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October 8, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Two Recap: Tigers 5, Athletics 4

by Derek Carty

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Game Two of the American League Division Series between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland A’s was a tale of two halves. After starters Doug Fister and Tommy Milone carried a 1-1 tie into the seventh inning, it seemed safe to assume that we were heading toward an innocuous, “next run wins” type of finish. After all, we’ve been talking over the past couple days about how strong the back-ends of these bullpens are. Instead, Detroit and Oakland combined for seven runs over the final three frames, trading the lead three times in the process.

Milone (6 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 R) and Fister (7 IP, 8 K, 2 BB, 2 R) each pitched well, keeping things under control and giving their respective offenses plenty of chances to crack things open. While both struggled a bit with their command and control (Fister actually hit two batters), they each kept their composure and worked out of the (usually) minor jams they found themselves in.

While most of the blame for the late-inning explosion needs to be put on the relievers, I do think there were a couple of managerial decisions worth discussing that didn’t do their teams any favors. In the seventh, with a runner on and no outs, Bob Melvin had George Kottaras sacrifice to move the runner along. True, Kottaras isn’t a particularly good hitter, but giving up outs that late in the game and essentially playing for a single run seemed risky. I’m sure some of the thought process went, “Well, if we score a run and then Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour come on and shut it down, we win.” But being content with a single-run lead against a team like Detroit came back to bite Oakland.

Then in the eighth, Jim Leyland called for an even better hitter, Andy Dirks, to sacrifice with two runners on base. After a Quintin Berry strikeout, that placed the Tigers in the precarious position of having two runners on, two outs, and still zero runs. Were it not for a Ryan Cook wild pitch, they would have failed to score the tying run that inning.

Eventually, the Tigers won in exciting fashion in the bottom of the ninth. After walking Prince Fielder to load the bases, Don Kelly came through with a walk-off sac fly. October baseball, readers.

  • Fister’s stuff looked really sharp tonight. While not really known for it, he has good stuff and his strikeout rates are legit. It was particularly impressive watching him freeze lefties inside, starting his fastball off the plate and running it back over for a strike.
     
  • While Milone didn’t have his best command tonight, he really kept his composure for a rookie pitching in his first post-season game. It was great to see him work out of a bases-loaded situation in the second following a hit, wild pitch, walk, and hit batsmen.
     
  • That Avisail Garcia throw to nail Crisp at home in the third was InDQredible, huh? (Sorry, guys.)
     
  • Once again, the A’s put pressure on Detroit’s defense on the basepaths, making good use of their speed. In the third inning, Coco Crisp forced a bad throw from Miggy for an infield single, eventually leading to a run. In the eighth, Yoenis Cespedes stole back-to-back bases before scoring. The steal of third was particularly impressive and completely unexpected with a righty pitching and lefty hitting.
     
  • Unfortunately, Oakland’s other strengths, their bullpen and defense, let them down. Detroit took the lead in the seventh after Stephen Drew let a couple of balls—albeit hard-hit ones—get by him. Those two runners then came around to score on a Coco Crisp error off the bat of Miguel Cabrera (though the error call was questionable, as Crisp really ranged for it). All three were very difficult plays, but those are the kinds of plays Oakland needs to make in order to stay competitive.
     
  • Conversely, Detroit’s defense, at least in one instance, came up huge. After pinch-running for Jhonny Peralta in the eighth, Danny Worth made a good play at short in the ninth to nail Cliff Pennington at second (and just missing doubling up Crisp at first). It’s questionable whether Peralta would have gotten to the ball and/or gotten Pennington out at second.
     
  • Both teams’ set-up men (Joaquin Benoit and Ryan Cook) allowed runs to score on wild pitches.
     
  • Delmon Young looks like he should be playing a gruff, jaded, been-around-the-block-one-too-many-times cop tasked with mentoring an overzealous up-and-comer in a ‘80s cop movie. I think it’s the mustache.
     
  • The announcers noted Gerald Laird’s reverse split this year (.284 TAv vs. RHP, .226 TAv vs. LHP) and how Jim Leyland ignored it and played him in the traditional right-on-lefty match-up anyway. Without looking at all of the factors in such a decision (Avila’s presence, Laird’s career numbers, etc.), that’s smart, since single-year platoon splits should be largely ignored. There’s so much noise in those numbers.
     
  • This was the only game all year in which Fister issued two leadoff walks.
     
  • The announcers noted Milone’s home/road splits (2.74 home ERA, 4.83 road ERA) in regard to how well Milone pitched in Comerica today and how these splits can be misleading. Absolutely correct. Home/road splits are tricky ducks.
     
  • If it hadn’t worked out as it did, some may have questioned bring Phil Coke into the game in the ninth and leaving Valverde on the pine. If it weren’t the bottom of the order with Norris and Pennington due up, and if it didn’t make some sense to save Papa Grande for the more dangerous hitters in a potential 10th inning, I’d have much more of a problem with it.
     
  • How excited must Jim Leyland be for postseason pet player Don Kelly?

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