Here we go again.
Surely, that is what the Detroit Tigers and their fans are thinking after the team went down 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Thus far, this series has played out very similarly to their divisional tilt against the Oakland Athletics.
In that series, the Tigers won the first game before dropping the next two. In that series, they blew a brilliant performance from Justin Verlander and lost 1-0. And in that series, they faced a crucial Game 4, at home, with the season on the line.
Obviously, in this series, a loss wouldn't end the season. But it would create a 3-1 deficit, which is incredibly difficult to overcome. But just like against the Athletics, the Tigers will recover and go on to win the series.
Just to make things even more dire, let's say the Tigers lose Game 4 as well. Even in that scenario, the team would still have to feel pretty good about its chances, with Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander scheduled to pitch.
As STATS LLC (via ESPN) notes, the trio has "allowed two runs and six hits while striking out 35 in 21 innings" in this series. And if the Tigers can pull even in Game 4, surely this team can win two of the next three behind the trio.
Of course, that is all contingent on the bats waking up. What exactly has happened to the second-best offense in the American League this regular season?
For one thing, Austin Jackson has been terrible, hitting .091 with 18 strikeouts and just one run and one RBI. If he can't wake up, that's trouble for Detroit, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes:
Since 2010, the Tigers are 203-85 (.705) in the regular season when Jackson starts and scores a run, 11-4 (.733) in the postseason, according to STATS LLC. When Jackson starts and does not score, the Tigers are 105-151 (.410) in the regular season and 5-12 (.294) in the postseason.
How dire is the current situation?
Manager Jim Leyland said that he is considering replacing Jackson in center field with Don Kelly—yes, Don Kelly, whom the Tigers twice dropped from their 40-man roster in 2012.
Jackson isn't the only player missing in action. Prince Fielder is at least putting the ball in play, hitting .276, but he has yet to register a single RBI in the postseason. That's a pretty telling stat for a clean-up hitter.
While a part of that is Jackson's struggles atop the order and the team's general haplessness at the plate—the Tigers are hitting .231 this postseason—Fielder has had chances to make an impact in this series and failed.
With two outs and a runner on third in the eighth inning of Game 3 and the Tigers trailing 1-0, he offered three feeble swings and whiffs against Boston closer Koji Uehara. Both he and Miguel Cabrera had an opportunity to tie the game and failed.
Detroit's failures at the plate are pretty shocking, but you also get the feeling that if Jackson, Cabrera and Fielder can pick things up, the Detroit pitching will take this team to a World Series berth. The starting pitching has been good enough for a 3-0 series lead, but the quiet bats and one bullpen implosion has led to the Red Sox holding a 2-1 advantage.
But the Tigers are resilient, as they proved against Oakland. With the best starting pitching in baseball and several sleeping giants that could awake at any moment at the plate, Detroit will overcome a 2-1 series deficit and move on to the next round.