Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ALCS Preview: Tigers/A's

ALCS Preview

The Tigers and the A's are set to get it on in the ALCS, their second such meeting. In 1972, as you'll have drilled into your head by the time this is through, the Tigers lost a heartbreaking 3-2 series to the A's, the last game decided by one run. In fact, all the games were very close, and two went into extra innings.

So, without further ado...

Catcher: There was a window, several years ago, when Jason Kendall was one of the top 20 players in baseball, for my money. He was a catcher who batted leadoff, and he was excellent defensively. Not much power, but always a good BA. Then some injuries and age caught up to him, and he had some down years. But he's back in 2006 with a .295 BA, and he's batting leadoff again. Pudge Rodriguez has no equal in MLB defensively, and he is clutch in big games. He started sowly in the ALDS, but delivered in Detroit. Edge: Tigers.

First Base: The fact that Nick Swisher (35 HR) is hitting seventh in tonight's lineup is testimony to the A's lineup, which flies under the radar. Sean Casey has been streaky since the Tigers acquired him, but when he's on, he's a great spray hitter and RBI man. Both are solid with the glove. This is a toughie, but I'll give the Edge to the A's.

Second Base: No contest. The A's will start late season acquisition D'Angelo Jimenez, who's batting .183 in 71 AB this year. Enough said, except this: Placido Polanco is poison to other teams when he’s healthy. He’s one of the top five #2 hitters in the game today. Edge: Tigers.

Third Base: A great duel here. Eric Chavez is very similar to Brandon Inge: good glove, a little pop, and athletic (no pun intended). Inge didn't hit in the ALDS, but new series tend to be salves for that kind of thing. And, it can turn around the other way, too; hot players in the previous series may not stay that way in the current series. I haven't lost faith in Inge, but I give the slight Edge to the A's.

Shortstop: The A's will go with 30 year-old Marco Scutaro, who, despite his age, has only been a semi-regular player for three seasons. He batted .266 in 365 AB, but has an OBA of .350. Carlos Guillen has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Derek Jeter among the elite shortstops in baseball. The guy just goes out there and delivers, every night. Edge: Tigers.

Outfield: The A's outfield of Jay Payton, Mark Kotsay, and Milton Bradley (from left to right) is very capable and they cover a lot of ground, although Bradley is probably the weakest defender. All of them can hurt you with the bat. The Tigers got production out of Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson, and Magglio Ordonez at various times in the ALDS, and all three seem to be playing well. Defensively, it's probably a push between the two clubs. This is a tough one, so I'll wimp out and call it Even.

Designated Hitter: What can you say about Frank Thomas? I thought he should have been named the Comeback Player of the Year instead of Jim Thome. He's back to being the Big Hurt this season, and he's the commodity the Tigers still don't have: that beast of a bat in the middle of the lineup. Marcus Thames is so very strong, but he doesn't deliver with the consistency of Thomas, nor does he possess that "scare factor" that Thomas has. Edge: A's.

Pitching: Remember not too long ago, when the A’s starting pitchers were looked at with envy by the rest of baseball? Now you have to give that nod to the Tigers. What they did to the Yankees was obscene. The key will be whether the A’s can get off to a 1-0 lead with Barry Zito pitching. If not, the Tigers will have the distinct advantage. The A’s bullpen is on par with the Tigers; in fact, in some respects it may even be better. Huston Street and Todd Jones are both dependable closers. But with Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, and Jeremy Bonderman throwing well, the Edge is definitely with the Tigers.

Bench: Unlike other team sports, benches don't factor as much in MLB in the playoffs. In fact, no Tigers bench player even played in the ALDS. Only one bench player played for the A's. But looking at it on that dreaded paper, I'll give the Edge to the Tigers, if only because Omar Infante can be a secret weapon, and if anything were to happen to Pudge, God forbid, Vance Wilson is the best backup catcher in the league.

Managers: Ken Macha is one of the better managers in the game, and many teams covet him. He almost left the A's a couple of years ago, but was talked into staying. But the way the Tigers are totally locked in behind Jim Leyland is crazy good. Leyland seems to be able to make the right decisions at the right time, and he's unconventional. He tends to make the other team's manager react more often than not. Edge: Tigers.

Overall: The A's dispatched the hot Twins in three straight, which is both an example of how the regular season doesn't matter so much, and how good the A's are. They are starting at home, which can be both a curse and a blessing. They'll have had three days off, but they didn't have to travel. The Tigers, at least against the Yankees, returned to their earlier formula for success: timely hitting, and pitching. Oh, how they hit with two outs and RISP! I picked against them in the ALDS, and it worked. But I have to say, I think they'll make it to the World Series. Tigers in five.


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