Look back to a time just 36 hours ago, before the plots were set in motion, before the A's and Tigers split their first two games in Oakland , and you'll find every story about this ALDS matchup has played exactly to expectations.
The Tigers' offense has been dismal. The Tigers' starting pitching has been wonderful.
The offense was the only reason to hold back optimism about the Tigers' postseason chances. After scoring nearly six runs per game in July and five runs per game in August, the scoring dried up in September along with Miguel Cabrera's power. The final week of the year, the Tigers managed just 14 runs in seven games, three runs in Miami, and were no-hit to end the year.
If you ever wondered how big a difference one player can make in a lineup, there's the evidence for you. How Cabrera goes, so go the Tigers, despite the likes of Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez around him. It seems like it shouldn't be that way, but clearly it is.
It looked like the Tigers might have shaken the end of the season loose when the first three baserunners reached against Bartolo Colon in Game 1, and they even hung three runs on Oakland in the first. That was the last time they scored a run in the Bay Area.
Against rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, they could do nothing Saturday. He scattered four hits and two walks while striking out nine. The Tigers batted with runners in scoring position just five times and could not capitalize. In the fifth, they reached first and third with an out, only to run themselves out of it when Austin Jackson struck out and Jose Iglesias was caught at second after the failed hit-and-run.
Jackson struck out four times, Torii Hunter twice and Miguel Cabrera once as the top three in the Tigers' order combined to go 1-for-12 with seven Ks. Not that the middle of the order did much to help: Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila went 0-for-10 with a walk. Only Don Kelly had more than a hit, both were singles.
But should you have been overly pessimistic about the year, the Tigers' rotation gave you reason to feel good. Max Scherzer was set to go in Game 1, and he'll probably win the Cy Young for the American League. Justin Verlander was scheduled for Game 2. He may be having a rare off year, but an off year for the former Cy Young Most Valuable Player is better than a good year for most.
Scherzer allowed just three hits in the game and the only runs on a home run by Yoenis Cespedes. Before the seventh inning, the A's only put baserunners on twice, once with a hit, once with a walk. And, naturally, Scherzer struck out 11 and picked up the 3-2 win as the Tigers did enough to start the postseason on the right foot.
Verlander continued that momentum on Saturday, pitching one of his best postseason games. He took a perfect game into the fourth and only found himself in any real trouble in the fifth. But after allowing the first two runners on, he got a grounder and then struck out the next two to escape. Verlander suffered a bit from a high pitch count, but he made it through seven innings allowing just four hits and a walk while striking out 11. No runs scored. But with no runs by the Tigers, it was wasted, and the A's walked off, 1-0, for the victory after Al Alburquerque stumbled in the ninth and Rick Porcello couldn't help.
So, that's two runs allowed through 14 innings from the starting rotation, just as we expected. But 17 frames without the offense scoring a run, turning an opportunity to return to Detroit up 2-0 into a split instead.
Yes, you'll take a split on the road. If you defend your home field you're moving on. The Tigers have the horses to defend Comerica Park, with AL ERA-leader Anibal Sanchez taking the mound Monday and Doug Fister set to go on Tuesday. The team still has the best rotation in the postseason. But if the lineup doesn't find a way to overcome Cabrera's injury and score some runs, this series, and indeed this postseason, may not end on a positive note.