ALDS Game 4 previews: A’s at Tigers; Red Sox at Rays
The Rays were one of three teams to keep their seasons alive in Monday’s Division Series action, and they’ll take the field Tuesday night facing elimination for the fifth time in their last seven games. The Tigers also need a win tonight to keep playing, while the A’s and Red Sox can advance to the American League Championship Series with a win.
A’s at Tigers
Start time: 5:00 p.m. ET
Series: A’s lead 2-1
Starting pitchers: Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96 ERA) vs. Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67 ERA)
The Tigers have come to the plate in 27 innings this series and scored in just two of them. As a team, they are hitting .219/.265/.250 without a home run, and while Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are leading the team in hits, both are just 3-for-12 without an extra-base hit or, perhaps even more surprisingly, a walk. The only Tiger with an OPS over .670 in this series is Don Kelly, who has singled twice in three at-bats. In three ALDS games, Detroit has scored just six runs, an average of two per game. That’s also their average over their last 10 games — including the last seven of the regular season — and the team has scored as many as four runs just once in that time.
That gives Doug Fister very little margin for error in this game. However, Fister’s last start against the A’s, which came on Aug. 28 in the same ballpark and against the same pitcher he’s matched up with today, saw him give up seven runs in five innings. Fister did turn in a strong start against Oakland in last year’s Division Series (7 IP, 2 R, 8 K), has won games by scores of 3-0 and 2-1 (twice) in the second half of this season, and no one on the A’s active roster has ever hit a home run against him (in 92 combined plate appearances). Still, with Oakland’s bats heating up, Fister will most likely need more help to keep Detroit’s season alive.
A’s rookie Dan Straily allowed just one run in six innings in that last matchup against Fister on Aug. 28. That start kicked off a finishing stretch of six outings in which Straily went 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He benefited from a bit more luck on balls in play over those final six starts, but he also started throwing his curveball more often so there may be more to that September surge than just an excess of “at’em” balls.
A flyball pitcher, Straily gives up an excess of extra-base hits and home runs, but his major league home run rate was way down this year compared to last and over those last six starts he allowed just two home runs. Given that the Tigers are struggling to hit for power, with Miguel Cabrera essentially incapable of it due to the lower-body injuries he’s playing through, Straily may be facing them at exactly the right time.
The one Detroit hitter Straily needs to watch out for is Torii Hunter. In 10 career plate appearances against Straily, Hunter has seven hits (.700) including a double and three home runs (1.700 slugging). The one run Straily allowed to the Tigers back on Aug. 28? Yup, that was a solo home run by Hunter, who was a triple shy of the cycle in three at-bats against Straily in that game.
Red Sox at Rays
Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 2-1
Starting pitchers: Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 5.17 ERA)
In their last four games in which they were not facing elimination, the Rays have gone 0-4, but in their last four games in which a loss would end its season,Tampa Bay is 4-0, including a walkoff win against the Red Sox in Game 3 of this series on Monday night. The Rays face yet another elimination game tonight; if they survive, they’ll play Game 5 in Boston on Thursday.
To get there, Tampa Bay will need its bats to lead the way. Game 4 starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was briefly sent to the minors at the end of August, ostensibly to give him a breather but just as much because he had gone 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA in his previous six starts. He was back eight days later and broke that losing streak with 5 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, but in his last four outings of the regular season he posted a 6.60 ERA, which hides three unearned runs from his last start. That outing came in a 6-3 loss against the Blue Jays in the opening game of the Rays’ final regular season series and is a large part of the reason that Tampa Bay needed a tiebreaker game to claim the second wild-card spot.
If Hellickson falters early in Game 4, look for Chris Archer, over whom Hellickson was chosen to make this start, to serve as a tandem starter/long reliever. Archer has had three days of rest since throwing a scoreless 1 1/3 innings in relief of Matt Moore in Game 1 and in his final start of the regular season, which came in the Rays’ other loss in Toronto, he threw just 64 pitches before manager Joe Maddon removed him with a surprisingly early hook. That decision, combined with Hellickson getting the start in this game, suggests that Maddon had very little confidence in Archer coming into the series, but retiring Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes in order in Game 1 may have improved Archer’s standing. The one trap for Archer in the Boston lineup, however, is Jacoby Ellsbury, who is 6-for-7 with a double and two walks in his career against the Rays’ rookie righty and 8-for-14 (.571) with a pair of walks and three stolen bases in as many tries in this series.
Boston’s Jake Peavy, a former Cy Young winner acquired at this year’s trade deadline, would seem to be a better bet than any combination of Hellickson and Archer in this game, but Peavy posted a 5.40 ERA in September. That number is a bit inflated by his final regular-season start in which he gave up five runs in six innings at Coors Field. In nine starts for the Red Sox prior to that outing, Peavy posted a 3.68 ERA and both of his starts against the Rays this season, one with the White Sox in Chicago one with the Red Sox in Florida, were quality, though neither was significantly better than the minimum requirements for a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER).
Peavy also has gone 0-2 with a 12.10 ERA in the postseason, not counting allowing six runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Rockies in the 2007 National League wild-card tiebreaker. Both of his official playoff starts came prior to 2007, so it has been a while since he has been in the postseason, but the flip side to that is that all three of those starts came while he was at his Padres peak.
Hellickson’s posteason track record is also short and ugly: one start, four innings, three solo homers allowed and a loss at home in the decisive Game 4 of the 2011 Division Series against the Rangers. That outing points to one of Hellickson’s primary bugaboos: the home run. He gave up two to the Red Sox in his last start against them on Sept. 12 (5 /13 IP, 3 R, 7 K) and both David Ortiz (of course) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (less obviously) have hit three against him in roughly 30 career plate appearances. Ortiz has hit Boston’s only two home runs in this series.
Rookie rightfielder Wil Myers, who left Game 3 with cramps in both legs, is expected to be back in the Rays’ lineup for this game and is looking to snap out of his 0-for-12 slump in this series.