Tigers at A's
Series: ALDS Game 3, Tigers lead 2-0
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST
Starters: Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA) vs. Brett Anderson (4-2, 2.57 ERA)
Despite finishing the year with six more wins than the Tigers — not to mention nearly twice the run differential — the A's were forced to open the Division Series on the road via this year's expediency-minded playoff format. Things couldn't have gone much worse for them as they surrendered leads in both games in Detroit, particularly with the Tigers putting together a walk-off win in Sunday's Game 2 via Don Kelly's sacrifice fly. Now the A's now return to Oakland trailing the series 2-games-to-0, putting them on the brink of elimination. The Tigers, meanwhile, are looking to advance to the American League Championship Series for the second straight year, and third time under manager Jim Leyland.
To extend their season, the A's get to call upon their ace in Anderson, but even there, they have cause for anxiety. The 24-year-old lefty was limited to six starts this year, first by rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and then by an oblique strain that has sidelined him since Sept. 19, when he left his start against — who else? — the Tigers after 2 1/3 innings, the only time he faced them this season. Anderson has rehabbed his way back into the picture without the benefit of real game activity, and he simply has no margin for error under the circumstances; figure that everybody except scheduled Game 4 starter A.J. Griffin is available, with lefty Travis Blackley, who started 15 games for the team, the likely shadow starter. When healthy, Anderson is particularly reliant on his slider against both lefties and righties, mixing in both a sinker and a four-seam fastball (average velocity 93.0 mph), and offsetting that with the rare curve or even rarer changeup (only against righties) — a combination that has produced an odd reverse platoon split for his career (.300/.336/.400 against lefties, compared to .245/.301/.365 against righties).
Taking the ball for Detroit is Sanchez, who was acquired from the Marlins on July 23, and after rocky beginnings, settled into a groove down the stretch. Over his last eight starts, he put up a 2.15 ERA with a 44/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 1/3 innings, but that took place mainly against sub-.500 competition. In his one start against the A's on Sept. 20, he was roughed up for six runs in 5 2/3 innings, though two of them scored as inherited runners. Sanchez works primarily with a four-seamer that averages 92.6 mph, a slider and a swing-and-miss changeup, mixing in a curve and sinker against lefties as well. He's got very good control, walking just 2.2 per nine while striking out 7.7, and like Anderson, he's got a reverse platoon split, with a .243/.299/.347 line against lefties, and a .291/.324/.473 line against righties. It will be interesting to see the extent to which A's manager Bob Melvin reacts to that; he used platoons at first base and designated hitter during the season, and has started lefties Brandon Moss and Seth Smith at those two positions in both games, leaving righties Chris Carter and Jonny Gomes on the bench.
Sanchez faces an offense that hasn't shown a whole lot in this series, managing just five runs in the first two games on .203./.301/.313 hitting. Yoenis Cespedes and Cliff Pennington have combined for six of the team's 13 hits between them; take them away, and the rest of the team is just 7-for-51 (.137). In an extension of a late-season slump that saw him hit .164/.214/.295 from Sept. 1 onward, Josh Reddick struck out in his first six plate appearances before homering off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning on Sunday, while Moss is 1-for-7 with four strikeouts. The A's have exacerbated their problems at the plate with further trouble afield, as the two errors they've made — Jarrod Parker's throwing error in Game 1and Coco Crisp's dropped bloop in Game 2 — have allowed three critical runs to score.
The Tigers have gotten more going offensively, hitting .277/.324/.385 and scoring eight runs despite some inefficiency atop the lineup. Their 1-2-3 hitters, Austin Jackson, Quintin Berry (Game 1) or Omar Infante (Game 2), and Miguel Cabrera, have combined to go 9-for-25 with four doubles, but Cabrera has yet to drive in a run with his three hits (though his bloop to Crisp did score two runs on the error), and Prince Fielder is just 1-for-8 with an intentional walk. If the players in front of the two big boppers continue to get on base, this series may not last much longer. A quick note on bullpens: Sunday's loss came at the hands of closer Grant Balfour, who pitched the ninth inning of a tied road game, a situation that many managers avoid simply because it's not a save situation, much to their detriment. Not only was the run Balfour allowed the first he had yielded since Sept.11, but the singles he surrendered to Infante and Cabrera ended a string of 27 consecutive batters retired dating back to Sept. 22 against the Yankees. Meanwhile, the homer that Benoit allowed to Reddick underscored the fact that the Tigers righty allowed more longballs than any AL reliever, 14 in 71 innings.