Well, this seems familiar. After taking down the Oakland Athletics in five games in last year's American League Divisional Series, the Tigers will face the A's to open the postseason again in 2013. The A's, who won the American League West on the last day of the season in 2012, were able to coast to a division title in 2013 as they raced past the Texas Rangers in September. They won 96 games this season, two more than the 94 they won in 2012.
How did they get here?
The A's were fortunate enough to start the season in the United States this season, but lost their first two games of the year. They rattled off nine straight wins before dropping a pair of games against the Tigers at the O.Co Coliseum. If not for a Ramon Santiago fly ball hitting the wrong part of the wall, the Tigers might have swept the A's in Oakland in that early April series.
The AL West race resembled a season-long ping pong match, with the A's and Rangers trading places from month to month. The A's were up two games in mid-April only to fall seven games behind the Rangers a month later. In mid-June, the A's had a three game lead. In late July, the A's had a six game lead. By late August, they were 3 1/2 games behind. Their division lead in late September stretched to 8 1/2 games.
At the plate
The A's were the third best offensive team in the American League this season, scoring 758 runs. They also ranked third in the league with 186 home runs and a .327 wOBA. Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson led the way with .859 and .883 OPS's, respectively. Moss and Donaldson combined to drive in 180 runs, and were joined by Yoenis Cespedes, who drove in another 80 himself. Cespedes only hit .240, but had 26 home runs. Coco Crisp chipped in with a career high 22 home runs, 21 (or so) of which felt like were against the Tigers. Newcomer Jed Lowrie chipped in another 15 home runs and 75 RBI. Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, and Chris Young all had sub-par seasons, but still had their share of big moments.
On the mound
The playoff rotation will look slightly different this year. Bartolo Colon will replace lefty Brett Anderson, who struggled to build on his strong finish to the 2012 season this year. Colon was easily the A's best starter this year, winning 18 games with a 2.65 ERA. He had a 4.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 190 1/3 innings. A.J. Griffin was the lone starter to hit the 200 inning mark, but Jarrod Parker came just short with 197. Rookie Sonny Gray might be a longshot to join the playoff rotation, but his 2.90 ERA in the second half was second to only Colon among starters.
Overall, the A's rotation had the second best ERA in the American League this year at 3.74. Their 4.04 FIP was in the middle of the pack, but they had the third-lowest walk rate in the league. They had the highest home run rate in the league among teams that don't play in total bandboxes -- looking at you Baltimore, Chicago, and Toronto -- and possible playoff starters Griffin, Tommy Milone, and Parker all gave up 25 or more dingers.
In the pen
Grant Balfour once again led the way with 38 saves in 41 chances. Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Jerry Blevins all joined Balfour with at least 60 innings pitched, helping the A's bullpen hold opponents to the third lowest ERA among AL bullpens this season. Dan Otero logged some important innings for the A's in September, allowing a 2.16 ERA with four holds in 10 appearances. Evan Scribner and Pat Neshek were largely limited to mop-up duty down the stretch.
Last year, people weren't sure what to make of these A's. This season, it's pretty clear: this team is no joke. If not for a rare bad inning from Grant Balfour, they would have swept the Tigers in four games at Comerica Park. They were also very close to being swept by these same Tigers in Oakland, an impressive feat considering the A's were 52-29 at the O.Co this season.
We will have much more content previewing the series as the week progresses. For now, get prepared for another tough series with one of the best clubs in the American League.