It’s been tough for the Oakland Athletics recently. They’ve gone through a stretch when just about anything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and they haven’t been able to muster the power to overcome these obstacles. After what should have been a relatively successful home stand where the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and Seattle Mariners visited Oakland, the Athletics left the comforts of home licking their wounds after dropping two of the three series. It hurt more that the two series they lost were against losing teams. The hope would have been that they simply were playing down to their competition, which could help explain why they took the series versus the contending Indians. That theory would have meant they would play the Baltimore Orioles much better than they did. They coughed up the first game, scratched out a win in game two, and simply got blown out in game three in the Charm City. And rest assured it doesn’t get easier now.
The last time the A’s were in Detroit was for the 2012 ALDS. (Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
The Detroit Tigers are an extremely difficult team to contend with. Aside from their bullpen, there are no weaknesses on their roster. Not only that, but their strengths are as strong if not more so than any other team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera is simply the best baseball player in existence at this moment, anyone who tries to take an unconventional approach and argue that he isn’t is kidding themselves. Teams often go into a game pinpointing a big name player on the opposition as the one for whom they proclaim “we won’t let him beat us.” With Miguel Cabrera it simply doesn’t matter what you think. He will beat you, and he will do it with an effortlessness that is incredible to watch. I put the over/under on Cabrera home runs during this series at 3.5.
When you add in Prince Fielder, the eternal thorn in the A’s sides Torii Hunter, and the likes of Austin Jackson, Omar Infante, Alex Avila, and newly acquired shortstop Jose Iglesias there are a myriad of ways the Tigers can beat you. Even if Miggy takes a night off from his usual onslaught, there are no breaks in this lineup. If you’re able to suppress the offense, chances are you’ll have trouble scoring runs yourself. The A’s are going to face Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and AL Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer in that order during this series. If you had to choose, Fister would be considered the weak link of the four, but rest assured he’ll give the Athletics fits. Justin Verlander has not been himself this year, presumably the extra mileage on his arm in recent years has finally taken its toll on him. His velocity is down, his ERA is up, but he is still Justin Verlander. I have a feeling the A’s might be the perfect cure for what has ailed Verlander in 2013.
I don’t mean to paint an ultra-bleak picture of doom and gloom, but I want to help prepare Athletics fans for what could be a tough four days of baseball in Detroit for the boys in green and gold. Aside from A.J. Griffin on Monday, the A’s starters are a bit up in the air for this series. Tommy Milone figures to be thrown to the wolves on Tuesday night against Verlander, having had his weekend start skipped in Baltimore in favor of Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray moving up a day. I hate to say it, but if he pitches this game it may be safe to call that a punt by Bob Melvin. But every now and then the receiving team fumbles the punt, so you never know. The bright side of this series could potentially come in the final two games of the series when Brett Anderson and/or Bartolo Colon make their returns to the rotation. Anderson of course has been absent for much of the season, so what he can bring to the table is a major question mark. Colon on the other hand, he has only been out for a short period of time and would be activated after the 15 day minimum if he pitched Thursday. He hasn’t been effective recently though, and one has to wonder if the 40 year old is running out of gas.
The A’s got some big help from the Chicago White Sox this weekend who took two of three from the Texas Rangers in Chicago. The A’s remain just 2.5 games behind the Rangers, and would love to keep them within striking distance for their big series in Oakland the first week of September. A split in Detroit would be a pretty huge victory for the Athletics considering their recent play, hoping for anything more than that seems greedy. A sweep at the hands of the Tigers could be a back breaker for the A’s, maybe not in a mathematical sense, but in a psychological sense for sure. This is the time when they have to buckle down and play the kind of baseball that put them in first place to begin with this year, and these are the type of teams they will have to beat if they want to have success deep in October.