Mapping out the Tigers' Path to an ALDS Comeback
When the Detroit Tigers take the field at Comerica Park for Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday afternoon, they won't just facing Oakland and the specter of elimination, they'll be staring an unflattering history in the face.
Since 1972, Detroit has eventually succumbed to elimination in the postseason every single time they've faced it.
Starting with the 1972 ALCS against, ironically, Oakland, the 1987 ALCS against Minnesota, the 2006 World Series with St. Louis, the 2012 ALCS in Texas and last October's World Series with San Francisco, the Tigers have made a habit of falling short in comeback attempts.
If the 2013 ALDS is to be different, they'll need to follow the following steps on the path to a major ALDS comeback.
1. Continue to receive major October moments from Doug Fister
During Monday afternoon's Game 3 loss to Oakland, it became clear that the Tigers were going to face a must win in Game 4.
Their reluctance to skip fourth starter Doug Fister in favor of going back to AL Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer seemed odd, especially in light of Los Angeles, playing with a lead in the NLDS, skipping their fourth starter to give the ball to Clayton Kershaw on Monday night.
Of course, not many fourth starters have postseason numbers like Doug Fister. In 36.1 career postseason innings as a member of the Tigers staff, Fister, the tall, lanky right-hander, has posted a 2.97 ERA.
While Fister won't overpower hitters like Scherzer or Justin Verlander, he has the ability to generate outs on the ground, keep the ball out of the air, and, most importantly, keep the team in the game.
As Jim Leyland told Paul Hagen of MLB.com, the team has confidence he will get the job done in this spot and get the ball to Scherzer, and possibly Verlander out of the pen, in a deciding Game 5.
"He's one of our four," Jim Leyland said. "He's a competitor. He keeps the infielders and outfielders on their toes because he works fast. He's a terrific fielder. He has movement and his forte is to make them miss hit the ball. He makes them mis-hit the ball, put it in play and makes the defense work."
2. Find the offensive magic
As I wrote in the aftermath of Monday's Game 3 loss, the Tigers offense has disappeared.
Due to the zapped power of Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson's speed and BABIP (batting average on balls in play) prowess rendered useless due to high strikeout numbers, Detroit can't seem to string together hits or walks to score runs.
Even if Fister brings his best stuff, he's unlikely to shut out an Athletics offense that cranked three home runs off Game 3 starter Anibal Sanchez on Monday.
Detroit will need to score, preferably early, to settle Fister into a groove with a lead and get the home crowd fired up. If the Tigers can continue their short, but effective, history against Athletics Game 4 starter Dan Straily, they should do just that.
Although Straily has only made 34 career major league starts since the beginning of 2012, current Tigers hitters have 33 career plate appearances against him. Combined, they've hit him hard.
As the following chart shows, Torii Hunter leads the charge and is key to knocking around Straily early and often in Game 4.
3. Play with a sense of urgency
As we saw from the Rays and Cardinals on Monday, as well as the Braves (until Fredi Gonzalez refused to use the best closer in the world with the lead in Los Angeles), elimination games can bring out the best in teams in October. There is no tomorrow for the Detroit Tigers in the sense of 2013, but the narrative may extend further than that.
Leading into series,many @tigers players were talking about urgency of the playoffs.Nothing urgent about 0 runs in 17 straight innings.— Christian McLeod (@CMcLeod_EA) October 6, 2013
While the Tigers aren't likely to morph into a bad team in 2014, their championship window could be closing sooner than you think. After qualifying for the ALCS in 2011 and World Series in 2012, it's time for Detroit to get over the hump and host a parade in a city that could desperately use one.
The average age of Detroit's position players in 2013 was 30.1.
Miguel Cabrera may continue to hit at a blistering pace for another two or three seasons, but remember Albert Pujols, the former "best hitter alive," had his last truly great year (173 OPS+) at the age of 30. In 2014, Cabrera will be 31.
Torii Hunter, the aforementioned Dan Straily killer, is 37. Victor Martinez is 34. Jhonny Peralata, fresh off a 50-game suspension in connection with the Biogenesis scandal, is a 31-year-old middle infielder heading for free agency.
Max Scherzer, likely headed for an AL Cy Young, is a free agent after the 2014 season (via Cot's Baseball Contracts). If he posts another year close to his 2012-2013 form (10.5 K/9, 128 ERA+), the 28-year-old right-hander could price himself out of the Tigers budget, especially after their front office guaranteed Justin Verlander $160 million from 2014-2019.
If the team doesn't make a single offseason addition, they would still be a good pick to win the AL Central and compete for a title in 2014, but the clock is ticking in Detroit.
If 2014 became an injury-plagued or down year for some older players, an era of Tigers baseball could easily come and go without a World Series title.
Now or never feels extreme, but the Tigers need to play like it to necessitate a comeback in the ALDS.
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