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2012 ALDS Preview
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 5, 2012

Records - Tigers 88-74, Athletics 94-68
Pythagorean Records - Tigers 87-75, Athletics 92-70
Runs Scored
-
Tigers 726 (6th), Athletics 713 (8th)
Runs Allowed -
Tigers 670 (5th), Athletics 614 (2nd)

 

Everyone thought the Detroit Tigers would coast into the postseason, but they wound up squeaking in tied for the fewest wins of any postseason team.  No one gave the 2012 Oakland A's a prayer at postseason play, but they swept the World Series favorite Texas Rangers to end the season, winning the most difficult division in baseball.

The A's were actually a unanimous selection by all five Baseball Evolution staff members to reach the World Series in 2011 and four of us picked them to win that matchup.  But a disappointing 2011 showing and subsequent exodus of some of their best players (Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Josh Willingham, Andrew Bailey) led to none of us forecasting them for more than 71 wins this year.

I pat myself on the back for correctly pegging the Tigers at 88 wins, but no other staff member expected them to win fewer than 94 games and Eric even had them at 101.  They were the default winners of the worst division in baseball, the AL Central's 75.8 wins-per-team even worse than the much-maligned NL Central at 77.2.

On paper, the A's are the far better team, especially if you believe in momentum.  In Vegas, however, the Tigers remain the favorites to win this series.

Pitching Probables
Game Tigers A's
1@Det Justin Verlander
(17-8 2.64)
Jarrod Parker
(13-8 3.47)
2@Det Doug Fister
(10-10 3.45)
Tommy Milone
(13-10 3.74)
3@Oak Max Scherzer
(16-7 3.74)
A.J. Griffin
(7-1 3.06)
4@Oak Anibal Sanchez
(4-6 3.74)
Travis Blackley
(6-4 3.86)
5@Oak Justin Verlander
(17-8 2.64)
Jarrod Parker
(13-8 3.47)

The Tigers

The big story for the Tigers is, of course, Miguel Cabrera winning the first triple crown in 45 years.  You could make the argument, however, that he is the third-most valuable player on his own team.

Justin Verlander is so much more than a 17-8 (.680) pitcher who led his team to a 21-12 (.656) record in his starts.  He averages more than seven innings per start, which allows the team to keep its subpar bullpen fresh for the other starters' games.  His six complete games and 239 strikeouts (which takes pressure off a lacking defense) lead the majors.  The 7.4 Wins Above Replacement he is credited with surpasses Cabrera's total by a half-win.

Detroit has a .592 winning percentage when Austin Jackson makes a start but are just 8-19 (.296) when he does not.  Over 162 games, the Tigers translate to a 96-win team with AJ in the leadoff spot.  His five defensive runs saved, while lower than previous season totals, leads a team that has been sabotaged by poor defensive play all year.   His incredible .409 OBP when leading off an inning allowed Cabrera to lead the American League in RBI.

The other factor is that Cabrera was unwilling to take a walk this season.  His 49 unintentional walks this season is just over half of the 84 that he drew last year.  You would think he's be more willing to take a free pass with the $214 Million Man batting behind him.  In terms of offensive value, this was actually Cabrera's worst season since 2009.  He still had a phenomenal year - particularly considering his smooth transition back to the hot corner - and his triple crown is a cool feat, but don't mistake Miguel Cabrera of 2012 for Barry Bonds of 2002.  Cabrera won't win playoff series all by himself the way Bonds did.

The Athletics


 

Despite a rotation that has suffered numerous injuries and a PED suspension, lacks a Verlander, and features mostly rookies, the A's have had as many quality starts as the Tigers this season.  Still, the absence of Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson means that the A's in their current form are simply not their best, despite that six-game win streak to end the season. Meanwhile, a Tigers rotation that features Anibal Sanchez rather than Rick Porcello appears to be an improvement over what they ran with for most of the season.

Among position players, it's a different story.  The A's have a far superior defense with Yoenis "Sammy" Cespedes manning left field rather than center, where he began the season.  Midseason callups Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have added some much-needed thunder to a lineup that saw Josh Reddick transform from their only legitimate slugger into a Dave Kingman Award candidate.  Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, and Stephen Drew are hardly Carney Lansford, Terry Steinbach, and Miguel Tejada, but they do represent upgrades over the players they replaced this summer.

Despite these improvements, the A's still can't match the firepower in Detroit's lineup.  Their advantages can be found on the basepaths and in the bullpen.  Oakland has stolen more than twice as many bases as Detroit this year: 122 to 59.  Alex Avila has an above-average arm behind the dish, but nothing that is going to shut down the Oakland running game entirely.  In the pen, the A's have gone 30-14 with a 2.94 ERA and .209 BAA while the Cats have gone 25-23 with a 3.79 ERA and .249 BAA.  A's Closer Grant Balfour has only allowed six runs and a .387 OPS (yes, OPS, not SLG) since the end of June.  These two areas give Oakland a significant edge in close games; they have gone 25-18 in one-run affairs this year to Detroit's 21-27 record in such contests.

Final Word

With a .725 career winning percentage at Comerica Park, Justin Verlander gives the Tigers an overwhelming advantage in Game One of this series.  Assuming Detroit does take the opener, the A's are tasked with winning three of four games, including one more against JV and one against Max Scherzer, who went 6-1 with a 1.65 ERA over his final 10 starts.  That's a pretty tall order.

Should the Tigers lose Game One, however, they would need to win at least two games on the road, where they are five-games under .500 this season.  They would be demoralized and the A's would feel invincible on a seven-game winning streak, including four against playoff teams. 

So basically, whoever takes game one takes the series.  Detroit has something like a 72.5% chance of doing just that.

Prediction: Tigers in Four



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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