OAKLAND -- The Detroit Tigers last season had a lineup featuring the American League Triple Crown winner that supported their touted pitching staff enough to reach the World Series. This year the rotation may again hold the league's Cy Young winner in 21-game Max Scherzer and led the majors in strikeouts during the regular season. And the lineup?
"It's a better lineup this year," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
The Tigers finished the regular season with the highest team average in the majors (.283), while scoring the second-most runs (796) behind the Boston Red Sox and posting the second-highest OPS (.780).
Third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder still anchor the heart of the lineup. But the Tigers have three other regulars who finished the season with averages of .300 or better, including veteran right fielder Torii Hunter -- acquired this offseason -- and designated hitter Victor Martinez, who missed all of 2012 due to injury.
Hunter typically bats second for the Tigers, behind speedy leadoff man Austin Jackson and ahead of Cabrera and Fielder.
"They're probably a little more versatile this year," Melvin said. "They hit for a few more guys that maybe last year they probably didn't hit for. And they just have a deeper lineup. Hunter sitting in the two-hole ahead of those guys, it presents its challenges."
Melvin demonstrated his respect for Cabrera on Aug. 26 in the first game of a four-game series in Detroit when he had reliever Dan Otero walk Cabrera intentionally to load the bases with two outs representing the tying run in a then-7-4 game. Cabrera was then in the midst of a rousing encore to his Triple Crown season, finishing the year with a .348 average, 44 homers and 137 RBIs.
Hampered by injuries, though Cabrera posted a slash line of .278/.395/.333 with one home run and seven RBIs in September. Melvin today was asked if he'll take a similarly cautious approach to pitching Cabrera in this playoff series.
"I think how a guy's swinging at the time plays into it," he said. "And at the time he was on fire. Now you have to worry about Fielder and his numbers off lefties. Victor Martinez all of a sudden gets thrown into the mix when you end up putting Cabrera on.
"So I think how you work Cabrera has a lot to do with how guys are hitting behind him and how they're playing behind him as well."
There's also an element of unknown to the Tigers lineup -- whether shortstop Jhonny Peralta will be in it after missing 50 games late in the regular season due to a suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic. The Tigers acquired rookie Jose Iglesias to play shortstop in Peralta's absence, and reportedly could consider playing Peralta in left field if they want to keep Iglesias in the lineup.
"I'm not presuming anything," Melvin said of Peralta, who batted .303 with 55 RBIs in 107 regular-season games. "We're prepared for him to be in the lineup."
Last year the A's pitchers were able to limit the damage done by Cabrera and Fielder in the ALDS, holding them to a combined 9-for-41 with one home run and three RBIs, and allowed three or fewer runs to Detroit in three of the five games. But the A's lineup could not muster enough offense against the Tigers' pitching staff, particularly Justin Verlander in games 1 and 5.
Both lineups have a slightly different look this year -- the A's have upgraded at shortstop with Jed Lowrie and enjoyed the emergence over a full season of Josh Donaldson at third base and, more quietly, Brandon Moss and his 30 homers.
"You can't really complain about the way our pitchers pitched last year," Moss said this week. "And I think if they do that again this year, I think if they pitch like that again and give us the same games, then I think we will win the series this year.
"I think our offense is better this year than it was last year, whereas our pitching staff is pretty much the same guys, except for Bartolo (Colon), who's obviously a huge presence. But you can't really complain about the way our guys did last year."
-- Matt Kawahara