There’s still hope for the Tigers

Prince Fielder has produced four hits in the three games of the ALDS, but has yet to show his power.

Prince Fielder has produced three hits in the three games of the ALDS, but has yet to show his power.

Are the Detroit Tigers finished? Can a team loaded with superstar talent and the fifth highest payroll at $153 million be knocked out today, at home, before a sellout crowd, to the financially-inept Oakland Athletics?

I still think the Tigs will win this series, despite the offensive struggles.

Here’s a look at the ALDS through three games.


Hit and run disaster
It was the fifth inning, when Austin Jackson was ahead 3-0 on A’s rookie pitcher Sonny Gray.

Gray appeared to be on the ropes. The previous batter, Jose Iglesias, reached on an infield single (a miracle in itself considering that Iglesias reached base. More later.) That placed runners on first and third with one out.

Jackson, however, allowed Gray to work the count full by fouling off consecutive four-seam fastballs.

Then came the call from Jim Leyland: Hit-and-run.

Gray delivered another four-seam seam fastball that was low and off the plate – outside by roughly seven inches – yet Jackson swung and missed – out two – and A’s catcher Stephen Vogt popped up and gunned down Iglesias at second base. Inning over. Runner stranded at third. Gray off the hook.

And for all intents and purposes, the game was finished.

Poor use of the bullpen
First things first: Justin Verlander was at 117 pitches when he ended the seventh inning by retiring Stephen Vogt with a 98-mph heater, a strikeout for the ages.

Could Verlander have lasted a couple of batters in the eighth? Absolutely. The guy is a rare breed. Heck, he threw 133 pitches in Game 5 against Texas in the 2011 ALCS. At the very least, he could have started the eighth and faced Oakland’s No. 9 hitter, as well as Coco Crisp.

Instead, Drew Smyly started the eighth and gave up a lead-off double to pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo and then issued a one-out walk to Jed Lowrie.

In came Al Alburquerque, who struck out Josh Donaldson and Brand Moss to end the inning in spirited fashion. Alburquerque, who threw nothing but sliders on all nine of his pitches, should have been pulled at that point.

Leyland, however, brought Al-Al back into the game for the ninth. Again, Alburquerque flashed a slider-heavy diet of pitches to leadoff hitter Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith, who both singled. Nine pitches, all sliders.

Two on base, no outs. And now the Tigers were in deep trouble considering Joaquin Benoit was used the previous night to close Game 1.

Leyland may have made another mistake when he decided to intentionally walk Josh Reddick. Sure, loading the bases will get the force out at any base – particularly home plate. But Reddick is a strikeout king. He went 0-for-4 in Game 1 with three strikeouts (vastly similar to last year’s ALDS when he K’d 10 times. That’s why we call him ReddicKKKKKKKKKK). And earlier in Game 2, Reddick managed to pop out on a sacrifice bunt attempt.

So why not pitch to Reddick?

Instead, Leyland walked him intentionally and brought in Rick Porcello, who faced a near-impossible situation given his track record of bullpen experience (absolutely none) and the fact there were no outs.

Three pitches later, Stephen Vogt hit a walk-off single past a draw-in defense to score Cespedes and give the A’s a 1-0 win to tie the series. As has been pointed out elsewhere on this website, it was the first of a few questionable uses of the pen by Smoky Leyland.


Miggy’s error
There were two outs in the top of the third inning. Yoenis Cespedes was at the plate. The count was 1-1.

Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez induced what appeared to be an inning-ending ground ball to third base. But the ball took an in-between hop and bounced off the inside of Miguel Cabrera’s wrist and scooted into left field.

Coco Crisp, running on contact from second base, rounded the bag at third and scored easily for a 1-0 lead.

Leaving Sanchez in the game vs. Seth Smith
Sanchez yielded a crushing, solo home run to Brandon Moss in the fifth inning to give the lead back to Oakland, 4-3. It killed the momentum the Tigers built in their previous at-bat with three runs (which felt like 10 runs given the 20-inning scoreless skid).

