(Sports Network) - Raise your hand if you had the Oakland Athletics reaching
the postseason this year, let alone entering the playoffs as American League
But after one of the great comebacks of all time that is exactly how they will
enter these playoffs on Saturday when they play Game 1 of the American League
Division Series against the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers.
Although the A's finished six games better than the Tigers, given the new
format, they will play the first two games of this best-of-five set at
Comerica Park, then return for the final three at the Coliseum.
Nobody seems to be complaining in Oakland at the moment.
After a three-game sweep at the hands of Texas from June 28-30, the A's found
themselves 13 games back in the division and five games under .500. Oakland
went an MLB-best 57-27 after that series and capped the turnaround with a
thrilling three-game sweep of the Rangers to secure their first division title
and playoff berth since 2006 on the final day of the regular season.
"We're in the postseason now and the slate is clean," A's manager Bob Melvin
said. "We have to go out there and play with the same intensity. Just because
we're in this position right now doesn't mean you deem this a complete
success. We have a lot more work to do."
Despite being shut out 16 times, the As won 11 of 16 extra-inning games,
posted 43 come-from-behind wins, and were the only team to post more walk-off
wins (14) than the Tigers.
"I don't think anybody would want to play us," outfielder Josh Reddick said.
"I don't think we're going to be underestimated as much as we have all year
now, that's for sure."
Offensively, the A's batted just .238 on the year, but belted 194 home runs,
including a major league-best 112 after the All-Star break. Reddick led the
team with 32 home runs and 85 RBI, while Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes paced
the club with a .292 average.
The team also got contributions from Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith,
as well as late-season addition Stephen Drew. Smith could be a factor in this
series, as he hit .417 with two home runs against the Tigers this year.
As many home runs as the A's hit, though, what really drives them is their
pitching staff, most notably right-hander Jarrod Parker, one of the players
acquired last winter for former ace Trevor Cahill.
Parker flashed ace stuff throughout the season, as he went 13-8 and led the
team with a 3.47 ERA and 140 strikeouts. He also closed the season strong,
winning his last four and six of his last seven decisions.
Lefty Tom Milone, also picked up this winter from Washington for lefty Gio
Gonzalez, was tremendous for the team as well and went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA.
Both he and Parker set an Oakland record for most victories by a rookie.
The wild card here for the A's could be lefty Brett Anderson, who missed most
of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, he returned and
finished 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts before suffering an oblique injury.
He is expected to be ready for this series, though, and should give the A's a
Thirty-five year-old Grant Balfour is the team's closer and saved 24 games and
pitched to a 2.53 ERA this season. The veteran righty is backed up by a pair
of youngsters in Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle and collectively the trio might
be the best relieving corps in the American League at the moment.
Balfour has gone 10 straight appearances without giving up a run, while Cook
hasn't allowed someone to score in his last 14 trips to the mound.
But Doolittle, who was a first baseman just five years ago and had one inning
of game experience entering this season, might be the best of the bunch. The
hard-throwing lefty heads into the postseason with a 60/11 K/BB ratio and a
3.04 ERA in 47 1/3 innings.
"I mean, I can't explain it. How can you explain it? I tell you what, though,
Bob Melvin, 17 rookies, Yoenis Cespedes coming over, first time on U.S. soil.
Josh Reddick getting an opportunity. Sean Doolittle pitching his first season
of professional ball. ... Where do we start?" A's outfielder Johnny Gomes said
on XM Radio's "Home Plate" show. "There's one thing that we all have in
common, and that's camaraderie. You take fun away from this team, and I don't
know what we got. We're playing for fun, we're playing for stuff like this.
While Oakland is one of the surprise teams to join this year's postseason
party, Detroit was picked by almost everyone at the start of the season to
repeat as AL Central champions. In the end the Tigers proved those predictions
right, but it was far from easy for Jim Leyland's crew, despite the amazing
heroics of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
The Tigers, who own the worst record of any AL postseason team at 88-74,
underachieved for the first half of the season and spent most of the second
half trying to catch the Chicago White Sox, which they finally did on Sept. 25
thanks in part to a monster month from Cabrera, who became baseball's first
Triple Crown winner in 45 years.
With a batting average of .330 along with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, he led the
American League in all three categories and finished tops in both leagues in
homers and RBI. It's the 14th time in major league history that a player has
accomplished the feat.
The 29-year-old Cabrera set career highs in homers and RBI and had the second-
best batting average of his career, trailing his .344 mark from the 2011
"It's great for the game of baseball," teammate Justin Verlander said. "It's
something extremely special, something you haven't seen in a long time. Most
people here weren't alive when it happened last time and probably won't be
alive next time it happens.
"Unless it's him again."
He was at his best down the stretch and capped his terrific campaign by
hitting .333 with 11 HRs and 30 RBI since the start of September.
Cabrera isn't the only masher in the Tigers' lineup. He moved over to third
base this year to accommodate free agent signee Prince Fielder, who enjoyed
his first year in Motown by hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
Even with those two, though, the Tigers still hit 32 less home runs than the
While Detroit's Dynamic Duo steals most of the headlines, the reason the
Tigers could go far this postseason will be their starting pitching.
Verlander had another Cy Young Award-caliber season, going 17-8 with a 2.64
ERA and 239 strikeouts. His strikeout total topped the AL, just ahead of
teammate Max Scherzer, who developed this season into a true No. 2 option
behind the great Verlander.
Scherzer, who has been dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries, was 8-2 in
the second half of the season with a 2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in
90 1/3 frames. He fanned 231 batters on the year.
Doug Fister battled through injuries for most of the first half, but has
started to resemble the pitcher he was down the stretch for the Tigers last
season, going 8-4 after the break with a 2.67 ERA.
Trade deadline acquisition Anibal Sanchez also seems to be rounding into form
after a bumpy introduction to the American League and gives the Tigers a very
formidable Game 4 starter.
Closer Jose Valverde has been nowhere as good as he was last year, but is
still one of the better closers in the game. Valverde was a perfect 49-for-49
in save opportunities last season, but blew five games this year. Still, he
ended the year with 35 saves and pitched to a 3.78 ERA.
His supporting cast is basically the same as last year with righty Joaquin
Benoit being Valverde's main setup guy, along with lefty Phil Coke and righty
Al Alburquerque. The new addition is playoff tested veteran righty Octavio
Dotel, who pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 53 games for the Tigers.
Detroit won four of its seven matchups with the A's, most recently
taking two of three from them in mid-September, and outscored them 18-4 in
winning the first two games.
In that series, the A's couldn't contain Cabrera, who had five hits in 11 at-
bats against them, including three home runs. Overall, the Tigers' third
baseman is batting .483 against the A's this season, his best mark vs. any
club not named the Orioles (.500).
These teams have met twice in the postseason, but this will be the first
meeting since the Tigers defeated Oakland in the 2006 ALCS. The A's beat the
Tigers in five games of the 1972 ALCS which started a run of three consecutive
PREDICTION A'S in FIVE
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