When the Tigers first squared off with the Oakland A’s in late June, the A’s were just two games above .500, at 40-38. They were 11 1⁄2 games out of the AL West race at the time, and seven games behind the Seattle Mariners in the Wild Card race. The American League playoff picture looked all but decided at the time; the A’s and Los Angeles Angels were the only teams within spitting distance of Seattle. According to FanGraphs, the A’s had a 7.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
What a difference a month makes. We’re just one game into the month of August, and the A’s currently sit in the lead for the AL’s second Wild Card spot. The Mariners are a half-game behind in the two-team race, and the Angels have fallen by the wayside. The A’s are now 18 games above .500, and their playoff odds are up to 51.8 percent. They even have the Houston Astros in their sights, just five games above them.
How did this happen? Even our friend Alex Hall at Athletics Nation is somewhat mystified.
The A’s lineup was good in the second half of 2017 with the arrival of some top prospects, so it was supposed to be a plus entering this season. But it’s been even better than we’d hoped, with all kinds of pleasant surprises. Jed Lowrie followed up his career-year with an even better career-year at age 34, Mark Canha had the breakout we’ve been waiting years for, and Stephen Piscotty has been on fire for two months. Matt Joyce got hurt, but some guy named Nick Martini came up and became awesome in his place. On top of all that, Khris Davis looks like he’ll hit 40 dingers again as usual, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are becoming the stars we’d hoped.
The A’s have baseball’s best offense over the past 30 days. Their 124 wRC+ and 6.5 fWAR both lead Major League Baseball, and they are near the top in other important categories. They have been a little worse at home than on the road, though, and their starting rotation isn’t the best.
Can Blaine Hardy and the Tigers spoil the party in game one?
Detroit Tigers (47-62) at Oakland Athletics (64-46)
Time/Place: 10:05 p.m., Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Blaine Hardy (4-3, 3.61 ERA) vs. LHP Brett Anderson (2-3, 5.55 ERA)
Game 110 Pitching Matchup
While the A’s have arguably been the best team in baseball over the past two months, they still have issues. Namely, Alex pointed out that the A’s have a subpar rotation, albeit one that has gotten through the lineup consistently enough to keep that ridiculous offense and a dominant bullpen afloat. Exhibit A is Brett Anderson, a journeyman lefthander who has filled in capably over the past month. He isn’t logging many innings — he pitched just 20 1⁄3 frames in four July starts — but has found a way to keep runs off the board despite opponents batting .309/.356/.543 during that span.
Going forward, Anderson’s peripherals aren’t promising. He has a paltry 11.8 percent strikeout rate in 35 2⁄3 big league innings this year, and his home run rate has regressed after keeping the ball in the yard last season. His stuff surprisingly hasn’t fallen off too much — his average fastball velocity has only regressed by one mile per hour since his debut in 2008 — and he can still reach back for 94 when he needs it. However, the four-pitch mix isn’t quite working. Opponents are hitting at least .256 off all of his pitches this year, and all but the two-seamer have surrendered an ISO of .180 or higher.
Key matchup: The A’s vs. scoring runs at home
Hitting in the Oakland Coliseum isn’t easy. It’s one reason why we use park-adjusted measures like wRC+ to assess offensive performance. But even when we take those metrics into account, the A’s have struggled considerably at home this year. They rank 20th among MLB teams with a 93 wRC+ at home, seven percentage points below average and 14 below their overall production for the year (107 wRC+, t-4th in baseball). In terms of raw numbers, they rank third-to-last in baseball with 203 runs scored, while their 50 home runs at home are fewer than all but three AL teams (including the Tigers).
The A’s wreck Detroit’s bullpen and cruise to an easy win.
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