Justin Verlander dominates as Tigers defeat Athletics to advance to ALCS

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The Tigers have advanced to the ALCS for the third straight season.

Justin Verlander threw eight scoreless innings in a dominant outing while Miguel Cabrera provided some thump as the Tigers defeated the Athletics 3-0 in Game 5 of the ALDS on Thursday at O.co Coliseum in Oakland.

While the Tigers were held scoreless by rookie right-hander Sonny Gray for eight innings back in Game 2, they got to him for three runs this time around. Miguel Cabrera had the big blow with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, his first extra-base hit of the series and his first home run since way back on September 17. The Tigers later added an insurance run in the sixth inning.

That was more than enough offense for Verlander, who struck out 10 batters and held the Athletics to just two hits and one walk. He was perfect until a one-out walk by Josh Reddick in the sixth inning and didn’t allow his first hit until a two-out single by Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh. Joaquin Benoit danced around some trouble in the ninth inning to keep the A’s off the board and lock down the series victory.

Verlander has been Oakland’s worst nightmare over the past two postseasons, going 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA and 43 strikeouts over 31 innings. That includes two Game 5 victories. Now that’s called ownership.

After battling back from a 2-1 deficit in the ALDS, the Tigers will now play the Red Sox in the ALCS. That series will begin Saturday night at Fenway Park in Boston.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.