It was a tough Saturday night if you were a baseball fan in the Bay Area, as both Oakland and San Francisco fell behind in their respective Division Series games against Detroit and Cincinnati. Let’s look back on Saturday and ahead to what will be a full-throttled four-game run on Sunday in the MLB playoffs…
Detroit 3 Oakland 1: Justin Verlander needed to step up and show he could deliver dominating postseason performances to go with his regular season excellence. The Tiger ace did just that. It took him one batter to get settled in—Coco Crisp led off the game with a home run for Oakland, but the A’s managed just three hits for the rest of the night. The Detroit bullpen, an area of concern, was fine, as Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde closed out the final two innings without incident.
Oakland’s pitching, with starter Jarrod Parker had its own moments. Even with the Tigers quickly tied the game in their own half of the first, it could have been worse. Detroit immediately put runners on first and third and brought Miguel Cabrera to the plate. The Triple Crown winner promptly hit into a double play. It scored the run, but an early big inning was off the board, in a sequence essentially identical to what happened to Texas and Josh Hamilton in their wild-card loss to Baltimore on Friday night. Cabrera and Prince Fielder went 0-for-7 on the night, with just a Cabrera walk.
The performance of Verlander and the collaring of Cabrera and Fielder give us a pretty good sign that this series is likely to be a grinding affair, and last night it was Alex Avila who gave Verlander the offense he needed. The Detroit catcher had two hits, including a home run that made it 3-1 in the fifth.
Cincinnati 5 San Francisco 2: It was a strange night for Cincinnati who lost ace Johnny Cueto after just one batter to back spasms. Cueto is scheduled to start Game 3 back home on Tuesday, but his departure forced manager Dusty Baker into some creative shuffling with his staff. He brought in the original Game 3 starter Mat Latos, who gave four quality innings of work, while the Reds carved out a 3-1 lead.
The game got ugly on both sides in the ninth. Cincy loaded the bases with two outs and then got their insurance runs on a wild pitch and passed ball. Aroldis Chapman proceeded to let the Giants back into it, looking like he didn’t have any command of the strike zone and the tying run getting the plate before the closer sealed the deal.
Ultimately the person who looked the worst last night in this game was yours truly. My pick of San Francisco to sweep the series was gone. I further said that the only way Cincinnati was going to win a game would be last night, but that was conditioned on Cueto pitching. Wrong again.
Then I was with a friend who was a Reds fan that challenged me for further reasons on my pick and I said that Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were overrated as offensive players and products of their hitter-friendly home park. Playing on the road, Phillips hit a two-run jack to start the scoring, and had three hits. Bruce hit a long home run to right field. That’s a Grand Slam Parlay of being wrong all around for yours truly.
The Sunday Schedule
*If I’m an Oakland fan, I’m telling myself that we knew Verlander would be tough to beat on his homefield, and it’s now game-on for this series. The A’s now get three shots the middle of the Detroit rotation. It starts today at noon ET, when Doug Fister takes the baton from Verlander. Oakland sends out rookie Tommy Milone. In a strange coincidence, both cities can be all-in on baseball today, as the Lions and Raiders both have bye weeks in the NFL.
*The early game will be on MLB Network and then TBS takes over with a tripleheader starting at 3 PM ET. The first two are the series getting underway. You can check out TheSportsNotebook previews of St. Louis-Washington & NY Yanks-Baltimore, which begin with the Cards and Orioles at home.
When the previews were written yesterday Baltimore was still unsettled as to their Game 1 starter. Buck Showalter has opted for Jason Hammel, the best on the staff when healthy, but he hasn’t pitched in a couple weeks with a knee injury.
*The night ends back out west with Cincinnati-San Francisco and the Giants facing the first must-win spot of this round. Unlike Oakland, who could hope to rally at home if they fall behind 0-2, the Giants know they’re already up against it when they visit Cincinnati. Madison Bumgarner and Bronson Arroyo will square off.