I love playoff baseball, but writing real analysis about playoff baseball that hasn’t happened yet is impossible. I could write retrospective analysis about what both of these teams have done so far this season or I could highlight a particular player who I find interesting, but we’re at the point where the market is saturated with content and we’re about to care a whole lot about a small sample size which is nearly unpredictable.
The Diamondbacks could beat the Tigers in a 5 games series and it wouldn’t be that weird. It doesn’t actually matter who the better teams is during a sprint like this. You just need to play better for a week and we all know that both teams are capable of this. So it’s not super productive to look at the rosters and compare the positions or worry a whole lot about their season records or whatever. If both clubs play to their potential, it’s a tossup. A lot of postseason success is about getting lucky, but the other big factor is avoiding costly mistakes.
You can’t control when you’re going to hit that big home run, but you can avoid using Phil Coke against a RHH with the bases loaded. So let’s look at the what the Tigers need to do to maximize their odds of winning. So much will come down to dumb luck, but you can influence those fortunes a bit.
Be conservative on the bases
The Tigers weren’t the worst base running team in the league during 2014, but they made 60 outs on the bases, including 20 at the plate. Overall, they were pretty much a break even club, but their particular mistakes were avoidable. They have a couple of very good base runners in Davis and Kinsler, but they also took too many chances with their slower runners. The value of an out on the bases is twice as high as the value of advancing one extra base. In a short series, you can’t give away those outs.
The concern is that Ausmus will try to make more happen in the postseason because the value of a single run is higher, but the Tigers simply aren’t built to take the extra base the way the Royals are, for instances. The Tigers will score runs by getting on base and getting knocked in. They do not and should not force the issue because they have demonstrated their inability to do the job successfully. They have sluggers, they don’t need to play small ball.
One of the things Ausmus struggled with during the regular season was knowing when to use his bench. He was willing to use them, he just didn’t always find the best spot for each of his weapons. The roster isn’t out just yet, but chances are we’re going to be using a light hitting SS and CF and a catcher who struggles against lefties. That offers up at least three potential PH spots.
You need to be ready to attack them. Know which relievers you want to avoid and in what situations you want to use your hitters. Specifically, under what conditions will you pull Romine in the 7th? The 4th? There needs to be a predetermined answer. You make mistakes when you try to think on the fly. Decide which matchups you want and then find them. If you have a chance to break it open in the 3rd, don’t hold back because you might need someone in the 9th.
The same is true for defensive replacements. Don’t get caught in one of those situations where you’re taking JD Martinez out of the game because you didn’t think ahead.
Set the flowchart on fire
We’re all aware of Ausmus’ bullpen game plan and how it drives us crazy. To get the most out of your team in October, you have to be willing to break the rules. Soria and Sanchez need to pitch in relief during every game in which they’re available. After that you can pick and choose who is reliever #3 or #4, but those are the two best guys and they need to come out of the pen as soon as the situation warrants.
If the game is on the line in the 6th, it’s time for one of the aces. If it’s the 8th and they haven’t pitched, go to them instead of Joba. Sanchez is not a long reliever, he’s the guy you use to win the game. Same with Soria, he’s not a 7th inning guy. He’s a guy you use.
Also, pull the starters earlier than normal. On average, the Tigers should use their starters longer than the Orioles or Royals or Angels, but they still shouldn’t run them into the ground because starters lose effectiveness each time they see the lineup. I’d let Scherzer go longer than Tillman, but I wouldn’t use Scherzer like I would in July. When he starts to tire at all, it’s time for Sanchez and Soria. I know we lionize guys who “want the ball,” but that’s not actually productive when you don’t have to worry about resting the bullpen.
The game will dictate when you need a reliever and who that reliever should be. Roles are out the window. Roles are for when you need to get through a season and make sure guys are fresh and comfortable for six months. In October, you’re pedal to the metal.
Above all, you’re trying to avoid mistakes. Don’t try to make things happen. Put the best players in the game and adjust them based on the situation. You don’t need to steal or bunt or get crazy just because you’re dying to score. Let the players do their thing. Know what they’re good at and where they struggle and have a plan for how you’re going to deploy them.
Most of what’s going to happen this week is going to depend on things you can’t control. If Tillman’s stuff is on, it’s going to be tough. That’s going to occur a certain percentage of the time. But to tip the balance in your favor, you need to avoid mistakes. Don’t give away outs. Plan ahead. Ditch the flowchart.
This is a good team, don’t tie their hands.