Five things to look for in the Tigers/A’s series

Coco Crisp and Gerald Laird met at home plate during the 2012 American League Division Series, won by the Tigers.

Coco Crisp and Gerald Laird met at home plate during the 2012 American League Division Series, won by the Tigers.

For the second straight year, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s meet in the American League Division Series. It’s pretty much the same cast of characters. Last year the Tigers won both games in Detroit, lost the next two in Oakland, and came back to win Game Five behind a masterful performance by Justin Verlander. Who will come out on top this October? Here are five things to keep an eye on that might help in answering that question.

1. Are the Tigers’ starting pitchers being economical?

The Oakland A’s are not exactly the Moneyball team of Hollywood fame, but they do take a lot of pitches. Only two other teams walked more in the AL, and Oakland, knowing the Tigers rely heavily on their big three starters, will attempt to push the pitch count high to knock Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez out. Tiger starters will need to challenge Oakland hitters and keep their pitch counts under control. If Detroit starters can get into the 7th inning, this will be a short series in favor of the Tigers.

Important to watch – the big three of the Tiger rotation are basically strikeout, flyball pitchers. That bodes well against the A’s offense, but Oakland hits few balls on the ground, so Doug Fister and starter-turned reliever Rick Porcello (two pitchers who rely heavily on coaxing groundball outs), may have difficulty against Oakland.

2. Is Miggy getting pitches to hit?

A natural consequence of being awesome is that the other team respects you so much they don’t let you beat them. Miguel Cabrera may be 90% of what he normally is due to injury, but he’s still Miguel Cabrera, a guy who might have won back-to-back triple crowns if it wasn’t for nagging boo-boos. The A’s won’t pitch to him in crucial situations, instead they’ll gladly face Prince Fielder. Will Fielder step up (he had a great September), and will Victor Martinez (the best hitter in the AL after the All-Star break) also hit well? If they do, Miggy will hobble around the bases and scores a lot of runs. If for some reason the A’s miss and give Cabrera something to hit, he will punish them, and he’s so smart he won’t try to pull everything, he’ll smack singles, doubles, and home runs to the opposite field.

3. Small ball

The A’s do not typically steal a lot of bases, but the Tigers are terrible at stopping the running game. The A’s don’t bunt much, but Detroit’s defense at first and third is susceptible to the bunt. The A’s don’t hit-and-run often, but the Tigers are one of the worst teams in defensive positioning and turning a hit ball into an out. Will Oakland manager Bob Melvin exploit these weaknesses? I don’t expect him to order his hitters to start dropping down bunts in front of Prince and Miggy, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coco Crisp and a few others rev up the running game. Tigers starting pitchers will need to keep an eye on baserunners, and Alex Avila (who threw out only 17% of would-be base stealers) will need to be better.

4. Home Run Derby and outfield defense

The A’s rely more heavily on the home run than Detroit does. They have a balanced power attack – three hitters with more than 20 home runs, and seven with 10 or more. But last season in their playoff matchup, Detroit pitchers were able to keep the home run damage to a minimum. They allowed four homers in the series and only 11 runs total in the five-game series. Solo home runs will be fine, the Tigers just need to avoid surrendering three-run bombs.

Another important factor in this series may be the defensive play of the Detroit outfield. The A’s hit more line drives and flyballs to the outfield than any team in baseball. In fact, it’s not really even close. They make more outfield outs than infield outs and they hit a lot of hard balls to the outfield. If Jhonny Peralta plays left field most of the series, he will be challenged. It will be important for Austin Jackson to cover ground in the gap between center and left. Torii Hunter is a huge upgrade for Detroit in right field over who was out there last October.

5. Oh those bases on balls

Hopefully for Tigers fans, the games will not be close. Hopefully, the Tigers will win three straight by 5-6 runs. But, this is post-season baseball, and usually the games are close and low-scoring. As great as the Tigers starting rotation is, there will be situations where the bullpen will need to get a tough out. The worst thing – the thing that gives managers gray hairs, the thing that makes Jim Leyland look 90 years old – are walks. If Tiger relievers are issuing free passes, this will be a bad series for Detroit.

3 replies on “Five things to look for in the Tigers/A’s series

  • Chuck Poulsen

    Verlander still worries me and throws too many pitches in 3 to 5 innings or more. They have to hit a lot more runs to make their pitchers comfortable. So Dan, I wrote you a couple of notes during this season. Haven’t hear from ya.

  • Dan Holmes

    Hi Chuck,

    Where were the notes sent? I’m sorry I missed them.

    Thanks for your comment. I think JV has gotten his stuff together, I expect him to manhandle the A’s like he has for the last two seasons.


  • Sandi

    I think JV lost his focus and confidence early this season. He seems to be getting that back as his pitches are more in control. I look to see him do well in the playoffs! GO TIGERS!!

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