Podcast: The Fantasy Football Doctors – Playoffs Week One



Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

  • It’s time to get very serious about your team because money is on the line
  • Which QB should you start this week?
  • What running back will put up the big points this weekend?
  • Who are the best wide receivers that are playing this week?
  • Don’t overlook the Tight Ends – those points could make the difference!

Plus, you will get Charlie O’s review of “The Irishman” from an Irishman!

And, you will hear an appeal to the Federal Government to bail out Detroit’s sports teams!

That plus much more on this week’s edition of the Fantasy Sports Doctors! 

San Jose Sharks podcast with Len Shapiro: After losing two out of three, Sharks set for Red Wings tonight; Sharks able to contain Ovechkin last Sunday

Photo credit: @SanJoseSharks

On the Sharks podcast with Len:

1 It’s two out of three for the Sharks as they drop their second on Sunday and their first a 3-2 one goal loss to Columbus on Saturday, March 4th. The Sharks got blanked 2-0 by the Washington Caps on Sunday after defeating the St Louis Blues on Thursday night 2-0.

2 The Caps got goals from Nick Backstrom and Lars Eller, which was enough offense to help them get past the Sharks.

3 The Sharks were able to contain Alex Ovechkin as he went 0-6 on shots on goal.

4 The Detroit Red Wings are in San Jose for a Monday night face off at SAP Center the Red Wings are 26-31-11 fifth in the Atlantic.

5 The Wings bring in goalie Jimmy Howard, who has a 2.82 GA, .911% save percentage. Backup goalie Petr Mrazek leads the team in shutouts with three.

Len has the Sharks podcasts every Monday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com


Pelicans sweep season series vs Kings

by Michael Martinez

picture credit Jacob Gonzalez

SACRAMENTO- The Kings had a great win last night in Los Angeles and things were looking up, but then the team came home. Recently, the Kings have struggled mightily at home and tonight was no different. The defense was flat out bad tonight especially in the first half.

The difference tonight was El Dorado Hills native, Ryan Anderson. Anderson’s huge second quarter change the game completely and the Kings really never had a chance thereafter.

The Oak Ridge high grad put up 21 points in the second quarter on 8-11 shooting, 3-4 from the field. The forward’s huge second quarter put the Kings down 74-53 as he made the defense look silly.  Some of his shots were incredible, but nonetheless giving up 74 points was inexcusable. As a team, the Pelicans shot 83.3% in the quarter.  The Kings offense slowed down in the second quarter, scoring 22 points to New Orleans’ 41. The Pelicans’ had their largest lead of the half in the second when they were up by 24 points.

Fans booed the Kings towards the end of the quarter as the Kings gave up the most points in a half all season. Maybe that sparked some fire under Sacramento’s belt out of the locker room.

Out of the break, the Kings scored 10 straight points and cut the deficit down to 11, looking for some hope. But New Orleans never let the Kings get any closer, going up by 21 points at one point in the third quarter.

The Kings continued to struggle while New Orleans kept pouring it on. The Pelicans’ largest lead of the game came in the fourth as they went up by 27 points at one point. New Orleans absolutely dominated the Kings tonight and there was really no question about if they would get the win. Although the Kings only lost the game by 15, 123-108, the Pelicans out played the Kings in every aspect.

The loss is not all that surprising with the Kings recent struggles, plus they have not been able to defeat New Orleans. This is their sixth straight loss to the Pelicans who won all four games this season. And as the Sleep Train Arena starts to see its last games, the Kings have dropped seven consecutive games on their home floor and the games really haven’t been all that close.

The Pelicans shot 54.4% from the field and an astounding 57.1% from behind the arc, knocking down 12 three-pointers.

Anthony Davis finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Anderson totaled 29 points. New comer Tim Frazier scored 14 points for New Orleans and added nine assists.

Darren Collison was the Kings’ leading scorer with 23 points. DeMarcus Cousins finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for another double double. Cousins now has 26 double doubles in his last 32 games he’s played in.

