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.
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.
Comfortable, until it wasn’t.
Tigers 3, A’s 2 (Lead Series 1-0)
Max Scherzer (1 GS, 7 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.62 FIP) dominated the A’s on Friday night except for a couple of run-ins with Cespedes who took him for a double and a homer. The line was fantastic – 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K – and the stuff was as filthy the results. He had tons of movement on the fastball and had the offspeed working nicely. The TIgers staked him to an early 3-0 lead as they jumped Colon in the first. Jackson doubled, Hunter got hit, and Cabrera drove in Jackson with a single. Then Fielder bounced into a run scoring double play and Martinez doubled and Avila scored him. They wouldn’t add any additional runs, but those three would hold up as the pen backed Scherzer with the final six outs with two from Smyly and four from Benoit. The Tigers will turn around and try to take a commanding 2-0 lead tomorrow behind the recently invigorated Justin Verlander (0 GS this postseason) at 9pm.
The Moment: Scherzer freezes Donaldson with a tailing fastball on the outside black in the 4th.
Full disclosure, batter versus hitter matchup stats aren’t very predictive. First, the samples are almost always too small for the numbers to provide meaningful data about what will happen in the future. They tell us what happened, but not what will happen. Second, the matchups are usually spread out across many seasons so the matchups in 2007 and 2013 are not really even between the same players. Players change, after all.
That said, now that we’re into the playoffs and we need to micro-analyze things, let’s just take a quick look at how each of the Tigers stack up against Colon in their careers.
Hunter has faced Colon the most without a ton of success. A .750 OPS isn’t terrible, but it’s mostly about extra base hits rather than getting on base very often. Avila, Dirks, and Fielder have done well in small samples and Martinez and Cabrera have been their usual impressive selves. The name that jumps out is second on the list in PA – Ramon Santiago.
Now it’s unlikely that Santiago will see the field in Game 1, but it might be worth putting him out on deck to scare Colon every now and then. Santiago has his number in a big way. He has a career OPS of .641, but in 28 PA against Colon it’s all the way up a 1.060. That’s impressive.
Again, this isn’t predictive, it’s simply interesting. Let’s look at some of their history.
So the success hasn’t really been recent. Over his last six at bats, not much has happened. Which supports the idea that matchup stats aren’t predictive but points out that before that 0-6 he was even better! Just for fun here’s what appears to be the best hit ball by Santiago since 2009 against Colon. On an 0-2 fastball:
And where it landed:
Small samples and recent history be damned! Let’s see Santiago tomorrow!
A complete 180.
Tigers 7, A’s 6
Max Scherzer (27 GS, 183.1 IP, 2.90 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 5.5 WAR) entered the day likely driving the Cy Young bus, but stubbed his toe against the red hot A’s, allowing 6 runs (5 ER) in 5 innings courtesy of 2 HR. He struck out 5 and walked only 1, but much of the contact was sharp. He wasn’t atrocious by any means, but compared to the rest of his season, it’s hard to remember a day in which he was tagged any harder. The Tigers clawed at the sides of the early hole as they got a run in the 4th and 2 in the 6th, but entered the 9th inning down 6-3 with Balfour coming on. Jackson walked, Dirks popped out, and Avila struck out before a Fielder walk and Martinez single prepared Torii Hunter to come to the plate. After entering as pinch hitter earlier in the came, Hunter was hitting in the 6 spot, but that didn’t seem to matter as he drove the second pitch he saw out to left to win it for the Tigers. The win helps them avoid the sweep and guarantee they welcome the Indians to town no closer than 5.5 games back with Rick Porcello (24 GS, 142.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 2.5 WAR) taking the ball in the first game.
The Moment: Hunter walks off down 2, with 2 outs.
Not much to look at.
A’s 14, Tigers 4
Doug Fister (27 GS, 172.2 IP, 3.81 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.9 WAR) didn’t pitch as poorly as the line indicates, but that isn’t to say he pitched well. He allowed 7 runs in 5 IP courtesy of 13 hits, but no walks and 2 Ks. Not much of the contact was hard, but it still wasn’t one of the Fister’s better nights. The offense had some early chances against Straily, but other than Hunter’s solo shot, they couldn’t deliver until it was too late. Other than some nice defense from Jose Iglesias, this was just one to forget and the Tigers will try to do just that and avoid the sweep with Max Scherzer (26 GS, 178.1 IP, 2.73 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 5.6 WAR) getting the nod on Thursday.
The Moment: Iglesias makes some nifty plays.
Nasty, brutish, and short.
A’s 6, Tigers 3 (5+ innings)
Justin Verlander (28 GS, 178.2 IP, 3.73 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 3.7 WAR) had a very bad first inning and while his team recovered very quickly, he would eventually dig the hole too deep. Only 3 of his 5 runs were earned across 5 innings of 3 BB and 3 K baseball, but even allowing three in five innings is too many to average. The bats got him three runs in the 1st thanks to a bases loaded single by Fielder, but they would get no more as the rains came early and often. The game should have been delayed much earlier, but the umpires pushed it to the point of comedy and we ended after 5.5 innings. The Tigers didn’t deserve to win, but it is ridiculous the way the league/umpire attempt to push games past 5 innings in order to make them official, and while doing so, make the games a joke. You shouldn’t play 3 innings in pouring rain. Hopefully Wednesday night will be drier for Doug Fister (26 GS, 167.2 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.7 WAR) who will try to get the Tigers a win. Sleep it off Detroit.
The Moment: Fielder delivers a 2 run single.