Looking ahead to ALDS Game 2: Tigers-Athletics

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Backed by 11 strikeouts over seven innings from AL Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer, the Tigers topped the Athletics 3-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS at O.Co Coliseum. The two teams will meet for Game 2 this evening at 9:00 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on TBS.

Here’s a quick look at the pitching matchup and some random notes:

Already down one game in the series, the Athletics will turn to rookie right-hander Sonny Gray. A first-round pick in 2011, the 23-year-old right-hander has been mighty impressive since making his major league debut in July, posting a 2.67 ERA and 67/20 K/BB ratio over 64 innings in 10 starts and two relief appearances. We may have seen the starting rotation arranged differently if A.J. Griffin was healthy, but Athletics manager Bob Melvin wanted to give Gray the start at home as opposed to Comerica Park.

After facing Scherzer in Game 1, things don’t get any easier for the A’s tonight, as Justin Verlander will be on the hill for Detroit. While Verlander had somewhat of a down season for his lofty standards, posting a 3.46 ERA in 34 starts, he finished September by striking out 22 batters in 12 scoreless innings over his final two starts. Not good news for an A’s team which set a franchise playoff record by striking out 16 times in Game 1.

As for the Athletics’ lineup, John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group speculates that Daric Barton could be benched for Game 2 while Brandon Moss starts at first base and Seth Smith serves as the designated hitter. Barton went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in Game 1 and had a pair of defensive miscues.

There probably won’t be any major changes for the Tigers. Andy Dirks made the start in left field last night, but it’s possible we’ll see Jhonny Peralta out there there for Game 2. Then again, O.co Coliseum can be pretty tricky to navigate, so it might not be the best setting to experiment. Miguel Cabrera was removed for defensive purposes in the eighth inning last night, but he told Paul Hagen of MLB.com after the game that he “felt good.” He went 1-for-4 with an RBI single before exiting.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.