A’s, Tigers still have something to fight for down stretch

Field Level Media

September 22, 2023 at 7:46 am.

Two teams with an eye on “second place” continue their four-game series on Friday night when the Detroit Tigers go for a second straight win over the host Oakland Athletics.

Having seen that the Cleveland Guardians (73-81) had won earlier Thursday night, the Tigers (72-81) remained a half-game back in their duel for second place in the American League Central by taking care of business on the road in Oakland, winning 7-3 behind seven shutout innings from Tarik Skubal.

The Tigers have finished no higher than third place in the AL Central in every season since Justin Verlander led them to a runner-up finish in 2016, eight games behind Cleveland. Detroit has finished an average of 28.8 games out of first in the last six seasons, landing in last place in the Central on half of those occasions.

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch is trying to salvage any positives he can from this season, and the 2.99 ERA his starters have posted since Aug. 15 is certainly one of them.

“When you see how our rotation’s pitched in the last month and a half or so — and we’re not even fully healthy yet — it’s a good sign,” Hinch said.

“When you get success like this, especially in back-to-back games and in many of the games over the last six weeks, it’s encouraging for what’s ahead and the group of pitchers that we can put together.”

Having won six of its last eight games, Detroit now sends impressive prospect Sawyer Gipson-Long (1-0, 2.70 ERA) to the mound to face an A’s team that has lost eight straight.

The right-hander has pitched the Tigers to a pair of wins in his first two major league starts, striking out a total of 16 in 10 innings. He allowed just one run and two hits over five innings, striking out 11, in his most recent start over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.

The 25-year-old has never faced the A’s.

The hosts ran into a buzzsaw in the series opener. Skubal was so dominant, A’s manager Mark Kotsay hand-delivered a message to his pitchers: Try to be more like the left-hander.

“At one point I went down and talked to our pitchers, especially Waldy (Friday starter Ken Waldichuk),” Kotsay said. “I said, ‘Hey, this guy has thrown 18 balls in six innings, and he’s really dominating our hitters with that fastball/change-up mix. See how effective that was.'”

Waldichuk (3-8, 5.40) pitched Oakland to a 12-3 win at Detroit as a bulk-innings reliever in July, allowing two runs in 4 1/3 innings. It was his only career head-to-head with the Tigers.

The left-hander has won just once in 13 appearances since, nine of which have been starts.

Oakland’s bid for “second place” comes at the bottom of the standings. The losing streak has dropped the A’s (46-107) five games behind the Kansas City Royals (51-102) in their fight to escape baseball’s cellar.

A playoff team three consecutive seasons as recently as 2018-20, the A’s finished with the worst record in the AL last season (60-102) but avoided the distinction of being baseball’s losingest. That title fell upon the Washington Nationals, who went 55-107.

Finishing with the worst record used to have a consolation prize in baseball — that team earned the top pick in the following year’s draft. But Major League Baseball took away a tanking incentive when it created a lottery system, one in which the teams with the three worst records have the same odds of picking first.

The A’s have already assured themselves of landing in the bottom three.

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