10.09.2006

ALCS Preview

ALCS PREVIEW: Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

I'm here to preview the American League Championship Series for you. This matchup is very intriguing as both underdogs ended up prevailing in their ALDS matchups. I'll look at the key factors in the matchup and break them down for you.

Starting Pitching
It's difficult to find a hole in the Detroit playoff rotation of Verlander, Rogers, Robertson and Bonderman (especially after their shutdown of the Yankees in the ALCS) but if there's any staff that has the potential to go toe-to-toe with them it's the Athletics' Zito, Loaiza, Haren and Harden. Going into the playoffs there were a couple about the Detroit staff -- Could Verlander get back to early-season form? Could Kenny Rogers overcome his playoff woes? Both of these were answered with the two pitchers' stong performances against the Yankees. If they can repeat their incredible games, then look for a lot of 0's on the A's scoreboard. The A's counter-argument is their performance against the Twins, posting the lowest ERA of any team in the ALDS, and the Potential of Rich Harden. No one doubts Harden's nasty stuff, but which Harden will the A's get?

Things to look for:
-Kenny Rogers A's Killer: Rogers is a career 25-4 at Network Associates Colliseum
-Which Rich Harden will show up?
First two starts back from the DL (1-0, 8IP, 4H, 1ER)
Third Start (3.2IP, 6ER, 6BB)
-Oakland Strikeout Totals
The Tigers' free-swinging lineup may have trouble with Haren and Harden's strikeout abilities and Zito's ability to get hitters to chase. Detroit batters struck out 1,133 times this season

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

Lineup
While most of the focus will be on the pitching staffs, it is here that the biggest difference lies between these two teams. In the second half of the season, Oakland posted an OBP of .360 compared to Detroit's .329. The Tigers' freefall out of first place in the AL Central at the end of the season was more due to their inability to hit down the stretch. While they averaged 5.5 runs per game against the Yankees, they'll be facing a much better staff. Also, will the Tigers pitch to Frank Thomas? Eric Chavez showed signs of waking up behing the Big Hurt in game 3 with his HR and 2 hits, but will it be enough to get the Tigers to challenge Thomas, who has been hitting .298 with 20 HRs since the All-Star break.

Key Points:
-The Tigers hit .309 in the ALCS, the A's hit .245
-Frank Thomas, Craig Monroe, and Curtis Granderson all have 2 HR so far
-The Scoot Factor: Marco Scutaro is leading the playoffs in Doubles (4) and RBI (6)

ADVANTAGE: OAKLAND

Bullpen
While the Tigers bullpen stifled the Yankees when they had to, it was really only Jones and Zumaya. This may be enough, however as their starters all have the ability to go deep into games. The A's on the other hand used Duchscherer, Street and Calero as well has having other viable options in the pen. Depth here will benefit the Athletics if they can get to one of Detroit's starters early, but theyre pretty much playing a 7 or 8 inning game if the Tigers put Zumaya out there for high-leverage innings.

Regular Season Bullpen ERAs:
-Oakland 3.62
-Detroit 3.55

ADVANTAGE: DETROIT

Defense
The A's defense took a hit when Mark Ellis went down with a broken hand, but their team defense is still excellent, anchored by Eric Chavez at third, who has been making rally-killing plays since the start of the playoffs, and their speedy outfield. The Tigers, however, were the best fielding team in the league during the regular season as measured by fielding efficiency, anchored by Guillen at SS, Rodriguez at C, and Inge at 3B. As was shown in the A's series against the Twins, the team that plays mistake-free baseball is going to win the game (cough -- torii hunter -- cough).

Key Points:
-Detroit Defensive Efficiency - .712
-Oakland Defensive Efficieny - .694
-Oakland led the league in fielding percentage at .986 (Tigers .983)
& Can D'angelo Jiminez fill in for Mark Ellis?

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

Intangibles
-Rest: Oakland played to a sweep of Minnesota, and the Tigers were done in New York in 4 games. Both teams will be fully rested.
-Momentum: Both teams are riding high after underdog ALCS triumphs.
-Marco Scutaro: Marco has been on fire down the stretch and into the ALCS with 4 2B and coming up clutch with runners in scoring position (.333)
-Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt has been fearsome since the All-Star break (.298, 20HR) and has the ability to put one out at any point, changing the complexion of the game.
-Kenny Rogers - A's Killer: Rogers is a career 21-7 vs. Oakland

My Pick:
Oakland in 6
I think Barry Zito will have incredible success throwing the ball out of the zone enough to win games 1 and 5, and the rest of the staff are a 50:50 shot to lock down the Tigers enough that Frank Thomas and the A's lineup can get to work. This, in addition to my belief that the Tiger pitchers were over their heads in their ALDS matchup. In any case, this series is based solely on pitching.

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