Preview: Tigers @ A’s ALDS Game 2
Game One did not end the way A’s fans would have hoped but if we are honest with ourselves the outcome wasn’t entirely surprising either. This year’s best pitcher pitched exceptionally well and the A’s hitters for the most part fell for every pitching sequence strategy in the book striking out sixteen times. In fact 48.5% of A’s plate appearances ended with them walking back to the dugout bat in hand. That is not a recipe for winning. It doesn’t get much easier for Oakland as tonight they face Justin Verlander who stymied the A’s bats last year twice in the ALDS. This year the A’s did get to Verlander and win one of the two outings against him, but still Verlander’s numbers against Oakland should give one pause as the A’s hit a meager .171/.277/.293 against him. The point is the A’s have to win this game. Yesterday’s loss surrendered home field advantage to the Tigers, and while one can say that doesn’t mean much as the A’s went 3-1 in Detroit this year, they failed to win a game in Detroit last season in the ALDS and for what it is worth went 0-2 at Comerica Park in the 2006 ALCS as well.
Bob Melvin and the A’s will put out a lineup of, Coco Crisp CF, Jed Lowrie SS, Josh Donaldson 3B, Brandon Moss 1B, Yoenis Cespedes LF, Seth Smith DH, Josh Reddick RF, Stephen Vogt C and Eric Sogard 2B to face Verlander. Yesterday Daric Barton looked awful so he is replaced by Smith which is a move I don’t mind though in limited action their numbers against Verlander barely differ and are equally hapless (Smith hitting .133/.381/.333 with a HR in 21 plate appearances while Barton put up .143/.333/.214 in 18 trips to the plate). I probably would have rather seen Alberto Callaspo (.211/.286/.211 in 21 plate appearances) over Sogard (0-for-7 in seven plate appearances) but that move isn’t a huge gripe. It was a down year for Verlander who managed just a 13-12 record (surprising just for such a good pitcher on such a good team, that is the sort of W-L you expect from an ace on a subpar team) while throwing 218 1/3 innings of 9.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 baseball for a 3.46 ERA and 3.28 FIP. His BABIP was up to .316 (second highest of his career) and his GB% was lower than it had been since 2009, the same year he had his highest BABIP leading one to believe that wasn’t entirely coincidental. In other words, a down year from Verlander would be a number one starter on virtually any other club in baseball, so it does not get easier for Oakland.
The A’s meanwhile take a big chance putting rookie Sonny Gray up against this incredible pitcher. While Verlander was a second overall first round pick, Gray was just an 18th overall first rounder. In his rookie year he has shown no fear putting up a 5-3 record across twelve appearances with ten being starts. In his 64 innings on the hill he has posted 9.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9 numbers that we should note are better than Verlander as was his 2.67 ERA, 2.70 FIP, .276 BABIP and 52.9% GB%. Gray is good and fearless, and that is good because the Tigers have yet to face him which could give him a slight edge – though you never know with this sort of situation. Up against Gray will be: Austin Jackson CF, Torii Hunter RF, Miguel Cabrera 3B, Prince Fielder 1B, Victor Martinez DH, Alex Avila C, Omar Infante 2B, Don Kelly LF, Jose Iglesias SS.
A’s need to win this one, won’t be easy, but also not impossible. A’s need to cut down on the strikeouts and get more runners on base and they ought to have a fighting chance. The A’s simply can’t afford to go down 2-0 as they learned in last year’s ALDS when they fought back to even it out before Verlander shut them down to end the series. It is a Sonny Day in Oakland the A’s are wearing Gold. Go A’s!