Are we tired of hearing how the Detroit Tigers were no-hit in their regular season finale on Sunday? Sure we are. Now it’s time for postseason baseball, where our Tigers have a lot of experience.
The Tigers will face the scruffy, young Oakland Athletics. The same team that stretched Detroit to five games in the American League Division Series last October. The same team the Tigers defeated on their way to winning the pennant. What will happen this time? Wouldn’t you rather ponder that than talk about Henderson Alvarez and the Marlins?
Here are five reasons our Tigers will beat the A’s again.
To the A’s, Justin Verlander is still Justin Verlander – the guy who won the Cy Young and MVP in 2011 and finished a close second last season. The Verlander who embarrasses hitters with his heater and his curveball. The Verlander who has tossed a pair of no-hitters. Over the last two seasons, JV has a 1.35 ERA against the gang from Oakland. That includes two starts in the ALDS last season when Verlander was dominant. The A’s don’t want to see Verlander with his october game face on.
But it’s more than just that, as Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are among the best pitchers in baseball too. That gives the Tigers a three-headed mound monster that will be tough for Oakland to slay. In a short series the strength of the starting pitching is so important, and the Tigers have a big advantage here. All three – JV, Mad Max, and Anibal – ended the regular season throwing darts.
Multiple offensive options
Worry if you must about the Tiger offense, and yes they were inconsistent over the last 6 weeks of the season. But, this lineup is deep, with five .300 hitters and a dynamic leadoff man in Austin Jackson. Admittedly, Miguel Cabrera is beat up, but as we saw in his brief appearances in Miami last weekend (four hits in less than two games), even while gimpish, Miggy is better than most. Plus, others are hot right now, namely Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder, and Alex Avila. The Tiger offense seems to feed off each other, so if AJax has a good series, that will bode well for the Tigers. My picks to have a big series? Prince and Torii (more on him below).
They’ve been here before
This Detroit club, basically the same group of players, has played 24 post-season games the last two seasons, winning three series. They beat the A’s on the road last season in a Game Five in the ALDS, and beat New York twice in Yankee Stadium (once after Papa Grande blew a ninth-inning lead). The Tigers aren’t flustered by the big stage (I know they were swept in the Fall Classic last season, but that wasn’t a case of nerves, and if they have that chance again, they will play better). Look for veteran Torii Hunter, who has never played in a World Series, and knows he has few opportunities left, to have a good series.
The ALDS will start on the West Coast, but Detroit is confident going on the road, especially to Oakland, where they beat the A’s to advance last season. But when the series shifts to Comerica Park for Game Three, the Tigs have a huge advantage. The 42,000-plus fans who pack the ballpark in downtown Detroit are a big lift to this team. The A’s do not get the same boost in their ballpark. Sure, Oakland fans will be waving the towels and banging their drums, but that ballpark in Oakland is cavernous even when there are 40-50,000 fan in it. The A’s won’t sell out, but the Detroit crowds will feel like a huge weight on Oakland. Remember when Coco Crisp misplayed that ball last fall? That happened in Detroit. In Game Two last season against the A’s at CoPa, Don Kelly delivered the sacrifice fly that will live on in Tiger history. This ballpark can be a magical place in the playoffs.
Top three in the bullpen
If you ask Tiger fans they’ll tell you the bullpen gives them nightmares. Admittedly, the Detroit pen has had some adversity in ’13, but I say here that the bullpen will be big for the Tigers this series. How can that be, right? Two words: short series. In a five-game series, all you really need are three starters, maybe four depending how it goes. Jim Leyland has already revealed that Rick Porcello will pitch out of the pen in the postseason. That’s a very good thing, because the bullpen has lacked quality depth this season, mostly because of injuries. Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly are reliable and will probably be the last two arms you’ll see as games wind down, but don’t be surprised if Porcello, Fister, and maybe Verlander make appearances out of the pen. Relieving is easier than starting – the opposing batters only see you once, and you don’t need to use all your pitches. You can also go all out, knowing that you may only throw 15-25 pitches. Imagine a Game Four where the Tigers can close it out and Verlander, who is between starts and is going to throw on the side that day anyway, comes out of the pen to smoke three batters. Or Fister comes out early in the series to get a batter or two as a tuneup for a possible Game Four start. Porcello has matured a lot this season, getting more swings and misses as he’s learned to master his breaking pitches and locate his fastball. He could be a very tough matchup for Oakland late in games. The bullpen may not be the Achilles heal many think it is.