The Oakland A's are in an unfamiliar role. Their backs are against the wall.
In a season where the club has spent its entire time playing with house money and facing very little pressure, it now must win to avoid elimination and another playoff failure. Their comeback to take the division over the Texas Rangers – one of the best in baseball history – was devoid of the same level of pressure the team faces now.
The A’s fell in both in games Detroit, largely because of unforced mistakes and a lack of timely hitting. They weren’t out-slugged by the talented Tigers; they were simply outplayed.
And that notion should be encouraging for Oakland, despite the fact they failed to come home with a win in the series’ first two games. If they had eliminated their uncharacteristic defensive and pitching miscues, there’s a great chance they would have returned to the Bay Area with the series at least tied before playing potentially three-straight home games.
Of the Tigers’ eight runs in the two games, only one scored by way of a hit. It was Alex Avila’s fifth-inning home run in game 1. Three of the Tigers’ five runs in game 2 scored on a Coco Crisp error and a Ryan Cook wild pitch. All season, the A’s had prided themselves on run prevention and it was their undoing.
Most of the A’s lineup struggled in Detroit against starters Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, with the exception of Cliff Pennington and Yoenis Cespedes, who combined to go 6-for-13, although without an extra-base hit. The team left five runners in scoring position on Sunday and lost by a run. Oakland struck out 14 times in game 1 and nine times in game 2, following up its regular season where it set a new American League record for whiffs.
Now, with this year’s change in playoff scheduling, the A's return to Oakland as the higher seed with home field advantage, a curious notion given that the series started in Detroit, with game 2 starting at 9 A.M. on the club’s body clock – earlier than any game played in the regular season outside of the two games played in Japan.
With an extra day’s rest, A's manager Bob Melvin and his group will be happy to return to the friendly setting of O.Co Coliseum where they went 50-31 in the regular season, including a 2-2 split in a four-game series against the Tigers in May. They finished the season incredibly hot in their home park, where they reeled off six-consecutive wins to end the season, including the dramatic three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers to clinch the division.
Tuesday night marks the return of Brett Anderson (4-2, 2.57 ERA in the regular season) after he strained his oblique in a start in Detroit on Sept. 19. The A’s lone veteran starter remaining was stellar in his first four starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, allowing just two earned runs in 26 innings. But those numbers regressed in his final two starts, where he allowed eight runs in nine combined frames.
Anderson threw a bullpen session Friday and deemed himself good to go. As in any elimination game, his leash will be short, but his arm will be fresh, given that he hasn’t pitched in a game in nearly three weeks. Any concern of dead arm associated with his return from elbow surgery should be alleviated considering the time off. But oblique injuries are tricky and have a habit of springing up at sign of over-exertion or making the wrong move and the wrong time.
In his career against the Tigers, Anderson is 2-2 with a 3.78 ERA in four starts. His walk numbers are high against Detroit - nine in 16.2 innings – leading a WHIP of 1.50. Delmon Young and Miguel Cabrera have good career numbers against the lefty, combining to go 7-for-17, and should be plugged in the middle of Jim Leyland’s lineup Tuesday night.
Anderson will face Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA in the regular season), who came over in a mid-season trade from Miami to make 12 starts and go 4-6 for Detroit. Sanchez strung together a good eight starts to finish the season where he had a 2.15 ERA.
However, his worst start in that span came against the A’s on Sept. 20, when he allowed six runs (five earned) in 5.2 innings in a game Oakland won, 12-4.
In that game, Seth Smith had three hits, including a double and home run that lead to four RBIs. Smith is 6-for-13 against Sanchez in his career. Given that success, it’s very likely he will be in the lineup on Tuesday, which could mean another game without Jonny Gomes in the starting lineup, who has yet to get an at-bat in the series.
Sanchez has a plus fastball that’s averaged just under 92 MPH this season to set the table for his three off-speed offerings. He relies heavily on the slider and changeup, while featuring a curve he throws less than 10 percent of the time. He’s a fly ball pitcher, which bodes well for the spacious Coliseum, but has a career BABIP of .300, which might allow the A’s to be aggressive and force the Tigers’ infield defense – which rates very poor – to make plays.