The Detroit Tigers beat the Oakland Athletics three games to two to win their AL Division Series matchup, and move on to the ALCS. Here are five observations from watching the series.
1. Justin Verlander is still the best pitcher in baseball, and there's no debate about it.
In game one of the series, Verlander allowed a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp, and whispers of him not being able to get the job done in the playoffs once again surfaced. After that homer, he didn't allow another run in the next 15 innings he'd pitch in the series. Verlander struck out 22 and walked only five in his 16 total innings over two starts. To put that in perspective, in the other 27 2/3 innings thrown by Tigers pitching in this series, they struck out 28 hitters. The free swinging A's made his job much easier, but for a pitcher to throw down that emphatically in the playoffs is something special.
2. The rest of Detroit's rotation isn't too bad either.
Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez started games two through four of the series, a stretch in which the Tigers went 1-2 and could have lost that one win (and the series along with it). The trio had a 1.93 ERA in those three starts, striking out 19 and walking five. Combine Verlander's stats with those three, and you have a 1.30 ERA from your starting pitchers in the series. That's absolutely insane, especially against an offense as proficient as Oakland's.
3. Jarrod Parker is going to be the next great A's pitcher.
Facing off with Verlander in both of his starts, Parker had an uphill climb in front of him. Yes, Parker and the A's lost both of his starts, but it was because of Verlander's dominance, not because of a lack of success from Parker. In each start, Parker walked just one batter, striking out five in the first start and six in the second start. He only allowed one homer, and he kept the A's in a position to win each game. His game two ERA is skewed because of Ryan Cook collapsing after being worked to the bone over the last week of the season, but it didn't matter at that point. Parker got one run of support over his two starts, and the A's definitely could have won the first one…if it weren't for that pesky Verlander.
4. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were non-factors, and the Tigers still won the series.
Fielder hit .190 with a .561 OPS in five games with just one extra base hit (a homer in game four). Cabrera hit .250 with a .668 OPS and drove in just one run all series. And despite the A's keeping Detroit's big bats under control, the Tigers still won. Omar Infante's presence in front of the lineup gave him a lot of pitches to hit, and he scored six of the Tigers' 17 runs in the series. This is what makes a team like the Tigers so dangerous: their best hitters did next to nothing, and they still won the series. If the Tigers had a crew of starting pitchers that weren't so good, this series wouldn't have been nearly as tight.
5. The A's loss in game two was their death blow in the series.
Oakland could have won the series, but it all hinged on game two. It seemed elementary that they would lose to Verlander in game one, and if it came down to game five, they would lose that one too. Tommy Milone needed to give the A's a great performance on the road, where he's struggled so much this year, in game two. And Milone did, allowing one run over six innings. The A's took a 2-1 lead in the seventh after a rare manufactured run, and looked to be getting out of a jam in the seventh when Doolittle forced Cabrera to pop up into shallow center with two outs and two on. Coco Crisp looked to be in good position to make the catch…and the ball hit off the heel of his glove. Two runs scored, and the Tigers took the lead. The A's regained the lead in the eighth, but the Tigers tied it after a wild pitch, and won in the ninth after a sac fly. Three of Detroit's five runs that game were tied to mistakes by the A's that shouldn't have happened, all of which that came with two outs. For an Oakland team that had such good defense and relief pitching all year, it's ironic that poor defense and poor relief work in game two is what essentially ended their season.