Detroit Tigers: 5 Early Signs They Are on Their Way to the World Series

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIOctober 15, 2012

Detroit Tigers: 5 Early Signs They Are on Their Way to the World Series

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    Another masterful performance from the starting rotation has the Detroit Tigers two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 2006.

    So Motor City, can you taste it?

    With three games upcoming at Comerica Park, Detroiters have reason to believe that their blessed boys will drive a stake through the Yankees some time in the next week.

    And as an impartial observer, I'm buying it.

    Five reasons why...

Swing-and-Miss Stuff

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    Among baseball's final four, no starting rotation is better at punching out opponents than Detroit's.

    Each one of the Tigers' postseason starters—Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister—struck out more than 7.5 batters per nine innings this season and boasted a SO:BB ratio north of 3.45. No other postseason foursome can make either claim.*

    Translation: Tigers starters are really hard to hit.

    Of course, in any month, generating whiffs is a recipe for success. It's one of the few outcomes where a pitcher isn't at the mercy of his defense.

    But in postseason play, the ability to strike batters out can carry an extra special situational boon. In games where runs are at a premium, holding baserunners at third with less than two outs takes on added importance. Strikeouts are the best way to do that. And we regularly see teams strategize with that very outcome in mind.

    Now, when most teams need a strikeout to prevent damage, they're forced to lean on their relief corps—even if that means removing a starter who's been reasonably effective. Take a look at the top K/9 rates in baseball this year and you'll see why.

    But not the Tigers. With two starters averaging a strikeout an inning or more (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer), manager Jim Leyland can ride his horses in situations where opposing manager might have to tax the 'pen.

    *The San Francisco Giants are very close on the K/9 count, but only if you count Tim Lincecum as a member of their rotation. Since he hasn't started yet—and because Ryan Vogelsong falls just below our threshold—this round goes to Detroit.

Jim Leyland May Finally Understand His Bullpen Situation

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    For veteran managers—especially one as perpetually grizzled as Jim Leyland—change can be a tricky topic.

    It's no secret that Leyland prefers a formulaic approach to bullpen management: Play matchups early on, go to the setup man in the eighth, trust the closer with any and all tasks in the ninth, repeat.

    It's also no secret that Jose Valverde, Leyland's closer, has been brutal this postseason. His two blown saves and 27.00 playoff ERA come on the heels of a season where he struck out a career low 6.3 batters per nine innings.

    Combine all that with Valverde's fading velocity, and you've got the recipe for ninth-inning disaster.

    Luckily for Tigers fans, Leyland seems ready to reevaluate his bullpen strategy. He told the press on Sunday that Valverde would not close if Detroit led Game 2 and followed through on his promise by leaving the ball in Phil Coke's hand through the final out of a 3-0 win.

    Detroit's greatest hurdle so far in these playoffs has been Valverde's incompetence combined with Leyland's stubborn insistence on using him in a traditional closer's role.

    Now it seems Leyland is at least willing to try a different approach, which should benefit Detroit through the rest of its playoff run.

The Yankees Are in Disarray

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    Now, I'm not usually one to parse a team's mental state.

    All that pseudo-psychological babble about "momentum" and "getting tight" is usually just the punditry's way of injecting narrative into situations that can easily be explained away by small sample size.

    But in the case of these New York Yankees, I'll make an exception.

    I mean has there ever been more negativity surrounding a team that is four wins away from a World Series appearance?

    Derek Jeter is gone. A-Rod might as well be. The usually dependable Robinson Cano is mired in a historic slump.

    Everyone in pinstripes is under the microscope, and the soul-sucking silence in Yankee Stadium throughout most of Sunday's game spoke to a collective panic among the Bronx faithful. Not exactly ideal situations for postseason success.

    Now the Bombers find themselves in the unenviable situation of having to sort through various lineup and identity crises—Who bats first? Sit/start A-Rod? Does Swisher need a blow?—in the face of an 0-2 series deficit.

    Advantage Detroit.

Miguel Cabrera

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    Miguel Cabrera's value to the Tigers needs little introduction.

    No one in baseball had a higher wOBA or wRC+ this year than the Detroit third baseman. And then there's that whole Triple Crown thing, which was pretty awesome, too.

    But this slide is more anecdote than numbers.

    While Cabrera hasn't impacted these playoffs with big swings so far, Tigers fans should be pleased to see their $21 million man playing with poise and restraint through the early rounds.

    Teams have pitched Cabera with caution, and he's been willing to take walks (his three are a team-high) and attack the second-based hole instead of trying to play home run hero.

    Now that's always been Miggy's M.O., but it's comforting for Detroit fans to know that the stakes haven't changed him.

    Because when you're as good a hitter as Miguel Cabrera, change is a most unwelcome agent.

They're Up 2-0...Duh

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    Oh, hello there, simple arithmetic.

    Of all the babble I could spout about Detroit's impending World Series trip and the reasons for it, none is more powerful than the simple fact that they've already won two freaking games and the other team hasn't won any.

    In case you didn't know, being ahead 2-0 in a series is way, way, waaaaayyyy better than being down 2-0, or even tied 1-1 for that matter.

    Here's the point where SportsCenter trots out the same tired statistic about what percentage of teams up 2-0 go on to win the ALCS.

    Lemme guess, it's a high number. You know why?

    Because they've already won two freaking games and the other team hasn't won any.

    Detroit has the added advantage of three consecutive home games, the first of which will be pitched by reigning MVP Justin Verlander.

    I'll take those odds.