In a rematch of last season's ALDS, the Detroit Tigers meet the Oakland Athletics in a series that begins Friday night. This time, the A's are trying to get past the Tigers and move deeper into the postseason, while the Tigers are trying to advance to their second straight World Series.
A year ago, the A's were the postseason Cinderella, a team that surprised everyone by sneaking into the ball, then getting tossed out by Detroit. This year, the rest of the AL saw the A's coming. They led the AL West a good chunk of the year and had been eyeing the postseason for months.
The A's still don't have Detroit's star-filled roster, though. The Tigers kept control of the AL Central all season, and appear to be built for the postseason with a strong pitching staff and huge sluggers. Can the young and mostly-anonymous A's beat the big-name Tigers? That question makes this one of the most intriguing series this postseason.
Game 1: Friday at 9:37 p.m. ET in Oakland (TV coverage on TBS)
Game 2: Saturday at 9:07 p.m. ET in Oakland (TBS)
Game 3: Monday, time TBA, in Detroit (TBS or MLB Network)
Game 4*: Tuesday, time TBA in Detroit (TBS)
Game 5*: Thursday, time TBA, in Oakland (TBS)
Game 1: Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) vs. Bartolo Colón (18-6, 2.65 ERA)
Game 2: Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67 ERA)
Game 3: Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97 ERA) vs. Anibal Sánchez (14-8, 2.57 ERA)
Game 4: Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96 ERA) vs. Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67 ERA)
Game 5: Scherzer vs. Colón
The Tigers pitching rotation is daunting. Verlander is a Cy Young winner. Scherzer is the Cy Young favorite this season. Anibal Sanchez has no-hit stuff. If all three of them are dealing, it could be a quick series for Oakland. But the A's have won games this season that Verlander and Sanchez started. The A's pitching staff, meanwhile, is sneaky good. Colon is the wily veteran, Gray is the young gun, Parker can be great ... more on him later.
The A's led the 2013 series 4-3. The Tigers took two of three from the A's in April and the A's took three of four from the Tigers Aug 26-29, so that's probably a little more indicative than the earlier series.
THREE KEYS FOR THE TIGERS
• Miguel Cabrera's health: How's he feeling? Like a triple-crown candidate? Or like a hobbled star? Cabrera has been banged up for the past month and a half, and the Tigers wisely rested him some. His health is the big question mark in this series. The Tigers have other offensive weapons, sure, but if they're playing with Half a Cabrera, that changes the complexion of this series.
• Prince Fielder waking up in the postseason: Prince hasn't been too royal in the postseason, and definitely not during his Tigers career. He had only one homer and four RBIs last season in the ALDS, ALCS and World Series combined. His career postseason hitting line is .183/.277/.365. If Cabrera isn't 100%, Fielder becomes even more important.
• Strike early: In the first inning this season the Tigers hit 25 homers and produced 91 runs. They scored 110 runs in the second inning. It's in their nature to jump out to a lead and in the postseason, that could be deadly for their opponent, considering their starting pitching.
THREE KEYS FOR THE A'S
• Win early. Last year's ALDS series between the two teams went five games, with the A's losing the first two games, battling to tie the series but losing in Game 5. This time the first two games are in Oakland, where the A's were 52-29 this year. The A's know they can win in Detroit too, since they won three games there in August. So if the A's can win two at home, they'd feel good about winning one in Detroit.
• Jarrod Parker: Parker ended the season with a 3.97 ERA, but not thanks to consistency. He had highs and lows. His ERA by month: 7.36, 3.62, 2.08, 3.91, 2.23, 6.41. If the A's get midseason Parker, great. If they get April or September Parker, uh oh. He's their Game 3 starter and that will be a big one.
• Hit homers: The A's hit the third-most homers in baseball this season, which might surprise you because of their mostly anonymous nature. The Tigers, meanwhile, gave up the sixth-fewest homers in MLB this season. So if the A's can hit a few off the homer-stingy Tigers, that's a good indication that they're in control.
FIVE IMPORTANT NUMBERS
• 0.1 — The difference between A's MVP candidate Josh Donaldson's WAR and Cabrera's WAR. Donaldson's is 7.7 and Cabrera's is 7.6.
10 — Career postseason homers for Miguel Cabrera in 41 games.
.600 — The Athletics' winning percentage in one-run games. These games could be very close and that's an area where the A's were much better than the Tigers. They had a 30-20 record in such situations this season. The Tigers were .435 (20-26) in one-run games.
.283 — Detroit's team batting average this season, the highest in baseball.
.500 — Cabrera's career batting average against Colon in 16 at-bats.