Tonight's game isn't literally a must-win for the A's, but it might as well be. An A's victory gives Oakland the chance to advance to the ALCS by winning two of the final three games against Detroit, one of which would be played in Oakland, with the other two seeing the A's face Detroit's #3 and #4 starting pitchers. Okay, one of those pitchers is Anibal Sanchez, but all the same, a win gives Oakland a fighting chance in the series. A loss, meanwhile, would put the A's in a 2-0 hole and force them to sweep their next three games against the Tigers to stave off their third elimination at Detroit's hands in their last three playoff appearances.
Sonny Gray will get the start for the A's, and he has the advantage of never having faced the Tigers, who by all accounts struggle against pitchers they're unfamiliar with. Let's take a look at his numbers this year: he boasts a WHIP of 1.11, an ERA of 2.67, and an impressive K:BB ratio of 3.35:1. In a limited sample size, he's also been very, very good against right-handed batters when pitching at the Coliseum, holding them to a .179 wOBA in 18.1 innings pitched. That number jumps to .222 when you include road starts, but it's still impressive. It's also encouraging, given that Gray will see five righties tonight.
Opposing Gray is the right-handed Justin Verlander, who's had a down year but remains incredibly scary. He saw his opponents' BABIP jump from .273 in 2012 to .316 in 2013, which is obviously not entirely attributable to luck but an issue nonetheless. Verlander is known for having a reverse split — left-handed hitters managed a .294 wOBA against him this season, while righties were substantially more successful, posting a wOBA of .325. In another weird reverse split, he pitches better one the road than at home, but that one can probably be chalked up entirely to ballpark factors. Verlander's tough, but not invincible. The A's have hit him before, and are perfectly capable of doing it again tonight.
Despite Verlander's reverse lefty/righty split , Bob Melvin is going with a lineup that, like last night's, features seven lefties. Daric Barton is out of the lineup this evening, though, after a poor showing on both sides of the ball in Game 1. He's replaced by Seth Smith, who hit .393 in the month of September. That move Brandon Moss over to first base, as Smith is DHing. Smith is only 2-for-15 lifetime against Verlander, but has six walks against him. That number speaks for itself.
Otherwise, the defensive alignment is the same as it was last night.
Like last night, the Coliseum should be full and rocking for first pitch. Hopefully the beginning of the game goes a little better for the A's than it did last night, and the crowd can sustain that energy for nine innings, or however many it takes. First pitch is at 6:07, with the game being broadcast nationally on TBS and on ESPN Radio.