The Kings once again showed struggles in playing back to back games. Heading into the contest, the team was 3-12 when playing consecutive games and now that makes it 3-13. It is difficult to play without three of the team’s guards, including Rajon Rondo, but there’s no excuse for the team’s poor effort tonight.

Sacramento is now 26-41 and will head to Detroit to take on the Pistons on Friday. With the season coming to an end, maybe it’s best for the Kings to hope for the best possible draft pick and regroup next season.


Big Inning Paces Tigers to Sweep of A’s

By Matthew Harrington

For the second time in the three-game series at Detroit, a big inning doomed the Oakland Athletics hopes of exacting revenge on the team that bounced them from both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. Wednesday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers pounced on A’s pitching for a six-run sixth inning to seal up a 9-3 win and a series sweep in a matinee game at Comerica Park. Detroit (47-34)used a four-run bottom of the ninth Monday to walk off winners then shut the A’s out 3-0 Tuesday night.

A’s starter Jesse Chavez (6-5, 3.23 ERA) turned in his second-consecutive forgettable performance, taking the loss after surrendering four runs to the potent Detroit offense. In his last start on Friday against the Marlins, Chavez went only five innings in a six-hit, four-run no decision. His opponent Justin Verlander (7-7, 4.71), entrenched in a forgettable season, pitched well enough to be tabbed the winning pitcher after striking out four in his six inning, two-run performance to nail down the three-game sweep.

The A’s (51-33) did take some positives from Wednesday’s loss. Derek went 2-for-4 in his return from back stiffness that saw him sidelined since June 27. Yoenis Cespedes found himself penciled in as designated hitter after missing Tuesday’s game with tightness in his hamstring.

Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss accounted for the trio of A’s runs. Both hit solo home runs to right field off 2011 AL Cy Young winner Verlander in the first inning. Later, with the game well out of Oakland’s reach, Crisp scored on Moss’s seventh inning single off reliever Al Alburquerque. The Oakland first baseman’s performance Wednesday pushed him past an inactive Josh Donaldson (recipient of an off day from A’s Manager Bob Melvin) for the team lead in homers (19) and runs batted in (62).

Though the A’s struck early to stake Jesse Chavez to a 2-0 lead before he even took the mound, the Tigers struck often against the right-hander. Torii Hunter hit an RBI single off Chavez in the bottom of the first, then tied the game up on his run scoring base hit in the bottom of the third. Austin Jackson put Detroit ahead 3-2 in the home half of the fourth, plating Andrew Romine on a two-out single

The real damage came in six-run, three-pitcher sixth inning that saw the Motor City kitties score six runs. Chavez was lifted by Melvin in favor of Jim Johnson after walking the first two batters he faced. After retiring the first batter, Romine, on a sacrifice bunt, Johnson failed to record another out. Monday night’s hero Rajai Davis knocked a two-run single, Ian Kinsler singled in a run then 2013 American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera doubled in a pair to knock the 2012 All-Star from the game for Ryan Cook. In total, the beleaguered Johnson was responsible for four runs on four hits in his 1/3 of an inning.

Cook got the first batter he faced, J.D. Martinez, to ground out for the second out, but yielded a single to Torii Hunter that scored the inherited runner Cabrera. He then finished Nick Castellanos off with a pop-out, but by then the damage was done with Detroit sitting out front 9-2.

After facing the AL Central leaders Monday to Wednesday, the A’s head home to welcome the AL East’s top dogs. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays flutter into town Thursday to open a four-game weekend series at O.Co Coliseum. Melvin has tabbed Sonny Gray to open the series in hopes of snapping the current three-game losing skid.

Tigers Stun Athletics in Grand Fashion

By Matthew Harrington

The Detroit Tigers may not always beat the Oakland Athletics, but the motor city kitties tend to find the most excruciating ways to do it. After bouncing Swingin’ A’s from the postseason in the last two campaigns, the American League Central leaders added another chapter of success against their West Coast foes Monday night at Comerica Park, converting a 4-1 deficit in the ninth inning into a walk-off grand slam for Rajai Davis and the Tigers (45-34).

