The Detroit Tigers in the World Series look like the New York Yankees in the ALCS. But all that is about to change.
It should change, anyway. The Tigers are home, they’re facing right-handed pitching and they no longer can use their five-day layoff as an excuse.
The simple way to look at this, as manager Jim Leyland said Friday, is that the Tigers are two games back with five to play, and playing the team they need to catch.
Sounds simple, and it is — if the Tigers follow this four-step program:
1. Start hitting.
The supposedly mighty Tigers are averaging 3.55 runs per game in the postseason, nearly a full run below their regular-season average. Such a dropoff is not unusual in the playoffs, but the Tigers rely on their offense — specifically, their power — more than most clubs.
The good news is, the Tigers will gain two advantages now that the Series has moved to Detroit: The designated hitter will return in the American League park, and the Giants’ next two starting pitchers are right-handed.
Those two pitchers — Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain — are probably the Giants’ best. But the Tigers now will incorporate outfielders Quintin Berry, a speedster who generally bats second against righties, and Andy Dirks, a contact type who hits sixth behind Delmon Young. Plus, Young will be out of left field and in his more familiar role as a DH, improving the defense.
The Tigers are batting .167 with a .481 OPS in the Series, .255 with a .679 OPS in the postseason. Vogelsong presents a huge challenge, but Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Co. have hit righties better than lefties all season. They need to continue that trend.
2. Seize the moment at home.
Duh, again (sorry, folks, this isn’t rocket science).
The Tigers are 4-0 at Comerica Park in the postseason, and they were 50-31 at home during the regular season, tied for second best in the majors behind the Yankees, who were 51-30.
Comerica will be cold and maybe rainy — conditions that are far more common in the AL Central than the NL West, though not completely unfamiliar to a team from San Francisco.
In any case, the home-field advantage goes only so far.
“Well, I think you always feel more comfortable in your own bed — I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Leyland said. “But to me, it’s the ability to be able to concentrate and relax. You have to have that combination in situations like this.”
3. Avoid the bullpen.
Triple-duh, but this one will be easier said than done.
Tigers starter Doug Fister worked six terrific innings in Game 2, only to be replaced with one on in the seventh by rookie lefty Drew Smyly.
Because Leyland did not want to use veteran Phil Coke in that spot, not when Coke essentially has replaced Jose Valverde as the team’s closer.
Valverde and fellow righty Joaquin Benoit have combined to allow 11 runs in seven innings this postseason, compared to two runs in 19 2/3 innings by the rest of the Tigers’ relievers. Problem is, Valverde and Benoit previously occupied such prominent roles, the overall effect is something akin to a house of cards.
Thus, the Tigers likely will need right-hander Anibal Sanchez to pitch deep into Game 3 in his first postseason start. Sanchez is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five career starts against the Giants, and those numbers would be better if not for one hiccup this season.
The Tigers’ Game 4 starter, righty Max Scherzer, seemingly is recovered from a right deltoid strain that bothered him at the end of the regular season. A lengthy start, however, might be too much to ask of him.
Scherzer, who led the majors with 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings in the regular season, has been even better in the postseason, striking out 18 in 11 innings. Alas, his bursts of brilliance were brief — he did not complete six innings in either start.
4. Get the ball to Justin Verlander.
Meaning, win one of the next two games to ensure that the best pitcher on the planet starts Game 5 at home with a chance to force the series back to San Francisco.
That isn’t too much to ask, is it? No, and neither is a rebound performance from Verlander after his clunker in Game 1. Seriously, would anyone be surprised if Verlander pitched a no-hitter if he got another start?
Force the series back to San Francisco, and anything can happen for the Tigers.
Force the series back to San Francisco, and they will stand a chance of doing something special, rather than making like the World Series version of the Yankees.