A nearly finishing blow.
Red Sox 6, Tigers 5 (Series tied 1-1)
Max Scherzer (16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.93 FIP) was given the task of following a near no-hitter and shutout in Game 2 and he did not disappoint. Scherzer rolled over the Red Sox taking a no-hitter into the six, while finishing 7 innings of 1 run ball with 13 strikeouts. He was as filthy as ever, perhaps even more so. He had all of his pitches working and had the Red Sox swinging and missing and also watching helplessly. For a second straight night, the Tigers starter made one of the best offenses in baseball look like a high school lineup. Avila knocked in a run early during an early threat in the 2nd inning that ended with an Infante double play. But the Tigers finished the job they started in the 6th inning when they chased Buchholz with a homerun by Miguel Cabrera and then a majestic two run dagger from Alex Avila to give the Tigers a 5-0 lead. The bullpen, well the bullpen, didn’t exactly do the job. In the eighth, Veras, Smyly, and Alburquerque loaded the bases and David Ortiz came up to face Benoit with two outs. It did not go well. Ortiz sent one flying into the bullpen and we went to the 9th tied at 5. Gomes reached on an infield hit and advanced to second on an Iglesias error that definitely belongs to Fielder. Gomes moved up to 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on a single and the Sox completed the comeback. The Tigers pack up their Fenway lockers tied 1-1 in the ALCS and they’ll take Monday off knowing three wins at home this week will send them to their second straight Fall Classic. Justin Verlander (2 GS, 15 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.65 FIP) will take the ball on Tuesday having yet to allow a run in the postseason.
The Moment: Alex Avila turns on one and launches a 2-run homer to put this one out of reach in the 6th.
Strange, nearly historic, but ultimately successful.
Tigers 1, Red Sox 0 (Tigers Lead Series 1-0)
Anibal Sanchez (2 GS, 10.1 IP, 4.36 ERA, 5.66 FIP) stole the show on Saturday night in a pretty strange way, even for October. Sanchez had nasty stuff, but imperfect control and leveraged that into 12 strikeouts across 6 innings to go along with 6 walks. He managed to keep the Sox off the board in two separate columns, runs and hits. That’s right, Sanchez had a no-hitter intact when he came out of the game after six, but a six walk no-hitter is a no-hitter in name only and he was already over 110 pitches. In the postseason, you don’t bat an eye. You yank him. The Tigers grabbed their run on a Peralta RBI single in the 6th inning against the otherwise stingy Lester. The bullpens pitched to a draw over the final innings and the Tigers stole back home-field advantage with a win in Game 1 after allowing the first hit of the game in the 9th. They’ll turn things over to Max Scherzer (9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.94 FIP) Sunday night with a chance to go up 2-0 and put the Sox on life support.
The Moment: Sanchez K’s Stephen Drew to end the 6th with the bases loaded.
On Thursday, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler wrote a column with a provocative headline. It read: “Tigers may trade Scherzer this winter before cost skyrockets.” A couple of quick points should be made up front. This story is 100% speculation on Knobler’s part. There are no quotes from Tigers or league officials. There aren’t even anonymous “sources” or “reports,” which you know we hate at New English D. Second, Knobler isn’t someone who normally writes stuff like this, so I don’t mean this to be a critique of Danny’s work in general. But this was a joke.
His argument goes something like this. Scherzer is about to get a huge arbitration payday. Scherzer isn’t going to sign an extension because he’s a Boras client. The Tigers have a ton of money tied up in other stars and can’t keep spending. All of those things are facts, but Knobler ties them together to create a narrative that will generate traffic but doesn’t make any logical sense.
Let’s think about this logically. The Tigers will either win the World Series or they won’t this year. If they win the Series, are the Tigers really going to trade the centerpiece of the pitching staff that led them there to save $15 million? If they don’t win, are they going to trade a player who is likely going to provide 5 wins above replacement or so in 2014 while their roster remains intact to make another run? That doesn’t sound like the Tigers. They will either not care about the money because they value loyalty or they will still feel the pressure of winning and will have to keep Scherzer because you won’t find someone better on the market at any position.
But let’s leave that alone. Let’s assume the Tigers will act without making any sort of emotional calculation. There is no rational case to be made for trading Scherzer.
The only reasonable case would have to be crafted around his cost and a Tigers team that is cash strapped. But there is nothing to suggest that the Tigers are hurting for money. They drew 3 million fans and can count on the postseason revenue bump, not to mention incoming TV revenue from the league’s new deal. Maybe Knobler knows something about the Illitch family bank account, but that seems like a relevant detail to include in your speculation. Scherzer will cost $15 million or so next season, but that’s a bargain if he’s a 5-6 win pitcher. That’s better than you could do signing someone to replace him.
