Detroit Tigers fans lucked themselves into a better postseason matchup by losing the AL Central to the Minnesota Twins this weekend. Now, I’m not going to guarantee a Tiger win over the Yankees. The Yankees are really good. Excellent line-up, so on down the line. But, you want to play the Yankees if you’re a Tigers fan…you did not want to play Oakland in a five game Series.
However, when it comes to postseason baseball, and a short five game Series, the Tigers had no shot to beat the Oakland Athletics, but at least have a prayer against the Yankees. Now, if it turns out to be a Shaun Alexander prayer that just offers a glimmer of hope, but ultimately, the prayer gets slapped back down, so be it. But, the possibility is at least there. I know, I know, I’m putting a lot of stock into pitching, but, this is postseason baseball, afterall.
The first thing you should look at in any matchup in the postseason is where the first two games are and the best possible scenario’s coming away.
The Tigers had two options…travel to New York. Let Oakland come to them. Ultimately, they want to come back from New York tied at 1 win a piece, whereas going back to Oakland tied would have been the worst case scenario. You then have to ask the question of which of those scenarios is most likely to come about. When you break that down, you begin to see why the Tigers would much rather face the Yankees than the A’s.
See, here’s the thing, if the A’s came to Detroit, they’re leaving with the Series tied at 1-1. In terms of pitching matchups, they would have had Zito v. Nate Robertson and probably would have then thrown Dan Haren out there in game two against Justin Verlander. As is, the A’s go to Minnesota and have a much more difficult first game in facing Johan Santana and throw out Esteban Loiza in game two.
With the Tigers going to New York…they face Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina.
At this point, you step back and look at the original question posed. Is it more likely to get one win against Wang/Mussina on the road or against Zito/Haren at home? You take your chances with Wang and a pitcher that has a postseason record of 7-7, with a 3.30 ERA. Not bad, but not great either. Wang has had a great season, but if you don’t think you can beat him, you shouldn’t be in the playoffs. On the other side, you’ve got Zito, who is 3-2 in the postseason, with a 2.76 ERA. Haren is a bit more untested than Zito, clearly, but performed well with St. Louis in 2004 (2.16 ERA in 3 appearances).
The most likely loss for the Tigers would be against Barry Zito, but you want to face him in the postseason? Where does that make sense on any level?
From there, the Yankees then throw out Randy Johnson with herniated disc issues and one of these two: Jaret Wright or Cory Lidle. So, say you find yourself down 2-0 coming back to Detroit…you have a damn good chance of going back to New York to close out the Series. The Tigers should expect to beat both of those pitchers.
With Oakland, you get an Esteban Loiaza who has pitched well in the playoffs (certainly better than Wright post-rookie season) and Rich Harden. While Harden might be as injury plagued as Randy Johnson, it’s really just a paper argument. Harden struggled Sunday, but looked to be back in form in his two previous, albeit short, starts. Meanwhile, Johnson was going to be completely out of the rotation just a couple of days ago. You take your chances with Johnson, hell maybe he comes out in the second and enter Cory Lidle. Remember, this is a short series.
Even if you assume that the Tigers can beat Haren and Zito and go to Oakland 2-0, you’ve got a better shot at forcing a game 5 with the Yankees because the Yankees are throwing Johnson and Wright at you. Even if you view this as a completely optimistic Tiger fan who considers Wang and Mussina better than Zito right now (which would make you wrong, because Zito/Santana are the two best AL pitchers in the postseason. Don’t talk about regular season records/ERAs, throw that out the window when it comes to guys as close as these four are and ask who you would want to start against your team. You take your chances with Wang, that you can get to someone making his first postseason appearance and Mussina is clearly beatable in the postseason).
But, hey, what about, I don’t know…the bullpens?
Oakland comes at you with Huston Street, Chad Gaudin, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero. Let’s start with the one you likely don’t know, Kiko Calero. Calero is the type of pitcher that can come into a game and get a strikeout when you need someone struck out. An important thing to have, you might remember then a guy nicknamed K-Rod did it for Anaheim a few years ago. Gaudin had an ERA of 3.09, Duchscherer was at 2.91. Joe Kennedy is a former starter that can go in the bullpen for the A’s. Huston Street had 37 saves, with a 3.31 ERA.
Now, Street is no Mariano Rivera. But, that’s one of the biggest problems. Tigers fans fear the Yankees bullpen because of Rivera. Which is silly. The Yankees The Yankees equivalent of Calero is Kyle Farnsworth, but Farnsworth has an ERA of 4.36, when Calero is at 3.46. Scott Proctor and Mike Myers will give the Yankees pen some innings, but it’s clear that the Yankees bullpen just doesn’t compete with Oakland’s.
Now, look, starting pitching is clearly more flashly than relief work. But, this is the playoffs, where bullpen work matters. A lot. More so than the regular season, playoff pitching comes down to situations. Comes down to matchups. Who would you rather the opposing team throwat you in those matchups? The Yankees pen or the A’s pen? You’re going to want to go against the Yankees.
The Yankees are going to score runs. You know that going in. But, in a short Series, an offensive team can be evened out. Especially when that lineup relies on Alex Rodriquez and Bobby Abreu. I know, the Yankees lineup is scary, but pitching is the most important thing in the playoffs. Tiger fans tend to recognize this, yet, for some reason would have rather faced the A’s.
I am coming from this completely from a pitching stance. If you think batting is going to win a World Series for a team rather than pitching, then, ok, you don’t want to play the Yankees. I understand this, but to me, it’s about the pitching. It’s about giving yourself the best chance to win in a short series, and that is to face the weaker pitching staff. Any way that you slice it, the A’s have the better pitching staff. In a five game series, that is what matters more than anything else.
What this is from the Tigers fans is not about wanting to matchup in the postseason to advance. This is about preparing themselves for the inevitable. The collapse. It’s been happening for months now, but now, it’s grounded in reality. The Tigers likely won’t win a playoff series no matter who they play. They are the weakest of the four playoff teams and have shown that from August to now. This is not about wanting to face the best possible team to advance to the second round, this is about the Tigers fans setting up an excuse. If they say: Well, we played the Yankees, and not the A’s, we weren’t going to win anyway. I don’t know if that helps them sleep at night, but the reality is that in a short series, they didn’t want to play the A’s anyway.
In the interests of full disclosure, I was told that only National League fans would make this argument…well, I’m a fan of real baseball, which would make me more knowledgeable about the NL. However, because the AL was clearly the better league this year, I think I’ve seen and followed enough to make the argument. Is hitting more important in the AL than it is in the NL? Sure. So again, if you’re reading this thinking I’m nuts for focusing so much on pitching and not batting, I just wanted to be clear on the slant I’m coming from with this.
And, ultimately, the Tigers play in a pitcher’s friendly park…tell me why you want to bring the better pitching staff (Oakland) to come play there rather than the team with pitching problems and yet loads of bats?