Breaking Down the Detroit Tigers' Keys to an ALCS Victory
After capturing Game 1 of the ALCS, the Detroit Tigers have surprisingly stumbled with their aces on the mound, finding themselves in a 2-1 series hole.
With their three starters—Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander—combining to toss 21 innings in three starts and giving up just two runs and six hits in the process, all while striking out 35 batters, it’s abundantly clear where the problem lies: offense.
For the Tigers, however, the time to fret isn’t now. Between two teams as evenly matched as these, someone had to go up 2-1, and it really could have gone either way. For those predicting doom and gloom on the Tigers, take a deep breath and repeat after me: It’s a seven-game series, and it’s far from over.
Got it? Good. Let’s take a look at the reasons why all is not lost for Detroit and preview the keys for emerging from this series victorious.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
1. The Strong Pitching Must Continue
The starting pitching has been absolutely fantastic, and aside from one Joaquin Benoit pitch to David Ortiz just barely flying over Torii Hunter’s glove and into the Boston Red Sox’s bullpen, the relief has been fine as well.
That is a trend that must absolutely continue, and it all falls on the shoulders of Doug Fister to make that happen tonight.
When you’re on the same staff as Verlander and Scherzer, getting overlooked is bound to happen. If the Red Sox overlook Fister even a little bit in this game, batter after batter will find himself looking from the bench.
Fister put up great numbers, especially when you consider he was the No. 4 starter on this team. He went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA and 159 strikeouts. Against a team as offensively gifted as Boston, he’ll need to bring his best stuff to give his team a chance to win.
The most important thing, however, is that regardless of whether or not Fister manages to guide his team to victory, the Red Sox would need to find a way to take down either Sanchez, Scherzer or Verlander to put the series away. And this series being 2-1 notwithstanding, I’m not betting against any of those guys.
With all due respect to Boston, they don’t have the probable Cy Young Award winner this year going in Game 6 and a former MVP and Cy Young Award winner licking his chops and waiting in the wings in Game 7. If Detroit can find a way to win either one or both of these next two, the odds shift greatly in their favor.
Pitching wins championships, and Detroit is just better at it.
2. The Offense Must Wake Up
The Detroit offense hasn’t been pretty in this series, and the worst part about it is that it’s wasting some pretty dominant pitching in the process.
Jackson has been an absolute train wreck in this series, accumulating a grand total of one hit so far for a batting average of .077. His inability to get on base at the top of the order is killing the Tigers in this series, and if that doesn’t change, Fielder can’t help himself either.
Fielder hasn’t been nearly as bad as Jackson in this series, but the fact remains that he has yet to drive in a run throughout this entire postseason. That is unacceptable from your cleanup hitter, especially one as talented as Fielder.
In this game, Jim Leyland has decided to switch up the batting order, moving Jackson down to eighth in the lineup and moving everyone else up one, via George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. It’s a move that I strongly disagree with because it demonstrates a lack of faith in the men that got him to where he is now. At the same time, however, perhaps a change is all Jackson needs to get it going, as Leyland eluded to here:
I just wanted to refresh him a little bit, put him down a little lower in the lineup. Hopefully, it will relax him a little bit.
Hitting swoons are a part of baseball, and with Jake Peavy on the mound tonight, both men might finally break out. Both have had success in the past against Peavy—Austin a career .321 hitter, Fielder at .278—and despite his shiny name, Peavy hasn’t been anywhere near a lights-out pitcher this year.
Despite his nice 12-5 record, Peavy’s ERA was an un-ace-like 4.17 and he managed just 121 strikeouts. He can be hit, and he has been hit quite a bit.
With Jon Lester waiting to take the ball in Game 5, the Tigers must seize the opportunity tonight and attack Peavy early.
3. Take It One Game at a Time
It would be far too easy to look to the end of series and see Scherzer and Verlander waiting and get a false sense of security. While it’s true that if they get there they have to love their chances, getting to Game 6 might not ever happen if they don’t focus on the current task.
Despite what I have already said about Peavy, he is still a proud, 11-year veteran with a lot on the line. Peavy has never reached a World Series before, and when you get to his age without accumulating that milestone, a little desperation starts to set in.
Looking past Peavy would be absolutely fatal.
Also, the players who are struggling the most must put that behind them. Jackson might have success against Peavy, but players who press rarely make good contact. His 18 postseason strikeouts are proof of that. He is clearly trying to do too much at the plate.
You can’t win the series with one swing of the bat, yet it looks like that’s what Jackson is trying to do. The Tigers hitters must take it one at bat at a time and go back to basics. The top of the order gets on base, and the mashers in the middle drive them in. It’s as simple as that.
To my eye, the Tigers are still the more talented team, despite being down in the series. They have the necessary players, however, to come back and take it. As long as the pitching continues and the hitters find their grooves, they’ll be just fine.