Detroit Tigers, meet a bunch of guys who weren't expected to be anywhere near Comerica Park this time of year but somehow won the American League West and don't seem inclined to leave Motown without a couple of wins on their way to October legend.
In other words, this American League Division Series matchup, which begins in Detroit on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS, is full of star power and a possible story for the baseball ages. And it's pitting two very good teams against each other for the right to advance to the AL Championship Series.
"I think it's been an unbelievable year for baseball, and the Oakland A's are part of the story," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Friday at Comerica Park as the teams worked out. "We have our own thing with the Triple Crown with [Miguel] Cabrera, but Baltimore and the Oakland A's have been the great stories of the year as far as the team goes.
"So when you get to this point, you're going to play a good team. You can bank on that."
The A's have become more than a good team, and they arrived from what seemed to be out of nowhere. They were picked last in their division, they began the season with a few of their now-key contributors on the roster of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats and they had a starting rotation of veterans Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and a bunch of rookies. Later in the year, Colon was suspended and McCarthy was injured and the rotation was all rookies. Now look at them -- division champs who spent all of one day, the 162nd and last day of the regular season -- in sole possession of first place. They've won six games in a row.
"I don't think anybody would want to play us," A's outfielder Josh Reddick said. "I don't think we're going to be underestimated as much as we have all year now, that's for sure."
And don't expect Oakland to underestimate Detroit, which ran away with the AL Central last year and was picked by pundits to do the same in 2012. The Tigers were an inconsistent bunch for much of the season and lagged behind the Chicago White Sox in the Central standings, but a late-season rally, aided by AL Triple Crown winner Cabrera's sizzling September, enabled them to close the deal at the right time.
"I think it's been a little different type year, obviously," Leyland said. "Last year, we had a great run at the end, and we had a pretty good run at the end this year. Last year, it was decided pretty early. This year, it hasn't been.
"But basically we're here now. So it's pretty much the same. It's a good feeling to get here, and hopefully we'll be able to advance."
Cabrera figures to have a big say in that matter. His final line of a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs made him the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and that can't be overlooked by the A's.
But as Cabrera admitted, the pressure and focus required to pull off that individual feat has subsided in the 48 hours leading up to Game 1, and now he's prepared for the next challenge. The more important one.
"I feel much better right now," Cabrera said. "I think these two days off helped me a lot to get over the Triple Crown race, be ready and focused about tomorrow's game. Try to go play a good game tomorrow."
The Tigers will get a boost in that area with last year's AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Verlander, set to take the mound in Game 1, while the A's will go with rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker, who went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA this year.
For Verlander, who's won his last four starts, it helps to have a healthy respect for the competition, particularly when that competition has somehow managed to come into this series being billed as a Cinderella story despite the fact that they won 94 games and the Tigers won 88.
"It's just a group of guys that don't give up," Verlander said. "And I think they probably like the fact that a lot of people are saying they might be the underdog in this series, even though they've won more games than us, which is crazy."
Crazy is a good word to describe the 2012 postseason in general and this series.
Take the fact, for example, that those 94-win A's are starting a rookie who didn't even make the club out of Spring Training in Game 1 and seem to be absolutely thrilled with the choice.
Parker, after all, has gone 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 33 strikeouts in his last six starts, which have totaled 41 innings. This after the A's lost McCarthy to a head injury after the veteran was struck with a line drive on Sept. 5 and lefty Brett Anderson went back on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
Now Parker gets the toughest assignment of his young life: Verlander in hostile territory with a huge October game on the line.
"His style is pretty incredible to watch," Parker said of Verlander. "And it's something you do as a pitcher. You want to see other guys and kind of compare them to your game and critique it and do that kind of stuff. So I think going against Verlander in the first game is pretty exciting."
A's: Anderson an option for Game 3?
Left-hander Brett Anderson, who sat out much of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but returned to be a pivotal member of the A's starting staff, was hoping to be a factor on the mound for the A's in the postseason, and it could happen as soon as Game 3 back in Oakland. The left-hander, who sustained a right oblique strain two weeks ago, came out of a Monday bullpen session in good order.
"That's probably fair," manager Bob Melvin said when asked if Anderson is being considered moving forward. "When [he'll pitch,] we're not sure."
The A's went 3-4 against the Tigers this season, most recently losing two of three in Detroit in mid-September. In that series, Oakland was outscored 18-4 in the first two games, before beating the Tigers, 12-4, in the finale. They couldn't solve Cabrera, of course, who went 5-for-11 in the series with three homers.
In one start against the Tigers this year, Parker allowed two runs with four walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
"They're a dangerous lineup, obviously," Parker said. They've got a guy that won the Triple Crown. And they've got Austin Jackson leading off. And they've got a lot of weapons and great hitters and great players."
Tigers: Will Miggy Magic continue?
First the Triple Crown, now an AL Division Series appearance. How could it get better for Cabrera? Well, judging from what he's done with the bat lately, don't be surprised.
Cabrera hit .429 in the final month of the season to claim his second straight batting title, and he seems like he's just warming up.
"It seems like almost on a nightly basis, he does something that makes his peers go, 'Wow,'" Verlander said. "And that's not easy to do. You have a bunch of guys that have been here for a long time and you have them kind of shaking their head, saying, 'How did he do that?' That's pretty special."
Don't forget Fielder. The big first baseman hit .337 (67-for-199) with 12 doubles, 14 home runs and 36 RBIs over his past 58 games dating back to Aug. 1.
Verlander has faced the A's twice this season, and he won both starts. The first came May 13 in Oakland, when the Tigers ace dominated the A's, giving up one run on two hits in seven innings while striking out eight in a 3-1 victory. The next meeting came on Sept. 18 at home, when Verlander blanked the A's on five hits over six innings, striking out five and walking three, in a 6-2 win.
"[In the recent start], the lineup was entirely different than the first time I faced them," Verlander said. "A revolving door of guys there in Oakland. But you can't ever take guys for granted no matter whose name is on the back. Obviously this group of guys have done a fantastic job, and they had one of the best records in baseball. So they're doing something right."
The A's hit .252 with seven home runs against Detroit pitching this season. Seth Smith batted .417 with two home runs against the Tigers this year, and Josh Reddick hit .357 against Detroit with two homers.
Jackson this year became the fifth player in Tigers franchise history to reach double digits in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in multiple seasons, joining Curtis Granderson (2007, 2008), Charlie Gehringer (1929, 1930), Ty Cobb (1921, 1925) and Bobby Veach (1920, 1921).