How are rivalries created? The post-season is a good place to look and the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics are definitely working on establishing a track record as they prepare to meet for a third time in eight seasons (plus a series in 1972 tossed in for kicks). How will this installment play out? We'll have to tune in. Can we glean anything from the regular season matchups? Hard to say. The season starts anew with a fresh slate for all clubs this week other than home field advantage and the slim value that holds.
The Tigers and the A's played 7 times in 2013 with the Oakland crew winning four games including a 3-1 series thumping of Detroit in August. Oakland outscored the Tigers 42-40 over the course their two series meetings. Let's do a quick review and see if anything stands out....
The Tigers first ventured out to Oakland to wrap up the second week of the season. In some respects this series may amount to ancient history but we can see some trends for each club that were starting to develop.
Game 1 OAK 4 DET 3 (12 Innings)
Game 1 was a late night marathon which featured a game where the Tigers offense was dormant for 11 of 12 frames posting goose eggs. Prince Fielder touched up Bartolo Colon for a 3-run homer in the third inning that held up for a long while. A throwing error on Max Scherzer allowed a cheap run however as he attempted to throw out the stealing Eric Sogard at third-base. Sogard was dead to rights but the throw skipped away and Sogard trotted home. Scherzer would strike out 11 in his 6 inning stint allowing 1 earned run but definitely causing the 2nd run himself. Drew Smyly allowed a run in the 7th to tie it.
The game remained scoreless in a bullpen battle...a battle that Oakland's bullpen was probably favored to eventually win. However in the top of the 12th Ramon Santiago made an unlikely bid to put the Tigers on top as he laced a triple high off the wall in left-field that missed being a homer by a foot as it barely nicked the high part of the wall and missed an open expanse just a few inches away. Brayan Villarreal allowed a game winning opposite field homer to Josh Donaldson to win it in the 12th. This was both a nail in Villarreal's coffin as a Tiger and the beginning of Donaldson's drive to be at least mentioned as an AL MVP candidate on the season.
Game 2 DET 7 OAK 3
A 4th inning power display basically provided all the cushion the Tigers would need. Oakland starter Brett Anderson was the rare lefty the Tigers pummeled in 2013 as they slammed two homers in the 4th inning. Fielder went deep for a second straight game, Jhonny Peralta clubbed a three run shot. These followed a third inning homer by Torii Hunter which could only be called prodigious.
Justin Verlander went a solid six innings for Detroit allowing only 6 baserunners, striking out 6 and allowing 1 earned run.
Game 3 DET 10 OAK 1
Austin Jackson teed off on Oakland pitching this day to lead a 10-run outburst by the Tigers. Jackson was 4-6 with a homer and 3 RBI on the afternoon as A's starter Jarrod Parker didn't make it out of the 4th inning before allowing 8 runs. This one was over early.
Anibal Sanchez put the clamps on the Athletics over his 7 innings. He allowed only seven baserunners while striking out 8. The A's mustered a lone run against him. Rick Porcello would pitch two scoreless innings in relief to finish the game.
The Tigers won the April series 2-1 and made a solid bid for the sweep when they lost in extra-innings. Fast forward to August however and the script was very different. The A's came into Detroit having lost of 5 out of 6 including a sweep at the hands of the Mariners. There wasn't much to signal the onslaught they were about to hammer down on the vaunted Tigers' rotation that week. The A's would pound the Tigers for 35 runs in the four-game set and nearly put a shocking sweep on Detroit. Only an amazing comeback in the 4th game of the set saved the Tigers from that fate.
Game 4 OAK 8 DET 6
This game featured a whole lot of Covelli Crisp. Solid defensive plays and three hit night including a double and a homer off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. The A's would run up Sanchez' pitch count early in this one and it was a recurring theme on the week as each Tigers starter couldn't retire A's hitters with any efficiency early.
This game was tight into the middle innings however. The Tigers had no real issues with A's starter AJ Griffin, touching him up for two homers and 4 runs over his 5 innings. The contest was tied 4-4 after 5-innings. But Jim Leyland's choice to summon Jose Alvarez blew up as Alvarez allowed two runs while only retiring one batter. Detroit's bullpen allowed single markers in the 7th and 8th innings as well. Detroit answered with two late runs but to no avail. Victor Martinez led the Tigers with a 4 hit game including an 8th inning homer off of Sean Doolittle.
Game 5 OAK 6 DET 3 (6 innings/rain)
This shortened affair started off with some first inning fireworks. The A's plated two runs before Justin Verlander had recorded an out when Jed Lowrie doubled to score Crisp and Donaldson. However the Tigers answered in the bottom half on a two-run single by Fielder and then took an early lead by scoring a third run on an Oakland error.