With a decent lead in the ninth, Oakland A’s Manager Bob Melvin tabbed bullpen backend stalwart Sean Doolittle (1-3, 2.97) to sit the Tigers down for three final outs. Instead the A’s bench boss saw a surefire victory turned into a stunning defeat. Detroit came to the plate in attack mode against Doolittle, with Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila reaching base with no outs three pitches in to the left-hander’s night.

Doolittle found his footing, striking out Eugenio Suarez but failed to put Austin Jackson away on a full-count pitch. Instead Doolittle nibbled outside the strike zone to bring former Athletic Rajai Davis to the plate representing the winning run. Davis patiently took the first-pitch delivery from Doolittle for a ball, then crushed a belt-high breaking ball deep to left field about ten feet from foul pole for his sixth home run of the season. Davis made reliever Blaine Hardy (101, 2.89 ERA) the winner, handing the 27-year-old his first Major League win

Doolittle saw his scoreless inning streak snapped at 26 1/3 innings Saturday in Miami, blowing his second save of the season after allowing a Casey McGehee single to tie the game at 6-6. With a second blown save Monday night, he now has failed to shut the door in two-straight games after going the first 38 games of the season with only one missed opportunity. Since taking over the closer’s role for a struggling Jim Johnson, the first baseman-turned-reliever has collected 11 saves in 2014.

The A’s (51-31) looked securely en route to their fifth-straight win after taking a commanding 4-1 lead in the eighth inning. Oakland and Detroit entered the inning tied 1-1 after strong performances from A’s starter Scott Kazmir and his counterpart Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez opened the frame getting Yoenis Cespedes to bounce a grounder to short, but Suarez threw the ball away on the play. Brandon Moss made Detroit pay for the mistake by lacing an RBI double to left, chasing Sanchez from the game with no outs in the seventh. The 2013 ERA leader allowed the two earned runs on eight hits with only a pair of strikeouts (including the 1,000th of his career) but exited in line for the loss.

Joba Chamberlain fared far worse in relief of Sanchez, allowing the first two batters he faced to reach base, walking Josh Donaldson before yielding a single to Stephen Vogt to load the bases. A visit to the mound by Tigers Pitching coach Jeff Jones proved only a brief respite for Chamberlain, as Lowrie took the fifth pitch of the next at-bat to left for a two-run single to stake the A’s to a commanding 4-1 lead.

Lowrie knocked in the A’s first run of the game on an RBI single of Sanchez in the top of the sixth, but 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera responded in the home half of the inning by ripping a solo home run off Kazmir to left field, the 14th long ball of the season for the back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player.

Kazmir would then walk J.D. Martinez before exiting the game two pitches in to the next batter. Kazmir appeared to suffer tightness in his lead leg after bouncing the first pitch to Nick Castellanos well in front of the plate. After a brief visit from Melvin and trainer, the southpaw stayed in the game for one last pitch. After seeing his pitcher grimace on the pitch, Melvin instantly jumped up to pull his ace from the game.

After the game, Melvin stated that Kazmir was fine and the quick trigger was precautionary. Kazmir also departed his last start against the New York Mets on Tuesday earlier than expected, surrendering seven earned runs over three innings of a 10-1 shelling in Flushing Meadows. Aside from the one blip, Kazmir has been rock solid as the anchor of the A’s rotation, potentially in line to make this season’s All-Star team after going 9-3 with a 2.66 ERA in his first 16 starts for the green and gold.

The A’s won’t have an easy road bouncing back, as they’ll face the Tigers’ surpise of 2014 Rick Porcello (10-4, 3.41) in the second game of the three-game series. Oakland sends lefty Brad Mills to the mound in his first start since getting his first win since 2012, outdueling Zack Wheeler and the Mets last Wednesday.

