The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera enters the dugout as Athletics fans celebrate their team's win in Game 3 of last season's American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — For the second straight season, the Tigers will face the Oakland A’s in the American League Division Series.
Unlike last season, though, the third-seeded Tigers will open the series in Oakland, with Major League Baseball’s switch to a 2-2-1 format, where Games 1, 2 and potentially 5 will be played at the higher-seeded team’s home stadium.
The task gets tougher with the daunting task of facing a raucous crowd at the O.co Coliseum that was noticeably loud in last season’s ALDS. Last season — which was a 2-3 format — the Tigers won the first two games, at Comerica Park, and lost Games 3 and 4 in Oakland, before Justin Verlander pitched a complete-game shutout to help the Tigers take the deciding Game 5 in Oakland.
“It was the loudest and craziest venue I’ve ever played in as far as baseball. It was an absolute madhouse; it was pretty fun to play in,” catcher Alex Avila said. “It was definitely one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever been in and one of the rowdiest and craziest.”
The A’s also play well at home, posting a 52-29 record at home — second-best in the American League behind the Red Sox’s 53 wins — during the regular season. The Tigers tied for the fourth-best road record (42-39) in the American League.
The Coliseum holds the distinction of being the only remaining stadium in the country that houses both an MLB team and an NFL team (Raiders). Capacity for baseball games is about 35,000 but could be increased up to the football capacity of 53,000 with the addition of the third deck for the A’s playoff games.
Thought their home attendance totaled 1.8 million this season, it ranked just ninth among American League teams. In the three games against the Tigers in Oakland in April, the series averaged just over 25,000 per game. That could change as the postseason begins Friday.
“Last year, I remember it being loud — and they didn’t even have the third deck then so I’m sure it’ll be louder this year,” relief pitcher Drew Smyly said. “I felt the atmosphere. It was the loudest of the playoffs, all three stops (Oakland, New York and San Francisco) we made.”
The impression that the Oakland crowd made on the Tigers players is evident — though not too difficult to overcome.
What’s the most memorable thing about playing in Oakland in last year’s series?
“Being loud — that’s what really sticks out in my head,” center fielder Austin Jackson said, “It’s the atmosphere being unreal and playing against a really tough team that didn’t want to give up.”
One benefit the Tigers may have in the 2-2-1 format is they get to start on the road with their best starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Verlander, in Games 1 and 2. With some success, the Tigers won’t have to go back to Oakland for a Game 5.
“With our starting staff, we feel pretty comfortable,” Smyly said. “Those are two of the best in the business, so hopefully they can come out and show it and give us a cushion coming back home.”
Jackson said regardless of the fans, the stadium or the opposition, he feels comfortable that the Tigers’ starters can neutralize any advantage the A’s could have at home.
“I’m confident in anybody that goes out there. Those guys are bulldogs and they’re looking forward to the opportunity,” he said. “We know what Scherzer is capable of doing and it’s going to be exciting to go out there and play behind him.”