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DET@OAK Gm1: Scherzer, Colon open up Tigers-A's ALDS

The Tigers' Nos. 3-4 hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, have a total of 13 All-Star Game selections and nine top-five finishes in Most Valuable Player voting between them. The entire Athletics starting lineup has, well, zero.

Detroit's rotation features Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 to give himself an inside track on the American League Cy Young Award, and Anibal Sanchez, who led the league with a 2.57 ERA in his first full year with the Tigers. Oh, yeah, and Justin Verlander won both the Cy Young Award and MVP two seasons ago. Oakland? Its ace is 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, backed by young arms whose profiles haven't yet extended much beyond the East Bay.

Which is one of the great things about baseball: Numbers and reputations won't matter when the Tigers and A's clash in the American League Division Series beginning Friday at Coliseum (9:30 p.m. ET, TBS).

In fact, the A's won three more games than Detroit during the regular season, giving them the home-field advantage in this round, and had a slightly lower staff ERA. So this best-of-five matchup features plenty of intrigue.

It's also a rematch of last year's ALDS, which went the limit before the Tigers prevailed.

"I feel like we're a better team right now than we were last year," manager Bob Melvin said after the A's clinched the AL West.

The Tigers finished second in the Major Leagues with 796 runs. The A's scored just 29 fewer. But for all their firepower, which also includes established stars such as Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, Detroit also scored two or fewer runs in 11 of its final 26 games. And that includes being swept by the last-place Marlins on the final weekend of the season. The Tigers scored a total of three runs in the series and were no-hit by Henderson Alvarez on Sunday.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who rested many of his regulars on the final day, was unperturbed.

"This could be a good thing. This could be a wake-up call for our offense," he said after Sunday's game.

The Tigers, who won their third straight AL Central title, came into the season facing enormous expectations after being swept by the Giants in the World Series last year.

"I'm as proud of this team as any team," Leyland said. "I mean, people were setting us up for failure from day one. We have a good team. If we don't win the division, there's something wrong. Well, it's not easy to live with that from Spring Training, all winter and through the whole season. And these guys did that. They showed me something."

The Athletics, on the other hand, still embrace the role of underdogs even after winning 96 games to take their second straight division title. They're hoping that October will be a coming-out party for some of their unheralded players, such as third baseman Josh Donaldson (.883 OPS) and first baseman-outfielder Brandon Moss (.859 OPS).

Asked if repeating as division champions validated his team as legitimate contenders, Melvin shook his head.

"Maybe nationally, but not for us," he said. "Last year was euphoria at the end. We were happy to be there. That doesn't mean we didn't go into the Detroit series with some tenacity and expectation to win. But this is just a whole different feeling this year."

Tigers: Hunter runs chemistry class
Detroit's biggest offseason addition, Hunter has made an impact both on and off the field. After the Tigers lost back-to-back series to the Red Sox and Royals in early September, he began gathering the team a half-hour before game time for a football-like rally.

"We do a little pump-up speech. I get everybody involved. Then we break it down and we do football chants and stuff like that," said Hunter, who is 38 and looking to play in his first World Series.

Melvin said Hunter has had a positive impact.

"Amongst a team that already has a lot of veteran presence and leadership, I think he takes that to another whole level for that team," he said.

Athletics: Counting on consistency
Long losing streaks during the regular season are a problem. Even short losing streaks during the playoffs can start a team packing for the winter.

So this is kind of remarkable: Oakland lost three straight games from Aug. 21-23. From that point until the end of the season, the club lost as many as two straight just once.

"To not lose two [consecutive] games for over a month ... that's something that's not easy to do," said Game 4 starter Dan Straily.

Worth noting
• Scherzer had a spectacular season and is in line to start the decisive Game 5 if needed. But in two starts against the A's this season, he had a 4.91 ERA and didn't have a decision. In his only start at Coliseum, however, he allowed just one earned run in six innings.

• Colon, who will start for Oakland on Friday night, was 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts against the Tigers this season. He was not available to pitch in the ALDS against Detroit last year because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension.

After Colon, the A's rotation will be Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Straily.

"I think our guys are right up there with their guys -- Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander," Moss said. "You look at their guys, their names are bigger. Their accolades are better. But our guys had just as good a year. Our bullpen's probably better." Comments