So the A's were decided underdogs in the series against the Twins. They will play that role once again against the Tigers, at least according to the MSM. We know this because anyone who gives the Yankees the Zed from Pulp Fiction treatment will automatically be the favorites going into the next round.
"Whose plane is this?"
"It's a chartered flight to Oakland, baby."
"Whose chartered flight to Oakland is this?"
"A-Rod's dead, baby. A-Rod's dead."
We all know that most will favor the Detroit Tigers against our A's. Yet how do the teams compare? Very similarly, believe it or not, with the main differentiator being the approach at the plate. One is a patient team, the other, not so much.
That being said, I do think the A's have a couple of big hurdles to overcome. The first being the presence of Kenny Rogers who owns our A's for some reason, especially at the Coliseum. Rogers attacked his reputation as a postseason choker with a brilliant performance in Game 3 of the ALDS and his presence has to frighten the A's just a bit. The other is Placido Polanco, who is simply awesome when he faces A's pitching. You'd think he was Justin Morneau, only a little less...Canadian.
Here are how the matchups look statistically:
Starting Pitching: Rogers, Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson vs. Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza, Danny Haren and Rich Harden. This is a very, very good matchup. Whereas the Twins dropped a couple of notches after Santana, the Tigers will have a challenging pitcher taking the mound every single game. The Tigers starting pitching finished the season with a 4.00 ERA, lowest in the American League. The A's were tied for fourth with the Twins at 4.50. The A's finished the ALDS with the lowest ERA of any of the four American League teams at 2.33. The Tigers finished second at 3.60. Of course, Detroit pitching was facing the potent Yankee bats and while the Twins aren't exactly slouches, Bartlett, Punto and Tyner aren't Matsui, Jeter and Sheffield. You've got to give the Tigers a slight edge here which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Remember, the A's starters like to be counted out (i.e. Zito vs. Santana). I still think I would've liked the A's to roll the dice with Harden over Loaiza in Game 2, but we shall see. Loaiza came through with a very good Game 2 in a place where he's been horrific in the past.
Relief Pitching: This is another area where these teams match up extremely closely. You've got Walker, Zumaya and Jones against Duchscherer, Calero and Street. The Tigers also edged the A's statistically in this department with the Tigers pen finishing the season with a 3.55 ERA in their pen compared to the A's 3.62 in their pen. Zumaya is absolutely dominant, but I think the rest of the A's pen matches up very favorably against the Tigers pen. The A's have a slight edge in this department, even if Street has been a little shaky in his appearances.
Offense: To many, there be no question which team has the better offense. I would argue that it's closer than people think. Yes, the Tigers scored 51 more runs than the A's in the regular season. The A's hold a slight edge in OBP at .340 vs. .329 even though the Tigers had the better batting average. But during the Tigers freefall over the second half which ultimately led to the A's facing the Twins in the first round instead of the Motown cats, the A's were significantly better. The A's had a better batting average .279 vs. .274, but the big difference came in the on-base percentage. The A's OBP was .360 for the second half compared to the Tigers .328.
And this is one of the areas where I think the A's can take clear advantage of the Tigers. Most of the Tigers are pretty impatient hitters. The only player who showed a semblance of patience was Carlos Guillen and his .400 OBP. Most of the rest of the Tigers hitters hover around .310 or so. In fact, the Tigers had the second most strikeouts in the AL behind the Cleveland Indians and when you combine that with the second fewest walks in the AL you realize that the A's offense could look dynamic next to these guys. The A's had 220 more walks this year than the Tigers.
So while many would probably say the Tigers have the edge in this department, I think that if the A's pitchers exploit that lack of patience by going out of the zone to get some swinging strikes, the A's could have the better offense. If nothing more than you know that the A's hitters will make the Tigers pitchers work for everything they get.
Defense: The Tigers have good defense in all positions, but the Twins did too. The defense could be viewed as the main difference between the A's winning and losing in the first round as the Athletics made all the plays from spectacular to routine (except the Bradley miss in the ninth in Game 1). The A's had the second best fielding percentage in baseball and while that does take a significant hit without Mark Ellis, I still give the edge to the A's.
Manager: Many of you will soon find out that I voted for Jim Leyland as Manager of the Year on my SB Nation ballot. I don't think that changes in the playoffs. Macha made all the right moves in the first round, even though I still disagree with the decision to send Zito out for the eighth in Game 1, it worked out for him. He did an excellent job managing the bullpen and he stuck to his guns keeping Chavez batting behind the Big Hurt and that paid huge dividends in Game 3 as Chavy had possibly his best postseason game of his career. Still, Leyland has pushed all the right buttons with his team despite the fade at the end. He directed them past an offensive juggernaut in a short series. Again, the manager doesn't mean much if the starters go out and get whacked around, but I think the Tigers have a guy who has won a World Series. The A's don't.
This is once again a really tough call. But if there is any differentiator, I think the A's ability to work a pitcher and the Tigers lack of patience will pay dividends for the A's in the end. One thing is for sure, this should be a low scoring series with the quality of pitching on the mound.
The truth is that whoever winds up coming out of this series will be a big favorite against the Cards or Mets. This series will likely decide the 2006 World Champion, so buckle up and hold on tight.
By the way, I have a new FSN Bay Area column up if you want to check it out. LET'S GO A'S!!!!!!