The Detroit Tigers have been a thorn in the A’s side the past 3 times they’ve made the playoffs, eliminating them each time. In 2014, the playoffs may commence without the Tigers even participating.
In 2013, the Tigers won the AL Central by 1 game, with the Cleveland Indians claiming a Wild Card spot behind them. The Indians were eliminated in the play-in game against Tampa Bay. That was last season though. The piece that is most important is that 1 game that separated the Indians and Tigers. This season, the Tigers are off to a hot start, and playing good baseball. Kansas City is 5.5 GB, not playing terribly well and sitting at .500 with just a +4 run differential.
The Royals are a better team than they have been showing. Their pitching has been decent, allowing a total of 149 runs (the A’s have allowed 130, the Giants 140). Why mention the Giants? Their offense has only scored 10 more runs than the Royals, and they are 10 games over .500. The problem is that the Royals’ offense is sputtering as it always does early in the season. Their bats will get hot, and that divisional gap will close.
Another bit of good news for the Athletics is that the Tigers’ division has also gotten more competitive as a whole. Every team besides the Tigers is currently playing at, or just below .500. This should help slow the pace of Detroit accruing wins.
Let’s play out a scenario. The Tigers lose the division to the Royals and have to play in the Wild Card game. As of this moment, that would be the Angels, with Seattle only 1/2 a game behind. The Tigers would either need to engage in a slugfest with LAA or a pitcher’s duel with King Felix while having to use Justin Verlander. Say they win, and as the WC winner, they face the team with the best record. If the Tigers are the WC, that would most likely be the Athletics.
The Athletics would get to face the Tigers in the ALDS and not have to see Verlander until a potential game 4. If you’re reading between the lines, that means no Verlander in Game 5. The Athletics could still face the Tigers in the playoffs, but the tune of anyone but Verlander pitching a decisive game is music to everyone’s ears.
Then again, the Tigers could lose the WC game and not be the A’s problem.
Granted, we’e only a quarter of the way through the season, and there is still plenty of baseball left, but It’s always fun to speculate a little.