Monday, October 08, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Games 1&2

(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 both Games 1 and 2)

What do you make of the complaining the A's hitters have had about the strike zone, particularly after Game 1?
The strike zone did seem to be a tad generous in Game 1, but two things about that: 1) a pitcher of Justin Verlander's stature will get the benefit of some doubt, just like all great players do in every sport (you think LeBron James doesn't get some favorable whistles?); 2) generous strike zones, if they exist, don't just materialize in the later innings. Hitters should know by the third or fourth inning, tops, that the home plate umpire's zone might be a tad expanded. Whether they agree or not, maybe the A's hitters should have taken some swings, even if defensive in nature, at some of those pitches. Besides, MMM doesn't think that a few pitches out of 100+ decided the game. Verlander was terrific.

As for Game 2, MMM thought Doug Fister had his classic fastball working---the one with the late movement that catches the black. Catcher Gerald Laird did a wonderful job of receiving those pitches---not moving his glove, which was positioned in the strike zone. The baseball may have gone by the left-handed hitters inside, but Laird caught them in the strike zone. Great job.

What about Joaquin Benoit? He nearly gave up the game-tying home run in Game 1, and had a horrific eighth inning in Game 2 (wild pitch for a run, solo homer to put Oakland ahead).

Benoit is baffling. He went through that very tough stretch in August where he surrendered 10 homers in 15 innings (MMM still can't believe that, even as he's typing it), then he settled down for a while, leading us to believe that he got all that out of his system. Now he's back to being scary again. It happened late in the regular season and is continuing, so far, in the playoffs.

But don't get your hopes up that Jim Leyland will replace Benoit as the set-up man. Once the Marlboro Man sinks his teeth into a player, it's awfully hard for him to let go, sometimes to a fault (i.e. Ryan Raburn). MMM thinks that Benoit is the guy, at least through the ALDS.

Is Alex Avila back?

One can only hope. Al-Av had a clutch home run in Game 1 that gave the Tigers a little bit of insurance, but then was called out on strikes in a crucial at-bat in the eighth inning of Game 2. So you tell MMM---is Avila back or not? He says he's feeling great---much better than in 2011's post-season. We'll see.

MMM is excited that guys like Quintin Berry, Don Kelly and even Danny Worth (with the glove) are contributing. That's what you need for a long playoff run: bench guys chipping in. It's like getting scoring from your fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Will Coco Crisp's dropped fly ball in Game 2 turn out to be the signature play of this series?

Perhaps, but MMM was more impressed by Avisail Garcia's rifle throw that nailed Crisp at the plate in the sixth inning, keeping the Oakland lead to 2-1. If Crisp scores, the A's lead 3-1 and there is still only one out in the inning, with runners on second and third. Garcia's throw is being lost in the shuffle, not only because of Crisp's error but by everything that happened from the seventh inning on. But MMM still thinks Garcia's throw, which looked like it came from a 10-year veteran instead of someone not even in the big leagues until August 31, was the key play of Game 2.

How good of a hitter is Miguel Cabrera?

The best. The single he had in the ninth inning of Game 2 was classic for a great hitter. Cabrera was facing a very tough righty in Grant Balfour, and had two strikes against him. Balfour threw a breaking ball, and Cabrera didn't try to do to much---just shot it into center field for a base hit, sending Omar Infante to third base. Miggy didn't try to pull it and didn't overswing---two things that could have resulted in an inning-ending ground ball double play. That put a runner on third base with less than two outs.

So...Don Kelly?

Hey, give the guy some credit. MMM thinks Balfour figured he could overpower Kelly with some high cheese, except that Kelly seemed to be sitting on the fastball and timed it just right, driving the ball deep enough for the game-winning sacrifice fly. MMM wasn't worried about Kelly hitting into a double play; a strike out would have been the most likely scenario. But Worth was in the on-deck circle, and no offense, but if Kelly doesn't get the job done, Worth probably wouldn't have, either.

The A's were upset that Al Alburquerque kissed the baseball before tossing it to Prince Fielder to end the ninth inning. Much ado about nothing?

Sure---if you're the winning team. Losing teams, especially those down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, are looking for anything to rally around. Being indignant about Al-Al's peck is a way to try to manufacture some sort of cause. Al said he just got caught up in the moment. Unfortunately he did it right in front of the Oakland dugout. A's manager Bob Melvin said he didn't see it (or, saw it and it didn't bother him). Outfielder Josh Reddick called it "unprofessional."

MMM thinks it's kind of amusing that in this day and age of showboating in pro sports, what Alburquerque did is thought to be so atrocious. The A's have a closer who can get a little silly, too. All teams do things that are brazen and brash and abrasive. MMM's advice to the A's: get over it---you have bigger fish to fry, like winning a game or else your season is over.

So, IS the season over for Oakland?

MMM thinks so. The A's have to beat Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, without any margin for error, in order to advance. MMM thinks Oakland's .238 team BA in the regular season is finally about to catch up with them. But they had a great season and exceeded all expectations.

Come back here Wednesday morning for BQ after Game 3!!



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