Friday, October 12, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 5

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 5 of the ALDS.

In retrospect, did the A's have a chance last night?
Probably not. Yes, there were times this season when Justin Verlander got knocked around a little bit, but he won his last four starts of the regular season and is now locked in for the playoffs. We probably didn't need to be nervous at all yesterday, waiting for 9:37 p.m. to come. This was, in MMM's eyes, the best game Verlander has ever pitched. Yes, that's saying something about a guy who has tossed two no-hitters and has come close to a few others, but given the circumstances, the venue and the stakes, last night was the best.

As Dennis Eckersley said on MLB Network after the game, once the Tigers got ahead 2-0, you could sense that Oakland's magical season was beginning to crumble because Verlander was dealing as only Verlander can.

Silly question, but what made Verlander so good?
A seemingly endless supply of pitches, thrown at the right times, and in the right locations. It was as if a pitching god was upstairs ordering pitches, like we would order weather for a family picnic---you know, "I'd like a hard curve ball, 12 to 6, to freeze this hitter, please." And so on.

The A's are a strikeout-prone lineup to begin with, but JV would have racked up Ks against any team last night.

So what about that strategy you mentioned yesterday---the one about trying to drive Verlander's pitch count up?
MMM also said easier said than done. But the A's didn't really try that strategy, or at least it didn't appear that they did. In their defense, Verlander didn't fall behind too many hitters, so the A's were often down in the count, which makes it difficult to drive a pitch count up. JV threw a complete game and tossed just 116 pitches, which is 13 per inning, a delightful number that any pitching coach or manager would kill for from his starter.

What would have happened to Jim Leyland if he yanked Verlander after eight innings?
Not sure about Leyland, but MMM is quite sure that Twitter might have seen its Apocalypse.

How important was it for the Tigers to bust the game open in the seventh inning?
Of the utmost. As good as Verlander was, 2-0 made MMM uneasy, as it probably did hundreds of thousands of Tigers fans. You just didn't want the A's to feel like they were still in the game in the late innings, because they tend to do that thing where they win in the bottom of the ninth or beyond. And, if you recall, MMM said the Tigers needed to win the game 6-1 instead of in a squeaker.

Patting yourself on the back?
Who else is going to do it?

OK, getting back to the series as a whole: the Tigers won it without a monster performance from Miguel Cabrera. Good or bad?
How can it be bad? If you're implying that we should somehow be worried about Miggy in the post-season in general, fret not. He's a superstar. Remember Nelson Cruz? He had a God awful ALDS against Tampa Bay last year and torched the Tigers in the ALCS. And in case you hadn't noticed, Cabrera is better than Cruz. Post-season baseball is compartmentalized. Placido Polanco was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS and couldn't buy a hit in the World Series. Cabrera will be fine. He also didn't have too many at-bats with ducks on the pond in this series.

So yeah, it's good to win without your star slugger having gaudy numbers. Means other people are getting it done.

Now that the A's are done, any post-mortem you'd like to give on their season?
MMM thinks you should check Bob Melvin's office for mirrors and a smoke machine. How he got 94 wins with that team will go down as one of baseball's great mysteries. Yes, they have some nice young arms, but this is 2012---teams just don't win without being able to hit for a BA higher than .238. Yet the A's did. But don't get too excited; 2013 won't be filled with walk-off wins and some of those kid pitchers may experience a sophomore jinx or two. Still, they had a nice year. Can't take it away from them.

Any final thoughts about the series, from a Tigers perspective?
They did just enough, obviously, to win it, and they had Justin Verlander and the other team didn't. The good news is that the Tigers will always have Verlander and the other team won't. But MMM still has some concerns about the "now you see it, now you don't" offense. It goes into hibernation too often. You can overcome that in a five-game series in which your ace pitches twice, but maybe not in a seven-game series. Although, if the schedule holds, Verlander is set to pitch Game 3 and...Game 7 (if there is one) of the ALCS.

MMM did like how some of the supporting players chipped in. Again, the analogy is getting scoring from your third or fourth lines in playoff hockey. So important. And the starting pitching was outstanding. In all five games, Tigers starters gave their team a legitimate chance to win.

Who do you want in the ALCS: Baltimore or New York?
Oh, there's a choice? Gee, MMM would have to say Baltimore. The Yankees have been playing good ball for a while, and the Tigers have beaten them twice in the post-season (2006, 2011), though those were in the LDS. MMM doesn't like trying to beat them again, especially two years in a row. The Orioles have had a great year, but MMM just likes the matchup better, and that bandbox ballpark in New York makes too many ordinary fly balls disappear into the seats.

Regardless, the next opponent will be in the Eastern time zone. MMM likes that. His old body has been racked from years of watching Red Wings playoff games being played in California that have ended at damn near two in the morning.

You're old?
MMM prefers wise.

Come back here Sunday for BQ after ALCS Game 1!!



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