ALDS Tigers-A's Game 2 preview: Justin Verlander vs. Sonny Gray

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

Can rookie Sonny Gray (left) measure up to Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the ALDS? (USATSI)
Can rookie Sonny Gray (left) measure up to Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the ALDS? (USATSI)

MORE: Tigers take Game 1

On Friday night, Bartolo Colon and the A's fell to Max Scherzer and Tigers by a slim margin of 4-3. Game 2 presents a near must-win for the host A's, who certainly don't want to head to Detroit down 0-2 in a best-of-five. For Game 2, which goes down starting 9:00 pm ET Saturday night, Detroit stalwart Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.32 WHIP, 2.89 K/BB ratio) will oppose A's rookie right-hander Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67 ERA, 140 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 3.35 K/BB).

Now let's break it down ...

Verlander vs. Athletics

Verlander faced the A's twice in 2013, once at home and once on the road. Combined, he allowed six runs (four earned) in 11 innings of work and struck out nine, walked six and gave up one home run. Current Oakland hitters have combined for a career slash line of .195/.271/.285 in 222 combined plate appearances against Verlander.

Other trends of note ... Verlander has a 3.19 ERA on the road this season and a 2.38 ERA in 10 career starts at Oakland. As for the Athletics offense, this season they rank fifth in the AL in weight runs created+ (wRC+) against right-handed pitchers and sixth in the AL in wRC+ at home (wRC+ is adjusted to reflect ballpark tendencies).

It's of course notable that Verlander, despite his laurels and overall excellence, has struggled a bit in the postseason, as he's pitched to a 4.22 ERA in eight playoff starts -- not bad numbers but obviously not up to his usual high standards. One theory is that it's workload related. Verlander churns out high inning totals year after year, and it's possible that he's fatigued by the time the playoffs come around.

On that front, Verlander in 2013 posted his lowest regular-season innings total (218 1/3) since 2008 and didn't pitch a complete game all season. As for raw pitch totals, Verlander threw 3,692 pitches this season, which is his lowest count since, again, 2008. As well, Verlander enters his Game 2 start on one day of extra rest, having posted a 2.27 ERA in six September starts and also having moved well beyond a hiccup in his delivery that plagued him earlier in the season. Will we see vintage Verlander in Game 2? Signs point to "probably."

Gray vs. Tigers

Gray is, as mentioned, a rookie, and none of his 12 career appearances (10 starts) have come against Detroit. So there's nothing to go on from that standpoint. Elsewhere, the Tigers rank second in the AL this season in wRC+ versus RHPs and third in wRC+ on the road. Even with a hobbled Miguel Cabrera, they should present a challenge for Gray.

Gray has strong numbers, as you see above, and he has a plus breaking ball to go with his 93-mph fastball and show-me changeup. The challenge will be having ideal command of that swing-and-miss breaking pitch and keeping the powerful Detroit lineup guessing as to when he's going to throw it. Keeping track of what counts he throws his breaking ball on in the early innings will likely provide some insight.

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