In 2012, the Oakland Athletics and Detriot Tigers met in the ALDS. The Tigers won three games to two on their way to the World Series. Last year the fact that the Athletics were in the postseason was a surprise, but this year they are built to win it all.
The Athletics were the only American League team to finish in the top 7 in runs and ERA. They scored the fourth most runs in all of baseball and had a team ERA of 3.56. The biggest strength of the Athletics’ pitching was their bullpen that finished with an ERA of 3.22.
The Tigers have the fourth best ERA in baseball from their starting rotation and are also the only American League team in the top 8. The biggest problem for the Tigers is when the starters had to turn it over to the bullpen to hold a lead. Detroit had the seventh worst bullpen ERA in all of baseball at 4.01 and finished with a record of 17-25 (Oakland was 24-18).
Oakland has the more accomplished closer. Grant Balfour finished the season with 38 saves and set the Athletics record for most consecutive saves, passing Dennis Eckersley, with 41. His ERA was 2.59 and he struck out 72 batters in 62.2 innings.
The Tigers went into Spring Training with Bruce Rondon penciled in as the closer. After a terrible spring, he was demoted to Triple-A and they went to a closer by committee. Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke were the heads of that committee, and they struggled to get the job done, so the Tigers brought back Jose Valverde to finish the ninth. Valverde pitched in 20 games and had an ERA of 5.59 before he was demoted and eventually cut. Benoit ended up regaining the job and doing a good job in the second half of the season. He finished with 24 saves, an ERA of 2.01 and 73 strike outs in 67 innings.
Both teams have a dynamic lefty specialist. For Detroit, they thought Coke would be the guy to come in and shut down left handed hitters. They ended up converting starter Drew Smyly to a reliever and he delivered. He finished the season 6-0 with an ERA of 2.37. Left handed hitters hit .189 in 122 at bats and only had five extra base hits.
For Oakland, Sean Doolittle stepped up as a lefty specialist. He finished 5-5 with a 3.13 ERA and had 60 strikeouts in 69 innings. He held lefties to a .188 batting average in 85 at bats and gave up only four extra base hits.
The rest of the bullpen for both teams show the biggest difference. Oakland has been able to get great production from Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Pat Neshek and Jesse Chavez. Detroit struggled to piece together a bullpen through the year and ended up trading for Houston Astros closer Jose Veras and calling up minor leaguers Evan Reed, Luke Putkonen and Bruce Rondon.
Between the two teams, Oakland has the much better bullpen and will be confident if they need to replace a starter early or matchup at the end of the game. For Detroit to win this series, the starters will need to give them seven or more innings before turning the ball over to the bullpen.