(Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison)
Bartolo Colon takes the ball Game 1 against Max Scherzer

by Jim Turvey

Three Bridge Sports is going to try to have a re/pre-view of each game of the A’s postseason with combined analysis of the previous game and the upcoming one. Since this is the first game of the A’s postseason it will not have a review section of course, which only means that the preview can be more in-depth.

The road to the World Series starts tonight when the Tigers come to town. The A’s won the right to host Games 1,2 and 5 by staying ahead of the Tigers in the final weekend. In fact, that final weekend was highlight by the Tigers pulling off an impressively poor feat. They were swept by the Marlins, only totaling three runs in the series, and getting no-hit in their final game of the season. The series was one of only two Marlins’ three game sweeps of an opponent this season, and the first since the beginning of June.

The last time the Tigers and Athletics met the A’s took three out of four in Detroit (and had a 6-3 lead in the ninth in the final game before imploding). Previously in the year, the A’s lost two out of three at home, but that was all the way back in April. These results can’t tell us too much, seeing as the sample size is nearly as minimal as it can get, but it’s still nice to know that we took the regular season against these guys. Game 1 features possible AL Cy Young winner, and 21-game winner, Max Scherzer versus possible AL Weight Champion, Bartolo Colon. Scherzer obviously had a very solid year, finishing at 21-3, but that was due in part to some strong run support, and a little bit of luck. The two pitchers had the two highest win totals in the American League.

When the A’s are batting

Bob Melvin loves to play match ups and platoon as much as any manager in the big leagues, which making projecting their line up a little tricky – for opposing managers, as well as mediocre sports writers. With Scherzer being right-handed, Moss and Reddick will likely find spots in the line up with Young (thankfully) riding the pine to start. The big question mark is whether Yoenis Cespedes will be ready to start. Since the line up has a few question marks as is, let’s take a look at who matches up best with Scherzer and who may struggle against him.

Scherzer has a pretty good repertoire of pitches, adding a curveball this season to a fastball/slider/changeup mix he previously had. Scherzer used his fastball less than ever this season, but still threw it a relatively high 56% of the time. His fastball averages over 93 mph, but his strength lies in his changeup and slider coming in at nearly the exact same speed – 84.5 for his slider and 84.6 for his changeup. His slider in particular has been brutal this year, with opposing batters hitting only .128, and slugging only .182 against the pitch this year. Scherzer used his slider predominantly against right-handed batters, and predominantly used it to , which is standard.

So before we get to which A’s hitters may have success off of Scherzer, I think it’s necessary to comment on what every A’s fan is certainly thinking – maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Cespedes missed out on Game 1. Any fan who has watched Yoenis this season can tell, just by watching, that the low and away slider has been a weakness of his. He seems incapable of laying off of it, even if it is thrown consecutive pitches. Cespedes has also struggled more , slugging only .343 against power pitchers vs. .496 against finesse pitchers. All things considered, Cespedes is actually one of the better A’s to be questionable for Friday’s game against Scherzer (late update – it appears Cespedes will be starting tonight, oh well).

Right off the bat, it’s important to note that while left-handed batters didn’t have a ton of success against Scherzer this year, they certainly had more success than right-handed batters ( ). Part of the reason for that is a previously mentioned, Scherzer’s top pitch, his slider, isn’t nearly as valuable when breaking in on lefties. The good news is with their flexible roster, the A’s can put quite a few left-handed bats in the lineup. With Lowrie, Moss, Reddick, Vogt, Sogard or Callaspo, and possibly even Barton or Smith, the A’s can really score big on the left-handed platoon. Now the question becomes, which of these lefties handles power pitchers the best?

According to baseball-reference, only Reddick and Moss do better against power pitchers, and only Moss really thrives against them ( ). This is once again not a surprise given his ability to go to the opposite field with great power throughout this season.

Overall, the A’s match up decently with Scherzer thanks to their ability to platoon heavily. I also think Moss will be able to crank at least one extra base hit, hopefully one that clears the wall.

When the Colon is pitching

As has been noted previously on this site , Bartolo Colon relies on his fastball at a historically unprecedented rate. This season, Colon threw his fastball over 85% of the time, and what makes Colon’s fastball special is the movement on it. His fastball only comes in at an average rate of just over 90 mph, but averages nearly , and his “sinker” averages nearly ten inches of horizontal break.

While the Tigers certainly have a solid lineup, the real task comes down to limiting Fielder and Cabrera. Let’s take a look at how each of these two stack up against Colon.

Colon is a bit harder to profile than Scherzer because his skill set is so unique. We’ll take a look at how they have done in the past against Colon, but with such a small sample size there’s only so much to be projected.

In this case, that’s a good thing because Cabrera and Fielder both own an average of .500 or better against Colon, with twelve hits in a combined twenty-three at bats. In fact, the Tigers’ roster as a whole has an average of .321 with a slugging percentage of .524. However, as noted this sample size is far below the point at which it could be considered statistically relevant. Only Torii Hunter has more than 26 at bats off Colon, and many of those came when Colon was a totally different pitcher.

One seemingly disconcerting fact about Miguel Cabrera is how well he handles pitches in on the hands. Read Jonah Keri’s piece, here , and if you don’t read it, at least check out some of the graphics. Actually, maybe don’t if you’d prefer to avoid sadness. There is some good news out of this however, as Colon typically stays on the outside edge of the zone while pitching to both righties and lefties . Cabrera is still a good hitter on the outside edge, but not nearly as dominant as he is on the inner half.

Scouting Colon is one of the hardest jobs in baseball, considering his pitch repertoire and reliance on just one pitch. Looking back on just this year, the Tigers managed four runs in twelve innings off Colon, with Bartolo receiving two no decisions. Even scouting the Tigers’ offense is difficult right now, with Miguel Cabrera supposedly playing through severe pain, and the club fresh off of being no-hit. I believe we’ll know much more about this side of the game after tonight’s affair.

What’s the verdict, Fertile Myrtle?

I believe the A’s will be able to get three runs off of Scherzer, and at least one more off of the Tigers’ bullpen – a relative weakness that will be covered as a part of another preview. There are questions abound for when the A’s are in the field, but I believe a less than 100% Cabrera, and the home field advantage will push the A’s to a 4-2 victory in Game 1.

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