From time to time I weigh in on the state of the Detroit Tigers, as it is my apparent duty in Michigan to provide an occasional sense of reason to millions of die-hard, and often delusional fans. What follows is not the opinion of XN Sports and perhaps not the opinion of myself, however, it is better described as a calculated look at how an American League Divisional Series between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics might play out.
Last year, Billy Beane‘s moneyballers were surprisingly good. They (a mostly nameless bunch of young kids, a few apparent has-beens and several Gatorade-sippers) forced their way into the playoffs after miraculously defeating the Texas Rangers at the tail end of the season, taking the AL West title with them. They got on base. Their young pitching staff maintained an even keel throughout the regular season and some very well-timed offensive outbursts bailed them out of some sticky situations. But, as many expected they didn’t make it far in the playoffs. It was my feeling then, that the team wasn’t deep enough to sustain a successful postseason run. And, Justin Verlander caught up with them in game five in Oakland.
This year’s Oakland club is a different creature — not in terms of offensive production, or in starting pitching, but the 2013 club has an even more refined sense of grittiness. They simply will not back down. They proved it in August when they showed up in Motown to face a Tigers team that won eight of its last eleven games, and effectively destroyed Tigers starting pitching, taking three of four in the series. Note: the Tigers starting pitchers lead the American League in quality starts with 107; this came as no alarm to the A’s, who racked up 34 runs during the series and nearly swept, if it weren’t for some Motown magic in the last game of the series. The Tigers were rolling, but Oakland strolled in and mopped the floor with them.
The A’s ability to manufacture runs during the 2013 season has been nothing short of remarkable, given their team batting average of .254, and the fact that outside of Josh Donaldson, no one is hitting over.288. The Tigers, on the other hand have five players hitting over .300, and that’s not counting backup catcher Brayan Pena, who’s managed to .302 over 225 at-bats.
The A’s don’t have the league’s best on-base percentage, but watching them play in Detroit, one would think they did. The four game series was a veritable parade of baserunners. There was speculation after the series that Oakland was somehow getting signs, but that’s a can of works we’ll open at another time.
It’s becoming more and more clear that the Tigers will open the ALDS in Oakland, and likely have two trips to the West Coast and the rumor is that A’s management will be taking the tarps off the third tier of the Coliseum. As if it weren’t loud enough. The Tigers will have to face not only the raucous Oakland faithful, but a team that has captured the hearts of baseball fans with their ability to make the impossible happen time and time again, with a meager budget of around $60MM.
To the chagrin of sabermetricians, there is something unquantifiable in baseball. Call it magic. Call it camaraderie, call it leaderhsip, call it luck, heart, chutzpah — call it whatever you want. Whatever you call it, and whatever it is, the Tigers don’t have nearly as much of it as the A’s do, and whatever that is might lead to the demise of the Tigers in the ALDS. Detroit’s starting rotation will have to handle Oakland better than they did in August if they want to advance to their second consecutive ALCS.
I’m skipping the numbers today, and going right to the heart of things: the Tigers may be in for a surprise in Oakland, and if I weren’t concerned about upsetting my local readers, I’d go ahead and say the Tigers might not stand a chance. As always, I hope I’m wrong, and I’ll be happy to admit it.