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The Eye On The Tiger--A Premature Evaluation

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Yesterday's debacle, in which the A's lost 1.5 games, or 25%, of their lead in the standings, and lost their closer as kind of the "coup de grace" (that's pronounced "coo duh graaaa"), served as a chilling reminder that the post-season is not 40 games away, it's a long 40 games away. Still, there have been some interesting developments recently that may affect the A's. (Note the "anti-woofing" emphasis on the word "may," not to be confused with "May," which is a whole other nightmare.) The possible playoff picture is still exceptionally murky, because playoff matchups are determined not only by who wins the division and wild card--and none of those four spots is locked up--but also by who has the best records. Remarkably, the A's are only four games behind the Yankees in overall record, so it has yet to be determined which divisions might boast the best and worst division winners.

For those unfamiliar with the rules for playoff matchups, the wild card winner plays the division winner with the best record of the three division winners. Unless (and I think this is a stupid rule, but it's a rule nonetheless), the best division record comes out of the same division as the wild card winner, in which case the wild card winner actually plays the division winner with the second best record.

As it currently stands, the Tigers have the league's best record, and the wild card leader is Chicago (second place is Minnesota, also in the Central), and the Yankees hold a better division-leading record than the A's do. Thus, the ALDS matchups would currently pit the White Sox against the Yankees and the A's against the Tigers, with the Red Sox, Twins, and Angels among those watching at home.

In the event of an A's-Tigers matchup, three factors could all swing heavily in the A's favor: Something we already knew, something we might have guessed, and something no one could have known.

  • Something we already knew: Kenny Rogers, noted A's killer, is also noted for second-half flops that are surpassed only by his flops in the playoffs.

  • Something we might have guessed: Justin Verlander, a truly outstanding young power arm, has missed one start, then been ineffective in two starts, since admitting to the "tired arm" that rookie pitchers often face when throwing more innings than ever before in their career.

  • Something no one could have known: Placido Polanco, whose near-.500 career batting average against the A's is the best career average by any current player against any team, suffered a separated shoulder and may be out for the season. That's huge for the Tigers, and even more huge for the A's if they should face the Tigers in an ALDS. (Incredibly, Polanco in his career is 7/11 against Zito, 7/10 against Blanton, 5/12 against Haren, and 4/4 against Harden.)

How good is a playoff rotation anchored by a fading and spotlight-hating Rogers and a tired Verlander, and how good is a Tigers lineup sans the #2 hitter that feasts on A's pitching? To put it in a rhyming couplet kind of way: Interesting developments, if not yet highly relevant...