If we assume the trade would push Smyly to the rotation the drop off from Max to Smyly would likely be about 4 wins, plus the cost of replacing Smyly as the relief ace. The Tigers need to replace Scherzer’s 5 wins if they trade him and intend to contend in 2014. I can’t see anywhere on the club they could add five wins short of signing Robinson Cano, and even that is a stretch before you factor in the giant financial commitment. The Tigers could not trade Scherzer and get better for next season without totally overhauling their roster. There is nowhere to find the extra playing time.
So this would have to be about the future. The Tigers would trade Scherzer for a set of prospects and save $15 million. In this scenario, they add the future wins from the prospects but lose Scherzer’s value. In order for that to make sense, the Tigers would need to get enough of a prospect haul to account for the roughly $10 miilion of surplus value Scherzer will be worth in 2014. They need to get something like 3 wins back in the deal.
That’s before you factor in the time value of money (discount factor) and before you factor in the value of the draft pick the Tigers would get when Scherzer rejects the qualifying offer after 2014. Essentially for this to work, some team needs to send the Tigers a stud prospect or a couple of really solid ones and you have to assume the Tigers don’t mind being worse in 2014 as a result.
That just doesn’t make any sense. For trading Scherzer to make sense the Tigers have to intentionally hurt their 2014 chances – as their window narrows – so that they can get a player who will be slightly better than the draft pick they will get as compensation, all so they can save $15 million. This is a team whose owner ponied up for Fielder and Sanchez because he wants to win a title before he dies.
It doesn’t make sense unless you can get a team to dramatically overpay. I guess we shouldn’t put that past Dombrowski, but after the meltdown trade the Royals made this year, most teams should be weary of making a short term gamble on a starter. Max Scherzer is a 5-6 win pitcher at the end of his peak who will be on a bargain-priced one year deal. For some reason, Knobler is suggesting the Tigers will trade him.
To make themselves worse short term. To make themselves marginally better in the long term. To save money they don’t need to save. Without even considering the Tigers overly loyal disposition. Before you factor in the how much the front office adores Scherzer, it still doesn’t make sense.
Knobler wrote this piece without any actual inside info. I know he’s a smart guy, so he should have easily been able to arrive at the same conclusion I did. Why did he write what he wrote? It’s a sexy headline. Everyone shared it and talked about it. CBS got page views and page views are currency. He put out nonsense speculation. The best way for you to respond to this kind of thing is not to read it. Don’t feed the trade-rumor industrial complex and don’t let Danny get away with work that is beneath him.
I think trade speculation is the scorn of the sports world, but it’s even worse when you’re speculating during an exciting playoff series. If you’re bored in November, knock yourself out, but the season is still happening. There is actual baseball to cover. There are more compelling stories to write about Max Scherzer. You know, Max Scherzer? The Tigers star who is likely going to win the Cy Young after making significant improvements in his delivery a year after he dealt with a massive personal tragedy.
But yeah, let’s write about a trade that is never going to happen.
On Thursday night, Miguel Cabrera hit a homerun. Generally this wouldn’t be news but he’s been battling injuries for six weeks and hadn’t hit a bomb since September 17th and only had one since August 27th. Miguel Cabrera hit 43 homeruns through August 26th and 44 homeruns through Wednesday. Again, he’s been hurt. It’s limited his playing time and cut down on his ability to drive the ball to some extent. We’re not surprised that he’s struggling because he’s obvious some diminished version of himself.
On Thursday night he turned a Sonny Gray fastball into a two run homerun. Here’s a gif via Jeff Sullivan’s excellent post at FanGraphs:
Notice anything different? It didn’t jump out at me at first, but this tweet showed up on my doorstep this morning:
Miguel Cabrera hit a two-handed-finish homerun. That’s pretty strange. That’s not Cabrera’s swing. It looks good, but it’s not typical. Cabrera hit 22 HR this year on inside fastballs and I watched every single one. He finished with one hand every time. I don’t know how to make .gifs, but I can do screenshots. The following is a typical finish:
Watch the .gif and then look at the screenshot. Miguel Cabrera tried a new swing against Sonny Gray on Thursday and still managed to hit a homerun. It gets a bit more interesting. Take a peak at his finish on his long fly out on Tuesday. Fastball, inner half.
It’s unclear to me why he tried the new swing. I suspected it was an injury because he didn’t want to let his left side fly open as far, but he had no problem doing so two days earlier. Maybe things got worse or maybe he made some weird adjustment based on what Gray was doing. Cabrera is known for his exceptional hitting IQ. I went back to look at a few ABs from the worst period of his injury – all one handed finishes.
