Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 1

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 1 of the ALCS.

Funny question, I know, to open with after a win, but who is the most hated man in Detroit right now---Jose Valverde or Jim Leyland?
Not funny at all, that's the problem. MMM has an analogy for you. If a dog gets taken into a grocery store and urinates in the frozen food aisle, who do you reprimand---the dog or his owner?

Sorry for the visual there, but you get MMM's point, don't you? Valverde's meltdown in the ninth inning was stunning in that came on the heels of his meltdown in Game 4 of the ALDS. But after it became apparent, early in last night's appearance, that Papa Grande didn't have it, Leyland should have summoned Octavio Dotel, who was warming up furiously in the bullpen. The two-run homer by Ichiro Suzuki screamed for Dotel. Yet Leyland kept rolling the dice with Valverde, which were loaded cubes the manager was playing with. Hard to defend the decision to stick with Valverde, to say the least.

But Valverde struck out Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in between all the damage. Didn't that make Leyland think that Valverde would be OK?
Just because you strike someone out doesn't mean you have your best stuff. Instead you should look at the pitches that were hit---and hit hard. Russell Martin's single (he's the number nine hitter for a reason) wasn't cheap. Ichiro's homer was even more expensive. And walking Mark Teixeira after getting ahead, 0-2, when you know Mr. Early October, Raul Ibanez, is in the on deck circle representing the tying run, well, MMM doesn't think two strikeouts cancel all that out.

Valverde's velocity was down, his pitches had no movement, and the Yankees were teeing off---when they were making contact. The two strikeouts were nice, but more of a case of good hitters simply missing hittable pitches, when you see what others were doing to Valverde's offerings.

Did you think the game was lost after the Yankees ninth inning rally, even though it was merely tied?
MMM likes to think of himself as a glass is half filled guy, but a walk-off win by New York wouldn't have come as a surprise, let's put it that way.

OK, more about the bullpen dilemma later on. What say you about Doug Fister?
A rocky start, obviously (three walks in the first inning). But then, yet another terrific performance by a Tigers starter. That makes six in a row now in the postseason. When your starters give you a chance to win every game, you can't ask for anything more than that.

Fister pitched like an Opening Day or Game 1 starter. Because, frankly, that's what he would be on any team that didn't include Justin Verlander. He was great after the first inning.

And the defense? Specifically, Jhonny Peralta?
Amazing, isn't it? Seems that in the postseason, the other teams are making the defensive gaffes, not the Tigers. MMM finds that deliciously ironic. As for Peralta, his plays early in the game got lost in the shuffle, but if he doesn't make them (backhand grab of Alex Rodriguez's base hit bid in the first and the ricochet off Fister's right wrist off the bat of Robby Cano, both with the bases loaded), the Yankees score at least three runs. And don't forget Austin Jackson, who ran down Eric Chavez's long drive in the eighth inning that could have been the start of something for New York.

The Tigers keep winning without having gotten a huge game yet from Miguel Cabrera. This is a good thing, right?
You asked a similar question before, but MMM feels you. Cabrera has been rather tame, but you know that won't last forever, and if the Tigers keep getting contributions from the likes of Delmon Young, Avi Garcia et al, then that's the recipe for postseason success. How wonderful that would be, if the Tigers lower half of the batting order picks the postseason during which to finally come alive!

The Yankees lost Derek Jeter to a fractured ankle, as told to reporters by manager Joe Girardi. Alex Rodriguez is scuffling in the postseason---again. So are several other Yankees. Their offense has been "wait for Raul Ibanez to save the day." Is this team ripe for the picking?
Whoa! The series is just one game old. Each series is different from the last, just like during the regular season. Let's not get too cocky here. The Yankees, unlike the Oakland A's, didn't get to this point with smoke and mirrors. They are still a very formidable foe. While MMM loves the Tigers starting pitching, Fister was a magician in Game 1, getting out of trouble. The Yankees problem is their lack of hitting with RISP, but they are sometimes able to overcome that deficiency with home runs, especially in that bandbox of a ballpark they play in.

It's a long series. The Tigers have beaten the Yankees twice in the postseason since 2006, but both were in the LDS. This is their first meeting in a best-of-seven, "real" series.

As for Jeter, that's a huge blow for New York. Still, let's not crown the Tigers after one game.

Back to the bullpen, as promised. What does Jim Leyland do now, with Valverde going off the tracks? Because Joaquin Benoit doesn't seem to have exorcised his demons, either.
MMM would anoint veteran Octavio Dotel as the closer, pronto. That's number one. MMM would then give Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke the seventh inning, between them. As for Benoit, MMM is much more confident in him than in Valverde. Yes, Benoit has been shaky in recent outings, but he hasn't had two implosions in a row, like Valverde has. Some, like Detroit News beat writer Lynn Henning, think that shuffling the bullpen now is like playing loser's poker. MMM disagrees. Don't throw your hands up---come up with a solution, and fast. A World Series berth is there for the taking.

Come back here Monday for BQ after ALCS Game 2!!

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