Gray Gives Up Season High Four Runs and Relievers Give Up A Pair, A’s Lose 6-5

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detoit Tigers trots around the bases after hitting a solo home run off of Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics in the top of the third inning at O.co Coliseum on May 27, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – MAY 27: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers trots around the bases after hitting a solo home run off of Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics in the top of the third inning at O.co Coliseum on May 27, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

By Kahlil Najar

OAKLAND – Sonny Gray gave up a season high four runs on eight hits and Luke Gregerson gave up the game winning run in the top of the 8th and the A’s (31-21) lost to the Tigers (29-19) 6-5. John Jaso hit his fifth homer of the year in the fourth and Jed Lowrie and Albert Callaspo contributed with a double each in the second to provide the majority of the A’s offense tonight. The A’s have now lost five of their last six games.

“I felt really good. That’s why it’s a little bit frustrating,” said Sonny Gray on his performance tonight. “You felt like you have good stuff, and then you just get hit around a little bit.”

Jaso echoed the frustrations of his pitcher, “It just seemed like his two-seamer wasn’t moving like it normally does and that’s where he ran into trouble.”

The first inning proved rough for Gray as he gave up a single, two doubles and a walk to the Tigers who took advantage and took a 2-0 lead on a single by Miguel Cabrera and a double by J.D. Martinez. The A’s got a pair of runs in the bottom of the second off of a double from Jaso and a double from Callaspo to tie the game at two. In the top of the third Cabreba hit his 8th homer of the year deep to left field and in the fourth Avila hit a double to drive in Jackson to give the Tigers a two run lead again and brought the score to 4-2.

In the bottom of the fourth, Josh Reddick scored on a balk from Scherzer and Jaso hit a two-run homer to give the A’s their first lead of the game 5-4.

Torri Hunter ruined the party in the top of the 7th as he hit a deep shot to center field that Coco Crisp wasn’t able to corral  and tied the game at 5.

Detroit took the lead for good in the top of the eighth when after a walk to J.D. Martinez, former Athletic Rajai Davis came in to pinch run. Davis advanced to second after a passed ball from Abad and then later on in the same at bat, Abad wasn’t paying attention to Davis and Davis stole third that surprised everybody.After Castellanos walked, Austin Jackson hit a ground ball to Lowrie who got the ball to second for one out but Jackson beat out the throw at first and was able to bring Davis home to secure the 6-5 Detroit win.

Tigers closer Joe Nathan said, “I think he caught the whole stadium by surprise. I know I missed it.”

A’s coach Bob Melvin said “That was the difference. He timed it perfectly. As soon as Norris let go of the ball he took off. I haven’t seen the replay yet if he had a chance to get it and throw him out, but that’s a big chance he took and it paid off.”

The A’s send Scott Kazmir (5-2) to the mound on Wednesday night with his 3.99 ERA in 13 career starts against Detroit against the Tigers Anibal Sanchez (2-2).

“Rally Killers” Lift A’s to 10-0 Rout of Tigers

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. — A note inscribed next to the Oakland Athletics line-up card posted this afternoon stated “Home runs can be rally killers”. After a 10-0 routing of the Detroit Tigers the A’s may have reason to rethink that mantra.

“Homers can be rally killers,” said A’s catcher Derek Norris. “But when you’re hitting four or five of them a game they can probably make a different statement. That’s more for the solo home runs. Anytime you can scratch off two, three grand slam home runs, those are hardly rally killers. That’s how you bury a team.”

The A’s (31-20) did just that, outmuscling the visiting Tigers (28-19) in a Memorial Day matinee at the O.Co coliseum capped by Derek Norris’ first career grand slam. Five different Athletics homered, including four solo shots off Tigers starter Drew Smyly (2-3, 3.86 ERA) to snap a four-game losing skid. A’s starter Tommy Milone (3-3, 3.50) turned in a brilliant performance, going 6 2/3 innings without surrendering a run against a potent Tiger offense that tops the junior circuit with a .278 team batting average.

“Zero runs, that’s always a good day,” said Milone. “I’ve got to give it to my defense and obviously the offense. They backed me up today.”

