THE ALCS featurestwo of the three teams in the league that were most adept at run preventionduring the season. Oakland and Detroit were first and third, respectively, inERA and had comparably strong strikeout rates, strikeout-to-walk ratios andhome run rates. The category in which the Tigers hold an important edge overthe A's is their ability to catch the ball; Detroit led the league in defensiveefficiency, or the rate at which the team turned balls in play into outs.Oakland ranked seventh.
The two clubs hadnearly identical offensive output: The Tigers had a .268 equivalent average(EqA), which takes into consideration such variables as home ballpark. The A'sfinished at .267. How the two lineups went about putting up those numbers iswhere they diverge--and where the series will be decided. Detroit hitters swingearly and often, and when they make contact, the ball goes a long way. TheTigers were fifth in the AL in slugging and total bases, and third in home runrate; however, they were only 12th in OBP and 13th in walks. Oakland, on theother hand, was among the most disciplined teams, finishing seventh in OBP andsecond in walks; the A's were also second in the majors with 3.88 pitches perplate appearance.
The goal of bothstaffs is the same: Get the hitters out of their comfort zones. For Oaklandthat means staying away from the middle of the plate in the count and lettingDetroit batters swing their way into pitchers' counts. The Tigers struck outmore than all but one AL team (Cleveland); they can be handled. Detroitpitchers will want to make the A's put the ball in play and thus take advantageof their superior defense. For all their patience the Oakland hitters are notvery dangerous when they do swing (13th in batting average and slugging).
Overall it's anevenly matched series, but Oakland's bullpen depth and edge in making theopposing pitcher work will be the difference in a seven-game series. TheBaseball Prospectus forecast: A's in seven.
Tigers' pitchers will have to attack Thomas early.