|Who's got the edge? Miguel Cabrera, that's who. (AP)|
Everyone expected the Tigers to be in the postseason, while nobody expected the A's to be here. Yet, both made late-season runs to reach the postseason.
The root of expectations came in the offseason, when the Tigers shelled out the money to sign Prince Fielder, while the A's appeared to be going through a rebuilding process after trading away their top two pitchers.
Oakland was playing just as expected in the first three months of the season, and as July started, the A's were 13 games behind the Rangers in the American League West. From that point, they went 57-26, including their final six games before overtaking the Rangers for the division title on the last day of the season.
Detroit underperformed for much of the year but benefitted by playing in the weakest division in baseball. The White Sox were never quite able to pull away, and behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Detroit managed to win its division and make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
So, how do these two teams match up? Glad you asked…
Avila hasn't lived up to his All-Star status of 2011, but his .243/.542/.384 is better than the A's duo. He's also thrown out 30 percent of baserunners, while Kottaras and Norris have combined to throw out just 10.5 percent. That shouldn't be too big an issue, as the Tigers stole only 59 bases, 13th out of 14 American League teams.
Lost in much of the hubbub around Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown was the solid season by Fielder. In his first season in Detroit, Fielder hit .313/.412/.528 with 30 homers and 108 runs batted in. His on-base percentage even beat Cabrera's. The A's don't have the biggest names at first base, but Oakland first basemen combined to hit .240/.340/.461 with 31 home runs this season. Carter has 16 and Moss has 21.
The A's have used platoons to their advantage all over the infield but have never quite figured out second base. Jemile Weeks had a historically bad season and it appears Pennington and Rosales will get the bulk of the playing time in the playoffs. Neither has an on-base percentage better than .300, with Rosales spending a bulk of his season in the minors. Infante hasn't been great, either, hitting .257/.283/.385.
Since coming over in a trade deadline deal, Drew has hit .250/.326/.382 with five home runs in 39 games -- not the best numbers, but he's provided some stability to the position. Peralta has been even worse, hitting .239/.305/.384.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Josh Donaldson
You can debate whether Cabrera was the American League's MVP; you can't debate this matchup.
If not for the remarkable rookie season of Mike Trout (and the arrival of Yu Darvish), Cespedes would have easily won the Rookie of the Year. The Cuban import hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and it seemed like he was just scratching the surface of his potential. His batting average has dropped over the last two months of the season, but his power returned after a midseason outage.
Overshadowed by his teammates, Jackson quietly put together a very good season for the Tigers, hitting .300/.377/.479 with 16 homers as the Tigers leadoff man. He was a big reason why Cabrera led the American League in RBI, scoring 103 runs. Crisp hit .259/.325/.418, stealing a team-high 39 bases.
Dirks has the better slash line -- .322/.307/.487 -- but Reddick helped keep the A's in contention in the first half. After hitting 20 home runs in the first half, he had just 12 in the second as the rest of the team got hot around him. Still, he has the ability to get hot and carry his team.
Like so many other of the team's spots, the A's have used a successful platoon to get the job done at the DH spot. Oakland DHs hit .256/.345/.437 with 24 home runs and 83 RBI. Gomes is the primary DH and his 18 homers match the number Young put up in nearly half the plate appearances (333 vs. 608). Gomes crushes lefties, but the Tigers rotation is all right-handed, which will neutralize him some. Add Smith with 14 home runs (and maybe even Moss), and the A's have some thunder from the DH spot.
The all-rookie rotation has held down the fort in the last part of the season, but the Tigers have the edge, especially at the top with Verlander and Scherzer, who finished the season 1-2 in strikeouts. Fister has a 2.45 ERA in 11 career starts against the A's.
The A's had the second-best bullpen ERA (2.94) in the American League, and after his demotion from the closers spot, Grant Balfour has been dominant, converting all 17 of his save chances since Aug. 11. Rookie Ryan Cook was an All-Star, and he joined with Sean Doolittle to make one of the best setup tandems in the league. The Tigers bullpen was ranked 10th in the AL in ERA (3.79) and setup man Joaquin Benoit allowed 14 homers, the most by any reliever in the AL.
This is one matchup the Tigers won't win with anyone, especially a good-fielding Oakland team.
It's tough to pick against the A's -- but the fact that they could possibly face Verlander twice is daunting. Despite not putting up an MVP season in 2012, he's still anyone's pick to start a Game 1 or Game 7 or anything in between. The offensive punch and patience of Fielder and Cabrera could test the A's rookie pitchers. Oakland's had a fantastic season, filled with an amazing run to the postseason, but as a certain TV show says, I am sorry to tell you that you have been eliminated from the race -- in five games.