In looking to the playoffs, how much meaning can be put in the regular season games?
The A's and Tigers open a best-of-five American League Division Series Friday in Oakland. The last time they met was in Detroit in August. The A's won the first three games by a cumulative 28-13 score and had a 6-3 lead in the ninth inning of the fourth game before the sweep slipped away.
One thing about the Tigers is that they haven't been the same since that series, even though they went on to sew up the American League Central with a 93-69 record.
To that point of the season, the Tigers had played 130 games, had a 77-54 record (the A's were 72-57), had a team batting average of .283 and had scored 662 runs or 5.1 runs per game while averaging 1.2 homers per game. The Detroit pitchers had a 3.49 ERA and had allowed less than 0.8 homers per game.
Starting with the A's series, the Tigers hitters were never the same. Detroit's average actually went up, to .284, but they averaged just 4.2 runs per game and less than 0.8 homers per game. And the Tigers were 16-16 during the push to October.
Not all of that can be pinned on the A's, to be sure. Miguel Cabrera has been dealing with an abdominal injury that has limited him to just one September homer. But the fact is September has been bad for the Tigers as a whole, and the series against the A's from Aug. 26-29 was when the downturn started.
The A's aren't going to assume that's going to continue, but the Tigers are more than a little concerned. This world-wrecking offense scored one or zero runs in seven September games.
``We've got to score runs,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press late last month. ``That's as simple as it is. We need to get on the board with some runs.''
That could change the way the A's attack the Tigers. In the August series, Oakland manager Bob Melvin intentionally walked Cabrera (.348, 44 homers) on Aug. 26 in the first game of the series with runners on first and second.
That loaded the bases in a game the A's led 8-4 to face Prince Fielder, the Tigers' cleanup hitter and a serious home run threat. Sean Doolittle came out of the bullpen to get Fielder to fly out and the A's went on to an 8-6 win.
On Wednesday Melvin said he ordered the walk by reliever Dan Otero because of how hot Cabrera was at the time. With Cabrera decidedly cooler, the A's might choose to pitch to the Detroit third baseman in a similar situation this time around.
It seemed a bit of a stretch to walk Cabrera with a man on first base in August. It would seem that in the course of six weeks, it would be a sizeable stretch to do it now.