The Oakland A's were able to avoid the sweep by shutting out the Detroit Tigers in game 3 of the ALDS, and now must face another talented strikeout artist to force the series to a decisive game 5.
Max Scherzer gets the nod for Detroit. Scherzer, like A's game three starter Brett Anderson, will be coming off an injury late in the season to make an important postseason start. Scherzer experienced fatigue in his shoulder in an outing against the A's in Detroit on Sept. 18, but says he's good to go in Wednesday's game 4 with his team leading the series 2-1.
"I definitely feel fine. I was able to get treatment ... and after that we were really able to take care of it. I needed more rest and that's what we gave it," Scherzer said following Tuesday night's 2-0 loss in Oakland.
Scherzer represents a tough matchup for the A's because of his ability to miss bats and get strikeouts. He finished second in baseball in Ks, trailing only teammate Justin Verlander, who would be set to go in Thursday's game 5 should the A's extend the series.
In the first two games of the series in Detroit, the Tigers were able to have their way with the A's hitters, netting a combined 23 strikeouts. But in game 3, Oakland struck out just four times.
After initially feeling pain in his shoulder in the start against the A's, Scherzer went five innings in his next start, allowing three runs on six hits with four strikeouts. But he skipped his next start to allow his shoulder some time to heal and recover. He hasn't gone six innings or longer in a start since Sept. 12.
Scherzer is a power pitcher in every sense, with a fastball that has averaged above 94 for the year, matched with a slider and changeup he throws at about the same rate.
Last year Scherzer was an enigma for Tigers' manager Jim Leyland. The right-hander struggled to maintain consistency throughout the year. In some starts, he would show why scouts gushed over his arm when he was with the Diamondbacks. But he also allowed five runs or more in nine outings. He still managed to win 15 games in 2011 before setting a new career high with 16 this season.
The right-hander struggled in his first postseason stint, allowing 10 earned runs in 15.2 innings against the Yankees and Rangers last October.
A's manager Bob Melvin will counter with A.J. Griffin, who exemplifies what the A's have been able to do as a team this season.
The 24-year-old started the season with Double-A Midland, but wound up in the big leagues, going 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA with just a 1.13 WHIP during the regular season. Late in the season last year, Griffin was starting for High-A Stockton in the California League playoffs.
"The California League and the Major Leagues are pretty comparable," Griffin joked Tuesday.
"It's the same game. It's just a little bit quicker, a little bit more focused. I didn't have a press conference this time last year."
Griffin's season is emblematic of the entire ballclub. He started the year with Double-A Midland and made seven starts, going 3-1 with 2.49 ERA, allowing just 31 hits and seven walks in 43.1 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento and made 10 starts, putting up very similar numbers before getting the call to join Oakland's rotation.
In only two outings did Griffin allow more than three earned runs. But his worst start came against in Detroit, when he allowed five in just 4.2 innings in a 12-2 loss in the game that Scherzer left early with his shoulder issue.
Griffin threw very well up until that point, but he finished the season with a 7.27 ERA in his last four starts. It's very possible he hit the rookie wall after exceeding his career high in innings by more than 20 in a single season.
Griffin's last start was back on Oct. 3, giving him six days' rest between starts which Melvin hopes will be enough time to recover and put his poor finish to the regular season behind him.
"I think he just got a little frustrated with his command. It's been so good," Melvin said Tuesday in regards to Griffin's previous outings.
"You can tell when he's not throwing the ball where he wants to, he gets a little confused by that.
"We have a lot of confidence in him. What we try to stress with him is focus on the good thing that have happened and not the couple of tough starts that you've had. He's accomplished a lot this year up to this point and has pitched some really good games and know that your team feels very good about you on the mound."
Starting pitching has been a key for the A's all season. On Tuesday, they also showed how important defense can be for setting the tone. Coco Crisp made one of the season's great catches when he robbed Prince Fielder of a potential home run by scaling the wall in the second inning. Yoenis Cespedes followed up with a diving catch to rob Fielder of a base hit later in the game.
Defense has proven to be very important this series, especially considering the Tigers have only scored one run via hit in the first three games.