By Sam McPherson
In 2013, opponents across Major League Baseball hit .253 against Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander.
In this American League Division Series, the Oakland Athletics managed just a .118 average against him (6-for-51), and for the second year in a row, the A’s inability to solve Verlander has cost them a trip to the AL Championship Series.
Detroit beat Oakland, 3-0, at the O.co Coliseum Thursday night in Game Five of their ALDS matchup, in almost a blueprint copy of last year’s Game Five in Oakland against Verlander. In four games against the Detroit ace in two Octobers now, the A’s have lost to him three times and failed to score off him in the other game.
Never mind the rest of the world beating up on Verlander, somewhat, this year, as he posted a 3.46 ERA during the regular season — he clearly owns Oakland. Verlander held the A’s hit-less into the seventh inning.
The A’s did get two runners on base with two outs in the ninth against the Tigers bullpen, making any observer wonder why you’d take Verlander out of the game. But Oakland’s Seth Smith popped up harmlessly to right field… and just like that, the A’s season ended sourly yet again.
Oakland has the most regular-season wins in MLB over the last two years combined, but the team has little to show for it thanks to Verlander. So now it’s another long offseason for the Oakland organization as they try to figure out how to get deeper into October and perhaps reach the World Series for the first time since 1990.
In truth, this was a very good A’s team: they pitched well enough to win this series, and they made only one defensive error in the five games. They did strike out a record 57 times in five ALDS games, however, but the Tigers pitching staff set the all-time AL record for strikeouts this year.
Perhaps both these two ALDS defeats in 2012 and 2013 can be written off to a “bad match-up” for Oakland, but many people believed the A’s were the better team this year. That probably wasn’t the case last year.
In the end, Detroit and its top-five MLB payroll of $148 million was too much for Oakland and its bottom-four payroll of $60 million to overcome. The Tigers sent a $20 million player to the mound tonight. But this is the state of MLB right now: the final four teams left in the postseason average more than $157M each in payroll, and the little-teams-that-could, from Oakland, Pittsburgh ($79 million) and Tampa Bay ($57 million), now are all eliminated.
If Oakland really wants to take the next step and win more in October, it will have to start spending more money to compete with and finally beat the big boys. No small-payroll team has made the World Series since Tampa Bay did in 2008, and no small-payroll team has won the Series since the then-Florida Marlins did in 2003.
The A’s should know what they need to do if they want to win then— spend more money in the same wise way they spend it now, so their front-line talent is better and their quality depth is much deeper.
Otherwise, their future may simply be to keep losing Game Fives in the ALDS.