It's this simple: if the Oakland Athletics don't beat the Detroit Tigers tonight at the Coliseum, they face the same fate they did in 2006 when they lost the first two games of the American League Championship Series to the Tigers in Oakland: inevitable playoff doom.
The challenge of short-series play is overcoming any deficit, especially on the road. In this best-of-five format for the AL Division Series, the A's are down 1-0 after losing Game One last night. They can ill afford to lose again on their home field before going to Detroit for Game Three.
So here comes Justin Verlander:
- In his career, Verlander is 8-6 against the A's with a 2.48 ERA over 15 starts in the regular season;
- In the postseason, the Detroit ace is 3-0 against Oakland, giving up five runs over 21.1 innings for a 2.11 ERA in three starts since 2006;
- During this past 2013 regular season, the A's beat Verlander finally, scoring five runs off him in Detroit in late August -- although he also beat them previously in the year in his usual fashion (one run given up in six innings).
The Tigers starter, who won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011, was somewhat human this season, posting a 13-12 record and a 3.46 ERA.
Hence his "relegation" to Game Two status for this playoff series, behind Max Scherzer in the Detroit rotation. Opponents hit .253 off him in 2013, compared to .217 last season and .192 in that magical 2011 campaign.
There may be hope for the A's, and they will need a lot of plucky effort to make sure they don't go to the Motor City in an 0-2 hole.
That hope will ride on rookie Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67): he's never faced Detroit in his young career, as he was the one starter the Tigers didn't get shut down by when the A's visited Comerica Park in late August this season.
Perhaps that "unknown" factor will help Gray contain the Tigers' potent lineup tonight, and perhaps Oakland can do the little things -- like score a runner from third with less than two outs, perhaps, or field their positions most cleanly -- that cost them a chance to win the game last night.
Otherwise, it will be the same old story for Billy Beane, Moneyball and the Little Engine That Couldn't.