10/09/06 8:55 PM ET
Young guns power Tigers, A's
Both teams sport effective and consistent pitching staffs
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
If you're looking for a lot of fireworks and firepower, this likely won't be your kind of series.
After all, Detroit and Oakland finished ninth and 13th, respectively, among the 14 American League teams in team batting during the regular season. Neither team ranked in the top half of the league's best in hits. The A's ranked seventh in on-base percentage while the Tigers were 12th. The Tigers finished fifth in runs, the A's ninth.
What the Tigers and A's may lack on the offensive side, however, they more than make up for with a collection of some of the best young arms in baseball.
Every baseball fan has heard the old adage that great pitching beats great hitting. But what happens when great pitching meets great pitching?
We might find out by the time the best-of-seven ALCS, which begins Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum, comes to a conclusion.
Oakland's Dan Haren (26 years old), Huston Street (23), Justin Duchscherer (28), Rich Harden (24) and Barry Zito (28) head an immensely talented unit that is capable of putting up zeros no matter who they face.
The same can be said of Detroit's impressive crop of youngsters, including Justin Verlander (23), Jeremy Bonderman (23), Joel Zumaya (21), Nate Robertson (29), Fernando Rodney (29).
Combined with veterans like Todd Jones (38), Jamie Walker (35) and Kenny Rogers (41), the Tigers staff led the Major Leagues with a 3.84 team ERA. Oakland's team ERA of 4.21 was the fourth-best in the AL and seventh best in baseball.
"[It's a] very similar matchup in a sense; they have very good starting pitching, their bullpen's great, the consistency they've had over the season, they're not a team that's going to homer you to death," Robertson said. "It is a similar matchup."
The 20-somethings on both teams routinely bring it to the plate in excess of 90 mph, and Zumaya can exceed 100 mph with his fastball.
"[The Tigers] have great pitching, and it's no accident they've made it [to the ALCS]," Oakland designated hitter Frank Thomas said. "They have outstanding starters and one of the best bullpens in the game. They're extremely tough."
The A's defeated a formidable Minnesota staff three straight in the American League Division Series, and they are viewing the Tigers as another extremely tough assignment.
"Seems like every one of their guys throws extremely hard," Oakland first baseman Nick Swisher said. "They have such a great bullpen, you don't want to be behind late in the game."
The young guns are the coin of the realm for these two teams, neither of which has a payroll among the top 12 in the game. Both teams built their staffs the small-market way, through the draft and trades and augmented with modestly priced free agents.
Bonderman, a former Oakland draft pick (2001), was acquired via trade from Oakland. Rogers, 23-1 in his last 24 starts in Oakland, was once signed by A's GM Billy Beane back in 1997. Bonderman was acquired via trade from Oakland.
Verlander and Zumaya were Detroit draft picks. Walker was signed as a Minor League free agent, Rodney a non-drafted free agent. Jones and Rogers were signed as free agents.
Oakland picked up Haren and reliever Kiko Calero from St. Louis in the Mark Mulder deal. Duchscherer was obtained in a trade with the Rangers. Zito, Street and Harden were draft picks.
They arrived with their respective teams from different directions, yet together they comprise effective staffs that racks up strikeouts and scoreless innings with regularity.
For many of these youngsters, this series is another chance to shine on the national stage after their impressive performances in the first round.
"No one has to tell us how tough they are," Thomas said. "Just look at the job they did against the Yankees."
The Tigers point to what the A's did to Minnesota, the team that edged Detroit for the AL Central crown.
"This is going to be a very tough matchup," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It's an extremely tough team because it's so balanced, they have a lot of excellent combinations and most important, they play with an added amount of enthusiasm."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.