Bye-bye massive audience and revenue, hello kitty
October 10 2006
If the Detroit Tigers
slipped into the playoffs under the radar, they've sure got everyone's
attention now. After dropping the first game of their ALDS series with the
Yankees, the Tigers roared back to life behind brilliant starting pitching,
bombing the bombers by a combined score of 18-6 as they won three straight
to advance to the American League Championship Series.
For the Oakland Athletics there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that on paper they look overmatched. Detroit scored more run than they did during the regular season. They allowed fewer. Their starting pitchers were better. Their relief pitchers were better. The good news is that they don't play these games on paper. Just ask the Yankees.
The Tigers will be in Oakland tonight to start the ALCS. Detroit lost five straight to end the regular season, finishing as the Wild Card winners in the AL with a 95-67 record. Oakland went 93-69 to win the AL West.
For the A's it's their fifth trip to the playoffs in the last seven seasons. It hasn't gone so well, but they finally won a series, beating the Twins convincingly. Hopefully they've brought in some kind of consultant to debrief them about how a best-of-seven series works, lest they pop the corks if they take a 3-1 lead or something. That could be embarrassing.
Both teams got excellent pitching this year. Detroit allowed the fewest runs in the AL, the A's allowed the third-fewest. Tigers starters threw to a 4.00 ERA, which led the league, while the A's starters were tied for fourth-best with a 4.50 ERA. The Detroit pen posted a 3.51 ERA, which was second-best in the AL. Oakland relievers threw to a third-best 3.60.
The two teams accounted for six of the top 15 players in the AL in ERA. For Detroit: Justin Verlander, 3.63 (tied for 7th), Nate Robertson, 3.84 (t-11), Kenny Rogers, 3.84 (t-11), Jeremy Bonderman, 4.08 (14). For Oakland: Barry Zito, 3.83 (10), Dan Haren, 4.12 (15). Bonderman was second in the AL in strikeouts. He fanned 202 in 214 innings. Haren was sixth (176 in 223).
Oakland closer Houston Street and Tigers closer Todd Jones each saved 37 games this year, which tied them for fourth in the league. They combined to walk 24 batters in 134 2/3 innings. Street was significantly better over the year, however, throwing to a lower ERA (3.31 to Jones' 3.94), allowing opponents to hit .238 against him (.276 for Jones) and striking out more than twice as many batters.
The Detroit offense was significantly better than Oakland over the course of the year. Detroit scored the fifth-most runs in the AL, while Oakland was ninth in the 14-team league. Oakland's .260 team batting average was next to last in the league, their .412 slugging percentage was also next to last in the league. They were seventh in on-base percentage. Detroit was 12th in the league in on-base percentage, but fifth in slugging and tied for eighth in batting average.
Oakland was caught stealing just 20 times this season, which was the lowest total for any team in either league.
Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen hit .320 this season, good for ninth in the AL. He on-based .400, which was also 9th-best in the league. His .920 OPS was 12th best. Oakland DH Frank Thomas slugged .545, 10th-best in the AL, and posted a .926 OPS, which was 11th-best in the AL.
Thomas (270/381/545) led the A's in home runs (39) and RBI (114). Nick Swisher (254/372/493) added 35 home runs and drove in 95. Third baseman Eric Chavez hit 241/351/435 with 22 home runs and 72 RBI.
The Tigers had six players hit 19 or more home runs. Craig Monroe (251/301/482) led the team with 29 home runs and Magglio Ordonez (298/350/477) drove in a team high 104 runs. Brandon Inge (253/313/463) hit 27 home runs. Marcus Thames (256/333/549) hit 26 in just 348 at-bats. Curtis Granderson (260/335/438) and Carlos Guillen (320/400/519) both hit 19. The Tigers struck out more than any team in the AL other than the Cleveland Indians. Granderson led the AL with 174 strikeouts and Inge (128-11th) and Monroe (126-13th) joined him in the top 15.
