- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
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The sequel, they say, is never better than the original, but that might not to be true with Tigers-A's II.
Last year, the two teams played five games, with Justin Verlander throwing a four-hit shutout in the winner-take-all game. Both teams are better this year; the A's will be more playoff-ready, and the Tigers have to win the World Series for this year not to be a disappointment.
Here are five questions.
How much of a home-field advantage does Oakland have?
It might be the biggest one in baseball.
The A's were 52-29 at home. No team likes going to that park. It's cold and dark, and sometimes the dugouts are flooded with sewage.
"I hate going there," one AL manager said. "As soon as we get there, I can't wait to leave. And we never play well there."
A's fans are also unique. There aren't as many as in most cities, but their fans are among the loudest, most loyal and most boisterous fans in the game. Last year, they were wild. They will be wilder this year, which will give the A's a distinct advantage.
How good is the Tigers' rotation?
It is the best in baseball.
They used only six starting pitchers this year, the fewest in baseball. They had the most quality starts (108) of any team in baseball, 13 more than any other AL team. They had five 10-game winners, the first Tigers team to do that since 1949.
Max Scherzer (21-3) is going to win the AL Cy Young. Justin Verlander has been the American League's best pitcher over the last three years. Anibal Sanchez won the ERA title this year. A 14-game winner, Doug Fister, would pitch Game 4, if needed, leaving a 13-game winner (Rick Porcello) to work out of the bullpen.
How good is the A's bullpen?
It might be the best bullpen in the AL playoffs. It is deep, versatile and full of hard throwers, led by closer Grant Balfour, who is just crazy enough to be unfazed by the pressure of the postseason.
And they have help if a starter gets knocked out early. But that's not likely. The A's had the second-best rotation ERA in the AL (Detroit was the best). The young starters, such as Jarrod Parker, have a year of postseason experience off which to work. And ace Bartolo Colon had a fabulous year, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA. In September, he had a 1.16 ERA, threw 31 innings, walked four and struck out 33.
How healthy is Miguel Cabrera?
A groin injury has slowed him significantly. In late August, he was rolling toward one of the greatest seasons ever by a right-handed hitter, and perhaps a second consecutive Triple Crown.
He still had a sensational season, and will win consecutive AL MVPs, but in September he slugged only .333, with two extra-base hits and one home run in 72 at-bats.
He has been an incredibly durable player, a guy who can hit through any injury, but to expect him to be at his destructive best in the postseason with a nagging groin injury is a stretch.
How healthy is Yoenis Cespedes?
His shoulder has been bothering him, but he is expected to play.
Cespedes did not have a particularly good year, but he hit home runs in three straight games in late September before he hurt his shoulder. The A's lineup doesn't look overwhelming in the box score, but the way manager Bob Melvin mixes and matches his lineup, the A's have production up and down the order.
Their 25th man is better than any other team's 25th man, and that likely goes for 20-through-25 on the roster. But for it all to work, they need all 25, including a healthy Cespedes.
The pick: Tigers in five.
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