5 Keys to the Detroit Tigers Avoiding an Epic ALDS Collapse
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Perhaps it's because the A's nearly won Game 2 in Detroit if not for a two-run error by Coco Crisp and run-scoring wild pitch by Ryan Cook. Maybe it's because Oakland's pitching has been able to handcuff a relatively strong Tigers lineups.
Even though Detroit seemingly has the ultimate weapon in Justin Verlander to Game 5, the Tigers surely want to avoid allowing the A's to tie the series and play the decisive game at home in front of an impressively excited crowd at O.co Coliseum.
Detroit has two more opportunities to close out this ALDS. But to avoid blowing a 2-0 lead and ending their season with an embarrassing playoff collapse, the Tigers and manager Jim Leyland need the following five things to happen.
Prince Fielder Needs to Hit
Many have pointed to the Tigers' starting pitching as the reason they could advance through the AL playoffs. But Detroit won't get far without significant production from its two best hitters.
Miguel Cabrera has hit well enough, going 4-for-12 (.333). But he doesn't have a home run or RBI yet in the ALDS.
However, it's Prince Fielder that really needs to start generating some offense from the middle of the Tigers lineup. Detroit's first baseman is 1-for-12 in the first three games of the series (.083).
To be fair, Fielder was robbed of at least two hits—one of which would have been a home run—in Game 3.
The long ball was taken away in the second inning by a fantastic grab at the center field fence by Coco Crisp. In the seventh inning, Yoenis Cespedes snared Fielder's sinking liner to left field with a diving catch. Without those plays, Fielder likely has a 2-for-4 night with a home run and one RBI.
As if his night wasn't bad enough, Fielder ended Game 3 by grounding into a double play.
Starters Must Go Deep
Detroit has gotten strong starting pitching in the first three games of the ALDS. Justin Verlander and Doug Fister each pitched seven innings in their respective starts, combining to allow three runs. Anibal Sanchez also pitched into the seventh in Game 3, giving up two runs.
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How can the Tigers do much better than that? Well, they probably can't. But they need at least one more performance like that to close out the A's.
Most importantly, a starting pitcher going seven innings prevents Leyland from having to use his bullpen more than necessary.
Working with three innings or fewer gives Leyland an opportunity to utilize as many relievers as he can to get those nine outs rather than rely solely on Joaquin Benoit in the eighth and Jose Valverde to close it out in the ninth.
The Tigers don't have a shutdown middle reliever, but mixing and matching Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque has been effective. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly can also be called upon if needed.
Don't Fear the Closer
Leyland's use of Valverde has been curious. In Game 1, Valverde pitched the ninth inning to finish off the game as a closer typically would. No issue there. Valverde struck out two of the three batters he faced to save the Tigers' 3-1 win.
Yet Leyland didn't use Valverde in Game 2 after Benoit gave up two runs in the eighth. If Valverde is ostensibly Detroit's best reliever as the closer, why not use him in a tied ballgame during the ninth inning? There's no save situation for Valverde to pitch in when a walk-off win is possible.
Valverde also arguably could have been used in Game 3 with two outs in the eighth inning. Instead, Leyland opted for Porcello to pitch to Cespedes, which ended up working out.
Perhaps Leyland was saving Valverde in case the Tigers tied the game or took the lead in the ninth inning or later. But the most important outs late in the game aren't always the ones that close out the game.
The Tigers manager might be a bit more daring with his closer in the next one or two games of the ALDS. Though Leyland's tendencies indicate that he likely won't.
Not the Time for an Audition
Right field has been a problem for the Tigers in this series, as it was for much of the season. Brennan Boesch was left off the ALDS roster in favor of Avisail Garcia and Don Kelly. Perhaps Leyland chose those players for their defense, but they're not supplying much offense.
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Well, that's not fair to Kelly since he drove in the game-winning run in Game 2 with a sacrifice fly.
But Garcia has gone 0-for-5 at the plate in his two games during the ALDS. Garcia has promising talents and looks like a hitter who will develop some power. However, the postseason isn't the ideal time to see what sort of player Garcia can become.
Unfortunately, Leyland hasn't really had much choice but to play Garcia in the outfield. With left-handers Tommy Milone and Brett Anderson starting the past two games for Oakland, the Tigers needed another right-handed bat in their lineup.
This is a roster deficiency the Tigers will have to address in the offseason. But as of right now, in the postseason, this is best Detroit can do.
Stop the Platoon Matchups
But maybe Leyland should stop paying such close attention to the left-right matchups between his batters and A's pitchers.
For instance, Alex Avila batted .176 with a .539 OPS against left-handed pitching this season. Gerald Laird hit .204 with a .622 OPS.
Laird's numbers say he's the better choice against a lefty starter, but Avila is generally the better hitter with more pop in his bat. Neither option is a great one for Leyland in such a matchup, but should he automatically choose Laird because of his platoon splits?
If Leyland also wants to keep Garcia in the lineup, why not just play him regardless of whether a lefty or righty is on the mound? Garcia has a .294 batting average against right-handers with a .588 OPS. Lefty Quintin Berry is batting .268 with a .704 OPS vs. righties.
Again, maybe Berry is the better choice in a platoon matchup, but if Garcia is believed to be the better hitter, he should be playing.
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