MLB Playoffs 2011: 5 Keys to a Detroit Tigers Victory in Game 5
There are few things in sports more exciting than a playoff series coming down to the final game.
One team is going to the ALCS for a chance at the World Series, and for the other team everything just suddenly ends and they're left wondering what could have been.
The difference between the two is usually not much, and every little detail matters in a game of such importance.
Five details could tilt the series in Detroit's favor.
Doug Fister's Pitch Count
A Detroit Tigers win in Game 5 clearly depends largely on the success of Doug Fister. But with the way the Tigers' bullpen has performed so far this postseason, Fister's pitch count and endurance will be all the more important.
Fister pitches to contact, which can be a negative in a park like Yankee Stadium against a team that can mash the ball with the best of them. The Yankees are also great at taking pitches and working the count, which is obviously bad for his pitch count.
If Fister can get some quick innings, keep the ball in the park and keep the relief pitchers in the bullpen, I like Detroit's chances.
Alex Avila's Knee
Avila injured his knee during a sacrifice bunt attempt in Game 3 when he stepped on Robinson Cano's foot.
Both Avila and Jim Leyland have downplayed the extent of the injury, saying it's just a sore kneecap, but he was visibly hobbling around the dugout after it happened and his performance in the ALDS so far has not been stellar. Whether the injury is contributing to that is hard to say.
After the breakout season he had, it would be devastating to Detroit's chances if it worsens to the point that he can't play because Victor Martinez isn't going to catch and Avila's backup is Omir Santos. Don't worry, you aren't the only one who hasn't heard of Omir Santos.
Don Kelly's Bat
In a lineup with as many big hitters as the Tigers feature, it seems odd that they would count on a career bench player who is usually put in the game for defensive purposes to continue his solid play at the plate.
Outside of Delmon Young and Miguel Cabrera, nobody has done much for the Tigers at the plate in this series. Kelly, however, has put some good wood on the ball in his limited at-bats.
He could have been the hero of Game 4 if not for Curtis Granderson robbing him of a potential bases-loaded triple in the first inning.
Leyland has given Kelly the start at third base in Game 5, and he will be a valuable left-handed bat against a red-hot Ivan Nova.
Austin Jackson's Speed
Austin Jackson has some of the best wheels in baseball. He routinely makes great plays in Comerica's large outfield and can usually steal a base off any pitcher.
So far in this ALDS, however, he has been unimpressive where he usually excels.
On more than one occasion a ball has gotten over his head that he would normally track down, resulting in some big innings for the Yankees.
And he's batting a whopping .083 with five strikeouts which makes it hard for Leyland, who rarely sends runners to begin with, to give him the green light to run because he's barely ever on base.
If Detroit is going to beat Ivan Nova, they are likely going to have to manufacture some runs, and nobody on the Tigers roster is more suited for that than Jackson.
If he can't hit the ball, he needs to make better use of his legs.
Ryan Raburn's Playing Time
Ryan Raburn finished the season very strong, hitting .383 in September and taking up much of the playing time at second base, an unstable position for the Tigers for most of the season.
He got the start at second in Game 1 and went 2-4 with an RBI but then wasn't seen again until one pinch-hit at-bat in Game 4.
I really like what Ramon Santiago brings to the table, and Magglio Ordonez has been much better in the second half as well but Raburn needs to play in Game 5.
I'd rather see him start at second over Santiago than over Magglio in the outfield simply because I trust Magglio a bit more in the postseason based on how clutch he has been in the past.
Detroit will need to put some runs on the board early to quiet the Yankee Stadium crowd, and lately Raburn has been as good at the plate as anyone not named Cabrera.