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October 8, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Four Preview: Athletics at Tigers

by Paul Sporer

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The A’s pummeled Anibal Sanchez to take a commanding 2-1 lead as the Tigers now face elimination at home. Fireworks erupted at the end of the game as Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez exchanged NSFW words causing benches to clear.

Athletics (Dan Straily) at Tigers (Doug Fister) 5:07 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Tigers 59%, Athletics 41%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Athletics vs. Fister (R)

Tigers vs. Straily (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

Jhonny Peralta (R) LF

Josh Reddick (L) RF

Alex Avila (L) C

Stephen Vogt (L) C

Omar Infante (R) 2B

Eric Sogard (L) 2B

Jose Iglesias (R) SS

The Set-Up

The Tigers offense finally broke through and did so after a two-run inning for the A’s only to have it entirely erased in the top of the next inning as the A’s responded with three of their own. It would overstate things to suggest it was demoralizing for the Tigers, but it couldn’t have felt good. If there is a copper lining for Detroit it was their bullpen performance as Jose Alvarez and Jose Veras stepped up for a big 4 1/3 scoreless effort that saved the rest of the pen for today.

Focusing In

Doug Fister was one of the four starters smashed by the A’s back in August during that four-game set where they were outscored 34-20 and only a miracle win against Balfour saved the Tigers from a sweep. Fister allowed seven earned on 13 hits in five innings. Fister’s command-oriented, groundball approach can lead to a pile of hits when he’s off, but the upside yields tons of easy outs – even for this defense – and plenty of strikeout potential, too. Fister fanned seven or more batter eight different times this year including twice reaching double digits. It shouldn’t take long to see if Fister is on his game. He comes out firing in the majority of his good games. Look for missed spots and balls hit in the air as signs of trouble.

Dan Straily opposed Fister in that late-August matchup and escaped trouble repeatedly going six innings allowing just one run on eight hits. He allowed three hits in an inning twice and had another with a pair of walks, but the Tigers couldn’t capitalize. When Straily struggles, he’s usually out in a hurry. In the seven outings during which Straily has allowed more than three runs, he last more than five innings just once. He will almost certainly give the Tigers a couple of openings, but can they capitalize?

Matchups to Watch

Lefties have 13 of Oakland’s 21 hits with six extra-base hits including three home runs. They are only hitting .194 as a group, but in this particular instance quantity is more important than quality. Bob Melvin’s preferred lineup has featured seven batters on the left side and given their penchant for the big hit in the first three games he isn’t likely to change it much at all, but Fister handles lefties much better than righties.

He has a 19.5 percent strikeout rate and 690 OPS-allowed against them compared to 16.3 percent and 734 against righties. His preferred weapon against southpaws is his curveball. He’s allowed a meager .160/.210/.245 on the pitch to lefties with 43 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances. Meanwhile, A’s batters from the left side have posted a .189/.228/.295 line against righty curveballs with a 33 percent strikeout rate. The 523 OPS ranked 20th in baseball during the regular season.

On the other side, Straily got to know Torii Hunter more last year when they played in the same division, but Hunter made sure Straily hadn’t forgotten about him this year when they reunited hanging a 3-for-3 effort with a double and a home run. It improved Hunter’s record to 7-for-10 with three home runs. It’s a small sample for sure, but it’s also pure ownership. Can Hunter jumpstart the offense today?

My Prediction

The Tigers stave off elimination with a 7-2 win and send it back to Oakland.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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