Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers’ 7-3 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the ALCS:
This game was a second guesser’s dream. Let’s look at some decisions. First, how about Jim Leyland bringing in Al Alburquerque in the seventh inning?
He didn’t have much of a choice, unless Leyland wanted to run Brad Penny out there. It’s a tough call but I think Leyland was trying to find out if Al-Al could be counted on, once and for all. Because as you know, Al’s performances against the Yankees left a lot to be desired.
The four-ball walk to Ian Kinsler wasn’t good, and when Al fell behind 2-0 to Elvis Andrus you could hear the 37,000+ guts churning inside Comerica Park. A bases loaded walk looked imminent.
But Alburquerque recovered to get Andrus on a weak grounder.
OK, how about Rangers manager Ron Washington and his decision to walk Miguel Cabrera in the eighth with one out and nobody on base, in a tie game?
Yes, Cabrera is the Tigers’ best hitter, but why put the go-ahead runner on base if you don’t have to? If Cabrera gets a hit in that situation, more power to him. But you should always make the go-ahead (in this case, potential winning run) run earn his way on base.
The move almost backfired, as Victor Martinez followed with a base hit, putting runners on 1st and 3rd with one out.
Then Delmon Young hit a would-be sacrifice fly to Nelson Cruz in right field. Cabrera was out by six feet at home plate. Another second guessing opportunity here; actually, two of them: a) pinch-run for Cabrera; and b) hold him at third base?
OK, let’s take “a” first.
If Cabrera was on second base, I’d have considered the pinch runner. Why? Because a base hit likely scores a pinch-runner but not as likely Cabrera.
But with Cabrera on third, if you remove him for a runner, you’re essentially removing your best hitter for one shot: Young hitting a deep enough fly ball. Anything else, you don’t need a pinch-runner. A base hit scores him, an error scores him. So you’re basically taking Cabrera out just so Young can hit a fly ball. I don’t like that.
Now, as for sending Miggy, I don’t have a big problem with it, and I know I’m in the minority.
It has to do with who was up next: Alex Avila.
Avila is basically a pitcher at the plate right now—an automatic out. Holding Cabrera would have then necessitated Avila getting a clutch, two-out hit. That was as likely as Cabrera beating the throw.
By sending Cabrera, at least you force Cruz into making a good throw. Who knows? Maybe he throws it up the line or gets too anxious, seeing the slow-footed Cabrera on the run, and grips the ball too tight and he skips it home. Maybe catcher Mike Napoli fumbles the throw. Any number of things can happen. The ball was hit, in my mind, deep enough to take the chance.
The end result looked bad, but I have no problem sending him—mainly because Avila was up next.
OK, how about sending Austin Jackson to steal on the first pitch in the 10th inning?
I probably wouldn’t have done it, but that’s not a no-brainer. Plenty of base stealers run on the first pitch. As it was, Napoli had to make a perfect throw because of the location of the pitch. He did, and Jackson was out. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat, you know?
Finally, Leyland ordered Adrian Beltre walked in the 11th, with the score tied and first base open with one out, to face Napoli. Thoughts?
Well, clearly Jim was thinking double play. But anything shy of that and the red-hot Nelson Cruz would come to the plate. Beltre is banged up. Maybe going after Beltre and Napoli, straight up, would have been the better decision. That would have left Cruz in the on-deck circle.
That move couldn’t have backfired any worse, sadly; Napoli singled home Josh Hamilton, and Cruz crushed his fourth homer of the series to salt the game away.
So this series is over, right? How come?
Well, you know better than that; teams have overcome 1-3 deficits before. Witness our 1968 Tigers.
But frankly, the Tigers are simply outgunned right now. They are being decimated by injuries at the worst possible time. The team even admitted that Avila is battling a sore knee.
It’s too bad that the Tigers can’t be fielding a healthy lineup, because when they’re on all cylinders, they can compete with anyone.
But you look at who Leyland is running out there, and that half the guys are either slumping or hurt or out altogether, and he just doesn’t have the weapons.
Justin Verlander is good enough to pitch the team into a Game 6 in Texas, but it’s hard to fathom a three-game winning streak right now.
So I was right! It’s over!
I said “hard to fathom.” I didn’t say impossible.
In fact, see ya in Arlington on Saturday night.
(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the “Burning Questions”)