ALDS Game 5 Preview: Tigers at Athletics

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Hmm, seems like we just did this 364 days ago. Oh wait, we did. Justin Verlander faces rookie Sonny Gray in Game 5 of the ALDS tonight.

Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics

Series: 2-2

Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., O.Co Coliseum

SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation

Media: TBS, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Verlander 34 218.1 8.95 3.09 0.78 1.31 3.28 3.68 5.2
Gray 10 64.0 9.42 2.81 0.56 1.11 2.70 3.11 1.5

Five days ago, Sonny Gray was a monster on the O.Co Coliseum mound, holding the Tigers to just four hits and two walks in eight scoreless innings. Gray recorded nine strikeouts and looked even more dominant than his sparkling line suggests. After Miguel Cabrera's single to left in the first inning, Gray didn't allow another hit to the outfield. He wasn't particularly accurate, throwing just 65 strikes on 111 pitches. Still, he garnered nine crucial whiffs, including five on 18 curveballs thrown, a 27.8% clip. As you might imagine, most of them came at the bottom of the strike zone.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

During the regular season, Gray made three starts against teams for a second time. In the first round of starts, Gray had a 1.80 ERA in 20 combined innings with 23 strikeouts and six walks. The second time through? A 3.71 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks in 18 innings. What does this mean? Nothing, probably. If Gray can get ahead of hitters better than he did in Game 2 -- he threw first pitch strikes to 16 of the 29 hitters he faced -- then the Tigers will be in trouble.

Speaking of dominance five days ago, Verlander held up his end of the bargain, striking out 11 A's hitters in seven shutout innings. It was arguably Verlander's most dominant start of the season, and he only threw a first-pitch strike to 12 of 26 batters he faced. His line was almost identical to last year's Game 5, except the Tigers didn't score any runs and he only lasted seven innings. As for the concerns earlier this year about his velocity? The national media can officially pipe down.

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Question of the day: Did Bob Melvin make the right choice to start Gray over Bartolo Colon?

We won't be able to properly answer this question until tomorrow morning, but A's manager made a bold decision naming Gray the starter for tonight's game. Gray wasn't fazed by the pressure or atmosphere in a must-win Game 2 for the A's, so I don't see his nerves getting the better of him tonight.

Outlook

Hmm, this seems familiar. Just under a year ago -- 364 days, to be exact -- Justin Verlander played the villain, ending Oakland's storybook season with a four-hit shutout. This year, there's no Cinderella story to be had. The A's are a talented group and expect to move on. However, so do the Tigers, and Verlander has been here before. Don't expect either starter to toss a shutout tonight, but Verlander comes closer.

Prediction

Like I said last year in this situation, you don't bet against Verlander. Tigers move on to the ALCS.

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