After a full elimination docket and a startling win by the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, fans have seen players both balk at the pressure of a playoff game and perform with a flair for the dramatic this postseason.
For example, though he has fizzled in his first two season with the Nationals, Jayson Werth was the savior for a moment after a walk-off homerun forced Game 5 between Washington and St. Louis in the NLDS.
But, once again, the Fall Classic is upon us and there is no more room for error. A clutch performance can mean the difference between winning it all or watching eight months of work end in failure.
Already down 1-0 in the series, the Detroit Tigers will look to rebound in Game 2 before going back to Detroit. If they are to even up and ultimately pull ahead in this series, the most important player in their lineup will be Prince Fielder. Sandwiched by Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, Fielder is the linchpin of this potent Tigers offense.
Yet, in a frustrating Game 1 for Detroit, Fielder went just 1-for-4, leaving three men on base. Young, too, left three on and Cabrera left one as well. In the postseason, already, Fielder has been hitting just .214 with 3 RBI and has hardly been intimidating in that regard.
This is the time for Cabrera, Fielder, and Young—the ALCS MVP who has really led the Tiger offense this postseason—to be as terrifying on the field as they were on paper when Fielder was signed last winter. Prince is the key to that.
Across the field, the Giants are at no loss for talent in the heart of their lineup either. Batting cleanup is the potential NL MVP Buster Posey. Despite a .336 average in the regular season, Posey is hitting just .204 in this postseason so far. However, he does have 7 RBI, which suggests the problem is elsewhere.
Sandoval and Posey have 20 RBI between them.
This is not to discredit the entirety of the lineup. The Giants have come out swinging and have been able to string together runs, particularly in their last two games. However, Game 1 was square on the shoulders of Sandoval, as no position player beyond Posey recorded a hit.
That production can win one game, but not a series.
It starts with Pence. The deadline acquisition is hitting .174, the worst of any of the position players. Nonetheless, in the five-slot, he protects Posey and it is easier to pitch around Posey knowing that Pence is on deck. If Pence can set the pace for the bottom of this Giants lineup, it could be a short series indeed.
Assuming the remainder of the series does not go as poorly for Tigers’ rotation as Game 1 did, what is ultimately the pivotal part of any championship team is the ability to close out games.
This is a point of contention for Jim Leyland and the Tigers. After a blown save in Game 1 of the ALCS, Jose Valverde has seemingly lost his closing role to Phil Coke. Valverde, who saved a league-leading 49 games in 2011, has a 30.37 ERA this postseason with opponents batting .579 against him.
In the postseason, the Tigers bullpen has allowed just 12 runs, but nine of them have been off of Valverde. At a time when managers are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to win, players have to be their best in every situation. Yet, despite his inconsistencies, Leyland has continued to go to Valverde.
Likely Detroit will win in this series, but Valverde needs to regain his dominance and composure if and when he is called upon again for that to happen.