For the second straight year, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics will meet in the American League Division Series.
It will be just the third time in postseason history that both teams will face one another, the first occurring in the 2006 American League Championship Series where the Tigers swept the Athletics in four games.
However, the Athletics will look to reverse the losing trend that has plagued their last two postseason meetings with the Tigers.
This time around, the Athletics have a healthier Yoenis Cespedes, a more seasoned rotation anchored by a former-Cy Young winner, a burgeoning second-half power streak, and arguably one of the better bullpens in baseball.
As for the Tigers, a strong offense is led by reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, while one of the premier rotations in baseball led by the likes of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will look to baffle Oakland’s stable of power hitters.
The following is an analysis and preview of each of the respective pitching matchups that will take place throughout the ALDS between Oakland and Detroit (the optional Game 5 was left off of this list due to the fact that the matchup is projected to be a rematch of Game 1).
Game 1: Max Scherzer vs. Bartolo Colon (Friday, October 4 @ Oakland)
Scherzer turned in a remarkable season for the Detroit Tigers in 2013, posting a 21-3 record and 2.90 ERA in 214 1/3 innings of work, arguably outpitching his fellow rotation mates Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, which has culminated in Scherzer landing the starting nod in Game 1 of the ALDS against Oakland.
While analyzing head-to-head numbers can be rather irrelevant, as a sample size of two games is relatively low to make valid assumptions regarding a pitcher’s performance against a given team, doing so as reason to negate Scherzer as Game 1 starter is futile.
At first glance, it would be easy to label Scherzer’s performance in head-to-head matchups against Oakland this season as less than impressive. However, upon closer look his numbers appear decently efficient.
Despite posting a 4.91 ERA and surrendering eight runs (six earned) in two starts against the Athletics, Scherzer posted a rather strong SO/BB ratio of 8.00, the highest ratio he has posted against an opponent he has faced at least twice this season.
Since Game 1 will be held in Oakland, the obvious choice to get the start is Scherzer and not just because he was the premier starter for Detroit this season, but also due to his stellar record on the road. In 16 starts away from home, Scherzer posted a 9-2 record and a 2.28 ERA (3.55 ERA in 16 starts at home) in 110 1/3 innings, along with a 0.915 WHIP and 10.5 SO/9 ratio.
For Game 1, you want someone who can shut down the opposing offense and give their own offense some breathing room at the plate. Scherzer has been their guy all season and rightfully deserves the starting nod on Friday evening.
After missing the playoffs last season while serving a 50-game suspension (testing positive for testosterone), Colon has rebounded to turn in a phenomenal season as the ace of the Oakland pitching staff and lead the Athletics into the playoffs, as the 40 year old will get the starting nod on Friday evening against Detroit.
This season was arguably Colon’s best since he captured the AL Cy Young with the Angels in 2005. In 30 starts this season, Colon posted an 18-6 record and 2.65 ERA in 190 1/3 innings, while posting a great 4.03 SO/BB ratio and a league-leading three shutouts.
Colon is coming off of four straight wins, a period that saw his ERA dip from 2.85 to 2.65, but are his superb numbers just a smokescreen?
He throws strikes (69% of his pitches have been thrown for strikes this season) and has solid command of his pitches, which has allowed him to keep his walk totals down and work his outings efficiently. However, such can be attributed to the fact that his fastball consistently sits in the high-80s to low-90s, as well as a reliance on inducing flyball outs.
There is no doubt that Colon has been the stalwart of the Oakland rotation, but noticeable is his age and diminished stuff. He can still churn out solid, quality starts and due to his veteran approach and impressive performance this season, he is the Athletics’ best option at garnering a win in Game 1 of their ALDS matchup against the Tigers.
Game 2: Justin Verlander vs. Sonny Gray (Saturday, October 5 @ Oakland)
After dominating the Athletics in last year’s ALDS matchup, wherein he tossed gems in Games 1 and 5 (including a complete-game shutout in the series clincher) to help advance the Tigers, Verlander finds himself starting Game 2 this time around after turning in a rather disappointing season compared to years past.
Despite the fact that he finished with a 13-12 record and 3.46 ERA (solid numbers, but far off from what he has put up over the three seasons), Verlander has been every bit the same pitcher that was able to garner the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young. He struggled early in the season commanding his fastball and has posted his highest BB/9 ratio (3.1) since 2008, but has appeared to return to form down the stretch.
Verlander finished the regular season with back-to-back scoreless outings, each of which he posted double-digit strikeout totals, despite failing to get the decision in either game.
What puts Verlander over the top come the postseason is his experience. The Detroit ace has started 12 postseason games, three of which have come in the World Series.
He’s the type of pitcher that knows how and when to turn it on when it counts. If Scherzer can deliver a win in Game 1, expect Verlander to follow with a concerted effort at dominating the Oakland offense as means to grab Detroit an outright 2-0 lead.
Oakland’s top pitching prospect made his much-anticipated big league debut back in July, a two-game stint that featured the Vanderbilt-product in a relief role. Gray would return to the big league roster on August 10, this time joining the starting rotation, where he has remained to this day. In 10 starts, Gray posted a 5-3 record and 2.85 ERA in 60.0 innings of work, finishing the season by registering wins in three of his final four starts.
