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Tigers and A's will meet in the American League Division Series starting starting Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS. Here's a look at the position-by-position breakdown:
George Kottaras has played just 27 games with the A's, but he has six home runs in that time, while Alex Avila has nine in 116 games. Kottaras, a left-handed batter, and Derek Norris, a righty, share Oakland's catching duties. Norris has seven home runs in his 60 games, another bright spot as the A's found some offense at the position following the departure of Kurt Suzuki. Avila had a rough postseason in 2011, posting a .116 on-base percentage in 44 plate appearances through two rounds. Still, Avila has the edge in the October experience department; Kottaras had just nine plate appearances with the Brewers in two rounds last year and went hitless, while Norris is a rookie. Avila also has a higher percentage of catching runners stealing (30 percent) this season than either Kottaras (15) or Norris (26), particularly valuable in close playoff games.
The conversation starts and ends with Detroit's Prince Fielder. The slugger and Miguel Cabrera's bash brother hit .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs while getting on-base at a .412 clip. The A's have another platoon here. Chris Carter (a right-handed swinger) and Brandon Moss (lefty) both put together fine seasons, and actually hit more home runs than Fielder combined -- Moss had 21, Carter 16. Moss represented a brilliant pickup for the A's, while Carter came up through the system. In other matchups, the duo could well receive the edge, but not against one of the game's premier hitters.
Defense is the name of the game. Omar Infante didn't light the world on fire in his return to the Tigers, the team he broke in with, putting up a .283 on-base percentage. But he's not too far off his career mark of .315. The A's have Cliff Pennington (switch-hitter better from the left side) and Adam Rosales (righty swinger) tag-teaming at the position, and their numbers aren't strong offensively either. Pennington had a .278 OBP, while Rosales was at .297. Infante's 12 home runs on the season, between the Marlins and Tigers, lead the pack. Infante went to the World Series in 2006, though with scarce playing time, and was a starter during the 2010 NLDS with the Braves, hitting .222. Pennington had the best September of the group, with a .274/.346/.384 line.
Stephen Drew has been a much better hitter since joining the A's from Arizona. He hit five home runs and carried a .250/.326/.382 line in 39 games with Oakland, better than the .239/.305/.384 line Detroit's Jhonny Peralta had. But Peralta's numbers spanned 150 games for the Tigers. Peralta has done very well in his two postseason stints, 2007 with the Indians and '11 with the Tigers. He has four home runs and a .277/.337/.518 line in 22 games. Drew has October experience, too, hitting .287 in the '07 playoffs with the D-backs.
Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Josh Donaldson's 75 games weren't terrible, with a .241/.289/.398 line and eight of his nine home runs in August and September. But against one of the greatest offensive seasons ever, it'd be difficult to compete with Cabrera.
Yoenis Cespedes made a huge impact on the A's. The international signee from Cuba hit 23 home runs with a .292/.356/.505 line. Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and occasionally Delmon Young split time in left field this season for Detroit, but the production the A's receive from Cespedes alone trumps that platoon. Combined, Tigers left fielders hit 14 home runs this season with a .275/.326/.409 line. Dirks plays essentially every day, be it in left field against righties or right field against lefties.
Detroit's Austin Jackson was much improved in 2012 compared to a year ago. He raised his average 51 points to .300 and hit 16 home runs, six more than the previous season. Oakland's Coco Crisp found redemption, too, in the second half. Crisp had a disappointing .236 average before the All-Star break, but put up a .281/.349/.511 line in the second half, hitting eight home runs -- one more than Jackson hit in that span. Crisp has the edge in the speed category, with 39 steals to Jackson's 12. Jackson played better defensively, according to Ultimate Zone Rating. If Crisp had produced at his second-half rate for the entire season, it'd be a push.
Josh Reddick was another diamond in the rough for Oakland. The former Red Sox outfielder broke out for a monster season, hitting 32 home runs while slugging .463. His average dipped after the All-Star Break - he was at .268 going in but hit just .215 afterward -- but the left-handed swinger is nonetheless Oakland's best power threat along with Cespedes. Brennan Boesch hit 12 home runs and played 121 games in right for Detroit, but his playing time has dropped. Avisail Garcia starts in right against lefties, while Dirks plays against righties.
Young is the Tigers' primary DH and hit 18 home runs with a .267/.296/.411 line. The A's had Seth Smith (lefty swinger) and Jonny Gomes (righty) split time at DH. Gomes, who has taken up a leadership role on the A's, had a .262/.377/.491 and matched Young's 18 homers. Smith's average wasn't quite as strong -- he hit .240 -- but he had 14 home runs in 2012. That's 32 home runs between Gomes and Smith.
The starting pitchers for both Oakland and Detroit finished 2012 with very strong numbers. The A's had a 3.80 ERA, third best in the American League, while Detroit had a 3.76 ERA, second best. Oakland's pitching staff, though, is incredibly young; all five of their starters are rookies, barring a return from Brandon McCarthy at some point in the postseason. The Tigers have playoff experience. And here's the bottom line in a short series: The Tigers have defending AL Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player Justin Verlander, who may well win the Cy Young again.
The A's had the AL's second-lowest bullpen ERA at 2.90, just two points below the Rays. Detroit was eighth with a still-good 3.73 ERA, but that's nearly a run higher. Righty Ryan Cook went 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA teaming with Oakland southpaw Sean Doolittle, who was 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA. Tigers righty setup man Joaquin Benoit (5-3, 3.68) had a disappointing 5.52 ERA in the second half.
Grant Balfour's exuberance after his saves against the Rangers this week provided lasting images of the A's incredible run to the AL West title. The righty went 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA this season and was a brilliant pitcher in the second half, with a 1.71 ERA while going a perfect 17-for-17 in save chances. Detroit's Jose Valverde went 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA this season, the year after he went 49-for-49 in saves. Valverde had five blown saves this year, but is still one of the game's best closers. He also has postseason experience in two seasons -- albeit with a 5.25 ERA in 10 games -- but Balfour has even more October games under his belt, logging 15 with a 3.60 ERA. Although they're both strong closers, the way Balfour has pitched this season, especially lately, makes it impossible to pick against him right now.