But Verlander struggled throughout his 5 innings on this night. Yoenis Cespedes got him for a run-scoring double to tie the game in the third inning. Then in the 5th Omar Infante's error allowed Verlander to face Brandon Moss with two out and one on. Moss would hit an absolute bomb to foreshadow some looming blasts. This was the decisive blow as rain would soon arrive and this one was called early.
Game 6 OAK 14 DET 4
If it weren't for the 20-run pummeling the Tigers took at the hands of the Boston Red Sox a few days later, this game was in the running for Detroit's worst game of the season. They simply got pummeled.
Doug Fister allowed 13 hits and 7 runs over his five innings of work and really...he was probably lucky it wasn't worse.
Brandon Moss would then launch two homers against the Tigers bullpen and runs started to mount. Five different A's would get 3+ hits on the day as part of a 21 hit attack. Alex Avila had two hits and two RBI for Detroit.
Game 7 DET 7 OAK 6
The nerves of Tigers fans were getting frayed after dropping the first three games of the series. But the thought of Max Scherzer taking the hill against Bartolo Colon in his first game back from the disabled list brightened some moods slightly. But not for long. Again the A's struck early by scoring two runs in the first on a Lowrie homer that plated Crisp. The A's would notch two more in the 4th and another deuce in the 5th to make it 6-1. Scherzer's day was done. He headed to the showers allowing 5 earned in 5 innings. Moss was heard from again with a deep blast to score two off Scherzer, Moss' 4th dinger of the series. (Moss stole a base just for kicks as well)
However one thing happened in this game that hadn't happened the previous three days. The A's stopped scoring. Luke Putkonen, Jose Veras, and Joaquin Benoit did not yield a tack on run over the last four frames.
In the bottom of the sixth Prince Fielder led off the inning with a solo shot. Don Kelly, Omar Infante, and Ramon Santiago would string together singles to push one more run across. It was now 6-3 with a ray of hope for the Tigers. Things stayed quiet for two more innings until....
The bottom of the 9th. The great thing about baseball is that you just never know. Plenty of fans had probably bailed early both on TV and at Comerica Park. However...as with many disaster innings the dreaded lead-off walk put events in motion that may have brought about one of the two or three most notable moments of the Tigers season.
Oakland Closer Grant Balfour walked Jackson to lead off the 9th. But he then had no problem dispatching Andy Dirks and Avila to get two quick outs (Avila was batting for Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo entered when Miguel Cabrera's leg issues flared up and forced him from the game early). All looked safe for Bob Melvin's Athletics. Balfour was too careful with Fielder however and walked his second man of the inning. Two men were on base for Martinez. "VMart's" at-bat often gets lost in the shuffle with the heroics that were looming within a few moments. Balfour had Martinez behind in the count quickly and nearly put him away twice with Martinez fouling off pitches to stay alive. Pitch 6 in the encounter was another pitching boring in on Martinez' hands...but with equal parts strength and good fortune, the Tigers' DH was able to muscle the ball into an open patch ground behind second base to plate a run but more importantly keep hope alive for one more batter.
Then....pandemonium struck. Torii Hunter stepped in with two runners on, two men out, a two run deficit, and a dream in his head. Balfour put a 1-1 pitch in Hunter's wheelhouse. A deep blast followed. The left-fielder Seth Smith was taking an odd route running along the warning track instead of right to the fence...this momentarily fooled many folks watching that perhaps Hunter's big swing was for naught. But the ball disappeared into the bullpen. Walk-off. Sweep avoided. A classic.
Will any of this point at what to expect in the ALDS? We can't know. We do know the A's worked the Tigers starting pitching as lately as August 26th through the 29th. This included all four starters the Tigers are likely to put on the hill. No Tigers starter had an effort to be proud off. The A's teed off but also showed great discipline to run up pitch totals and get into the Detroit bullpen. Crisp was a huge factor. Donaldson showed why he was a break out star. Moss hammered everything he saw.
For the Tigers Prince Fielder was often heard from in both series with Oakland. Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter both had their moments providing game tipping power/production. Miguel Cabrera was rather quiet overall and with his lingering injury issues its open to debate what he has to bring to the table this week as well.
These two clubs squared off in a 5-game series last October and were fairly evenly matched in 7 games in 2013. To be honest, there isn't much reason to suspect the ALDS will be any different. Expect some hard fought games between two clubs that are capable of going the distance. It has the makings of a great series.