The Detroit Tigers will have a very long offseason to think about what went wrong in their attempt to return to the World Series.
There are a lot of things that went wrong in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, including the 5-2 loss in Game 6, but ultimately, the main problem is one that plagued the Tigers all season.
The Tigers came into the 2013 season with a bullpen in flux and although some things settled down, it remained the Achilles heel going into the postseason.
Of course, slugger Miguel Cabrera was severely hobbled by his abdominal injury and Prince Fielder’s postseason woes continued, but the bullpen did not match the starters’ success.
The Red Sox will celebrate two big grand slams — David Ortiz’s Game 2 blast that erased a four-run lead and Shane Victorino’s that helped send the Red Sox to the World Series.
But the reverse of that is that it was the Tigers’ relievers who allowed both.
After looking flawless in the 1-0 Game 1 win, the relievers were not in Game 2.
Jose Veras allowed a double, Drew Smyly a walk and Al Alburquerque a single to load the bases.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland turned to Joaquin Benoit in the eighth, looking for a four-out save but Ortiz ruined that plan, despite the best efforts of right fielder Torii Hunter.
Leyland did not use left-hander Phil Coke in that situation, despite his career success against Ortiz for a couple of reasons.
First, Coke hadn’t pitched in a couple of weeks because of a left forearm/elbow issue. Second, Coke did not pitch well throughout the regular season.
In Game 6, starter Max Scherzer gave up a double and a walk in the seventh.
It seemed that the walk to Xander Bogaerts could have easily been a strikeout.
“It looked like Max Scherzer had Xander Bogaerts struck out,” FOX Sports Detroit play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba said. “They ended up walking him on a really close, what I thought was a strike-three pitch.
“If he gets that strikeout, then it’s two outs and who knows what happens?”
What actually happened is Smyly came in and got a ground ball, but normally sure-handed shortstop Jose Iglesias bobbled it and the bases were loaded.
Veras came in and had Victorino down 0-2 in the count but hung a curveball that Victorino just got over the Green Monster, and a 2-1 lead was a 5-2 deficit.
“The difference really when you look at the series is they hit a couple big bombs and we just didn’t quite do that,” Leyland said in the interview room after the game.
The effect of both slams was devastating and the Tigers could not recover.
“Your heart just drops,” Hunter told FOX Sport Detroit’s John Keating on the post-game show. “The ball just barely getting over the Monster, in most stadiums that’s probably an out. But here’s it’s a homer and he got the job done.
“He came through when they needed him and got the big hit. That was a crushing blow.”
FOX Sports Detroit analyst Rod Allen noted that Victorino was just 2-for-23 in the series before the grand slam.
“They had held him in check the entire series,” Allen said. “One, he’s a switch-hitter batting right-handed because he’s not healthy enough to bat left-handed and two, they’ve gotten him out with breaking balls. One too many breaking balls there in that situation.”
Of course Scherzer did not blame the relievers.
“I was making mistakes by walking guys, giving them free passes,” Scherzer told Keating. “You just can’t do that. Even though I was able to find my way out of some of those jams, you put yourself in enough of those situations, you’re gonna get beat. I did. In the big inning, I let two guys get on.
“That’s my fault and I need to do better in those type of situations.”
In the regular season, Tigers starters were 76-44 with a 3.44 ERA. Tigers relievers were 17-25 with a 4.02 ERA.
In the postseason, Tigers starters Anibal Sanchez, Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister combined for a 2.07 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.
“Normally if you pitch the way we pitched in this series, you would probably think that you won,” Leyland said.
The relievers had a 5.68 ERA.
In contrast, Red Sox relievers had an 0.43 ERA and closer Koji Uehara got the ALCS MVP for his 0.00 ERA.
“The way I would sum it up is I thought their starters were good, I thought their bullpen was great,” Leyland said.
The Tigers’ bullpen was not great, just like it was for the regular season, and in the end it cost them.
“It’s a tough feeling,” Hunter said. “I came here for the World Series ring, and I still think that, and I have confidence that next year, this team is gonna go that route.
“I know (general manager) Dave Dombrowski is going to put some things together. Little pieces, because we don’t need much.”
Those little pieces will have to include some relievers that can be counted on when it matters most.