Verlander will deliver for Tigers
I picked the Oakland A's to beat the Detroit Tigers before the series, so why am I changing now? Well, for one thing I picked Oakland in four -- and if Dan Straily throws Jhonny Peralta a slider instead of a fastball, or if Josh Reddick or Stephen Vogt just make contact against Max Scherzer, the A's probably do win in four.
Instead, we move to a fifth game, and while it won't be Scherzer pitching for the Tigers, it will be Justin Verlander, and Tigers fans have to feel pretty good about that. The starting pitching edge will go to Detroit, even though rookie Sonny Gray matched zeroes with Verlander in Game 2.
It's that start, as well as how he finished, that has me believing Verlander will once again shut down the Oakland offense.
He did scuffle much of the regular season -- for him -- but he finished with two scoreless starts, recording double-digit strikeout totals in both outings, and overall had three scoreless starts in September.
With his seven shutout innings against the A's in Game 2, he's now on a roll of 20 consecutive scoreless innings.
Of course, can we forget what Verlander did last year to the A's? He allowed one run in two playoff starts, including a four-hit, 11-strikeout performance in Game 5 -- and that game was in Oakland like this one will be, so home-field advantage isn't really a major factor.
While Miguel Cabrera's injury and lack of production is still a big concern, the bigger cloud hanging over this game is Oakland's playoff history. Five times the A's have gone to a Game 5 of the division series -- and five times they've lost. Yes, those are different teams and different players, but that's still going to add a little anxiety in the Oakland clubhouse, especially after blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 4 and missing that opportunity against Scherzer in the eighth inning.
It should be a low-scoring game, but look for Verlander to throw up zeroes and the Tigers to win 2-0.
At home, advantage goes to A's
I just have this feeling the Detroit Tigers can't replicate a performance like Tuesday again for Game 5 in Oakland. Think back to halfway through Game 4: The Tigers were down 3-0 and they appeared done. They found a way to score many runs and send this series back to Oakland, where they'll send a playoff-tested hurler to the mound, but I think the Athletics have the edge offensively, in the bullpen and with Sonny Gray on the mound, it's pretty even in terms of starting pitchers. And I don't buy momentum; if anything, expecting the Tigers to rely on three-run homers, timely bloop hits and escaping bases-loaded situations with no outs also seems like a lot.
Detroit's offense seems so dependent on Miguel Cabrera, and bogged down by strikeout king Austin Jackson, it's simply not clicking as it did during the regular season. The Tigers escaped Tuesday. I don't see them taking a second consecutive Game 5 in Oakland again. Gray is a strikeout pitcher who matched the great Justin Verlander in Game 2, and this shapes up as a classic rematch. There will no Scherzer in Game 5, and that's a big advantage to the home team.
I'm taking the home team here, the one with the offensive and relief depth, and going against the great Verlander. It's nothing personal, I assure you, but I don't buy momentum as a reason to take the team that won Game 4.
It's tough to win elimination games away from home, and it seems a bit too obvious to assume Verlander will continue his postseason success against the Athletics; he's permitted one run over three starts (23 innings pitched) to this team over the past two years in the playoffs. His career postseason ERA is 3.84 in 13 starts.
Something's gotta give. In this case, I don't think it'll necessarily be Verlander, but rather Detroit's bullpen. The Athletics will win 3-1.