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Playoff Pinch Hits: It's Do Or Die For Tigers And Angels On Sunday

By Sam McPherson

The two American League Division Series resume on Sunday, and surprisingly, both matchups have been lopsided so far — at least in terms of series standings. The Baltimore Orioles won the first two games of their series against the Detroit Tigers at home, both with eighth-inning eruptions against a suspect Detroit relief corps. Meanwhile, the upstart Kansas City Royals — in the postseason for the first time since 1985 — have won twice in extra innings against the Los Angeles Angels, the best team in baseball this year.

Theoretically, the Baltimore-Detroit series is holding to form, with the home team winning the first two games. Now, Detroit just needs to win the next two at Comerica Park to hold serve. The KC-LA matchup is a bit of a shocker, but perhaps it shouldn't be — the Royals have been playing very good baseball for awhile, and they clearly have some mojo on their side.

It will be tough for either Detroit or Los Angeles to come back and win their division series, but it can be done. The San Francisco Giants lost the first two games at home against the Cincinnati Reds in a 2012 National League Division Series before recovering to win the matchup and eventually the World Series. And there are AL examples, too: the New York Yankees lost the first two games at home in the 2001 ALDS before making it all the way to Game Seven of the World Series; and the 2003 Boston Red Sox lost the first two games on the road before winning their ALDS matchup.

(And of course, we all know about the 2004 Red Sox, right?)

The secret is to win one game at a time, because you can't hit a three-win homer to win it all back at once. Patience will be key for both the Angels and Tigers, veteran clubs with many players who have been there and done that before in October.

Baltimore at Detroit: Calling Off the Tigers Bullpen

Detroit can hit, as we know. They have a strong lineup, and they have a strong rotation — even if not at 100 percent right now. The Tigers acquired David Price on July 31 for just this reason, too. When the lefty ace takes the mound on Sunday, the Tigers expect to win. Price has pitched in the postseason with success (for the Tampa Bay Rays), and hopefully, it works out better for Detroit than it did for the Oakland Athletics and Jon Lester.

The Tigers bullpen has been spotty all season, with closer Joe Nathan struggling most of the year. Detroit traded for Joakim Soria to augment Nathan at the back end, but Soria got lit up in both postseason games in Baltimore. To get his team back in the postseason, Price needs to go deep into Game Three and perhaps even throw a complete game. This will be his only start in this ALDS, so he needs to make it count.

The entire city of Detroit will be behind Price on Sunday. The Tigers have scored nine runs on 18 hits in this series, so they're doing okay at the plate. Another four or five runs in Game Three should do the trick and extend the series.

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Los Angeles at Kansas City: Royal Flush?

With two extra-inning victories powered by home runs, it's time for the Royals to do what they do best at home: run. We saw them snag those seven stolen bases against the Oakland A's last Tuesday in the wild-card game, and while we shouldn't expect that to happen again, Kansas City will be back in its element at Kauffman Stadium.

They also have "Big Game" James Shields on the mound against the Angels' mediocre C.J. Wilson. In a familiar storyline, Shields was acquired before the 2013 season for these kinds of games. His nickname may not be the most deserved, as his poor outing against Oakland on Tuesday demonstrated, but Shields still is the best starter in the K.C. arsenal. Meanwhile, Wilson struggled this season for the Halos, and while he has postseason experience from his time with the Texas Rangers, this is the kind of game that could get to his fragile psyche right now.

Jered Weaver is set to come back on normal rest if there is a Game Four on Monday, and good teams close out series when they have the chance. You never want to give a talented team extra life.

Sunday Predictions: Ex-Rays Rule the Day

Look for both Price and Shields to draw upon their core upbringings with the Tampa Bay organization and thrive in the spotlight on Sunday. Both will go the distance in complete-game wins for their respective teams.

Get the odds on all the MLB Playoff matchups.

Check out other Playoff Pinch Hits.

Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A's. His work can be found on

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