There's not too much I can write that will properly introduce this game.
The A's will face off tonight against Justin Verlander and the Tigers in a win-or-go-home, game 5 situation. As A's fans, we know what Game 5's have meant in the past, and no less is on the line here. After a 96-win season, the A's now face elimination at the hands of a star-powered team that showed them the exit last year and in 2006. While the opponents are essentially the same as before, this A's team is very different. Case in point: fresh-faced rookie Sonny Gray gets the start tonight with the weight of those memories on his shoulders. Personally, I think it's a great move. Gray showed he is more than up to the task of shutting down the Tigers' lineup and matching up with a Top 5 pitcher in baseball last time out. It is up to him and his catcher, however, to mix up their game plan to best utilize his natural stuff. Perhaps Gray will feature more changeups this time? Maybe drop a few curves earlier in the count?
The A's road to bubbly and beer is simple on paper: keep the Tigers off the board for as long as possible. So far as we know, the only person not available today (and maybe he will be, after all) is Bartolo Colon. If Gray struggles early, Melvin may throw Colon out there, or perhaps Jesse Chavez and/or Brett Anderson could be in for an extended assignment to keep the score as it is then. After that, the A's will be clawing for as many runs as they can. I expect to see some early inning bunting - whether I agree with it or not - in anticipation of Verlander throwing a monster game. I'm not sure it's the best way to go in general, but the bet between that and stringing together some big hits with RISP or some big extra base hits definitely changes the equation. What's more, when the opposing pitcher is well-known to significantly alter his velocity mid-game when he needs a strikeout, it may shift the value of getting those single runs on the board rather than playing for the bigger inning.
The Tigers road to victory is equally simple: let Verlander pitch his game and let the big bats dominate. I all but expect Verlander to throw every inning of this game if it is close. After all, with Max Scherzer definitely out the equation for tonight, who is honestly better in their bullpen? Now, if the A's have Verlander at 130 pitches through 6, it may be a different story, but barring that, it's a complete game something for him tonight. I expect them to be aggressive at the plate, swinging early, and swinging often, and hoping to put this game away by the 4th or 5th inning. Again, the A's should be planning for that and mixing up Gray's repertoire when possible.
This is really a 50-50 call; as it should be, of course, with the series having gone 5 games. Given Gray's dominance in Game 2 and Verlander's overall down year, there are reasons to pick the A's. On the other hand, Justin Verlander is still an elite pitcher, and guys like that have a knack for pitching big when it counts.
Here are the lineups. Both teams are going with the offense-first lineup (for good reason):
The A's have a chance to shake their Game 5 doldrums tonight with a big win that would send this site and the green-and-gold faction in the Bay Area into a tizzy. Of course, it's been a great season either way, but I would really like to see the A's have a shot at being the Last Team Standing.
LET'S GO OAK-LAND!