Tigers Desperately Need Prince Fielder to Step Up to Survive in ALCS

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2013

For all the talk about Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland shuffling his lineup and Austin Jackson struggling in the postseason, Prince Fielder has turned into an even bigger problem.  

During Boston's 4-3 victory in Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday night, Fielder went 1-for-4 with a single and actually raised his batting average in the series to .211. He has collected one hit in four of the five games against the Red Sox, but just one has gone for extra bases. And he hasn't driven in a run. 

The last part doesn't concern me as much because RBI are a function of opportunity, and the Tigers didn't have a leadoff hitter consistently getting on base until Torii Hunter moved into that spot in Game 4. 

But the lack of extra-base hits is a concern.

Fielder's slugging percentage is a dismal .263 in this series. When you combine that with Jackson not hitting for the first three games of the series and Miguel Cabrera doing all he can just to move—let alone hit—Fielder's lack of performance gets magnified.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe summed things up nicely on Twitter during the game when Fielder made one of his patented playoff outs.

On top of that little tidbit, Matt Dery of Detroit Sports 105.1 had an interesting report to share with the masses. 

While we can't speak to Fielder's mental state right now, you have to figure this is a frustrating time for the five-time All-Star. He has built a reputation as one of the best power hitters in baseball. Yet, he seems incapable of driving the ball with any kind of authority. 

If you followed Fielder during the season, that inability to drive the ball is nothing new. The 29-year-old lost 71 points of slugging percentage from 2012 to 2013 (.528 to .457) and had his lowest single-season home run total (25) since before becoming an everyday player in 2006. 

The Tigers gave Fielder a nine-year, $214 million contract before the 2012 season with the hopes that he would provide the best one-two punch in baseball with Cabrera. 

I, along with many others, criticized the deal because it seemed like a panic move for the Tigers, who were trying to replace Victor Martinez's production after he underwent knee surgery and had to miss all of 2012.

Giving a deal of that length to a player like Fielder, who was never going to age gracefully with his body type, had all the signs of ending in disaster. While no one would classify this season as such, there was a clear drop in performance that has gotten worse in the playoffs. And Cabrera's injury has only enhanced the scrutiny around Fielder.

These woes date back to the World Series last year when the San Francisco Giants held the big first baseman to one hit in 14 at-bats. 

No one made a big deal about it at the time, because the Giants had a great pitching staff and the Tigers didn't hit at all in that World Series. 

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 12:  Prince Fielder #28 of the Detroit Tigers warms up during batting practice before Game One of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on October 12, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

This year has been a different story. Even when the Tigers have been able to get things going offensively, like Game 4 of the ALDS against Oakland (eight runs) and Game 4 against Boston (seven runs), Fielder has gone 1-for-7 with zero RBI and three strikeouts. 

Now, on the brink of elimination for the second consecutive series, it is time to focus on the biggest problem the Tigers have. Fielder was once a premier power hitter in baseball, and maybe he can still play at that level. 

Yet right now, the Tigers would be happy to take a double here or there, or even a single with a runner in scoring position. They are going to need all the offensive help they can get after scoring just 16 runs through the first five games of this series. 

Fielder himself has heard the criticism, telling David Mayo of MLive.com that he certainly listened to the boos at home.

"It's definitely not pleasant," Fielder said. "But they're fans. That's what they do. They paid to come."

We know what the pitching for the Tigers can be. Max Scherzer will take the ball in Game 6 and probably be great, or at the very least good.

Scoring runs has been a different story. 

Cabrera isn't going to magically heal over night. Hunter is solid, but he doesn't provide the power he once did. Jackson has come to life hitting lower in the order, but no one gets on base ahead of him to make it matter. 

That leaves Fielder, who is as healthy as a player can be at this point in the season, as the piece to help save the Tigers and get them back to the World Series.

If he can't do it, it will be a long flight back to Detroit. 


All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

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