Friday, October 19, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 4

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 4 of the ALCS.

The Tigers have advanced to the World Series three times since the LCS were introduced in 1969, and in all three occasions they have swept their ALCS opponent. But did they win this too quickly, given what happened in 2006?
Not at all. There's something to be said for rest and recharging. You might call MMM nuts, because of how the Tigers played poorly in the 2006 World Series after having a week off. But manager Jim Leyland told TBS after last night's game that the Tigers have a plan this year for the break. He wouldn't divulge it, but he did say that the team won't be "sitting around doing nothing for a week" as it did in 2006.

Besides, it's not always a good thing to bounce right into another series. The Tigers have been playing "big games" for nearly two months now, as the division race took everything they had to pass Chicago in the final week. That wears on you. Taking a few days off to relax and gather yourself is not a bad thing right now.

The Tigers starting pitchers have been off the charts in the postseason. Were you surprised at how they dominated the Yankees?
If you're asking if MMM was expecting an ERA from them of about 0.67 (27.1 IP, 2 ER), then yes, surprised. But not shocked, because the Yankees also expended a lot of energy to overtake the Orioles in both the division race and the ALDS, and the Yanks aren't exactly spring chickens. The Tigers exposed the Yankees as old, slow hitters who ran out of gas.

Any particular key moment in Game 4?
Might sound odd, but MMM thought the way Max Scherzer came out and struck out two of the first three hitters sent a message: New York, your pain on offense won't subside so easily, if at all. The worst thing for the Tigers would have been if the Yankees, who showed some tough at-bats in the ninth inning of Game 3,  tagged Max for a run or two in the first inning. But Scherzer came out dealing, and in fact didn't even give up a hit until the sixth inning.

And, of course, the Tigers' four-run fourth inning, which broke the game open and allowed Scherzer to relax a little. That kind of gave the game a feeling of fait accompli.

What has gotten into Jhonny Peralta, who hit two of the Tigers' four homers last night?
If Leyland and Peralta can't explain it (they have both gone on record as not being able to), then you expect MMM to explain it? But Peralta's sudden emergence with the bat and the glove in the postseason is what makes baseball, and especially playoff baseball, so great. And it's not just Peralta. Delmon Young was named series MVP. These are two of the most maligned Tigers, from an offensive standpoint, this season. Yet here they are, producing in the clutch at the most important time of the year. Simply amazing.

Speaking of maligned guys, how about Phil Coke?
MMM wouldn't have been heartbroken if Coke was left off the playoff roster---that's how much he'd fallen into disfavor with yours truly. But he's another whose game has been shifted into overdrive for the postseason. He's pitching with supreme confidence now, and it's all because Jose Valverde imploded in Game 1. If that doesn't happen, Coke doesn't get these high-profile chances.

What happens now to the Yankees?
The easy thing would be to say, "Who cares?" But clearly we all care, like it or not. The Yankees have made the postseason every year but one since 1995---MMM finds that terribly impressive. But theirs is a team that is old and petering out. The roster is filled with guys past the age of 36, and some with ball-and-chain contracts. They might be able to get by with a reload instead of a rebuild, because there's always free agency. MMM, however, is reminded of the adage, "You can't outrace the calendar." MMM thinks this may be the first time in almost 20 years that the Yankees are staring at a crossroads before them. One slight move either way could determine the direction of their franchise for years to come.

Did you know that this is the first time a team has eliminated the Yankees in the postseason two years in a row since the New York Giants in 1921 and 1922?
MMM heard that mentioned and it's quite amazing. That's 90 years coming. Another amazing stat: The Tigers are 10-3 against the Yankees in the postseason. How many teams (if any) can say that?

Gut question: Does Jose Valverde close in the World Series?
That IS the $64,000 question, isn't it? Papa Grande says he has it all figured out now---a mechanics issue that has been solved. And he was warming up in the ninth inning of Game 4, albeit with a seven-run lead. If Valverde's troubles were physical (i.e. an injury), then he wouldn't be on the postseason roster. If the Tigers add him to the World Series roster (which they presumably will do), it doesn't make sense to not use him. As good as Coke was in the closer's role in the ALCS, given the time off and the supposed fix in mechanics, MMM sees Papa Grande returned to his closer role. But his leash will be very short.

Are the Tigers the team to beat in the World Series, regardless of who emerges from the National League?
If the starting pitching continues to be lights out, the Tigers will run roughshod over their NL counterparts. But if the games require 5+ runs to win every night, then beware; the Tigers' offense can go dormant in a hurry.

You ready to take a few days off before the World Series?
MMM could use a break. The beer is running low, after all.

Come back here next Thursday for BQ after World Series Game 1!!

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