The takeaway point is this. Miguel Cabrera can try a new swing for the first time in a winner take all playoff game while hurt against a really good pitcher and still hit a homerun in a giant park. Good grief.
Exactly what you paid for.
Tigers 3, Athletics 0 (Tigers win the series 3-2)
If you suspect you’ve seen this movie before, you have. Just a year ago, Justin Verlander (2 GS, 15 IP, 0 R, 22 K) took the mound in Oakland for Game 5 of the ALDS and dominated as the Tigers beat the A’s to advance to the ALCS against a team from the AL East. Today, he did the same. The Tigers trailed the series 2-1 entering Tuesday’s game and expended potential Game 5 starter Max Scherzer in relief to make sure they made it back to Oakland, meaning that Verlander would need to be great in order for the Tigers to make it through. Verlander retired the first 16 batters he faced and allowed his first hit in the 7th inning en route to 8 shutout innings featuring 10 K and 3 baserunners. Vintage Verlander dominance. Miguel Cabrera led the way at the dish with a big 2 run homer in the 4th and Infante knocked in another with a ground out in the 6th to give the Tigers all the offense they would need. The A’s got the tying run to the plate in the 9th, but would come no closer and the win resets the Tigers quest for a title, moving them within eight wins of a World Series title. Anibal Sanchez (1 GS, 4.1 IP, 10.38 ERA, 10.66 FIP) will likely get the ball in Game 1 on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
The Moment: Verlander strikes out his final batter in the 8th to effectively finish off the ALDS comeback.
If you’re reading this, you managed to survive Game 4. Congratulations, you get to watch the Tigers face Sonny Gray again with the entire season on the line for both teams. If you’re not a Tigers fan, this might sound exciting. If you’re a Tigers fan, this probably sounds like some sort of torture the government doesn’t even know about yet. Fear not, we’ve got you covered. Tomorrow is going to be an emotional struggle. You’re going to wake up impatient and anxious and you’re going to be a barely functioning wreck before too long. Embrace it. Here are some keys to the game.
Miguel Cabrera isn’t healthy. At the plate, he’s still one of your nine best so he needs to be in the lineup, but he’s not moving around well at third, so you have to consider the consequences. Leyland said he’s sticking with him, but at some point the A’s are going to realize bunting to third is going to get them on base a lot. It might make sense to do some sort of carousel in which Cabrera lands at DH, Victor goes behind the dish, and Peralta goes to third. It’s not happening, but Cabrera’s limited ability at third and diminished offensive capabilities may loom large.
Well, this is an innovative list! The Tigers starter is obviously a huge key. If he’s the Verlander we’ve seen over the last few weeks then the game swings wildly in the Tigers favor. The key to the last outing was a generous zone and a full compliment of pitches. It sounds like he won’t be able to call on the Scherzer/Sanchez cavalry, so he’s going to have to carry the load.
Figure out Sonny Gray
Gray was great on Saturday, I’m not sure anyone would argue. But the Tigers also had a pretty terrible approach at the plate. For one, they appeared entirely unprepared for his curveball and chased far too many. They swung at 43% of his curveballs outside the zone and whiffed at 33% of curveballs at which they swung. Clearly, they missed the scouting report and refused to lay off the excellent breaking ball.
Additionally, the TIgers found themselves in good hitters’ counts quite often but routinely went after bad pitches while they were ahead and turned good situations into easy outs. They swung at 17 pitches in hitters counts. They whiffed once, fouled off one, and put eight in play. Of those eight, five were ground balls to the right side and three were in the air. None of them were well hit balls.
Let me say that again. The Tigers swung at 17 pitches in hitters counts and didn’t hit the ball hard one time. They swung at 47 of Gray’s 111 pitches and didn’t hit any of them very hard. It’s one thing to get carved up by a good pitcher when he gets ahead, but good hitters need to make good contact when they are ahead in the count. This was a problem throughout the series until yesterday, so hopefully it wasn’t a Gray specific problem and the Tigers have sorted it out.
All Hands on Deck
Leyland isn’t going to use Scherzer or Sanchez, which is understandable if it’s because they haven’t had enough time to recover, but they still need to empty the bullpen if the time comes. Porcello, Smyly, and Benoit need to be ready to go from the first pitch. Verlander is Verlander, but you can’t afford to let your pride get the best of you. I have full confidence in him, but you can’t stay with him because he’s Justin Verlander. Leyland deployed the bullpen perfectly in Game 4, he needs to do it again in Game 5.
