Tigers vs. A’s: Justin Verlander redux?

October 10, 2013
Will Justin Verlander look like this again tonight?  EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO
Will Justin Verlander look like this again tonight?  EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO

Nothing is ever certain in a winner-take-all game like tonight’s Game 5 of the American League Division Series between the Tigers and the Athletics. Anything could happen. It’s why we watch.

But it’s a pretty darned safe bet that Justin Verlander, the venerable Detroit right-hander who’s been a Cy Young winner and an MVP — yet was deemed, in the latter part of this season, to be pitching below his own lofty standard — will feel quite comfy at Oakland-Alameda County O.co Coliseum tonight. He will come with his own powerful right arm, which would make anyone confident. But he also comes with a history against the A’s that makes him the perfect choice for such a game.

There are the obvious examples. Last year, Verlander pitched a four-hit shutout in Game 5 against the A’s in Oakland, the victory that paved the way for the Tigers’ run to the World Series. Last week, he pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out 11, in what became a 1-0 loss in Game 2. He has pitched brilliantly in the postseason in Oakland.

But step back and look at Verlander’s bigger picture, too. At 30, he has now faced every American League team (except A.L. newbie Houston) at least eight times in his career. None of those teams has hit for a lower average than the Athletics (.209), and only Texas has a lower on-base-plus-slugging than Oakland’s .588. And of the 13 road ballparks in which Verlander has made at least five starts, his lowest batting average against (.192) and OPS against (.569) have come at O.co Coliseum.

All this makes for nice statistical fodder, and may ease the nerves of Tigers’ fans headed into Game 5. And there’s no way to offer a flip-side comparison, unless you’re willing to take the smallest sample size possible. Athletics rookie Sonny Gray has faced the Tigers exactly once in his 11 major league starts. That happened to be against Verlander, back in Game 2 of this series.

The results? Eight innings, four hits, nine strikeouts — and no runs.

Tigers fans, maybe you should be back on edge after all.

DETROIT AT OAKLAND, GAME 5
8:07 p.m., TBS
Verlander (13-12) vs. Gray (5-3)

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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