Alan Torres: On Tuesday, you wrote about the Tigers rotation being superior to the A's, which is all but unassailable as truth. The bullpen, however, is another story, and it's clear that the Tigers are at a disadvantage compared to the A's. Given that, who do you think will comprise the front line relief corps?
Rob Rogacki: The Tigers' bullpen has been shaky at times this season, but overall I think this is a better unit than you saw in last year's series. Joaquin Benoit blew a pair of saves in September, but has otherwise been a massive upgrade in the closer role. Jim Leyland hasn't been afraid to go to Benoit in tight situations in the eighth inning either.
Jose Veras has been a welcome addition since coming over from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, and Drew Smyly might be the first Tigers lefty reliever to handle righties comfortably since 1984 MVP Willie Hernandez. Unfortunately, those might be the only three names Tigers fans are comfortable seeing with the game on the line.
Fireballer Bruce Rondon showed his potential in his last outing, striking out the side on 10 pitches. However, he will miss the series with elbow soreness. A's fan favorite Al Alburquerque will likely fill the "fireman" role, coming in when the Tigers need a big strikeout or two. Rick Porcello hasn't seen much action out of the pen in previous postseasons, but he's a better alternative than the likes of Luke Putkonen, Evan Reed, or lefty Jose Alvarez. If any of those three see the mound, things likely aren't going well for the Tigers.
AT: Jhonny Peralta has never played left field save for three games, but will likely man the position starting on Friday. This is going to be fun. Based on what you've seen so far, is this a significant concern?
RR: Let me get this straight: you're asking a fan of the team that used Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Jhonny Peralta in its lineup during last year's World Series whether we're concerned about defense? All joking aside, Peralta's lack of experience in left field is a concern, especially in the expansive outfield at O.Co Coliseum. He was slow to make a couple of plays in his lone series in Miami, one of which cost the Tigers a crucial run in a close game.
That said, Andy Dirks and Don Kelly can't provide the type of offensive firepower that Peralta can. The Tigers' offense dropped off considerably after he was suspended, and his bat makes the lineup a threat to score from top to bottom. If he hits, his bat might outweigh his defensive shortcomings. Plus, he can't be any worse than Delmon, right? Right?!
AT: Which A's pitcher is most likely to shut down the Tigers offense, Miguel Cabrera being slightly hobbled notwithstanding?
RR: Since soft-tossing lefty Tommy Milone won't be starting in this series, I'm going to go with Sonny Gray. The Tigers tend to struggle with pitchers they haven't seen before, and Gray has had a whale of a second half at home. However, it's on Bob Melvin to make sure that Gray doesn't go through the order too many times, because the Tigers are quick at making adjustments. Indians rookie Danny Salazar struck out Miguel Cabrera three times in his first start against the Tigers, but Cabrera hit a two-run homer on a 99 mph fastball in his fourth at-bat of the game to put the Tigers ahead. White Sox rookie Andre Rienzo held the Tigers scoreless for six innings in his first appearance against them, but gave up a pair of runs in his third trip through the batting order and wound up taking the loss.
AT: From my perspective, it seems like the Tigers have specifically been built for five-game series such as this, with the three front-line starters and high-powered offense meant to mask the defense and relief inefficiencies. Granted, I'd say that's been the strategy for their entire season, but do you think they've been constructed for the express purpose of winning a five-game series?
RR: I'd like to think that the Tigers are built to win a seven game series too, but last year's ALDS was the longest playoff series they had in 2012. This club has definitely been built with the World Series in mind, but when the bats go cold -- as we saw in last season's Fall Classic -- the team struggles to win games. Owner Mike Ilitch wants a World Series before he kicks the bucket, and he has spared no expense in making sure his club is ready for battle in a short playoff series. Some more bullpen help this past offseason would have been nice, but it's hard to complain when you get to watch the stars on this roster play everyday.
AT: Aside from the three starters and Cabrera, which player or two will impact the series the most?
RR: If there's a pitcher that the Tigers need to come up huge in this series, it's Al Alburquerque. "Al Al," as he's affectionately known on our site for obvious reasons, finally stayed healthy for the majority of a season this year. However, he has had command issues the whole way. When he was sent down to the minors in May, he had logged 26 strikeouts and 13 walks in 14 1/3 innings. He cut his walk rate to a palatable 5.45 per nine innings after returning to the big leagues in June. Given Jim Leyland's tendency to use him in tight spots, Alburquerque needs to be on his game in this series.
There are a few Tigers position players that will play a big role, but I'll single out Austin Jackson as someone who needs to step up in this series. Defensively, he will have to cover more ground with Jhonny Peralta manning left field. Thankfully, he's more than capable. Advanced metrics weren't as kind to him this season, but Jackson cumulative numbers compare favorably with the best center fielders in the game over the past four seasons. Offensively, Jackson tended to disappear for lengthy stretches in 2013. For instance, he had a .639 OPS in July, but improved to an .843 OPS in August. The Tigers are a different team when Jackson gets on base consistently, and he will need to do so if the Tigers want to leave Oakland victorious for the second straight year.
AT: Honest prediction on series winner and number of games. You won't hurt our feelings, one way or another.
RR: Despite their contrasting styles, I think these two teams are too evenly matched for one team to run away with it in three or four games. Since I'm totally biased, I'll take the Tigers in 5, but it could easily go either way. This should be another fun series.
Again, thanks to Rob for his time and follow him on Twitter, if for nothing else than his avatar of Carlton Banks from the Fresh Price of Bel-Air. Visit Bless You Boys to read more about what they are saying about this series, and for some good-natured ribbing.