2006 AL Championship Series Preview
by Asher B. Chancey
October 10, 2006
First of all, before I say anything else, I would like to congratulate Marcus Thames for knocking the New York Yankees, his former team, out of the playoffs. Way to go!
I now resume my ALCS predictions.
The baseballevolution.com staff remains mired in the waste of its post-season picks. How the staff could go 0-4 shocks the mind. I only dwell on this now because as I head into my pick for the American League Championship Series, I find myself as devoid of confidence as Alex Rodriguez with men on base, or Jason Giambi making a toss to a covering pitcher.
Okay, the Yankee bashing is unnecessary, but I had to squeak that in, if for no other reason than to put off having to tell you which team is going to win the ALCS. That was me stepping out of the batter’s box to take some extra practice swings before stepping back in to face a pitch I know that I should be able to hit but ultimately won’t even be able to see. But I digress.
The key to the ALCS, in my opinion, will be simple – are, or are not, the Detroit Tigers the 2006 Team of Destiny? After knocking off the Yankees when it appeared that they couldn’t even match up with them, the Tigers would appear to be destiny’s presumptive choice. Throw in the fact that they won the wild card in a division in which the White Sox and Indians were heavily favored to finish first and second, and remember that the Tigers were 43-119 just three short seasons ago, and the presumption becomes heavier.
The Tigers also played like a team of destiny against the Yankees. Curtis Granderson was out twice in one inning, but managed to cheat death by beating a double play throw to first, and then by refusing to give up when the Yankees had him picked off. Kenny Rogers pitched the game of his career in Game Three (an obvious exaggeration given that Rogers has a perfect game to his credit). Rogers let the leadoff guy on base in the third, fourth, fifth, and seventh innings, and yet did not allow a single run to score. And a player who played a pivotal role in another Team of Destiny that knocked the Yankees out of the post-season – Ivan Rodriguez – had a wonderful series. Indeed, knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs is often what makes a Team of Destiny - 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox.
But the final factor for destiny, it would seem, is the element of luck. Remember Game One of the series? It is hard to remember in light of Games Two through Four, but the Yankees won the game quite handily, Derek Jeter went 5-5, and all appeared to be right for the Yankees. But then what happened? With the Yankees coming off the exciting win on Tuesday night, Game Two, set for the following night, was postponed due to rain. Only – it didn’t really rain that much. The decision to postpone the game may or may not have been necessary, but it gave the Tigers an extra day to put Game One behind them, and it gave the Yankees a day to cool off. When the teams finally played Game Two on Thursday, the Tigers won a close, hard fought game, and the momentum shifted. Luck was on their side.
So are the Tigers a Team of Destiny? It would certainly appear so, but the thing about Teams of Destiny is, you never know until after the season is over. Who would have thought the Red Sox were a Team of Destiny down 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS? How about the Marlins down 3-1 to the Cubs in the NLCS? Wouldn’t every fan in the country have thought the 1975 Red Sox were a Team of Destiny after Carlton Fisk’s famous 12th inning Game Six homerun off the foul pole?
All we know for sure is that the Tigers, at this point, appear to have all the tools that destiny requires.
In truth, the A’s have had their share of luck as well. As far as sweeps go, the A’s sweep of the Minnesota Twins was anything but dominant. The A’s won a hard fought Game One on two Frank Thomas homeruns in a game that came down to the final pitch. The course of Game Two was shifted when Torii Hunter made a rare fielding gaff which became an inside the park homerun. And then Game Three’s crucial moment also involved Hunter, when he was called out even though it appeared that that Jason Kendall failed to tag him at home plate. If those two played had gone differently, the series could easily have not been a sweep, and may have even gone to the Twins.
But that is the beauty of the best of five series, I suppose. But the ALCS is a best of seven, and the importance of fluke plays and close calls is diminished somewhat. In a seven game set, we can more comfortably rely on pitching match-ups and bullpen comparisons.
At this point, the matchups for the first four games are as follows:
Game One – Nate Robertson vs. Barry Zito (in Oakland)
Game Two – Justin Verlander vs. Esteban Loaiza (in Oakland)
Game Three – Kenny Rogers vs. Danny Haren (in Detroit)
Game Four – Jeremy Bonderman vs. Rich Harden (in Detroit)
The Tigers have two pitchers – Robertson and Verlander – who have struggled in the post-season, and two pitchers – Rogers and Bonderman – who have been dominant in the post-season. Their dominant pitchers will be starting at home, which would seem to favor the Athletics in Oakland. Barry Zito was lights out in his ALDS Game One match-up against Johan Santana in Minnesota, and Loaiza gave up two runs in five innings in the A’s wacky Game Two win, so the A’s would seem to be penciled in for the first two games. But Rogers and Bonderman against the question mark brothers, Haren and Harden, would seem to have the advantage in Detroit. If Haren can pitch like he pitched in the ALDS, and not like he did in September, and if Harden is healthy and can avoid giving up six runs like he did in the last regular season game of the year, then the A’s have a shot in Detroit. I am skeptical.
This series really is a toss-up, because neither team has given us a solid indication of what to expect. I know one thing – I am nearly certain that this series will not be decided in Detroit – this series is going to go at least six games.
In the end, I think these Tigers will prove to be a Team of Destiny, and will head off to the World Series to face the Mets, but given my track record up until now, that probably means that the A's should make reservations for St. Louis.
Prediction – Detroit Tigers over Oakland Athletics (4-3)
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Philadelphia, PA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org