10/08/06 3:00 PM ET
Tigers-Athletics: Quick hits
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
1. No team has been playing better since the postseason began than the A's. The three-game sweep over the Twins means Oakland's pitching staff will be well-rested. The A's, who had baseball's best record since the All-Star break, will have a healthy and well-rested Rich Harden for the ALCS. Harden could mean for Oakland what a healthy and fresh Josh Beckett meant for the Marlins in the playoffs three years ago.
2. The A's have the home-field advantage and are coming off a series in which they thoroughly dispatched the team that passed the Tigers for the AL Central crown, the Minnesota Twins. The A's were 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA against the Tigers this season, but all of those games came before the end of July, before the A's got going and before the Tigers cooled off.
3. A's starters Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza and Harden are a combined 21-11 lifetime against the Tigers, and Jay Payton, Frank Thomas, D'Angelo Jimenez and Milton Bradley all own .300 or better career batting averages against Detroit.
Achilles' heel: The A's win primarily with pitching, defense and big innings, but in the playoffs the ability to hit -- or not -- with runners in scoring position can mean the difference between winning or going home. The A's were only 3-for-20 (.150) with runners in scoring position in the ALDS.
Key matchup: The A's lineup against Detroit lefty Kenny Rogers. Rogers is 21-7 lifetime vs. Oakland, including 2-0 this season, and the A's will likely face him twice in the series.
Darkhorse: D'Angelo Jimenez. Mark Ellis' broken finger means Jimenez will likely step in at second base. But Jimenez is a .325 career hitter against Detroit (13-for-40), and if he can hold up his end offensively and defensively, Oakland's chances will be enhanced.
Why the Tigers will win:
1. The Tigers had the best team ERA in the Major Leagues, one of the best bullpens in the big leagues and enough veteran talent, such as Rogers and Todd Jones, to minimize any concerns over the abundance of youth on the staff. Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander were a combined 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA in six starts vs. Oakland. The Tigers staff held the A's to a .229 batting average in nine games this season.
2. The Tigers are coming off three consecutive wins over the heavily-favored Yankees and riding an emotional high. They have turned a disappointing final weekend of the season into a magical postseason and will continue to ride that momentum in the ALCS.
3. The pitching staffs are closely balanced, but Detroit has more power and a better offense than the A's, and that edge could be the difference in what should be a very tight series.
Achilles' heel: The Tigers' strikeout-to-walk differential on offense was the worst in the American League, and that free-swinging tendency has hurt the Tigers at times and could be disastrous against the quality power arms the A's will throw at them.
Key matchup: Tigers tablesetters vs. A's pitchers. Detroit's second-half struggles coincided with Placido Polanco's time on the disabled list. When Polanco was healthy, the Detroit offense clicked more often than not. When Polanco was on the DL, the Tigers went 13-21. Polanco and speedster Curtis Granderson batted a combined .429 (30-for-70) with a .482 on-base percentage against Oakland this season. Similar production this time might be the difference in what could be a pitching dominated series.
Darkhorse: Marcus Thames. The Tigers designated hitter hit .333 in the ALDS and slugged .438. His emergence helped negate poor offensive series by some of the other Tiger regulars.
The winner: Oakland in six.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.