After Moss gave Oakland the lead, Yoenis Cespedes singled. Now, Seth Smith was leaving the on-deck circle, heading to the batter’s box. Sanchez was at 96 pitches, clearly off his game by yielding seven hits, two walks and two homers at this point. Heck, he hadn’t given up more than one homer in a game all year long.

And here came Smith, who was already 6-for-17 lifetime against Sanchez entering the game. Earlier in the game, Smith singled and then had a seven-pitch battle that ended in a foul-tip strikeout.

Manager Jim Leyland, however, decided to allow Sanchez to pitch to Smith. Three of his first four pitches were sinkers and he fell behind in the count, 3-1.

Sanchez threw another sinker on his 3-1 pitch and Smith blasted it to left-center field for a two-run homer and 6-3 Oakland lead.

Finally, Leyland trotted to the mound and pulled Sanchez, one batter too late.

Impatience at the plate
Here’s a stat: 20 of 35 Tigers saw three pitches or less during their at-bats on Monday afternoon. And 14 of 35 saw two pitches or less. That’s disgustingly impatient.

Conversely, there were nine Tigers at-bats in which they saw six pitches or more. They reached base in 5-of-9 of those at-bats (Fielder two singles, Jackson walk, Hunter walk, Avila walk).

Omar Infante was ahead 3-1 on Jarrod Parker to lead-off the third inning, then had a 1-1 count from Grant Balfour in the ninth. Both times, Infante flew out to right field on the next pitch.

The most infuriating cases of impatience were back-to-back double plays to end the fifth and sixth innings: Torii Hunter swung at a 1-1 pitch from Parker to end the fifth, and the usually-patient Victor Martinez swung at the first pitch he saw from reliever Dan Otero to kill the sixth in crushing fashion.


One rally in postseason history
It’s a great memory, sure: Willie Horton’s cannon from left field that nailed Lou Brock at the plate sparked a 3-1 series rally to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series.

But we cannot keep living by it.

Now something has to change, right here, right now.

The past five times the Tigers have trailed in a series, they’ve succumbed to elimination: 1972 (Oakland, ALCS); 1987 (Minnesota, ALCS); 2006 (St. Louis, World Series); 2011 (Texas, ALCS); 2012 (San Francisco, World Series).

But that’s really just meaningless history, right? Obviously, rosters are different.

And to be fair, this Tigers roster is battle-tested. It has faced elimination and responded in recent postseasons. Here’s a few classic memories for you: Doug Fister’s five-inning work at Yankee Stadium in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS; Justin Verlander’s mega-gem domination against – (ahem) – Oakland in last year’s Game 5 of the ALDS.

Miggy has warning track power
It was agonizing to watch living legend Miguel Cabrera blast a fourth-inning pitch to the right-center field scoreboard, short of the cheering fans in the stands. With a healthy body, he probably connects and reaches the seats, but that appears to be the deepest he’ll hit a ball in the postseason with his nagging groin injury.

The Tigers medical staff and Jim Leyland will have to answer some serious, pointed questions about their handling of Cabrera’s abdominal/groin/lower body injury that’s plagued him since mid-August. Why not a trip to the 15-day DL? Were their eyes covered with a Triple Crown blindfold?

Another Oakland rookie takes the hill
Rookie Dan Straily takes the hill today. We already saw what rookie Sonny Gray, he of 11 career starts, did to the Tigers in Game 2.

Granted, Gray entered the game with a 2.67 ERA and Straily’s is 3.96.

Jose Iglesias is an automatic out
Iglesias, who is 1-for-9 for a .111 clip through three games, is right up there with the automatic outs of past postseasons. Here’s a painful reminder of a few of those on the list: Ramon Santiago, 2006 (.083, 1-for-12); Alex Avila, 2011 (.073 average, 3-for-41); Wilson Betemit, 2011 (.000, 0-for-9); Gerald Laird, 2012 (.050, 1-for-20)

It’s apparent that Iglesias’s .303 average this year in Boston and Detroit combined was fluky. He hit .257 across 294 career games in the minors prior to the big leagues. As many have pointed out, his minor league numbers are a better glimpse of his production at the plate for years to come.

