10/08/06 3:00 PM ET
Tigers-Athletics: Position analysis
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
Ivan Rodriguez still sets the standard defensively, and his offensive skills, though not what they were five years ago, are still formidable and worthy of a No. 3 hitter. Rodriguez uses the whole field, runs well and is very good at disrupting opponents' offense with his defense.
Jason Kendall's batting average and on-base percentage are both more than 50 points higher after the All-Star break than before. Kendall has very little power, but he does get on base, doesn't strike out much and at 32 years old is still more than adequate defensively.
Sean Casey hit roughly 70 points lower than his career average since joining the Tigers from Pittsburgh and really slumped in September. One of the toughest hitters in baseball to strike out, Casey hits line drives to all fields when he's in a groove.
Nick Swisher, when he isn't in the outfield, and Dan Johnson have shared the position almost equally, and together the two form a very good tandem offensively and defensively. Swisher strikes out a lot, but he also draws a lot of walks and has tremendous power. Johnson, who can also hit the ball out of the park, fills in nicely when Swisher is in left field.
Placido Polanco is one of the more effective No. 2 hitters in the game, and he makes those around him better as the Tigers found out when they went 13-21 late in the season when Polanco was on the disabled list with a separated shoulder. Just average defensively, Polanco is a heady player who seldom strikes out, is adept at small ball and can hit the ball out of the park now and then. He also hit a team-high .516 (16-for-31) against the A's this season.
The A's lost Mark Ellis to a broken finger in the ALDS, which means D'Angelo Jimenez, who started Game 3 in place of Ellis, will likely be the starter in the ALCS. Jimenez is at best adequate at the plate, but, if he can play solid defense, the A's should be able to carry his lack of offense with production from the other spots. The best thing for the A's would be if Bobby Crosby can play shortstop, which would enable them to use ALDS hero Marco Scutaro at second base.
Carlos Guillen is a smooth fielder, a .300 hitter with some power and one of the reasons the Tigers are where they are today. Guillen leads the Tigers in on-base percentage. He's missed time because of injuries, but Guillen remains one of the better all-around middle infielders in the game. He also wore out Oakland pitching this season, hitting .375 with five extra-base hits and a team-high 20 total bases and eight RBIs in nine games.
Marco Scutaro has been doing an adequate job filling in for the injured Bobby Crosby. Scutaro is a streaky hitter with limited power, and his best asset is his defensive ability. Scutaro is not the offensive and defensive weapon Crosby is, but he catches what he gets to. He had a sensational ALDS, especially with the glove.
Brandon Inge is the best athlete on the team, and the converted catcher/outfielder has gradually improved his play at his latest position. Inge has power and runs very well. A clutch hitter, Inge has come up with the big hit more than once in key games this season and hit well (.310) against Oakland.
Eric Chavez is having a disappointing year by his usual lofty standards, and his batting average is significantly below his career level, but he has come up with big hits in the clutch and has provided power and RBIs the club needs from the position. Defensively, Chavez remains among the best in the league.
Craig Monroe is among the league leaders in strikeouts, but he also provides power and drives in an acceptable number of runs for a corner outfielder. Monroe is a dead-pull hitter who has trouble against top right-handed pitching or when he tries to pull pitches off the plate. He doesn't walk very often. Defensively, Monroe is average.
Jay Payton is enjoying one of the best years of his career. A contact hitter with excellent speed, he is more patient at the plate than he was a few years ago. Payton is an excellent center fielder, but Mark Kotsay's presence makes Payton one of the better defensive left fielders in the league.
Curtis Granderson is an emerging talent with the speed necessary to play center field, and yet he has also displayed surprising power for a line-drive hitter. Granderson has a good, accurate arm and plays excellent defense. The 25-year-old needs better plate discipline could improve his basestealing skills. He's had success against Oakland, hitting .359 in 39 at-bats.
Mark Kotsay is one of the best center fielders in the game. He covers a lot of ground, has a strong arm and takes excellent routes to the ball. Offensively, he is a first-rate leadoff man who doesn't strike out too much and hits the ball on a line to all fields. He wears out right-handers and has been among the hottest hitters on the team since the break.
Detroit cleanup hitter Magglio Ordonez is usually among the league leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position, and once again he's topped the century mark in RBIs. Ordonez drives the ball to all fields with a short, powerful swing and seldom gets cheated. He is a decent fielder with an accurate arm.
Milton Bradley is a versatile talent who does many things well, but he has trouble playing well on a consistent basis. He has some power but doesn't hit a lot of homers, has some speed but doesn't steal a lot of bases. A line-drive hitter who uses all fields, Bradley adds to his value with his good strike-zone judgment. He is also an above-average fielder who can play all three outfield positions.
The release of Dmitri Young left power-hitting Marcus Thames as the DH. Thames was 1-for-22 against Oakland this season.
Frank Thomas not only had one of the top comeback seasons this year, but he is also deserving of Most Valuable Player consideration. The Big Hurt came back big in 2006 and is once again the power-hitting force he was before a spate of injuries curtailed his production in recent years. Thomas, who hit .500 in the ALDS, crushes inside pitches and also does a good job driving pitches off the plate.
The two teams have strikingly similar bullpens, with nearly identical ERAs, innings pitched, strikeouts and runs allowed. Tigers closer Todd Jones may not be as dominating as a Joe Nathan or a Frankie Rodriguez, but the right-hander is effective and is set up by Joel Zumaya and his 100-mph heater. Fernando Rodney, Jamie Walker and Jason Grilli give manager Jim Leyland plenty of other talented options for the late innings.
Oakland's deep bullpen has youngster Huston Street at closer, and he's preceded by an above-average group including right-handers Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero and Chad Gaudin. Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy and Joe Blanton can provide long relief when they aren't being called on to start.
Omar Infante is a handy guy to have around as the good-glove infielder can fill in at a number of spots and is a decent pinch-runner. Vance Wilson is a capable backup to Pudge Rodriguez, and Neifi Perez gives Leyland another glove off the bench. Overall offensively, however, Detroit's supporting cast is, at best, average.
Not only can starters Bradley and Payton play all three outfield spots, so can Hiram Bocachica. Bobby Kielty, an above-average pinch-hitter, can handle either corner outfield spot and has also filled in on the infield. Swisher can play first base or either corner outfield spot. Jimenez and Antonio Perez, when healthy, can play three infield positions. The A's also have five switch-hitters, which gives manager Ken Macha all kinds of matchup possibilities.
Detroit's Jim Leyland has done a masterful job getting a young Tigers team to the playoffs after years of futility. Leyland has been stern when necessary but generally laid-back in a style that has meshed perfectly in Detroit.
Oakland's Ken Macha has proven to be one of the most capable managers in the game. It seems like every year the A's lose frontline free agents yet still find a way to plug the holes and win more often than they lose. Macha and his staff deserve a lot of the credit for that.
The Tigers are coming off one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent years, but can they sustain that magic for another round?
The A's never trailed in a sweep of Minnesota and are excelling in all phases of the game. This is a loose team playing with a lot of confidence right now, and, unlike the ALDS, the A's will have the home-field advantage against Detroit.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.