Mailbag: Macha's strategy up to par?
Jim Molony answers fans' questions on the ALCS
OAKLAND -- The Tigers remained on the prowl, thumping Oakland, 8-5, on Wednesday, for their fifth consecutive postseason victory and a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. The series now moves to Detroit for up to three games.
Here's a sampling of what's on the minds of fans, and keep those e-mails coming:
What is going on with the A's? They can't stay with a decision (Dan Haren as Game 3 starter). Throwing Rich Harden now? How many games does Ken Macha have to see to know that Barry Zito's tell-tale innings are the first three? So what if you embarrass Barry? This is the ALCS. This is not a hindsight comment. I held my breath in the early innings. It's only a loss. But it was an ugly loss that was exasperated by Macha's wait-and-see management. This is not Wednesday morning quarterbacking. If there is one pitcher on this team you can go up to in the third inning and say, "You just don't have it today, baby," it's Zito.
-- James, Iowa
I thought Macha should have pulled Zito after he walked Craig Monroe in the third inning. Monroe seldom walks (37 times in 541 at-bats this season) and that was Zito's third base on balls to the last six batters, and that should have set off alarm bells, considering Detroit's free-swinging tendencies. But Macha stayed with his ace and it didn't work this time, obviously. Giving Harden the start I don't have any problems with -- I think you're talking about a guy who has sensational arm and the potential to come up huge in this series like Josh Beckett did with Florida in the 2003 postseason.
Are the A's thinking about playing Frank Thomas at first base at all in the ALCS? If they make it to the World Series, they're going to need his bat, and I'd hate to see him play his first ground ball in three years in Game 3 against the Mets or the Cardinals. Do Macha and Ron Washington have any plans to lose the DH and put Big Frank at first if they're up (or down) six or seven runs at the end of the game?
-- Brook, Baltimore
The A's don't have any plans to play Thomas at first base. He doesn't move well anymore and he hasn't played the position since 2004, and that was for only four games. He does have 971 games at the position, but only 68 since the end of the 1999 season. If the A's reach the World Series, Thomas will be the DH in home games (the AL has home-field advantage in the World Series this year) and likely pinch-hit in the NL park, with Nick Swisher manning first base.
I know numbers and percentages don't always mean a lot, but do you have any idea what percentage of Game 1 winners have gone on to win a series?
-- Doug, Detroit
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In 36 previous ALCS matchups, the team winning Game 1 has gone on to win the series 21 times, or 58 percent of the series played. Since the introduction of the seven-game series in 1985, 10 of 20 (50 percent) of the teams winning Game 1 have gone on to win the series. In five of the last six ALCS, the team losing Game 1 has gone on to win the series, the exception coming in 2001 when New York won Game 1 at Seattle and the series in five games. Three of the last four road teams to win Game 1 in ALCS play have gone on to lose the series.
I think the Tigers will win in four after beating the Yankees in four.
-- Katie, Notre Dame, Ind.
How about those Fighting Irish? As far as your ALCS prediction, if the Tigers keep playing as they did in Game 1, it's certainly possible.
Which is the bigger loss: Oakland losing Mark Ellis or Detroit losing Sean Casey?
-- Drew, Toledo, Ohio
Detroit losing Casey. I know Oakland's depth up the middle was already thin because of the injury to shortstop Bobby Crosby, but the A's have been able to plug the holes for some time now, and Ellis was a bottom-of-the-order batter. Detroit didn't have another true first baseman on the ALCS roster and Casey is the No. 3 hitter most nights.
Do you think that this young Tigers team has enough experience and talent to take them to the World Series? I'm rooting for them, but you've got to wonder, when does the inexperience come into play? And if they make it to the World Series, do you think they have a chance at winning it? -- Jon, Mich.
I think the fact that they've advanced this far against two very good teams answers that question. Inexperience is not that big of a factor with this bunch now, not with the veterans they have in the clubhouse and all this team has gone through to get this far. There's no question in my mind that not only do the Tigers have a good chance at reaching the World Series, it wouldn't surprise me if they won it.
