DETROIT TIGERS (93-69)
at OAKLAND ATHLETICS (96-66)
American League Division Series, Best of 5 - Game 1
First pitch: Friday, 9:35 p.m. ET
Line: Detroit -120, Oakland +110, Total: 6.5
The Tigers begin their chase for a second straight American League Championship as they send 21-game winner Max Scherzer to the mound against the AL West champion Athletics.
Right-hander Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) took over the ďaceĒ role for Detroit in 2013 while also starting the All-Star game for the American League and putting his name in the hat as a front-runner for AL Cy Young. Opposing the 29-year-old will be veteran righty Bartolo Colon (18-6, 2.65 ERA), who will attempt to win his first postseason game since 2001. This will be the third matchup this year between these starters, as the two other matchups were split between the teams with the starting pitchers getting no-decisions both times. During the 2013 campaign, Oakland was able to win four out of the seven games played against the Tigers, but Detroit took 2-of-3 at O.co Coliseum. Oakland had the second-best home record in the AL this year at 52-29 (.642), and will put that record against a solid 42-39 road campaign (.519, T-7th in majors) by the Tigers. The A's finished the year strong, winning seven of their final 10 games, while Detroit struggled mightily scoring runs and finished 2-5 against some of the worst teams in baseball (White Sox, Twins and Marlins). DH Victor Martinez and OF Torii Hunter have been hot lately, combining for 32 hits (10 doubles, 3 HR) and 17 RBI over the final 12 games of the season. The big bats of 3B Miguel Cabrera and 1B Prince Fielder will need these other players to continue their hot hitting if they hope to defeat the great pitching of the A's and advance back to the ALCS.
Max Scherzer was dominant in 2013 and led or was near the top of most major pitching categories in the AL. He was first in wins (21) and WHIP (0.97), second in strikeouts (240) and fifth in ERA (2.90). In Scherzerís final three starts, he pitched to a 2-0 record with a 1.80 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings. During the season, Scherzer pitched much better on the road with a 2.28 ERA and miniscule 0.92 WHIP. He also put up outstanding numbers against right-handers who managed to hit only .165 against him. Overall in his career, Scherzer has been solid against the Athletics (2-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) but had mixed results against them in two starts this season. The first start came in Oakland on April 12t, when he gave up two runs (1 ER) and struck out 11 in six innings, but got a no-decision in a 4-3 team loss. On Aug. 29 in Detroit, Scherzer got lit up for six runs (5 ER) and gave up eight hits (2 HR) in five innings, but again earned a no-decision with his Tigers winning 7-6. He did face Oakland in last year's ALDS, allowing one unearned run over 5.1 innings with eight strikeouts, but got a no-decision in a 4-3 defeat. One very important matchup for Scherzer in this game will be OF Coco Crisp, who is 4-for-11 with 4 K's in his career versus the right-hander. Crisp had 21 steals and 93 runs on the year, and figures to be a nuisance if he reaches base. 2B Alberto Callaspo has struggled in his career against Scherzer (3-for-15, 3 K), but finished the regular season with a .400 OBP in his final nine games. Over his postseason career, Scherzer has gone 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in five starts. Detroitís bullpen has been shaky this year, with a 4.01 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. They have improved these numbers on the road though, dropping their ERA to 3.65 and their WHIP to 1.28. RP Joaquin Benoit (2.01 ERA, 24 saves) has taken over the closer role for the Tigers and successfully closed out his first 22 save opportunities, but has blown two of his past four going into the playoffs.
The 40-year old Bartolo Colon has led the otherwise young Oakland staff all year with both his experience and performance. The 2013 campaign was Colonís best season since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angels. He finished second in the American League in both wins (18) and ERA (2.65) while also tossing an AL-best three shutouts. Down the stretch, Colon only seemed to get better. In his final three starts of the year as the Athletics were attempting to make the playoffs and gain a better seed, Colon went 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 23 K's and 3 BB's in 20 innings. It seems that Colon has put the questions about both age and PEDís behind him at this point, and pitched as if he was in his prime. During his career, Colon has struggled against the Tigers with a record of 8-10 (team is 13-13) with a woeful 5.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. He has improved those numbers this year by giving up only four runs in 12 innings over two starts against the Tigers, fanning six and walking none. While 3B Miguel Cabrera has been banged up lately (only two extra-base hits in 20 September games), he will be looking forward to facing Colon on Friday as he has gone 8-for-16 with two doubles and 2 RBI against him in his career. Hot-hitting OF Torii Hunter, on the other hand, has struggled against Colon, going 14-for-58 (.241) with 2 HR, but also 10 K's. In his 16-year career, Colon has started nine postseason games with a 2-3 record, 3.61 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Closer Grant Balfour will lead one of the top bullpens (3.22 ERA) in the league into battle on Friday. Balfour (38 saves, 2.49 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) has converted 93% of his save opportunities, but blew his most recent one against the Angels on Sept. 18. OF Yoenis Cespedes (sore shoulder) does expect to play on Friday after missing the last two regular season games with his injury.