Don't worry, Detroit Tigers fans. There's nothing to panic about.
The Tigers are still leading their American League Division Series matchup against the Oakland A's, but the A's made it clear on Tuesday night at O.co Coliseum that they're not going down without a fight. The A's avoided a sweep with a 2-0 statement victory that cut Detroit's series lead to 2-1, and they did it with all sorts of energy that they didn't have in Games 1 and 2 in Detroit.
But the hard part isn't over for the A's. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
In Game 4 on Wednesday night, the A's will be up against fireballing right-hander Max Scherzer. If they happen to survive him, they'll be slated for a rematch against another fireballing right-hander in Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Thursday night.
The Tigers shouldn't lose this series. All they need is one more win, and they have two guys lined up who aren't very keen on losing games.
But if the A's come back and win...
If the A's come back and win, many of the Detroit faithful will be on the prowl for a scapegoat. There's always somebody to blame when a team loses a playoff series, especially if the playoff series in question featured an epic collapse.
There aren't a ton of scapegoat candidates on the Tigers who stand out right now, but one guy who very well could be fingered as the source of Detroit's downfall in the end is star first baseman Prince Fielder.
Presently, Fielder satisfies many of the prerequisites of a potential postseason goat. He's 1-for-12 so far in the series, and it feels like there have been men on base every time he's strode to the plate. He's certainly had his chances to make a difference.
The fact that he hasn't made a difference in this series is disconcerting for two reasons.
One, he's the club's cleanup hitter. Making a difference is very much a part of his job description as long as Jim Leyland continues to pencil him into the No. 4 spot in his lineup.
Two, Fielder is making a ton of money. The Tigers aren't paying him $214 million to go "pluh" in big moments.
If this is to be the status quo, then Fielder could have just one or two more hits to his name by the time Game 5 comes to a close, at which point he and the rest of the Tigers will surely be heading home for the winter.
I hate to say this, but Fielder would appear to be this close to becoming Detroit's very own Alex Rodriguez.
Yes, it appears that way. But is that really the way things are?
Uh, no. Not quite.
First of all, it doesn't matter what Fielder did in Games 1 and 2. He went 1-for-8 and stranded a total of four men on base, but the Tigers won both games. There's no point blaming a guy for having a couple of rough games when said rough games ended in victories for said guy's ballclub.
So for now, the only reason to take issue with Fielder is over his performance in Game 3.
On paper, it wasn't good. Fielder went 0-for-4, and his double-play ball in the ninth inning sealed the deal for the A's. Had Fielder taken Grant Balfour deep instead, we'd be singing his praises.
We're not, obviously, but scolding him for his performance in Game 3 would be the epitome of the word "unfair."
What the box score doesn't show is that Fielder could have made a huge difference in Game 3 if the A's outfield had let him. Fielder was robbed of what would have been a game-tying solo home run by A's center fielder Coco Crisp in the top of the second inning. Later on in the seventh inning, Fielder was robbed of what would have been a double, maybe even a triple, when his line drive into the left-center field gap was picked off by Yoenis Cespedes.
So instead of what would have been a game-tying homer and what would have been a rally-starting double/triple, Fielder walked away with nothing. His double-play in the ninth inning just added insult to injury (he's day to day with a wounded sense of personal worth).
The box score says Fielder was guilty of poor hitting on Tuesday night. In reality, he was a victim of excruciatingly bad luck.
So scapegoating him now? Come on, man...
But scapegoating him later?
Well, let's just say "maybe" for now.
Let's imagine for a moment that Fielder's slump in this series lasts right through the end of Game 5, which, in this scenario for the Tigers, would be a loss. Let's also assume, just for kicks, that Detroit's losses in Games 4 and 5 are going to be close losses in which one hit could have made a huge difference.
And let's also imagine Fielder finding himself in a position to deliver a couple key hits in Games 4 and 5. He could come up with several men on base, needing only to bring them in to give the Tigers a lead that they could nurse right up until the last out.
Let's imagine him failing, and this time not due to bad luck.
Well, now we're talking about a horse of a different color. A series of scenarios such as this would definitely paint Fielder as a goat, and a particularly goat-ish goat as far as goats go. Instead of doing what his teammates expect him to do and what he is paid to do, Fielder will have failed entirely.
So if all this comes to pass, fans will have a leg to stand on if they decide to step up and decree that Detroit's collapse in the ALDS against Oakland was "all Fielder's fault."
Fielder would deserve the lion's share of the blame if he were to let the Tigers down in Games 4 and 5. It's bad enough when any player fails to make a difference when he is given so many chances to make a difference. For a player of Fielder's stature and wealth, an inability to come through in such situations in the postseason would indeed constitute a significant failure on his part.
So yeah, if all of this comes to pass, scapegoating him would be fair game. I wouldn't encourage anyone to scapegoat Fielder, mind you, but I wouldn't condemn fans for scapegoating Fielder either—so long as they did so in a relatively decent manner (no slurs, threats, etc.).
Understand this, though: We're talking about a very, very specific set of circumstances here. We're essentially talking about the only set of circumstances in which Fielder could either win or lose this series for the Tigers depending on his actions.
The odds of him actually finding himself in a set of circumstances such as this are pretty slim. The odds of him failing continually right to the bitter end are equally slim. He's too good of a player, and his postseason track record really isn't that hopeless. Plus, he's do some much better luck after Game 3.
I can see the Tigers collapsing in this series. But truth be told, I have a hard time seeing them collapse in such a way that all the blame can be placed solely on Fielder. If the Tigers collapse, the blame will be for everyone. Not just him.
He's just one man. More often than not, it takes 25 guys to win a series, and 25 guys to lose a series.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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