Oakland out to halt road playoff woes, grab lead in well-pitched ALDS
DETROIT -- When taking into consideration that teams that have gained a two-game lead in a Division Series have won it 38 out of 43 times, it would not be wrong to say Saturday's walk-off victory counted as a must-win game for the A's.
Their players weren't exactly buying into it after evening up the best-of-five American League Division Series with the Tigers -- "I don't think we saw it that way," said Josh Reddick, "but you're of course trying to win" -- but there's no denying the A's have positioned themselves well heading into Game 3 on Monday at 10 a.m. PT on MLB Network.
This is the 12th time in A's history they have split the first two games of a postseason series, including the third time in the ALDS, and they have gone on to win it six of the previous 11 times. They've taken a 2-1 lead 14 times and won 11 of those series, but they've never come back to win a series after trailing 1-2 in six previous tries.
To take the series lead, the A's will have to pull out a win on the road -- something they haven't done in the postseason since a 5-2 victory at Minnesota in Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS. All four road losses in the playoffs that have followed have come against Detroit.
But Motown is also where the A's outscored the Tigers, 32-20, in a four-game set less than two months ago. The A's won three of those contests and, though realistic in knowing such an outpouring of offense against the league's best staff was rare, they're hoping to channel some of that success Monday against AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez.
Oakland will turn to right-hander Jarrod Parker, who lost Games 1 and 5 to Justin Verlander and the Tigers during last year's ALDS despite pitching well.
"There are still games left to be played, and both teams have the ability to put runs on the board," manager Bob Melvin said Sunday. "It could turn. It could stay in one direction, you never really know, but it seems like in the postseason, for whatever reason, the pitching rules the day a little bit more so and runs are tougher to come by."
The A's and Tigers have combined for six runs in the first two games. Elsewhere, the Red Sox and Rays combined for 25 runs in the first two games of their series, the Dodgers and Braves 14 and the Pirates and Cardinals 18.
Credit some pretty good pitching, which is responsible for 45 strikeouts this series.
"I'm not surprised whatsoever that it's been low scoring, kind of back and forth," said catcher Stephen Vogt, Saturday's walk-off hero. "A lot of strikeouts on both sides. This series features a lot of good pitching, whether it be starters, bullpen, you name it."
"Our pitchers have done a great job," Melvin said. "We do the best job we can as far as preparing them and balancing between what our strengths are as a staff and what potential weaknesses they have. And at this point, we've done a pretty good job of that, but they've done the same.
"It's tough to hold that lineup down. I know they were struggling a little bit toward the end of the season, but there really shouldn't be any carryover from that. You have the days off, the separation. It's a whole different feel once you get to the postseason."
"These have been two fantastic playoff games, they really have been," added Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "Two one-run games, nip and tuck. We haven't scored a run for 17 innings, and most of that's a credit to Oakland's pitching. Runs will be stingy. I don't care how good you think your offense is. Runs will always be normally stingy in postseason play."
That's why Melvin isn't concerned about running out a similar lineup for Game 3. Leyland will do the same, though he will start Jhonny Peralta in left field.
Both sets of offense are experienced when it comes to postseason play.
"I think experience just gives you a different feeling," said Melvin. "When it's within a group, it just perpetuates itself. When you get a bunch of guys, and most were here last year, it's something that becomes a feeling as a group. There's some momentum to that within the group, and hopefully we can ride that."