Nothing here is very groundbreaking, but there’s really not much left to say. The Tigers are playing a grueling ALDS. Surprise! They’ve played the A’s to a draw so far and everything that’s happened so far can be thrown out the window. There’s no momentum or karma or whatever. Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray. Again. Four days after the first round, they’re going again.
It’s going to be fun but it’s going to be torture. This might be the end, but it might buy us at least four more. See you all on the other side.
Tigers 8, A’s 6 (Series tied 2-2)
Doug Fister (1 GS, 6 IP, 4.50 ERA, 5.38 FIP) got the ball with season on the line and things looked a little worrisome early as he fought with his command and the Tigers found themselves down 3-0 entering the bottom of the 5th. Things changed when Fielder and Martinez singled and Jhonny Peralta tied it with a blast to left field. With the score tied at 3 entering the 7th, Jim Leyland didn’t mess around and gave the ball to Max Scherzer who gave up a run in the 7th and left the Tigers were staring elimination in the eyes until Martinez smacked an opposite field, potentially fan-aided homerun to tie it at 4. and then the Tigers pushed across another to take the 5-4 lead. The 8th got scary as the first two men reached and then the Tigers put Smith on to set up a bases loaded and no out situation. Scherzer wasn’t intimidated, however, as he struck out the next two and then induced a fly out to send the Tigers into the bottom half. They pushed across a run on a wild pitch and then Infante knocked in a pair to extend the lead to four. Benoit wasn’t sharp in the 9th, but he kept the A’s from coming all the way back and the Tigers punched their tickets back to Oakland for Game 5 on Thursday. With Scherzer throwing a pair tonight, Leyland will call on erstwhile ace Justin Verlander (1 GS, 7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 FIP) to put the Tigers through to the ALCS.
The Moment: Scherzer escapes a base loaded, no out jam in the 8th to preserve a one run lead.
One in which the hook came too late.
A’s 6, Tigers 3 (Tigers trail 2-1)
Anibal Sanchez (1 GS, 4.1 IP, 10.38 ERA, 10.66 FIP) looked like he might settle in and cruise early, but a Miguel Cabrera error in the 3rd opened the door for a run and then the A’s followed with 2 in the 4th and 3 in the 5th on the backs of three homeruns to chase him before he could complete five innings. He struck out six, but the rest of the box score looks ugly. It looked for a moment that the Tigers were going to open this one up with a three run fourth that tied things up, but Sanchez gave the runs back right away. Jose Alvarez did nice working keeping the A’s off the board for the middle innings to keep the Tigers in the game, but they were unable to rally back despite some extracurricular shenanigans between Balfour and Martinez in the 9th. Doug Fister (0 GS this postseason) is expected to take the ball tomorrow night in an attempt to stave off elimination.
The Moment: The Tigers get four hits across five batters in the 4th to tie it up.
It’s always about process for me. Good process is more important to me than good results. A good at bat is a good at bat no matter how it ends. If you make the right choices and things don’t work out, I don’t lose any sleep. Which makes last night a bit of mixed bag. There was so much to love about what happened Saturday night in Oakland, but also a good deal not to like.
Justin Verlander was on top of his game. After a summer of “struggles” he looked like the ace that signed the biggest contract ever given to a starting pitcher. He used a generous strikezone to his advantage and leveraged his stuff into 7 shutout innings and 11 strikeouts. He escaped two jams in the 5th and 7th with big strikeouts and gave his team a chance to win.
Sonny Gray was only marginally less impressive. He kept the Tigers caged with a dialed up fastball and his signature hook and left his team needing just a single run. This was a pitcher’s duel to end all pitcher’s duels. Verlander. Gray. 15 innings, 20 strikeouts, 0 runs. It was a masterpiece. A Joy. The game of the year.
But it was also foiled by silly managerial mistakes. Bob Melvin made a perplexing call to bunt with Reddick in the 5th that made no sense given the situation and the hitter at the plate. Jim Leyland sent Iglesias in a 3-2 with Jackson up and runners on the corners. Leyland bunted Kelly to second with Iglesias. Leyland went to Alburquerque instead of Porcello in the 8th (which ended up working out), but then stuck with him in the 9th when he had Porcello, Benoit, and Veras available. Then he stuck with Alburquerque after he put the first runner on. Then he played his team at no doubles depth (aka more singles) and a ball was hit right where Fielder should have been standing.
The intentional walk that came next was right and Leyland went to Porcello – even if it was too late – and you know what happened next.