Milone threw an economical 105 pitches, needing more than 20 pitches in an inning only once to retire the side, yielding a scant four hits to the visitors. The lefty collected six K’s, one shy of a season-high, while only issuing two walks. Andrew Romine and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera represented the lone Tigers hitters to reach second base Monday afternoon, each doubling off Milone. The A’s starter now has three wins in four starts after dropping three-straight decisions over his first five appearances.

“I think he was just trying to do too much,” said battery mate Norris. “He was trying to create stuff that wasn’t there. Finally I said to just sit back and throw the baseball just like you know how. His focus has been higher, his determination has been higher. He’s been attacking hitters and not shying away from contact.”

Brandon Moss opened the long ball barrage, leading off the second inning with a deep blast to right center that Austin Jackson nearly scaled the wall to steal. Moss’ extra-base hit marks his 18th of the month, tying an A’s record with Jason Giambi (2001) for most in May. Two batters later, designated hitter Blanks took Smyly yard on a 2-1 offering to make it 2-0 Oakland.

“There are very few guys on this ball club that are trying to hit home runs,” said Norris. “You look at some of the guys like Moss and (Josh) Donaldson, they’ve literally shaped their swings to try to become fly ball hitters and have home run swings. It’s definitely an art that not everyone can grasp.”

For Blanks, it was the first home run hit as a member of the Athletics after coming over in a May 15th trade with the San Diego Padres. Blanks’ last Major League round-tripper came 49 games ago on June 16, 2013. He also spent some time in the minors with the Padres since then.

“It makes him feel like a part of the team that much quicker when you get into a game like that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “You’re scoring runs with homers. It really gets you feeling like ‘Hey, I’m a part of this team’.”

Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes added back-to-back solo blasts off Smyly in the bottom of the third for a 4-0 edge. The twin displays of power marked the second time this season consecutive batters have homered, with Cespedes and Moss achieving the feat May 9th. The A’s made it a six-pack in the fourth after Coco Crisp hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Josh Donaldson hit a run-scoring two-out single off Smyly. In total, the Tigers starter went five innings while allowing six runs, all earned, to accompany two walks and a trio of strikeouts.

Norris brought the scoring into double digits, launching his first career grand slam to deep center field off reliever Phil Coke in the Oakland half of the 8th. Blanks opened the inning by drawing a walk, moved to second when Craig Gentry was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Crisp reached base on an error to load the bases for the Oakland backstop.

“I hit the ball hard a couple times earlier and came away with nothing,” said the A’s catcher after going 0-4 heading into his 8th inning at-bat. “I was just trying to get the RBI. I was trying to get something out over the plate. Fortunately it just came back over the middle and I put a good swing on it.”

Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle pitched 2 and 1/3 innings of perfect relief to finish off the drubbing of Detroit, the team that bounced Oakland from the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. The reeling Tigers now have lost seven of their last eight, but send 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the mound to play stopper Tuesday night. The A’s will counter with ace Sonny Gray.

“Sonny’s always pumped,” said Norris when asked if there was any extra motivation for the young A’s starter facing a familiar playoff foe. “He’s 100 percent determined every fifth day. He’s on it, he’s focused. He’s ready.”

Bears squeeze past Oakland, 64-60 behind freshman Bird

By Morris Phillips

Friday night at Haas Pavilion, Oakland was a lot closer to Berkeley than anyone in a blue-and-gold uniform could bear.

The Grizzlies from suburban Detroit are known for their challenging non-conference schedule and armed with prolific three-point shooter Travis Bader, they gave Cal all they could handle in the Bears’ come-from-behind 64-60 victory.

“There was no question that Oakland played harder than we did,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.  “We were late to loose balls, we weren’t attentive to details.”

Oakland led by as many as nine points in the first half, and the game was tied with 2:10 remaining as the Grizzlies’ zone defense, hustle and the shooting of Bader, who finished with 21 points, kept Cal on its heels.

