “good reaction” from Cubs fans. He was also asked during the 20-minute meeting with reporters in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field if we would consider working with organizations looking to prevent domestic violence. Chapman said no.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon defended Chapman.

“He did do a suspension, he has talked about it, he’s shown remorse,” Maddon said. “Everybody else has the right to judge him as a good or bad person. That’s your right.

I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he could be a very significant member and he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you I will embrace him.”

Report: Padres working on trading Andrew Cashner

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 21: Starter Derek Norris #3 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on July 21, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB Network reports that the Padres are working to trade starter Andrew Cashner. He notes that a deal may be consummated before he takes the hill for Tuesday’s start in Toronto against the Blue Jays. The Marlins, Orioles, and Rangers have had reported interest in Cashner.

Cashner is 4-7 with a 4.79 ERA and a 61/27 K/BB ratio in 73 1/3 innings. He missed over three weeks between June 11 and July 2 due to a strained neck.

The right-hander is earning $9.625 million this season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.