It was a wonderful duel and a game made for prime time television. The Baseball Gods gave treated us to Verlander and Gray but also left us with managerial second guessing. Sports are beautiful, but cruel. This was playoff baseball at its best and at its worst. We had a close game wire to wire with tons of drama, tension, intrigue, and great match ups – and then it crushed us. Like a ton of bricks. A stomach punch. If I was a fan of one of the 28 other teams, it would have been great.
We signed up for this, I guess. In exchange for our team performing well and earning a playoff berth, we have to pay with our blood pressure and mental health in October. For a chance to win, we have to pay a price. Saturday night’s game would have been easier to digest if Verlander had allowed a solo homer in the 4th. That would have seemed just. It’s a lot harder to lose when the process is bad. Maybe the Tigers lose that game even if Leyland managed it perfectly. That’s entirely possible. But it would have been a lot easier to sleep at night.
If Verlander had thrown a fat pitch or if a lefty had tagged Smyly. If the Tigers hadn’t run into a double play, but still not scored. If the A’s doubled against a normally aligned defense instead of the silly ‘no doubles’ approach. I don’t think I’d have taken it so hard if the process had been cleaner.
I was pretty critical of Leyland on Twitter last night, and I stand by the comments. I had very little push back, save for a few who pointed out the offense didn’t score at all. Which is a fair point. Leyland’s biggest mistakes came with his team in the field, but he hamstrung the bats on two occasions as well. It’s not his fault they didn’t score at all, but he did make things worse. Maybe they lose anyway, but that loss would be a lot easier to handle.
They play well at home and have over the last few seasons so Game 3 and 4 should tilt back in the Tigers direction and the Tigers’ number 3 and 4 starters are superior to what Oakland offers. Coming home with a split is a good outcome, it just doesn’t feel like it when you give one away like the Tigers did on Saturday. Putting that behind them is important.
Something I’ve always liked about baseball is that you get to move on quickly. There’s another game the next day. Unfortunately, in this case, we had to tread through an off day marinating in the despair of what happened in Oakland on Sunday. A lot of people are worried about the offense, but I’m not. Good players are good players. They aren’t conditional on their teammates. Hitting is not contagious. The A’s are a great team. I didn’t expect the Tigers to sweep. If you played this series 100 times, both teams would win quite a bit. It doesn’t really matter how the Tigers lost Game 2 with respect to what is going to happen in Game 3.
It feels that way, but there really isn’t a connection. As fans, we draw lines between the two, but the lines don’t exist. A loss is a loss is a loss. We didn’t burn the pen and no one got hurt. Only the Red Sox and A’s were better at home than the Tigers in the AL this year. The Tigers already won their game in Oakland. They stole back homefield advantage, even if it doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
In the end, momentum and narratives are just window dressing. It’s Anibal Sanchez and Jarrod Parker. And Anibal Sanchez, for my money, was the best pitcher in the American League this year. And then it’s Doug Fister and Dan Straily, which isn’t exactly a fair fight either. The Tigers only have to win one to get back to Scherzer and I like their chances to win both. It’s easy to get lost in the crushing defeat that came last night, but I’d rather be the Tigers than the A’s right now. Even if it doesn’t feel that way, it is that way.
The game of the year.
A’s 1, Tigers 0 (Series tied 1-1)
This was not a baseball game you’re going to forget anytime soon. Both Justin Verlander (1 GS, 7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 FIP) and Sonny Gray were fantastic in 7 and 8 innings, respectively, and we were treated to some extraordinary moments. Verlander retired the first 11 he faced and ended the game with 11 strikeouts to go along with just 4 hits, 1 walk, and no runs. He was vintage Verlander as he had all of his pitches working and escaped a big jam in the 5th with a couple of huge strikeouts and then put Vogt away after an epic battle to end the 7th. Gray was only a touch less dominant and both starters handed this one off to their bullpens, much to the dismay of people who love baseball. The A’s threatened in the 8th, but Leyland called on Alburquerque who struck out two to escape. In the 9th, Leyland stuck with him and he put the first two men on (in part thanks to Leyland calling ‘no doubles’) and then walked Reddick intentionally to set up forces for Porcello. With the infield in, Vogt punched it past Iglesias and the A’s evened the series (it’s an easy double play if the infield isn’t in, FWIW). There will be seconding guess about how Leyland handled the last two innings (and starting Iglesias and the Iglesias bunt) and he earned it. A manager usually can’t win a game for his team, but he can lose it, which we saw tonight. The offense needs to score, but Leyland made a series of big mistakes. Regardless of the outcome, it was a thrilling game and Verlander certainly silenced his critics. The Tigers will look to get back on top with Anibal Sanchez (0 GS this postseason) taking the ball in Game 3 at home on Monday.
The Moment: Verlander K’s Vogt in the 7th.