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 (88-74) vs. Oakland Athletics (94-68)

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in Detroit: Jarrod Parker vs. Justin Verlander
Game 2 Sunday in Detroit: Tommy Milone vs. Doug Fister
Game 3 Tuesday in Oakland: Undecided (likely Brett Anderson) vs. Anibal Sanchez
Game 4 (if necessary) Wednesday in Oakland
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Oakland

Analysis: As impressive as the A’s group of rookie starting pitchers have been, they just don’t have someone on the level of Justin Verlander, who is primed to start two games in the series if necessary. By the way, he allowed one run in 13 innings over two starts against the A’s this season. It’s a pretty interesting call to use Milone in Game 2 in Detroit, given that he had a 4.83 ERA on the road this season compared to a 2.74 ERA at home. It wouldn’t shock me if the Tigers head to Oakland up 2-0.

Athletics manager Bob Melvin hasn’t officially announced who he will use in Game 3, but it’s expected to be Brett Anderson, who hasn’t pitched since September 19 due to an oblique injury. That’s a big deal, as he had a 2.57 ERA and 25/7 K/BB ratio in 35 innings through his first six starts back from Tommy John surgery. Anibal Sanchez got off to a bit of a rough start after coming over from the Marlins, but he allowed three earned runs or less in seven out of his final eight starts during the regular season. Max Scherzer will start Game 4 for the Tigers if it gets that far. He probably would have pitched sooner if it wasn’t for recent shoulder and ankle injuries. A.J. Griffin figures to pitch Game 4 for the A’s.

The Storylines

  • The Tigers took the season series 4-3 while outscoring the Athletics 40-37.
  • The Tigers were tied with the Cardinals for the worst road record (38-43) among the playoff teams, so it’s important for them to take advantage of playing the first two games of the series at Comerica Park.
  • Strikeouts. We’re probably going to see a lot of them. The Athletics hit a ton of home runs (they were seventh in the majors with 195), but they also set an American League record by striking out 1,387 times. Meanwhile, Tigers pitchers were fifth in the majors this season with 1,318 strikeouts.
  • It’s a good thing Tigers’ pitchers are adept at getting strikeouts, because their defense is easily the worst of any team in the playoffs. They managed to win the American League Central in spite of it, but the margin for error is quite literally much smaller now.
  • Miguel Cabrera was awesome against pretty much everyone this season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that he put a hurting on the Athletics. The Triple Crown winner went 14-for-29 (.483) with three home runs and 14 RBI in seven games against A’s pitching. That’s nice and all, but the Tigers need contributions from other key bats like Austin Jackson and Prince Fielder so that Cabrera actually sees something to hit. The Tigers’ lineup doesn’t have a ton of depth.
  • Thanks to an unlikely cast, including Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, the A’s do have some pop. But they were also second-to-last in the American League in batting average and third from the bottom in on-base percentage. Meanwhile, Tigers pitchers gave up the third least home runs in the American League. What happens if he power isn’t there?
  • The Athletics don’t get on base a lot, but they steal bases when they do. They had 122 stolen bases during the regular season, the most among all playoff teams. Coco Crisp was fourth in the American League with 39 steals while Cespedes, Cliff Pennington and Reddick were all over double-digits. The Tigers were 29th in the majors this season with 59 steals.
  • The Tigers have the edge in the rotation, but they were 10th in the AL with a 3.79 bullpen ERA while the A’s were second at 2.94. The Tigers have the big names like Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, but the under-the-radar trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle were untouchable down the stretch for Oakland. Things could get dicey if Jim Leyland is forced to pull one of his starters early.

Prediction

The Athletics went 72-38 after June 2 and came back from 13 games down to win the American League West. With their rookie starting pitchers, a strong bullpen and an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, they might be the most interesting story in this entire playoffs. Assuming you don’t have a horse in this race, this scrappy and inexperienced bunch is going to be awful difficult to root against. Still, I must separate my head from my heart here. And in doing so, I think the Tigers starting pitching will prove to be too much.

TIGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-1

Twins designate Phil Hughes for assignment

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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Phil Hughes was officially designated for assignment by the Twins on Tuesday, the culmination of multiple injury-plagued seasons and poor performance.

Things couldn’t have started out much better for Hughes in Minnesota. The former Yankees hurler joined the Twins on a three-year, $24 million contract in December of 2013 and reeled off a 3.52 ERA over 32 starts during his first season with the club. He set the MLB record (which still stands, by the way) for single season strikeout-to-walk ratio and even received some downballot Cy Young Award consideration. The big year resulted in the two sides ripping up their previous agreement with a new five-year, $58 million deal, but it was all downhill after that.

Hughes took a step back with a 4.40 ERA in 2015 and struggled with a 5.95 ERA over 11 starts and one relief appearance in 2016 before undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He wasn’t any better upon his return last year, putting up a 5.87 ERA in nine starts and five relief appearances. Hughes missed time with a biceps issue and required a thoracic outlet revision surgery in August. He began this year on the disabled list with an oblique injury, only to put up a 6.75 ERA over two starts and five relief appearances before the Twins decided to turn the page this week.

Hughes is still owed the remainder of his $13.2 million salary for this year and another $13.2 million next year. The deal didn’t work out as anyone would have hoped, but unfortunately this is another case of health just not cooperating.