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October 7, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Three Preview: A's at Tigers

by Paul Sporer

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Oakland squeaked by Detroit in Game Two as Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander gave us the best game of the playoffs thus far with an incredible duel on the mound. Gray mattered more as the A’s got to Al Alburquerque for the walk-off win.

Athletics (Jarrod Parker) at Tigers (Anibal Sanchez) 1:07 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Tigers 56.4%, Athletics 43.6%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Athletics vs. Sanchez (R)

Tigers vs. Parker (R)

Coco Crisp (S) CF

Austin Jackson (R) CF

Jed Lowrie (S) SS

Torii Hunter (R) RF

Josh Donaldson (R) 3B

Miguel Cabrera (R) 3B

Brandon Moss (L) 1B

Prince Fielder (L) 1B

Yoenis Cespedes (R) LF

Victor Martinez (S) DH

Seth Smith (L) DH

Alex Avila (L) C

Josh Reddick (R) RF

Jhonny Peralta (L) LF

Stephen Vogt (L) C

Omar Infante (R) 2B

Alberto Callaspo (S) 2B

Jose Iglesias (R) SS

The Set-Up
The series shifts to Detroit where the Tigers will throw the AL’s ERA leader and the A’s anxiously wait to see which Parker shows up with them: the one who had a 2.68 ERA in four month stretch from May 10th to September 10th or the one who closed the season with a 9.20 ERA including a pair of seven-earned-run outings.

Focusing In
This is where the relentlessness of the Tigers rotation shows up, as it seems almost unfair to come out of the Scherzer-Verlander gauntlet at 1-1, only to face Anibal Sanchez, who enjoyed a career year despite a four-year low in innings thanks to a spell on the DL. Sanchez had a career-best ERA (2.57), WHIP (1.15), home run rate (0.4), and strikeout rate (27 percent) in 182 innings. Sanchez dominated the A’s during the April series out in Oakland, but he was one of the four starters smashed during the late-August set in Detroit.

Jarrod Parker had an interesting season bookended by some of his worst work. He had a 7.36 ERA in six April starts, but then pitched like one of baseball’s best until mid-September with a 2.82 ERA that ranked 10th in MLB over his next 23 starts. He sandwiched a six-inning gem in between the aforementioned seven-earned-run outings to close the season, which saved his ERA from ending north of 4.00. His margin for error will be scant even against a Tigers team that is in the midst of a 17-inning scoreless spell. He certainly can’t pitch like he did when he faced them in April, when he lasted just 3 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs on nine hits and two walks in a 10-1 loss.

Yoenis Cespedes will try to stay hot after a pair of two-hit games in Oakland. He and Josh Reddick were the only A’s starters not to strike out in Game Two. On the other side, the ones to get a hit outside of Miguel Cabrera were eight and nine hitters Don Kelly and Jose Iglesias. With that in mind, the Tigers will give Jhonny Peralta the start in left field in the hopes of generating some extra pop. Peralta has played in just three games since returning from his Biogenesis-related suspension. With Iglesias firmly planted at short, Peralta will make his first MLB start out of the infield.

Matchup to Watch
Even with small sample size caveats in full effect, it is hard to completely overlook the ownership Austin Jackson has over Parker the last two seasons with six hits in 11 at-bats including two doubles and a home run. The doubles actually came in six at-bats during last year’s ALDS. As starved as the Tigers are for offense from anyone, they would especially love some from Jackson who took the Golden Sombrero in Game Two.

My Prediction
The Tigers generate just enough offense for Sanchez in their playoff home opener and take the crucial 2-1 series lead powered by Jackson, Prince Fielder, and Alex Avila.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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