The Tigers and A’s met last season in the ALDS as the second and third seeds starting in Oakland, just as this season. With the playoff series inverted and the Tigers hosting the first two games and sweeping in Detroit, the A’s headed home down 2-0. Oakland came back to win the next two in Oakland to force the finale, Game five, when Verlander threw the gem in Oakland to win 6-0 and head to New York for the ALCS.
This year, the rightful team would start at home as the series starts tonight in Oakland with Max Scherzer taking on Bartolo Colon. Heading into this series here are four big keys for the Tigers to come out on top and move on to the ALCS.
1. Miguel Cabrera’s health
Miggy is the best player on the field no matter who the Tigers are playing, and his health is the biggest question mark in the playoffs. Cabrera had his lowest slugging percentage in a month of his career in September, .333, so Tigers fans should be worried about whatever it is that is slowing him down. Jim Leyland said that Cabrera is playing in, “a lot of pain,” and his inability to turn hard hit balls into doubles will clog the base paths (along with Prince and Victor behind him.) The Tigers need him to be able to not only hit, but hit with power because nobody cares how long it takes to circle the bases after a home run.
2. Bullpen stability
Hard to imagine that this season started with a closer by committee, then the return of Jose Valverde to the closer role before Joaquin Benoit has stabilized the back-end of the pen. With Drew Smyly taking over the set-up man role, the Tigers finally seemed like they had this under control. Since August 28th, against these A’s, Smyly has pitched eight innings and given up five runs while Benoit pitched 14.1 innings, gave up five runs and blew his only two saves of the season. Detroit needs these guys to get through the issues they had at the end of the season because the starters have the potential to work deep into the game. The rest of the bullpen should be used rarely, hopefully, but those two need to be lights out for Detroit.
3. What will Jhonny do?
Jhonny Peralta has made the postseason roster for the ALDS, but Andy Dirks gets the start tonight against Colon. Peralta hit .303 this season and he will help the Tigers protect Cabrera if he has issues carrying the load. The problem will be is the positives of his bat going to be enough to counteract potential issues in the field. Jhonny has never played a professional game in left field prior to the three games in Miami to end the season. Peralta only made two putouts in those games, so he has yet to be tested in the field.
4. Starting pitching
The Tigers have the best playoff rotation in baseball with Scherzer, JV, Anibal and Fister, but they have to work deep into games. The A’s take a lot of pitches and work the count as good as any team in baseball, so Tigers pitching needs to be effective. With Porcello coming out of the bullpen as well, the team does have a safety valve if someone is roughed up or inefficient, but these guys are the starters in the playoffs for a reason. Detroit needs to ride the strength of these four while questions remain on the rest of the team.
Oakland is a great team, no doubt about it. But if the Tigers play up to their potential and execute on all facets of the game they should win this series with a sweep. I think that Oakland will be able to win one of the games at home and am picking the Tigers to win in 4.