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Tigers already got a jump on scouting A's

The SportsXchange

It seemed like a quaint little quirk in the schedule on Sept. 18-20, when Oakland visited Detroit for a three-game series -- a set of three games that nobody at the time saw as a preview of a best-of-five American League Division Series which begins Saturday evening in Detroit.

It was serious stuff at the time for the Tigers, though, as they were struggling to catch the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Serious enough that for more than a week the club had two scouts follow the surprising A's, watching a club that had serious roster turnover since the two last played May 10-13 in Oakland.

Manager Jim Leyland credited the scouting reports for giving his staff tips that helped Detroit win the first two games of the series. Oakland took advantage of shoddy Detroit defense to run the third game.

Overall, Detroit won the series 4-3. The Tigers have seen Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin once each and Tommy Milone twice.

"I think it was a good thing we got a chance to see them a little bit," Austin Jackson said, "to see their pitching. We know what they're capable of. They've been playing well this year and we know it's going to be a battle."

The Tigers will run their ace, Justin Verlander, out for the first game Saturday and pitch Doug Fister on Sunday. Max Scherzer got a four-inning tuneup Wednesday to see if his right deltoid and right ankle were OK and will probably start Tuesday's game in Oakland. Anibal Sanchez will go fourth.

Rick Porcello is not in the four-man rotation, and whether he gets included on the divisional round roster could depend on whether manager Jim Leyland wants to carry two left-handed relievers or three. He is scaling back from 12 pitchers to 11, opting for an extra position player because days off mean he can get by with four starters (with a fifth in the bullpen for use in case of rainouts, illness, etc.).

Leyland set it up so Verlander could start either a 163rd game against the Chicago White Sox to determine the division champion or the first game of the divisional playoff round. It also lets him pitch a fifth game, if one is necessary.

General manager Dave Dombrowski said he had done some research and learned there is no correlation between the way a team finishes up its regular season (hot or cold, tight playoff or early clinching) and how it performs during the postseason.

Detroit was an overwhelming choice to win its division coming out of spring training and a popular choice not to even make the postseason after dropping three behind the Chicago White Sox with 16 games to play.

Oakland was a popular choice to be among the worst teams in baseball coming out of spring training and was regarded as a curiosity right down to the day it clinched a playoff berth.

"Remarkable, just remarkable," Leyland said Wednesday after watching Oakland defeat Texas to win the AL West. "What they did (Wednesday) and what they've done all season.

"It's a great story. I just tip my hat to Bob Melvin and the Oakland A's. It's going to be two good teams trying to advance to the big prize. It was quite an accomplishment by the Oakland A's, and I congratulate them."

The Tigers feature a mediocre infield defense but will have strength in the outfield defensively. It has the best 3-4 punch in baseball with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera protected by cleanup hitter Prince Fielder.

Teams are likely to pitch those two far more cautiously, though, in a postseason series than they would in the regular season. Leadoff man Austin Jackson and the hitter behind him, either Quintin Berry or Omar Infante, will play key roles.

If they get on, teams will have to pitch to Cabrera and Fielder. If not, they can bypass one or both to get to a bottom five that ranked among the worst in baseball in productivity this year.
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