2012 Playoff Preview: (2) Oakland Athletics vs. (3) Detroit Tigers

The Oakland A's have already followed their old formula - homeruns, walks, and young, cheap, pitching - to the AL West title. Now they face a tougher task, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander, and the rest of a talented Detroit team. Photo: AP/Ben Margot

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2012 — There’s a strong case to be made that this year’s Oakland Athletics are better than any of the 2000-2003 versions that went out in the Division Series 3-2, each and every year. The players and formula may not be the same, but identical drama lifted the 2012 A’s to their current position.

In 2001, the superhuman efforts of one player, Jason Giambi, lifted Oakland to 102 wins. The following year, a 20-game win streak took them to 103. This year, the A’s won more than two-thirds of their games after the All-Star break, going 51-25 from July 13 onwards, to take the AL West title from the Texas Rangers with a 12-5 win on the season’s final day.

The Detroit Tigers were the seventh-best team in the American League by record this season. And to anyone who disparages their chances based on that mark, they have a worthy rebuttal – don’t slight the Triple Crown winner. That would be third baseman Miguel Cabrera (.330 AVG/44 HR/139 RBI), who took the batting title by four points, the homerun title by one, and the RBI title by eleven. Indeed, it’s almost unfair that the Tigers boast in Cabrera not just the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, but also first baseman Prince Fielder, who is the lefty half of a three-four punch to die for.

Both Cabrera and Fielder will have to be at their best to give the Tigers a chance to advance. That’s because Oakland looks like the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays – built from scratch with production from unheralded position players. Those Rays, tabbed for a last-place finish, demolished the American League before finally being stopped in the World Series by rain and the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s not a stretch to say that these A’s could do the same.

The “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics were built from castaways. The 2012 Athletics are built from overflow, from players that simply couldn’t fit on other packed rosters. Right fielder Josh Reddick, formerly of the Red Sox organization, led the team with 32 homeruns and 85 RBI’s. Brandon Moss, unceremoniously ditched by the Pittsburgh Pirates, hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 homers in 296 plate appearances as the lefty half of a first-base platoon.

The other member of that setup is former Oakland top prospect Chris Carter, who finally settled into the majors, going yard 16 times in 260 plate appearances. Together, Moss and Carter combined for 37 homeruns and a .267/.354/.559 slash line. Even more power comes from designated hitter Jonny Gomes (18 HR, .262/.377/.491), and Oakland’s one household name, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (23 HR), a Cuban defector who was chased by most of the thirty MLB teams.

Moving to pitching, the most apt thing to state is the consistency of both starting rotations. Yes, Detroit’s Justin Verlander can blow anyone away when he’s on, but even he’s suffered a comedown from the lofty heights of 2011.

To win, the Tigers will need a lot of production from their two-three tandem of Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, who both excelled in the second half of the season. Perhaps the most telling point in favor of the Tigers’ pitching staff is the fact that they allowed fewer homeruns than all but two AL teams, playing in a hitters’ park.

The A’s will pin their hopes on a front three of Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and Bartolo Colon. The first is a 23-year-old top prospect who has succeeded admirably in his first full big-league season, and will get the Game 1 nod. The second is a soft-tossing lefty acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez, who has baffled AL hitters with his 87 mph fastball and off-speed pitches that can hardly go any slower. The third is a veteran former Cy Young winner who will take the spot of Brandon McCarthy, who was having a career year until he took a line drive to the head on September 5.

This series is going down to two similar matchups. First, can a young Oakland pitching staff stop two of the top five hitters in baseball? Second, can the Detroit pitchers keep the batted balls on the ground? If Oakland can come out on top in one of those two scenarios, they will win. The Tigers, though, need both situations to come true to pull this series out, and that’s what gives the Athletics a slim advantage.

Oakland in 5

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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