Series: ALDS, Game 1
Time: 6:00 p.m. EST
Starters: Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA)
As with most teams opening a playoff series on the road, the A’s will be happy if they can split the two games in Detroit and head home for the final three, if necessary, with some room for error. After all, the Tigers won just 47 percent of their road games this season, and Verlander, who would return in Game 5 if this series goes that far, was surprisingly ordinary outside of Comerica Park in 2012 (8-6, 3.57 ERA). The flip side of that last stat, of course, is that Verlander was 9-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 15 starts in Detroit, where opponents hit a mere .187/.251/.286 against him across 114 2/3 innings. The image of Verlander in his home whites likely has most penciling this game into Detroit's column already as the Tigers have won his last nine home starts. Even in the only one of his 15 home starts this season that wasn’t quality, he allowed four runs but just six baserunners in eight innings while striking out seven.
As for the 23-year-old Parker, six of the eight starts in which he allowed four or more runs this season came on the road, contributing to a 4.54 road ERA. However, he came up huge for the A’s in the last month of the regular season, going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio across his final six starts, all of which were quality and came against contending teams (the Rangers and Angels twice each plus the Yankees and Orioles), and half of which came on the road (2-0, 2.14 ERA).
If Parker can keep the game close, the A’s could pull off an upset, as Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who was a perfect 52-for-52 in save opportunities between the regular and postseasons last year, has been more susceptible to the kind of late-inning magic the A’s seem to specialize in this year. Valvarde has blown five of his 40 save opportunities this season, seen his strikeout rate nose-dive and has posted a 5.02 ERA since the start of September. Included in that September swoon were a pair of runs allowed at home to the A’s in a non-save situation.
The Tigers took two of three in that mid-September set in Detroit and split four games in Oakland in May to take the season series between these two teams 4-3. Parker has never pitched in Comerica Park and his only career appearance against the Tigers came back on May 13 in just his fifth major league start (5 2/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K in a 3-1 A’s loss). So, there’s not much history to go on between him and the Tigers’ hitters. With all the new blood in the A’s lineup, that’s true in the other direction, too, though American League veteran Coco Crisp has gone 8-for-22 (.364) in his career against Verlander and the A’s second base platoon of Cliff Pennington and Adam Rosales are a combined 0-for-18 against the Tigers’ ace.
The Tigers should win this game, but in part because of the advantage they hold coming into it, they also sort of have to win this game. If the A’s pull off an upset in Game 1, they could very well head back to Oakland up 2-0, which, given how well the A’s have been playing over the last several months, particularly at home, would be a death sentence for Detroit's season.-- By Cliff Corcoran