The match-ups are set, but most teams are still scratching chins on playoff rosters and rotations. The Tigers do not yet know who is pitching against them in the Divisional Series, but this much is for certain: they will have to rely on some unlikely names.
No matter the order, the A’s will throw at least two left-handers against the Tigers, and possibly three. Tommy Millone will likely pitch in one of the first two games, and lefty Brett Anderson is expected to return from his injury during this series. The other certainty is right hander Jarrod Parker. The fourth starter is a bit of a mystery, but there is a chance it could be lefty Travis Blackley.
Beyond Oakland, there is a hefty load of left-handed starters in the playoffs. The Yankees have both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite. The Rangers will throw Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. Finally, the Orioles also have two lefties in Joe Saunders and Wei-Yin Chen.
So what does it all mean? It means Leyland will have to make lineup decisions that Tiger fans will tear apart, as they have all season.
Let’s be clear about one thing: The Tigers, and perhaps the A’s, have the least “set” lineup of any playoff team. The Yankees and Rangers, meanwhile, seem to have a well- settled everyday lineup, no matter the pitcher. There are seven players who you can expect Leyland will run out there every game: Jackson, Infante, Cabrera, Fielder, Young, Dirks, and Peralta. Pitching match-ups will likely determine the final two positions.
During the stretch run, when the Tigers faced a left handed starter, Gerald Laird started at catcher and Avisail Garcia started in right field. Against a right-hander, it was Avila behind the plate and Berry in right. So will the strategy be the same in the postseason, even when it is likely the Tigers will face a lefty half the time?
Against a right handed starter, there is really no question what the lineup will be: Jackson, Berry, Cabrera, Fielder, Young, Dirks, Peralta, Avila, Infante. But against lefties, would you want to see Garcia over Berry? Laird over Avila? No one questioned those moves in the regular season, but playoff baseball is the time of year most want to see an unquestioned 1-9 run out in each game.
For the record, I think it absolutely makes sense to play Laird and Garcia often. First, they both give nothing away defensively. In fact, outside of Jackson, Garcia is the best defensive outfielder on the roster. And to Laird’s credit, he continues to come up with hits, albeit with less power than Avila can provide.
The numbers Avila and Berry have put up against left-handed pitching back up the decision even more. Avila is batting .176 with 1 home run, striking out 30 times in 85 at bats. Berry is batting .214 against lefties, with 23 strikeouts in 56 at bats. Garcia, meanwhile, has hit .333 against lefties this year, although only 30 total at bats (he was tearing up left-handers in AA earlier this summer). Laird has actually struggled a bit against lefties, hitting only .204. But he has only 12 K’s in 98 at bats, so he will put the ball in play much more than Avila.
It would have sounded crazy to say in April, or even August, that the Tigers would be relying on Avisail Garcia and Gerald Laird in their postseason lineup, but circumstances have made it a reality. I just hope fans understand the reasons behind the decisions before they call a radio show or comment on the lineup story about how Leyland is a moron.