Cal managed to keep pace in the second half as freshman Jabari Bird heated up, finishing with a career-best 24 points, including six made three pointers.  Bird’s three with 1:59 remaining broke a 56-all tie and gave the Bears the lead for good.

“Basically, I caught it and was open and had been hitting three’s all night, so if we were going to lose this game, I wanted to lose the game with that… but it went in and we won,” Bird said with all the carefree wisdom of an 18-year old.

Justin Cobbs contributed 13 points and five assists, and Richard Solomon had 11 points and 17 rebounds to aid Cal’s cause.   Bader had assistance from Kahlil Felder and Tommy McCune who had 13 and 11 points respectively for Oakland.

Oakland fell to 0-3 with earlier losses to No. 12 North Carolina and No. 24 UCLA.  The Grizzlies played without second-leading scorer Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams, who were accused of sexual assault in Southern California earlier this week.  The pair were cleared in an initial police investigation but suspended by the university pending further fact finding.

Cal improved to 3-0 on the season with a matchup with Southern Utah up next at Haas on Monday night.   The Bears improved to 36-6 in non-conference matchups during Montgomery’s five plus years as coach.

The Bears shot just 33 percent in the opening half as Oakland’s zone made Cal’s cumbersome mix of veterans and freshman a bit tentative.  At halftime and then early in the second half, an animated Montgomery did all he could to wake his guys up.

“We had five minutes alone, just sitting there silent, and then he came in and talked to us like it was a regular game,” Bird said of Montgomery’s halftime prodding.  “And then right before we walked out he said get the energy up and play like we know we can.”

Pistons nab first road win against “loudest” competition

Photo Credit: Ed Szczepanski, USA TODAY Sports

By Pearl Allison Lo

On a night when the Sacramento Kings’ fans set two Guinness world records, Detroit got their first win in five games in a 97-90 win Friday.

A well-rounded Josh Smith led the Pistons as the Kings’ supporters created the “Loudest Crowd Roar at an Indoor Sports Stadium.”

Smith had 21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals and 4 blocks.

Sacramento crushed the previous Guinness World Record of 106.6 decibels by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008, soaring to a sound of 124.9 decibels in the first half, and then surpassing themselves in the second half with a record of 126 decibels.

DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with a double-double, scoring 26 points with 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks.  Detroit’s Andre Drummonds, whose sprained ankle put his status as uncertain before the game, was the only other player to have a double-double with 15 points and 18 rebounds.

The Pistons’ consistently strong three quarters set the pace for their win.

Detroit received the lead 16 seconds into the game with a two-pointer by Greg Monroe and held it throughout the first quarter until Ben McLemore tied the game at 34 with 8:41 left to go in the 2nd period.

Two turnovers and a foul gave the Pistons their largest lead (9 points) within that stretch, as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 5 points within less than 30 seconds.  A  three by John Salmons put the game within four, but McLemore missed a flying dunk and Cousins lost the ball out of bounds.

After Sacramento’s third tie, they got their first lead with 4:52 left in the first half, as Cousins made a consecutive shot.  However, it was also short-lived as Monroe followed up with a basket.  He then missed a free throw but also stole the ball, which eventually resulted in two points by Josh Smith and then a free throw. This was part of a 10-1 run since the tie right before the Kings short lead, which also featured Rodney Stuckey hitting two technicals and a three-pointer.

With 1:19 left in the first half, Sacramento got a 51-50 lead upon a three by Isaiah Thomas.  However, Jonas Jerebko then tied it with a free throw and Detroit got the lead back after two fouls and a turnover by the Kings.

Greivis Vasquez’s second three in a row put the Kings back ahead 64-62 with 5:05 left in the 3rd.  The teams then went back and forth until a three by Brandon Jennings with 4:18 left in the 3rd put the Pistons ahead for good.  As part of a 14-4 run, Detroit finished the 3rd with a 10 point, 80-70 lead.  Stuckey hit another technical, Drummonds had 6 points, Smith had 2 blocks and both Drummonds and Smith worked hard along the glass.

