Friday, October 13, 2006

Athletics v. Tigers: Weekend Preview

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, the Tigers are in about as good of shape as possible in a seven game series. They have a 2-0 lead heading into a three game home stand, which I’m sure they’re hoping will lead to them not having to return to Oakland and its ugly, concrete, glare soaked stadium. This thing is definitely not a done deal, though. In both of the first two games, the A’s were a well-placed hit away from busting things open. In the second game, they appeared to be about a centimeter away from a walkoff grand slam. I’m not familiar enough with the A’s to know if the close calls mean I have underestimated their lineup or if the close calls and the inability to get baserunners home is what makes their lineup okay rather than good. Either way, they seem to be flirting with busting out and it’s up to Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman to make sure at the end of this series they’re saying “We missed our best chances in Games 1 and 2”.

The Tigers could really use another special effort from each of those two because so far the bullpen has been called on to pitch 7 2/3 innings in two games. Joel Zumaya is having some trouble with his wrist again, and if he can’t go, the inning or two he would usually give them has to come from somebody. Regardless of who that is, it's a step down from Zumaya. For that reason, it would be nice if the bullpen only had to cover his absence for a couple innings rather than three or four.

For the A’s it is scheduled to be Rich Harden today and Danny Haren tomorrow. After spending over three months on the DL, Rich Harden came back in September for the A’s and made three starts. He is said to have the best stuff on their staff when he's healthy, but he's had mixed results in his short time back. In his three starts, he pitched 11 2/3 innings, gave up 8 hits, 7 runs, struck out 15 and walked 8. The first two games, he did well enough but appeared to be on pitch count limits because he was taken out after three innings (55 pitches) in the first game despite striking out seven and allowing only one run. In the second game, he went five innings (76 pitches) and didn’t give up any runs, while striking out five. It was his third start that was cringe-inducing as he threw 91 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, giving up 6 runs and 6 walks in the short outing. That game was on the first of this month and he hasn’t faced major leaguers since. He did throw in the A’s instructional league a few days ago, and evidently the results gave them confidence he was their best option today. With his tender condition, the long layoff, and the weather man calling for high 40s at game time, I’m guessing the Tigers will be seeing a lot of that A’s bullpen again. I’m hoping they have the patient approach they brought to Game 1 to ensure that scenario. Not only is Harden is likely to have a pitch limit, but he obviously had trouble finding the strike zone in his last start and it would be a shame to give him easy outs if that's the case again today.

As for Haren, I’d be curious to hear why the A’s are shoving him to the back of the rotation. He pitched on October 6th against the Twins, so he could have pitched in Game 2 or 3 with either normal rest or an extra day. He led the team in strikeouts, has a fantastic walk rate and his ERA is only higher than Zito’s by a pretty negligible amount (4.12 to 3.83). The A’s said they know what they get from Loaiza; I’m wondering why they seem to suspect it’s better than what Haren can give them. Whatever the reasoning, don’t be surprised if the Tigers have their toughest challenge tomorrow afternoon.

So hopefully you now feel comfortably informed of what the Tigers will be facing the next two games, but I also hope you’ll remember the playoffs are known for being the time when the announcers say, “Who could have seen this coming?” So it's probably just as likely as not that this little preview will just be an exercise in frustrated expectations. The game is at 4:30 today. I’m skipping lunch to get out of work at 3:30. I recommend you take similar steps if you can.

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