By: Jamie Samuelsen
Playoff baseball wouldn’t be playoff baseball without some peaks and valleys. It’s supposed to be nerve-wracking. It’s supposed to keep your heart pounding. And it’s definitely, definitely not supposed to be easy.
So the Tigers ran into a speed bump in Oakland last night falling to the A’s 2-0 in Game 3. If people are panicking, they’re doing so because the A’s pitching looks really, really good. And the Tigers hitting looks anemic. After hitting 163 homers during the regular season, the Tigers have one (Alex Avila) through three games of the ALDS. Prince Fielder has one hit in twelve at-bats, even though he was robbed twice last night. Austin Jackson has been on base three times in the series and has five strikeouts. And the Tigers as a team have scored only one run in this series on a hit (Avila’s homer). The rest were on errors, wild pitches or sacrifice flies.
But the Tigers wake up this morning still in command of this series. They’re still the favorites to move on to the ALCS. And I’d argue that they should be pretty optimistic about what lies ahead.
1) The offense simply can’t stay this quiet. Cabrera or Fielder will come through with a long ball. Fielder should have had one last night. The Tigers had some huge offensive droughts during the regular season, but they still finished with the sixth best team average (.268) and the eleventh best run total (726) in the game. They’re hitting .234 with eight runs scored through three games. I get that it’s a short series and averages don’t have a chance sometimes to find their level. But I also get that it’s hard to keep hitters like Cabrera and Fielder down for very long.
2) They face a right-hander tonight in A.J. Griffin and another right-hander tomorrow in Jarrod Parker if the series goes that far. The Tigers are better against right-handed pitching. Cabrera’s numbers are far better in those match-ups. Jim Leyland will go with Quintin Berry and Alex Avila instead of Avisail Garcia and Gerald Laird (who have zero hits between them). And the Tigers will be able to roll out the lineup that they think gives them the best chance to win. When you can do that in two consecutive nights, you have a good chance of scratching out one win.
3) Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Scherzer makes me a bit nervous because it’s been nearly a month since we saw the real Max Scherzer. His shoulder issues have either scratched him or limited him to a low inning total in each of his last four scheduled starts. He insists he’s fine. Leyland insists he’s fine. And really, neither man has anything to gain by exaggerating. But until we see Scherzer striking out A’s hitters and working past the fifth inning, we’ll all be watching with baited breath.
Verlander however is the ultimate insurance policy in this whole thing. His road numbers in the second half of the season were not very good heading towards the end of September. And his playoff numbers prior to last Saturday night were average at best. But in his last five starts (including Game 1), Verlander has pitched 35 innings and allowed three earned runs while striking out 38. That’s not a bad trend. If there were a winner-take-all game, there’s not another pitcher in baseball that I’d rather have pitching for my team than Verlander. He just seems like one of those guys who will rise to the occasion. True, he has the tendency to get too ramped up too early sometimes (as he did when he allowed the home run to Crisp in Game 1). But he also has the amazing ability to settle down rather quickly and quiet down the opposing bats. If you have any doubts or any qualms about the Tigers, most should be settled by the presence of Verlander ready for a Game 5.
Be nervous. Be scared. Fear the worst. That’s what playoff baseball does to you as a fan. But know that the Tigers still hold most of the cards in this battle. And they’ve really yet to play any of them through the first three games. Here’s hoping that starts tonight.