As MLB's most dominant team for the majority of 2006, the Detroit Tigers remained hidden in the grass. Once the national spotlight shined on them in the second half, they slumped, and consequently, they were filed under the category of pretenders. Even still, they've received little consideration early on in the playoffs. Most "expert" opinions pick the A's in six or the A's in seven, for the Tigers are too "emotionally burned out" from stealing the series against the Yanks. Is there anyone out there who believes that this may be the Tigers' year? They are the White Sox of 2005. Pitching and timely hitting have carried them to this point, just as they carried the Sox, and Detroit shows no signs of slowing down. The bandwagon is rolling; when will the national media jump on?
-- Johnny, Detroit
I can't speak for anyone else, but I based my prediction for Detroit's postseason chances on how the club played in the second half -- losing 31 of its final 50 games, including five straight to end the year and three at home against Kansas City. Based on that showing, I couldn't pick the Tigers over the Yankees, and I'm not aware of anyone who did. In fact, I didn't hear anything regarding that pick before the ALDS, only afterward when the Tigers clearly outplayed and dominated the Yankees. In that series, and in the first game against Oakland in the ALCS, Detroit is playing like the team that built the best record in baseball during the first half. Predicting baseball is a humbling experience, as we've seen once again in this postseason, but if the Tigers keep winning, don't worry -- it'll be standing-room-only on the Tigers bandwagon before you can say Norm Cash.
What is the current health status of Crosby? If the A's make the World Series, is there a chance that he could be activated?
-- Mark, Calif.
The Oakland shortstop, who missed much of the second half because of a back injury, had hoped to be ready for the ALCS, but he is still not ready to play. There is a chance, though, that he will be available for the World Series.
I know it was out of reach on Tuesday night in the bottom of the ninth, but why wouldn't somebody like Bobby Kielty or Dan Johnson pinch-hit for D'Angelo Jimenez?
-- Scott, Ind.
Good question and a tough call. Hitting for Jimenez would have left Mark Kiger as Oakland's last available middle infielder. Kiger, who was called up to take the place of the injured Mark Ellis, would have had to play if the A's had tied the game. Jimenez did have one hit in Game 1 , and he has performed better in the past when playing regularly, as opposed to sparingly. Considering that he's going to be needed in this series, the more at-bats that Jimenez gets, the better he will probably hit.
Jim Leyland was highly successful and respected in the Tigers organization in the 1970s, producing quality players for the Detroit team. Most of us Tigers fans assumed that he'd eventually be "promoted" to manager of the Detroit team. He was always overlooked. Eventually, after years of defeat and embarrassment, the Tigers went with a guy named Sparky Anderson. He won us a World Series in 1984 and a division in 1987, but that was it. Why was Leyland overlooked for the job in Detroit 30 years ago, when he could have become a dynastic manager for the Tigers franchise?
-- John, Ariz.
Leyland managed in the Tigers system from 1971-81, including 1979-81 at Evansville. In the late '70s, then-Tigers general manager Jim Campbell wanted a manager with Major League experience, which Leyland didn't have at the time. Anderson was fired by Cincinnati GM Dick Wagner in 1978. In Anderson's biography, "They Call Me Sparky," he details that he was talking with the Chicago Cubs about their managerial situation when Campbell found out. Campbell wanted Anderson and convinced him to take over the Tigers in 1979 before the Cubs made an offer. Maybe if the Cubs had been quicker on the trigger, or Wagner slower on his, Leyland's career path could have been entirely different. Leyland joined Pittsburgh as manager in 1986.
I am a Tigers fan from Michigan. What is your gut feeling on the series? Macha says that his boys got on base a lot last night. What's your opinion?
-- Gary, Bay City, Mich.
The A's did have more traffic than the Bay Bridge at rush hour. On the other hand, I think you have to give the Tigers credit for stranding all but one of those baserunners. I still think that the A's are going to get back in this series, but I should also point out that I picked only one of the four Division Series correctly, so what do I know?
I go to A's games regularly. Can you make out the noise of the conch shell I bring with me? I always do a horn blow for Swisher when he is up, whenever the A's score a run and whenever we start a "Let's go Oakland" chant or a Marco Scutaro chant.
-- Frank, Oakland
And here I thought that was a train whistle from the BART station.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.