Oakland has a bunch of injury problems. Shortstop Bobby Crosby has a problem with his back, which kept him out of the ALDS and made Marcus Scutaro (266/350/397) the Oakland shortstop. Scutaro went 4-for-12 with six RBI against the Twins. Mark Ellis broke a finger against the Twins, which forced D'Angelo Jimenez to play second base. Jimenez was just 1-for-14 with the A's during the regular season after going 12-for-57 (.211) with the Rangers earlier in the year. Clearly the A's would be thrilled if Crosby could play short and they could move Scutaro to second, but it doesn't look so likely. Oakland has added 26-year-old minor leaguer Mark Kiger to their roster to replace Ellis, and Keith Ginter, who apparently was looking to play the people-you've-heard-of card, is pissed.
The Tigers are relatively injury-free. Chris Shelton (273/340/466) was left off the playoff roster, leaving Sean Casey as the man at first base. Casey hit 296/377/408 in 213 at-bats with the Pirates this season but 245/286/364 in 184 at-bats with the Tigers.
During their series with the Yankees, the Tigers used four relief pitchers, righties Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya, Jason Grilli and lefty Jamie Walker. Jones struck out just 28 batters this season but posted 37 saves and an ERA of 3.94 in 64 innings. Zumaya is unbelievable, whether you believe he throws 102 MPH or not. He struck out 97 in 83 1/3 innings this year while pitching to a 1.94 ERA. Opponents hit .187 against him and he'll be 22 in November. Grilli threw to a 4.21 ERA in 62 innings this season, lefties hit .292 against him and righties just .249. Walker gets out lefties, holding them to a .231 average on the season.
The A's used just three guys in their pen in their sweep of the Twins, righties Houston Street, Kiko Calero and Justin Duchscherer. Righties hit just .211 against Street this season, lefties .274. He allowed just four home runs while striking out 67 in 70 2/3 innings. Calero pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 58 innings with Oakland this season, righties hit .208 against him. Duchscherer struck out 51 in 55 2/3 innings and walked just nine while throwing to a 2.91 ERA. Joe Kennedy didn't make an appearance in the ALDS but could come on as the lefty out of the pen. He was 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA on the season, but lefties hit .326 against him and righties just .220. Lack of lefty options could pose some problems against the Detroit lefties, primarily Casey and Granderson, as well as the switch-hitter Guillen.
Oakland looks likely to trot out lefty Barry Zito (16-10, 3.83 ERA) and righties Esteban Loaiza (11-9, 4.89), Dan Haren (14-13, 4.12) and Rich Harden (4-0, 4.24). Including the eight innings last Tuesday in which he allowed the Yankees just one run on eight hits, Zito has allowed five runs over 21 2/3 innings in his last three starts. Loaiza got hit hard by lefties this season, they hit .319 against him. Haren gave up 31 home runs this season, which was tied for seventh-most in the AL. Harden missed much of the season with a sprained right-elbow, making just nine starts. He allowed just 31 hits in 46 2/3 innings, but walked 26.
Detroit sends out lefty Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84), lefty Kenny Rogers (17-8, 3.84), righty Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63) and righty Jeremy Bonderman (14-8, 4.08). Robertson has been hit hard in his last two times out, giving up 13 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. Righties hit .284 against him this year and lefties just .181. Rogers comes off of his huge start against the Yankees in which he threw 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Yankees, striking out eight. Coming into that game he was 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in the post-season. Verlander's 17 wins tied him with Rogers and two others for fourth-best in the AL, but he struggled a bit towards the end of the year. He threw to a 6.83 ERA in five August starts and a 4.82 ERA in five September starts. Bonderman has been strong of late -- he has allowed ten earned runs in his last 30 2/3 innings (2.94 ERA) over five starts.
Nate Robertson faces Barry Zito tonight.
Phillies minor leaguers will also be in action tonight as the Peoria Saguaros (Big Cacti) open their Arizona Fall League Schedule against the Scottsdale Scorpions. There's a chance the contest will be overshadowed by the ALCS, or, for that matter, Law and Order reruns on TNT.