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October 12, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Recap: Tigers Defeat the Athletics

by Derek Carty

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They may have bought themselves a few extra minutes, but the clock finally struck midnight for the Cinderella Oakland A’s yesterday at O.co Coliseum. After keeping every game close throughout the series (no game was won by a margin of more than two runs) and battling back from 0-2 to even the series last night, Oakland was trounced by the PECOTA-favorited Detroit Tigers 6-0—a lead so large even Jose Valverde couldn’t have blown it.

The biggest story of the night was clearly Justin Verlander, who once again dominated the A’s in tossing a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts and just one walk. He’ll be credited in many series recaps as the primary reason the Tigers prevailed, but we should take note that, good as he was, his rotation peers were terrific as well. Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer combined for 18 2/3 innings of 1.93-ERA ball in Games Two through Four, and Scherzer and Fister both left their games with the lead. Detroit is not Justin Verlander and three other guys; they have a very good and very deep post-season rotation.

Most games in this series were either won or lost by the bullpens. Highlighted as one of Oakland’s greatest strengths in my series preview, the A’s bullpen was a major reason why the club’s season is now over. Heretofore shutdown relievers Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, relied upon in key situations in this series, combined for six ALDS innings and gave up a combined six runs. Grant Balfour too gave up a run in two appearances, taking the walk-off loss in one of them. Combine this with some key defensive miscues, and Oakland had to rely more than it should have upon its inferior starting pitching and equivalent-at-best-but-really-not-quite-as-good offense this series. That simply proved too heavy a load to carry.

  • Jim Leyland and his sacrifice bunts. Jeez. Tonight it was in the third inning with a runner on second, no outs, and the middle of the order coming up.
     
  • While the floodgates opened in the seventh inning tonight, the table was set in the third when Parker’s wildness cost the team two runs. Omar Infante took second on a wild pitch, then was doubled in by A-Jax. Later, Jackson scored from third on another wild pitch.
     
  • Despite my prediction that George Kottaras would start most games at catcher this series, Derek Norris began four of five behind the plate, perhaps for defensive reasons. While Kottaras may not have done any better, Norris didn’t do particularly well tonight. Certainly Parker is partly responsible, but Norris had trouble handling his pitches in the dirt, wasn’t able to prevent the aforementioned wild pitches, and (along with Parker) allowed three steals (one he really had no shot at).
     
  • Curious decision by Bob Melvin to bring Jerry Blevins into the game in the seventh inning with bases loaded and team down 4-0. If the A’s hoped to come back, they simply couldn’t have allowed any more runs. Cook had been spent already, but I think there’s a real case for bringing Balfour into the game at that point. It wasn’t Blevins’ fault (place most of the blame on Stephen Drew for muffing a potential double-play ball), but two more runs did eventually come around to score.
     
  • “Only Conan… can make Conan… so Conan.” Is there a more worthless marketing campaign out there? It seems the only people this applies to are those who already like and appreciate Conan and understand what that means. And if those people are committed to Conan, you don’t really need to target them with your advertising much, do you?
     
  • Oakland had very few opportunities to utilize the strength of their bench this series. The two best pinch-hitters on either team (Chris Carter and Jonny Gomes) combined for one low-leverage at-bat because Detroit used very few lefty relievers.
     
  • Leyland made a few poor tactical decisions, mostly with sac bunts, but his lineup construction and bullpen utilization were relatively solid. He commendably managed to quell his inclination to pencil Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago into the two-hole this year. Berry may not be the ideal number-two hitter, but he’s not bad, and we know how Leyland loves to use him for bunting.
     
  • Comerica and O.co are some big freaking parks. Anecdotally, there seems to have been a lot of balls that simply died on the warning track that could have created some very different-looking ballgames in another context. Baltimore and New York both have hitter’s parks, so Detroit’s offense may have more of an opportunity to shine in the ALCS.
     
  • For the fifth time in six opportunities since 2000, the Oakland A’s failed to advanced past the American League Division Series.
     
  • We sabermetric types don’t talk about it much, but I do think a lot of credit is due to Bob Melvin, who seems to have created a great clubhouse culture for the A’s. There are a lot of personalities in that clubhouse, and he seems to have harnessed that energy in a positive way, creating a sense of competitive fun. If nothing else, the A’s were entertaining to watch.
     
  • Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry, the “unheralded” cogs in Detroit’s offense, as I termed them in my series preview, went 8-for-27 (.296) this series.
     
  • Failing to win last night means Justin Verlander won’t be available to pitch Game One of the ALCS. He could pitch in Game Three on four days’ rest and then again in Game Six (four days) or Game Seven (five days). Which exact games he pitches should depend on how he feels, how desperate Detroit is, and how much they want to try and set up a potential World Series rotation.
     
  • The rest of the Tigers will have an extra day of rest on the Yankees or Orioles, who will battle for the second ALCS spot tomorrow night.

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