Breaking down the Sox opponent: Tigers or A's?

Breaking down the Sox opponent: Tigers or A's?
October 10, 2013, 5:00 pm
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The hard part for the Red Sox is over.
     
By virtue of their win in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday night, they've advanced to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2008.
     
Now, they wait to see who their opponent will be: Detroit or Oakland.
     
Of course, the Red Sox aren't about to say they prefer one team over another. And what they want isn't about to determine the outcome, either way.
     
But before Game 5 gets played, a breakdown of what the Sox could be in for this weekend.


OAKLAND A's
     
Record against Red Sox during regular season: 3-3.
     
STRENGTHS:
     
1) A deep, pesky lineup.
     
Oakland's batting order grinds out at-bats similarly to the Red Sox offensive approach. "Moneyball" may have been written a long time ago, but the A's, as an organization, are still a team that values seeing a lot of pitches and getting on base.
     
2) Power.
     
The A's don't have anyone on par with Prince Fielder or (a healthy) Miguel Cabrera, but they hit plenty of homers during the season (186, or eight more than the Red Sox). They were third in the American League in slugging, fourth in total bases and fifth in OPS. Bet you didn't know that Brandon Moss had the same number of homers during the season as David Ortiz.
     
3) Trustworthy and versatile bullpen.
     
Closer Grand Balfour was 38-for-41 in save opportunities, and, as Victor Martinez found out recently, is hyper-competitive. Ryan Cook averaged a strikeout per inning and lefties Sean Doolittle and Jeremy Blevins present lots of intriguing matchup possibilities.
     
4) Familiarity
     
It's not your imagination: a lot of the A's did once play for the Red Sox. In fact, on a given night, as many as four regulars for Oakland are ex-Sox: Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick. That's likely to mean that they're not going to be intimidated by Fenway, or unaware of their surroundings.
 
     
WEAKNESSES:

1) Payroll/Post-season history
     
As consistent as the A's have been, they seldom meet with post-season success. Like Tampa Bay, the A's get to the post-season fairly often; they just don't do much with the opportunity when they get there. Maybe this has something to do with not having big stars to win big games, or maybe it's about depth. Whatever the reason, the A's have won only one playoff series since Billy Beane became GM.
     
2) Defense
     
The A's aren't without some plus defenders in the field, including Crisp in left and Reddick in right. But they also have some holes, too, notably at first base, and Lowrie, while sure-handed, doesn't have great range. At a time of year when converting every out is hugely important, it's not as if the A's can guarantee that.
     
3) Experienced starters
     
Sure, Bartolo Colon's been around. But after that, the A's don't have another starter who's been exposed to the pressure-cooker of post-season baseball. Then again, maybe Sonny Gray (and Michael Wacha) are proving that's not exactly essential.

     
DETROIT TIGERS
     
Record against Red Sox this season: 4-3
     
STRENGTHS
     
1) Starting rotation
     
Any team that can choose to have Justin Verlander pitch the second game of a post-season series must be loaded in the pitching department. In front of Verlander is Max Scherzer, who's about to win the Cy Young Award. Behind Verlander is Anibal Sanchez, who led the league in ERA. Any more questions?
     
2) Character
     
This time of year, it helps to have dependable, reliable veterans who can handle the stress and strain of the post-season, and who can help the younger players deal with the unknown. In that regard, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez are among the best.
     
3) Defense in the middle of the field
     
Earlier this season, this might have been a question mark. But Austin Jackson can cover all that open space and center and former Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias is such a huge upgrade at shortstop over Jhonny Peralta, it can't even be calculated.


WEAKNESSES:
     
1) Late-inning relief.
     
Joaquin Benoit has pitched better of late and Jose Veras was obtained to help out. But the Tigers are anything but lockdown in the eighth innings, putting additional pressure on the terrific starters to go as deep as possible every time out.
     
2) Miguel Cabrera is injured
     
Though it's unclear what the exact nature of the injury is, there's no debating its impact on the Game's Best Hitter: Cabrera can't seem to use his lower half at all at the plate and he has just two extra-base hits over the last six weeks.
     
3) Defense on the corners
     
As good as Jackson and Iglesias are, they can't do it all. The Tigers are well below average at both corner infield spots (Prince Fielder at first and a hobbled Cabrera at third) and in left (at least when Peralta takes over there).