As most of the baseball world speculates why the New York Yankees are failing and debating the use of instant replay, perhaps it’s time for the experts to take a look at what the Detroit Tigers are doing right.
The Tigers lead the American League Championship Series two games to none after Sunday’s 3-0 victory because their starting pitching has been better.
It was true in the Tigers’ AL Division Series victory over the Oakland A’s, and it remains true now.
The numbers don’t lie.
In seven postseason games, Tigers starters Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have a combined 0.94 ERA. They have allowed just five earned runs in 48 innings, and haven’t given up an earned run in the last 28 2/3 innings dating back to Game 3 of the ALDS in Oakland.
Still, it hasn’t been an easy playoffs for the Tigers because their offense hasn’t been lighting up opposing pitchers. The usual M.O. has been to watch the pitchers duel, score late and then hold on for dear life.
Closer Jose Valverde ruined that in Game 1 Saturday night, when the Tigers had to roar back to win 6-4 in 12 innings, but that didn’t negate Fister’s scoreless 6 1/3 innings.
On Sunday, it was Sanchez’s turn. He didn’t allow a run over seven innings and gave up just three hits, striking out seven and walking three, before turning the ball over to a suddenly lights-out Phil Coke.
Sanchez needed to be good because Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda matched him pitch for pitch, holding the Tigers hitless through five innings.
“I thought both starting pitchers were absolutely terrific,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I haven’t seen that much of Kuroda. I thought he was terrific. Sanchez was matching him inning for inning.
“He (Sanchez) was terrific. This is a tough place to pitch with a tough lineup and a short porch and a whole bunch of left-hand hitters. It’s not easy. That was quite a feat.”
Although Yankee Stadium, with its tight dimensions, is a difficult place for pitchers, Sanchez was able to keep the Yankees off-balance, which kept the fans quiet — except when they were booing struggling hitters like Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and former Tiger Curtis Granderson.
“I think Sanchez did a great job of holding them down and keeping us in the ballgame,” Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson said. “I think that had a lot to do with it. It took us a while to get going but we were able to get something going and he kept it going.”
Sanchez, 28, is a fairly quiet person who just seems to go about his business. But when he struck out Jayson Nix to end the seventh, he pumped his fist and showed more emotion than he had during his entire time as a Tiger.
“He was definitely pumped up,” Jackson said. “We feed off that. We like to see that from the pitcher.
“When he’s up there, pumped up about what he’s doing, that definitely gives us some motivation on the offensive side.”
Frustrated Yankees manager Joe Girardi was ejected when second-base umpire Jeff Nelson missed a call at second base — he called the Tigers’ Omar Infante safe instead of out. (Nelson watched a replay after the game and admitted blowing the call.) Girardi knows his hitters have to do a better job against Detroit’s starters.
“We know what they’re doing to us,” Girardi said. “You gotta make the adjustments. They’re not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that, and we’re more than capable of scoring runs.
“We’ve done it a number of times this year. We have to make some adjustments.”
Easier said than done for the Yankees, who face Verlander in Game 3. He’s 2-0 with an 0.56 ERA in the postseason so far, including a complete-game gem in Game 5 of the ALDS.
“Every win is really important right now,” Sanchez told TBS on the field after the game. “We need to keep winning and try to make the World Series as soon as we can. I know the Yankees are a very good team.
“We can’t give them any chance for tying the series.”
If Sanchez and the rest of the Tigers keep pitching the way they have so far, the Yankees coming back to tie the series seems unlikely.