The end of the line.
Red Sox 5, Tigers 2 (Sox win the series 4-2)
Most of the time, I love endings. I like getting to the end of books, movies, TV shows, parts of life, etc, but the end of a baseball season never come easy. The Tigers played their final game tonight, on the road at Fenway Park. They trailed 1-0 after 5, but grabbed a pair of runs in the 6th to back Max Scherzer, but faltered in their attempt to pile on thanks to a baserunning miscue by Fielder. They led 2-1 entering the 7th inning – nine defensive outs away from forcing Game 7. The gates opened in a variety of ways in that inning in part thanks to a call. In part thanks to a bobble by the best defender we’ve got. In part thanks to a terrible 0-2 pitch from the reliever we acquired to settle our pen. There wasn’t one thing that did the Tigers in on Saturday night. It was a lot of things. There’s no shame in the overall result – losing to the Sox in the ALCS – given that the Tigers best player was a shell of himself for the entire postseason, but this particular one stings. It’s always going to sting. That’s how this works. We pour our hearts into the season and baseball crushes us. It’s designed to crush us. It’s impossible to know how things would have been different if any one of the mistakes had gone differently and you shouldn’t bother trying. The Sox and the Tigers were the two best teams in the AL and the Tigers lost in 6 games with their best player held together with duct tape and superglue. The result doesn’t bother me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. They’ll go back to the drawing board this winter and fine tune the roster that’s come 6 or fewer wins from the World Series in each of the last three seasons and will likely send Justin Verlander to the mound against the Royals on the final day of March, five long months from now.
The Moment: Martinez drives in a pair to take the lead in the 6th.
A missed opportunity.
Red Sox 4, Tigers 3 (Sox lead series 3-2)
Anibal Sanchez (3 GS, 16.1 IP, 4.41 ERA, 5.07 FIP) had a bad inning. That’s about the size of it. He gave his team 6 innings, but he allowed 3 runs in the second and one more in the third to leave the Tigers trailing 4-0 early. They clawed back thanks to some amazing defense by Iglesias some timely hits that pushed across single runs in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, but the key moment was Cabrera grounding into a double play with two on and no out in the 7th inning to quell the rally and keep the Tigers from completing the comeback. The Tigers certainly had their chances in this one, but a few key mistakes pushed them to the brink of elimination, requiring two victories in Boston to claim their second straight pennant. Game 6 will be Saturday with Max Scherzer (16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.92 FIP) on the hill thinking about getting it to Verlander on Sunday.
The Moment: Jose Iglesias makes the most preposterous play in baseball since his last most ridiculous play.
Business as usual for the pitchers, business like August for the offense.
Tigers 7, Red Sox 3 (Series Tied 2-2)
A day after falling to the Sox 1-0 and three days after losing in soul-crushing fashion, the Tigers turned to Doug Fister (2 GS, 12 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.05 FIP) to keep them from the brink of elimination. Fister did his job, holding the Sox to a single run across 6 innings courtesy of 7 K and 1 walk, but for a change of pace the offense carried the load. Jim Leyland made a much publicized lineup change and Jake Peavy’s three walk inning collided with a misplay from Pedroia and a couple of Tigers hits to generate a runaway inning in which the Tigers jumped ahead for good. Jackson also reached base four times in his new spot and Cabrera stole a base because that’s apparently what you do if you hit second. All in all, the Tigers handled their business and turned the series into a best of three with Anibal Sanchez (2 GS, 10 IP, 4.35 ERA, 5.66 FIP), Scherzer, and Verlander lined up to go in Games 5, 6, and 7.
The Moment: Hunter doubles in a pair in the 2nd.
Red Sox 1, Tigers 0 (Sox lead series 2-1)
Justin Verlander (3 GS, 23 IP, 0.39 ERA, 0.75 FIP) entered this one on fire and didn’t slow down, giving the Tigers 8 innings of 1 run baseball featuring 10 strikeouts and very little trouble. The only run he allowed came on a solo homerun but unfortunately his offense couldn’t provide the equalizer despite a couple of late chances. They had two on in the 8th with one out but Cabrera and Fielder went down on strikes and their leadoff runner was erased in the 9th on a double play ball that came a pitch after a very low strike was called on Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers pitchers did the job on Tuesday but the bats didn’t come through and handed homefield advantage back to the Red Sox. We were treated to a pitchers’ duel and a brief power outage in Game 3, but hopefully Doug Fister (1 GS, 6 IP, 4.50 ERA, 5.38 FIP) will make sure the only thing lacking power on Wednesday are the Red Sox bats.
The Moment: Verlander dominates again.
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.
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.