What is particularly impressive, and perhaps most imperative to Saturday’s matchup, is his success at home this season. In six starts at the O.co Coliseum, Gray has posted a 3-1 record and 1.99 ERA, along with a 0.934 WHIP and 4.75 SO/BB ratio. To put such into perspective, in his four road starts, Gray posted a 2-2 record and 3.86 ERA to go along with a 1.414 WHIP and 2.42 SO/BB ratio.
His success at home may be attributed to the respective dimensions of the Coliseum and/or his ability to induce a decent amount of groundballs (due to his hard, downhill delivery), but regardless his stuff has been on as of late.
Since his promotion to the major leagues, it is hard to argue that Gray has not been one of, if not the best starter on the Oakland rotation. His stuff, which includes a low to mid-90s fastball with good downhill movement and a superb 12-6 curveball, has been consistently strong and arguably the best on the staff.
Despite his inexperience, Gray has the momentum and youth (23 years old) to potentially turn in a solid, quality outing on Saturday. He’ll have to go up against Verlander and a heavy offense, but don’t underestimate this young Oakland pitcher.
Game 3: Anibal Sanchez vs. Jarrod Parker (Monday, October 7 @ Detroit)
Sanchez, after spending almost seven seasons with Miami, was traded to Detroit during the 2012 season, whereupon he would finish the season having started 12 games for the Tigers. Sanchez would go on to provide the Tigers with a phenomenal performance in the postseason, much of which he has carried into this season.
In 29 starts, Sanchez posted a 14-8 record, while topping the AL in ERA (2.57), ERA+ (163), and HR/9 (0.4).
In addition, he posted strong 10.0 SO/9 and 3.74 SO/BB ratios. In all, Sanchez has been a model of consistency this season, wherein he has never seen his ERA reach over 2.93 and has given up four or more runs on just four occasions.
Since Game 3 will be played in Detroit, giving Sanchez the nod for the home-opener is a wise move. Sanchez has been impressive in 14 starts at home this season, posting an 8-3 record and 2.70 ERA, as well as 10.6 SO/9 and 4.40 SO/BB ratios in 93 1/3 innings of work.
Although it may be futile to look at head-to-head matchups, it may be of importance to note that Sanchez was relatively effective in two starts against Oakland this season, earning a victory in one matchup and holding their offense to just a .186 BA in 12.0 innings of work.
He has a good four-pitch mix, highlighted by a fastball and changeup that he utilizes as out-pitches rather effectively. He works efficiently and generates plenty of groundballs, not to mention the fact that he possesses a solid mound presence.
Detroit should be ecstatic at the sheer depth and talent at the frontend of their starting rotation.
Parker was roughed up in his final outing of the season, surrendering three home runs and seven runs against the Seattle Mariners. Two starts prior, Parker surrendered eight runs (seven earned) against the Los Angeles Angels. In all, he saw his ERA spike from 3.55 to 3.97 in that three-start period.
Although he appeared to take a slight step back in terms of performance in his second full season in the big leagues (as he surrendered 25 homers, compared to 11 in 2012, while also seeing his strikeout rate drop slightly to 6.1 SO/9), Parker still turned in a solid season for the Athletics.
Parker made his postseason debut last season against the Tigers, turning in solid outings despite earning losses in both of his starts.
Despite his struggles down the stretch and his inexperience, Parker still possesses a tremendous amount of talent.
Parker possesses a great feel for a four-pitch arsenal that is highlighted by a mid-90s fastball with sharp movement and a devastating changeup that sinks out of the zone with baffling force.
Although he must go up against Sanchez in Detroit, Parker will look to redeem himself after last year’s losing efforts in the ALDS.
Game 4: Doug Fister vs. Dan Straily (Tuesday, October 8 @ Detroit – if necessary)
If a Game 4 is necessary, the Tigers will roll out their fourth starter (five overall) with at least 13 victories this season, that of Doug Fister. Fister finished the season with a 14-9 record and 3.67 ERA, along with a solid 1.9 BB/9 ratio in 208 2/3 innings of work.
At home, Fister garnered eight of his 14 wins, boasting a 3.55 ERA and 4.35 SO/BB ratio across 15 starts. Despite the solid home record, one particular home start proved to be the worst of his season. His opponent? The Oakland Athletics.
On August 28, Fister surrendered seven runs on 13 hits over five innings, en route to a 14-4 loss for the Tigers. Although such could be labeled as an isolated incident, it makes for an interesting narrative heading into his potential start against the Athletics.
Nonetheless, Fister offers a diverse arsenal comprised of a strong sinking fastball and cutter, as well as a changeup, curveball, and slider. He commands the plate with ease (as seen through his superb walk rates over the past four seasons) and although he does not possess a power arm, he can throw strikes and induce plenty of groundballs.
Along with Scherzer, Verlander, and Sanchez, Fister comprises one of the premier rotations in baseball that should help stifle offenses throughout their postseason run (provided they make it past Oakland).
Heralded as one of the future faces of the Oakland starting rotation, Straily turned in a solid season for the Athletics in 2013.
In 27 starts this season, Straily posted a 10-8 record and 3.96 ERA, as well as 3.4 BB/9 and 2.18 SO/BB ratios in 152 1/3 innings of work. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but he has also shown inexperience and some need for further development.
He possesses a mid-90s fastball with good movement and a curveball that continues to become a solid out-pitch. His command and ability to throw strikes are solid as well.
He has a tremendous ceiling that will only continue to grow and mature with further experience, as his first dabble in postseason play (if a Game 4 is necessary) should give Straily that opportunity.