2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

The story of Game Two of the American League Division Series between the A’s and Tigers was the inability of Oakland’s bullpen to hold down a lead in the late innings. Game Three saw Oakland hurler Brett Anderson toss a dominant game similar to the one turned in by Game Two starter Tommy Milone, only this time, Oakland’s usually-lockdown bullpen trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle was flawless.

Oakland once again relied on its strengths; this time, however, those strengths came through for the team, resulting in the first win of the series for the A’s. They played strong defense, highlighted by Coco Crisp robbing Prince Fielder of a home run in the second inning. They used their speed to pressure Detroit’s defense on the basepaths, notably with Josh Donaldson’s hard takeout slide in the second. And most importantly, their bullpen was dominant: 3 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 2 H, 0 R.

What I really loved was how the A’s utilized their bullpen options. While one could debate where Cook or Doolittle is the better pitcher, Oakland has treated Cook like the better of the two this season, using him in higher-leverage situations and for a spell as the closer. Knowing this, I appreciated that Bob Melvin didn’t stick to a rigid “Doolittle pitches the seventh, Cook the eighth, and Balfour the ninth” line on Tuesday night. Cook came on first, in the seventh, to face the middle of Detroit’s order, while Doolittle came on in the eighth to face the bottom of the order. Very commendable decision.

  • Oh no! Oakland is 2-10 in playoff elimination games and has lost its last five! Sorry, anyone who quoted these stats tonight; they’re irrelevant for reasons that should be plain. Oakland last played in the postseason in 2006. How many players do the 2006 and 2012 teams have in common? Zero. Then again, maybe it’s all Billy Beane’s fault.
  • Brett Anderson pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, throwing just eight pitches and recording two strikeouts. There would be no mention of strikeouts elevating pitch counts tonight.
  • In Daniel Rathman’s preview of Game Three, his Matchup of the Game was Seth Smith vs. Anibal Sanchez. Sure enough, Smith homered off Sanchez in the fifth and had a hard-hit ball find Andy Dirks’ glove in the second.
  • Still no sign of Chris Carter or Jonny Gomes, although Phil Coke was the only lefty pitcher in the game for Detroit, and he faced Pennington, Crisp, and Drew—not ideal guys to pinch-hit for.
  • TBS, if I have to see another Miller 64 commercial, I am going to hand you your ass.
  • The game theory implications of starting Anibal Sanchez over Max Scherzer were interesting. Though Sanchez is good, Scherzer is certainly the better pitcher, so why not make him the third starter? I have no idea what Detroit’s actual reasoning was, but it may have been to set up a more favorable Game Four match-up, where Scherzer will have a much bigger advantage over A.J. Griffin than he would have had over Brett Anderson, arguably Oakland’s best pitcher.
  • While in my series preview I predicted Derek Norris would be relegated to water-boy status given Detroit’s all-righty rotation, he actually started his second game of the series tonight. The announcers speculated it was because Anderson is a breaking-ball pitcher and Norris is the superior defender, able to block balls in the dirt better than Kottaras. Indeed, Anderson has thrown a slider or curve 44 percent of the time this year, and Kottaras is a notoriously bad defender, both in terms of blocking pitches and framing them.
  • I found Jim Leyland’s decision to bring right-handed pitcher Octavio Dotel into the game to face righty-killing Seth Smith very interesting, especially considering that Dotel has been markedly worse in his career when facing lefties like Smith (.290 multi-year TAv versus LHB, .199 versus RHB). Perhaps he preferred a Dotel vs. Smith matchup to a potential Drew Smyly vs. Carter/Gomes matchup, especially with Derek Norris (another pinch-hit option) on deck.
  • While the Tigers lost, they didn’t use any of their top relievers, save Dotel, so they should have plenty of fresh arms to close out a potential Max Scherzer win tomorrow night.
  • I’ll be on vacation starting tomorrow and plan on watching Game Four at the ESPN Club at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort in Florida. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and have a drink.

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I think Scherzer's injury concerns down the stretch are what led the Tigers to putting him fourth. He missed a couple starts with the shoulder problem and then injured his ankle in the clinching celebration. When he has pitched, he hasn't been dominant since before the injury. Between the uncertainty in his effectiveness and the possibility of resting him for the ALCS in the event of a clinch, I see no problems putting him fourth. Besides, he's pitching only one game: the same amount as Sanchez.