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MLB Playoffs

How They Matchup

October 10, 2006|MIKE DIGIOVANNA

* First base: The Athletics' Nick Swisher is a slick-fielding defender with considerable power, though most of it comes from the left side -- the switch-hitter has hit 47 of his 58 career homers against right-handers. Sean Casey, acquired by Detroit from Pittsburgh on July 31, is not much of a power threat, but he makes consistent contact and has hit .314 with runners in scoring position since the trade. Edge: A's.

* Second base: Placido Polanco may not be a most-valuable-player candidate, but it was no coincidence the team went into a bit of a tailspin when Polanco was sidelined because of a separated left shoulder from Aug. 16 to Sept. 22. With his bat control and speed, Polanco has been a nice fit in the No. 2 hole. D'Angelo Jimenez played in only eight games before being thrust into a starting role because of Mark Ellis' broken finger, but the veteran played solid defense for the A's in Game 3 of the division series, turning one double play and starting another.

Edge: Tigers.

* Shortstop: Oakland's Marco Scutaro, who replaced injured Bobby Crosby, and Detroit's Carlos Guillen are reliable defenders, but there are few similarities between the two offensively. Scutaro bats eighth and is more of a pest, a guy who has a knack for getting on base and delivering a clutch hit, and who swung and missed at only 9.5% of his pitches, the sixth-lowest percentage in the AL. Switch-hitting Guillen, who bats fifth, is more of a run-producer, having batted .320 with 85 RBIs, 71 walks and only 87 strikeouts. Edge: Tigers.

* Third base: There is no better defensive third baseman in the league than Eric Chavez, who is expected to win his sixth Gold Glove. Bothered for much of the season by tendinitis in the forearms and hamstring problems, Chavez's power was down, but his division series Game 3 homer could be the spark he needed. Detroit's Brandon Inge is an above-average defender and one of baseball's most dangerous No. 9 hitters, but he had almost three times as many strikeouts (128) as walks (43). Edge: A's.

* Left field: Like Inge, Detroit's Craig Monroe is a high-strikeout (126), low-walk (37) guy, but few No. 7 hitters provide his kind of production. Oakland's Jay Payton, who is the only player since 1957 to start at least 40 games at all three outfield positions, is an aggressive hitter who rarely walks (22) or strikes out (52). He has good defensive range and an above-average arm. Edge: Tigers.

* Center field: Other than having good speed, Detroit's Curtis Granderson is hardly a prototypical leadoff hitter. He had 19 homers and 68 RBIs, but his on-base percentage (.335) isn't that good, and his strikeouts (174) are off the charts. Defensively, Granderson and Oakland's Mark Kotsay cover a lot of ground, which is important in spacious Comerica Park. Back problems limited Kotsay to 129 games, the primary reason he matched career lows in runs (57), homers (seven) and extra-base hits (39). Edge: A's.

* Right field: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit's cleanup batter, is the more dynamic offensive player, but Oakland's Milton Bradley, who has good range and an excellent arm, is the better defender. Bradley, who bats third, is no slouch at the plate, either -- after struggling during an injury-plagued first half, he hit .300 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs after the All-Star break. Edge: Tigers.

* Catcher: Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez has always had one of baseball's best arms -- opponents tried to steal only 84 times this season and were caught 35 times -- but his game-calling abilities, criticized during his early years with the Rangers, have improved. Oakland's Jason Kendall's throwing has improved this season. A pesky leadoff hitter, Kendall can work counts, and he's not afraid to hit with two strikes or to get hit by a pitch. Edge: Tigers.

* Designated hitter: Oakland General Manager Billy Beane could win executive-of-the-year honors based solely on his signing of veteran, injury-prone slugger Frank Thomas, who agreed to a $500,000 guaranteed deal with $3 million in incentives and hit .270 with 39 homers and 114 runs batted in. Detroit's Marcus Thames doesn't have the pedigree or middle-of-the-order spot of Thomas, but he has some pop, having hit 26 homers. Edge: A's.

* Starting pitching: A strength for both teams. Detroit, which led the AL with a 3.84 team ERA, features an outstanding left-right mix, with left-hander Nate Robertson in Game 1, hard-throwing right-hander Justin Verlander in Game 2, veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers in Game 3 and potentially dominant right-hander Jeremy Bonderman in Game 4. Game 1 starter Barry Zito, he of the big, looping curveball, is the only left-hander in the A's rotation. He will be followed by right-handers Esteban Loaiza, Dan Haren and hard-throwing Rich Harden. Edge: Tigers.

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