Sunday, October 09, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 1 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 3-2 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALCS:

Another post-season start by Justin Verlander curtailed by rain. How much of a factor was this?

Hard to tell. The Tigers bullpen did a damn fine job but the offense was miserable. And since JV threw 82 pitches, I don't see how this changes anything rotation-wise. Jim Leyland's original game plan should hold up.

You said the offense was miserable. When was it the most miserable?

I can't get past two at-bats: Magglio Ordonez's weak 5-5-3 double play in the first inning with the bases juiced and C.J. Wilson maybe picking up where he left off in the ALDS; and Alex Avila's HORRIBLE at-bat in the sixth inning against Mike Gonzalez with the bases loaded, when AA failed to take a strike against the sometimes-wild Gonzalez.

Maggs' AB could have at least gotten the Tigers a 1-0 lead, and Avila's could have tied it. But I think Avila's was worse because of his ridiculous lack of plate discipline.

Thoughts on Verlander?

Meh. He looked ordinary, but he wasn't helped by HP umpire Tim Welke's strike zone, which squeezed JV so much I thought Justin was going to be juiced like an orange.

In fairness, Welke was bad to Wilson, too---but JV didn't bring his "A" game, which would have canceled out Welke's bizarre strike zone, which apparently begins at the thigh, not the knee.

Not enough first pitch strikes from Verlander tonight. The command was just a little off.

Yet another rain delay---actually TWO in one inning. Did they play a key role in the outcome?

Well, yes and no. After the first delay, it looked like Texas' Wilson lost some of his sharpness, and the Tigers took advantage, scoring two runs. The second delay gave way to Avila's aforementioned bad at-bat.

Meanwhile, Verlander was done but Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Ryan Perry were excellent.

These delays, while long and essentially making Leyland's pitching change for him, didn't have nearly the impact on Game 1 as it did in Game 1 of the ALDS, and nor does it affect the series going forward.

Porcello, Game 4's scheduled starter, pitched two innings tonight. Is he still a go for Game 4?

Absolutely. His two innings were stress-free, and Game 4 is still three days away.

The Tigers have now scored six runs in their past 28 innings. Concerned?

You're damn right I am. You can talk all you want about the Tigers' potent offense, but until they start scoring runs again, it's all talk. Thank goodness this isn't a five-game series.

What is the impact of the loss of Delmon Young due to his oblique strain?

Well, judging by tonight, significant.

I did like the bump up of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez hitting 3-4, as opposed to 4-5. But Young's absence seemed to make the batting order look far too pedestrian.

I just didn't know what to make of the Tigers' approach tonight. They watched pitches go right down the middle---often for called third strikes---and they swung at pitches out of the strike zone. They were patient and impatient at all the wrong times. Just an ugly performance, and on a night when the bullpen really gave them a chance to win the game.

Speaking of the lineup, any concerns?

Yes. Alex Avila, who's been awful in the post-season, batting sixth against a left-handed starter. I would have put Jhonny Peralta there and moved Avila down to eighth or ninth. When a guy is going very good or very bad, it seems clutch situations find that guy. But clutch situations would have been more UNLIKELY to find Avila had he batted lower in the order.

After Ramon Santiago got on base with a drag bunt in the ninth, should the Tigers have bunted?

Jim Leyland had Wilson Betemit (another who's been awful) in the on-deck circle, ready to bat for Brandon Inge. Had Leyland wanted a bunt, he would have let Inge hit. So based on who was at the plate, swinging away was the right call. Sadly, the one swinging away was Betemit.

Leyland, I'm sure, was hoping Betemit could run into one, but against Texas closer Neftali Feliz, that thought was mere fantasy.

Feliz totally overmatched the Tigers with pitches in the high-90s to 101 MPH. What did you think?

That anyone can look good against Betemit-Austin Jackson-Ryan Raburn.

I'm only partly kidding; after all, those guys aren't exactly a Murderer's Row. But Feliz's arm is electric and the Tigers must simply not be at his mercy again in this series. At least, no more than twice the rest of the way!

What is wrong with Alex Avila?

I wish I knew. He is simply a confused young man right now who is looking nothing like the guy who finished the year so strong. Trouble is, in the ALCS you don't exactly have a lot of time to figure things out.

But here's a good omen, perhaps. When the Tigers won the 1968 World Series, catcher Bill Freehan went 2-for-24 with eight Ks. It's a reach, but what the hell?

Same question re: Austin Jackson?

Here's where I have some serious reservations. Last year I pouted that Jackson should have been ROY instead of Feliz. But AJ has taken a giant step backward in his development as a hitter this year---a regression that is only getting worse in the post-season. He's totally overmatched by too many big league pitchers.

So, what are you saying?

I'm saying that Jackson ought to be the no. 9 hitter next season. But for now, it's the same as Avila---just hope Jackson can battle his way to some hits or walks. Because when AJ is on base, good things tend to happen.

Should Miggy Cabrera ALWAYS bat third?

It's a thought, but the only reason he hit no. 3 in Game 1 was because of Delmon Young's injury.

But it's a definite thought, because I like the idea of Cabrera batting in EVERY first inning. A hitter of that magnitude ought to bat in the first inning.

Cabrera isn't just a classic, power-hitting cleanup batter. His talent is more suited for no. 3 than no. 4, truthfully. It didn't work in Game 1, but I wouldn't mind seeing it the rest of the series.

Victor Martinez had some shockingly bad at-bats tonight. Just one of those nights?

Sure. Even with a BA of around .400 with RISP this season, that means he still fails to get a hit 60% of the time. But don't worry; I look for V-Mart to rebound nicely the rest of the way.

So this makes Game 2 a must-win, right?

Well, you tell me. If the Tigers lose, they have to go 4-1 the rest of the series. HAVE TO.

So you tell me.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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