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October 7, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game One Recap: Tigers 3, Athletics 1

by Derek Carty

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Fact: Justin Verlander is good at baseball. While Coco Crisp led off the game by taking Detroit’s ace deep, the A’s failed to score a single additional run over another full nine innings of baseball. Verlander, indeed, was the story of the night, dominating Oakland following Crisp’s blast. While the 2012 American League Cy Young favorite issued four walks on the night, he never allowed more than a single baserunner in a frame beyond the first inning. This was due, in large part, to his bulldozing the Oakland lineup with 11 strikeouts. He left after seven, handing a two-run lead to Joaquin Benoit before Jose Valverde shut the door in the ninth.

As I suggested in my series preview, the Oakland and Detroit offenses were well-matched, but the difference was made by pitching. As impressive as Jarrod Parker has been in his rookie campaign, he simply cannot hold a candle to Verlander. He threw a good game, but not good enough. Of major importance in this game—as will be the case for the remainder of the series—was Verlander’s ability to go seven innings. Oakland holds the bullpen edge on Detroit, but if the Tigers’ starters can shorten the game and Oakland has to face a heavy dose of Benoit and Valverde with some Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque sprinkled in, it’s really going to mitigate Oakland’s late-inning edge. This becomes especially true if Oakland can’t manage a lead going into those late innings. Balfour, Cook, and Doolittle can’t be properly leveraged if there’s no lead to protect.

With a lesser defense, things could have been much worse for the A’s. They have a lot of speed and range in the outfield to help out their fly-ball staff (see Josh Reddick’s diving catch near foul territory in the fifth), and their middle infield is strong. Cliff Pennington, in particular, stood out in the third inning when he (being a former shortstop) took charge and called off Brandon Moss on a tricky popup and then chased down a run-saving ball off the bat of Prince Fielder out in center field. This kind of athletic, heads-up defense will be important for the A’s over the remainder of the series, particularly with the starting pitching disadvantage they face.

  • Stark anecdotal evidence of the defensive differences between these clubs: one play separated 1) Jhonny Peralta barely getting the runner out at second on a Derek Norris grounder that other shortstops may have turned two on, and 2) Stephen Drew making a spectacular diving play to retire Delmon Young at first.
     
  • Oakland did well to put pressure on Detroit’s defense on the basepaths with their speed and, yes, hustle. Josh Reddick’s hard slide in the fourth sticks out; it prevented Peralta from turning two on Seth Smith. Any time the A’s can force the Tigers’ inferior defenders to rush or potentially make a mistake, they need to.
     
  • While having a good defense is always better than having a bad one, Detroit’s staff is at least structured to minimize the impact of their poor defense. Whereas Oakland’s playoff rotation allowed contact in 75.8 percent of their batters faced, Detroit allowed contact on just 69.7 percent of theirs. Have a bad defense? Keep the ball away from them as much as possible.
     
  • Let’s leave the basestealing to Jackson and Berry, eh Delmon?
     
  • Verlander ended up throwing 121 pitches, and it started getting high quickly. By the end of the fourth inning, he was already at 78 pitches. As a result, we heard the old “strikeouts increase a pitcher’s pitch count because it takes so many pitches to get a strikeout” rhetoric. For those unaware, this simply is not true.
     
  • Verlander lucked out a bit in the third inning when a pitch that looked like ball four was called a strike. Instead of runners on first and second with Josh Reddick up, Verlander battled back to strike Moss out and end the inning.
     
  • Does the wad of chewing tobacco (or whatever it is) lodged in Parker’s cheek bother anyone else?
     
  • Parker failed to get the leadoff batter out in four of his seven innings. As we learned yesterday, it’s usually a good strategy to get the first guy out.
     
  • Detroit made good use of their top-of-the-order speed. In the first inning, Austin Jackson reached second on a single to left and eventually scored. In the third, the speed of Quintin Berry forced Parker into the error that scored Omar Infante.
     
  • I found it interesting how both the in-game TBS announcers and the post-game MLB Network guys noted how the A’s should be glad to trade a run for the double play in the first inning. This same point was made in the first inning of the Texas/Baltimore game yesterday in an identical situation. If two outs are worth more than a run, it seems like we’re just one step away from decrying sacrifice bunts to score a run.
     
  • Verlander was touching 99 mph by the time he left the game. How hard would this guy throw as a reliever who only needs to go one inning?

 

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