The closest Sacramento got afterwards was reflected in the final score, despite the Pistons going scoreless the last 2:28 of the game.

Game notes: Thomas, Stuckey and Detroit’s Kyle Singler contributed double-digit points off the bench.  Fast break points and points in the paint for the Pistons and the Kings were reflected as 24-16 and 46-34.  Sacramento next plays the Memphis Grizzlies at 3pm PST.


Verlander again, and even more devastating

By Morris Phillips

Justin Verlander was so good Thursday, it didn’t matter that he repeatedly challenged Oakland hitters with fastballs that they normally salivate over.   The A’s were so concerned with Verlander’s other pitches—particularly his curve which baffled them in Game 2–they were mental messes, guessing, wailing but ultimately whiffing.

The team that built their late-season surge on big swings, big results was well on their way to the off-season in great part due to managing just one base hit in the first seven innings against their nemesis reborn in Verlander.

How good was Verlander?  Historically good.

Verlander stopped the A’s dead in their tracks in last year’s Game 5, throwing 122 pitches, striking out 11 and pitching a complete game shutout.  On Saturday night, in Game 2, he was dazzling again, shutting the A’s down for seven innings while surrendering just four disjointed base hits.

But on Thursday, he was even better, commanding four pitches and making the A’s look foolish.  The big righthander saw the A’s swing and miss 24 times, as the stubborn Oakland hitters refused to jump out of character, hoping to catch one of the heaters and send it a long way.

But the long balls never materialized.   Hits were hard enough to come by and trying to figure out Verlander was next was impossible.  Detroit manager Jim Leyland described it succinctly.

“He was locked in tonight,” Leyland said.  “He used the fastball a lot tonight and when you got that fastball, he’s got three well-above average Major League pitches and another one that’s at least average and maybe a little bit better.  When you’ve got four pitches above average and a couple of them really above average, you can shut down a lot of teams.”

Verlander’s pitched 30 innings against the A’s in post-season now and not surrendered a run.  That’s a new Major League record, one that hasn’t been messed with since 1911.  Christy Mathewson threw 28 scoreless, post-season innings against the A’s back then over a period of seven seasons.

“We weren’t getting very good swings on him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin admitted.  “I thought maybe when it started to get darker, we would get better swings, but he kept throwing fastballs.  I haven’t seen the video to see if he was on the corners all night.”

If Verlander wasn’t on the corners, he was conveniently off the corners.  Throughout his command was flawless and his location as well.  That the A’s had to wait nearly seven innings just to get a hit says it all.  Once all that’s digested, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend that the six-time All-Star had an off-season, struggling with his command and his velocity while his ERA hit nearly 5.00 from May through August.

All the problems ceased in September.  Verlander finished the season with a 2.27 ERA over his final six starts and his confidence soared.

“I’m pitching the way I’m supposed to,” Verlander said.  “I worked my butt off all year to try to get consistent and get myself where I needed to be.  I feel like it finally paid off at the end of the year.”

“He’s getting downhill now,” Leyland chimed in.  “He’s gotten mechanically back in sync, got all his pitches.”

And once Verlander steadied, the A’s presented themselves as Detroit’s first playoff opponent.  It was a match made in historical heaven.

The A’s struck out 57 times in the series, which set a new LDS record, breaking the record established by the Rangers in 2010 when they struck out 55 times against the Rays.   Verlander accounted for 21 of the 57, all at the Coliseum, the biggest enthusiasm and rally killer imaginable.

Give Verlander the ball in a series clincher?  That’s an obvious.  The 6’5” starter joined Sandy Koufax as the only starters to throw consecutive, 10 strikeout, shut out performances in the post-season.   Koufax—arguably the greatest pitcher ever—built his reputation in 1965 when he accomplished the feat by shutting down the Dodgers in Game 5, and then again in Game 7.

The A’s established a more dubious record for getting stopped cold in the ALDS for the second straight season.   Oakland’s 0-6 in the Divison series when it goes the full five games and that’s something they can’t do anything about for a long time, at least not before next October.