One thing is for sure: To have Iglesias (ninth hitter) and Austin Jackson (leadoff) slotted back-to-back in the order is killing the Tigers in this series. Who would’ve thought it?

Series disappointment, thus far: Austin Jackson
Ever since his Game 1 lead-off double, Jackson has been lost at the plate. Four strikeouts in Game 2, two more in Game 3. He’s hitting .091 (1-for-11), the lowest average on the team through three games.

Jackson single-handedly killed two innings in Game 2. In the eighth inning, he saw six consecutive curveballs during his at-bat against A’s rookie Sonny Gray while Don Kelly stood at second base with one out. Yet, Jackson struck out looking.

That was like the fifth inning, when Jackson swung at ball four for the second out on a hit-and-run attempt that caused Jose Iglesias to be caught stealing.

Jackson is much better than this. Typically, when there’s runners on base, we can count on “cleaning with Ajax.” Thus far, it hasn’t happened.

Maybe today it will turn around. Regardless, someone (the batting coach? A hitting guru? Al Kaline?) needs to work with Jackson on hitting off-speed pitches. If you are a dead-red fastball hitter with a long swing, big league pitchers will get you out.


Prince came to life and went 2-for-4
Hopefully Prince Fielder’s Game 3 was a sign of a hot streak that will continue into today, carry into Game 5 and the rest of the postseason.

Fielder, who was 1-for-8 entering the game in this year’s ALDS, featured two grinding at-bats that translated into singles. He finished 2-for-4.

It’s been a rough year for Fielder, who went through a divorce and struggled at the plate mightily, at times. Maybe his confidence will be boosted.

You have to figure that a player of his magnitude will bust out sooner or later. He’s way too talented to continue a postseason slump that encapsulated with a 1-for-14 performance in last year’s World Series.

It should be noted that Fielder has not struck out yet in this series and has a hit in two of the three games.

The Tigers are pissed after Grant Balfour disrespected Victor Martinez
Maybe they finally reached the intensity level of the A’s.

The Athletics had a bone to pick with Detroit all year long after losing last year’s ALDS, as evidenced by their 34-run, 52-hit explosion at Comerica Park in August.

Balfour, however, may have done the Tigers a favor with his classless chirping on the mound. Even the Athletics players admit that the Australian-born closer rubs people the wrong way with his emotions.

That said, A’s manager Bob Melvin is just fooling himself if he believes that Balfour was “talking to himself,” when the audio and video on TBS clearly shows Martinez looking toward the mound, lips shut, completely silenced, only to hear Balfour say a few words, followed by, “What the (bleep) are you looking at?!?”

Martinez performed an every-game, every-inning routine of looking at the pitcher immediately after the delivery. No harm whatsoever. Every hitter does it.

Balfour, who has an intensity level that’s over the edge and classless, caused both benches to clear – for no reason. Can the Tigers build off the disrespect?

Doug Fister on the mound
My guess is Doug Fister is peeved about being the fourth starter. That’s gotta be motivation for a guy who was above Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez in the rotation the previous two postseasons. And now he’s fourth? Expect a lights-out performance from Fister.

In his past five postseason starts, here’s Fister’s numbers: 31.2 innings pitched, 28 hits allowed, 23 strikeouts versus 9 walks, 1.73 ERA.

2 replies on “There’s still hope for the Tigers

  • Bob Brontosaurus

    Grant Balfour disrespected Victor Martinez?

    Poor little babies. I pray it doesn’t erupt into a full-bore Twitter war! Oh the humanity!

  • Adam E

    It’s extremely disappointing to watch the best offense in the league lose 1-0 on a walkoff. We all thought the Miami series was just everyone taking it easy, resting up and staying loose before the postseason. Well guess what, it’s the postseason now. Anemic hitting from 1 to 9 in the order puts more stress on our starters, and we all know what the pen situation is like.

    If they make it out of this series, the road gets tougher. Boston is a great hitting team, and the Cards and Dodgers (one of which I believe will be the NL champ) are skilled on both sides of the ball. Game 3 was a wake-up call: let’s hope Leyland & Co. heard it loud and clear.

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