October 10, 2006
At this point, it's hard to argue against the Wild Card format, but there is still something strange in seeing wild celebrations take place on the field when a team hasn't even made it to the World Series yet. Teams should celebrate when they clinch their division and when they make it to the World Series. WIN the World Series? Celebrate like champions. The line gets fuzzy when teams celebrate a playoff BERTH, even though they still may or may not win the division, etc.
My point is that THIS is when the real action begins. Sure, the other stuff was important, because if you lost, you'd be watching these games with the rest of us. Still, the Championship Series have prestige, history, and hopefully a little drama. Simply, they matter. With Detroit and Oakland earning their way to this point, let's preview the series that kicks off tonight.
Just about every newspaper writer in the country figures this series to go at least 6 games. That makes me nervous because when everyone believes a matchup is even, that is often when the blowouts occur. The past 2 World Series figured to be tough contests, but nary a win was recorded by the losing team. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with this competitive AL matchup, and I think 7 games is a possibility.
Detroit showed in the ALDS that a strong hitting club can be negated by good pitching in the playoffs. Ironically, this benefits Oakland more because its hitting has been described as hard-nosed or scrappy. Rarely has the A's lineup been described as "good." Detroit's lineup isn't exactly filled with future home run kings, but the Tigers have fewer holes in the order and should be more prone to long innings.
A slight advantage goes to Detroit's pitching as well, with the wild card being Oakland's Rich Harden. Barry Zito should give Oakland an early edge in Game 1, but if Rich Harden can perform in Game 4 (against the impressive Jeremy Bonderman) like he did in late September, the A's will have a real chance at giving Ken Macha a title. Oakland puts too much reliance on starters with recent injuries like Loaiza and Harden, though, so Detroit's steady foursome and downright nasty bullpen will keep the series from getting out of hand.
In a series that will likely feature very few 3-run homers, the intangibles like good defense, smart baserunning, and solid late-inning relief will make the difference. Oakland is not bad in these categories, but Jim Leyland has added depth on his roster and he will also make sure if his team loses, it's because Oakland beats them and not because Detroit beats itself. It will be a tight series, but the same things that brought Detroit success during most of the year will be on display again over the next couple weeks.
Prediction: Detroit in 7