American League Championship Series – Game 2 Recap

*For more work by Zig-Zag, check out STRENGTH IN WRITING and A HERO’S JOURNEY*

American League Championship Series

            10/10/11: Game 2 – Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers

            Max Scherzer vs. Derek Holland

 

            This is getting embarrassing.  The Tigers have two of the best hitters in baseball, one of the most lethal total offenses, a pretty great starting rotation, and the best closer in the game this year.  Yet the Rangers are proving that none of that matters if you don’t do something with it.  The Rangers take a 2-0 lead in this ALCS, putting the pressure on the Tigers as the series returns to Comerica Park for (hopefully) Games 3, 4, and 5.

Before the game was supposed to be played yesterday, it was postponed until tonight.  Of course, it was a bit premature, as absolutely no rain came through Arlington last night.  Now, I don’t deny that the extra day of rest was probably well-needed (especially for Max Scherzer, who pitched in relief on Thursday night in Game 5 of the ALDS).  But they could have at least waited until it got closer to game time.  Oh well.

The big news from the Tiger dugout was that Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle again.  Which completely removes him for the remainder of the season (however long that actually lasts, at this rate).  The only real option for a replacement was Delmon Young, who was left off the roster in order to prevent aggravation to his strained oblique, and potentially take out of play for the World Series.  I was curious about how the Tigers would choose to play Delmon in Game 2.  He has great numbers against Derek Holland this year (4/5, while with the Minnesota Twins), but you don’t want to aggravate an injury if you don’t have to.  So do you pinch-hit him late in the game, if necessary?  Well, if Holland is still in come the seventh or eighth inning, odds are he’s doing well enough to be beyond whatever help a pinch hitter could provide.  The other option: start Young in left field, give him a couple of at bats, and take it from there.  That was exactly what the Tigers decided to do tonight.  Did the move work?  Let’s find out.

1.    Pitching Recap—Tigers

Max Scherzer needed to make a statement early in this game.  Everyone in the starting lineup for the Texas Rangers had at least one hit off of Scherzer this season.  So it was crucial for Scherzer to command his pitches, overpower the Texas hitters, and keep any flyballs he induced in the ballpark.  Things didn’t get off to such a great start, as Scherzer gave up three hits and two runs in the first inning.  A little more trouble with a hit in the second, and it was looking like it might end up being a short day for Max.  However, he settled in after that, and pitched a clean third, fourth, and fifth, before a walk and a hit in the sixth inning.  Max would come back out for the seventh inning, but gave up a solo home run and was done after that.

With the game tied, Phil Coke was brought in to face two situational left-handers.  After taking care of both of them, Joaquin Benoit relieved him, finishing off the seventh inning and pitching through the eighth with only a walk.  The ninth inning got messy, however, as Jose Valverde was brought into the game in a non-save situation.  A double, intentional walk, and hit batter loaded the bases with no one out.  But with a little heads-up fielding, the threat ended and sent the game to extra innings.  Valverde pitched a clean tenth inning before turning things over to Ryan Perry in the eleventh inning.  Perry was not clean tonight, and three straight singles, followed by a grand slam, ended the game for the Tigers.

                           a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Tigers

                                    Scherzer—6 IP; 6 H; 3 ER; 6 K; 1 BB

                                    Coke—2/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB

                                    Benoit—1 1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 1 BB

                                    Valverde—2 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 1 BB

                                    Perry—4 BF; 4 H; 4 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

                           b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Tigers

            Max Scherzer was about as good as you could have expected him to be tonight.  Better, actually.  I was sure that Scherzer would get knocked around pretty badly by the Rangers, considering how well they hit him this year (and the fact that he only had one win to show for all his efforts).  Six hits isn’t exactly what you’d like to see, but considering that only equated into three earned runs, I’ll take it.  Actually, the third through sixth innings, Scherzer was the great pitcher we’ve come to know the last couple years.  If not for the mistake to Nelson Cruz that ended in a home run to tie the game, Scherzer probably would have gone seven strong innings with a lead.  More than enough to get it to the back end of the bullpen.  If there was any question about his ability to pitch on short rest after that relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS, it was wiped away in the third inning.  Scherzer settled in, kept his pitch count down, and stifled the Rangers’ hitters.  At one point he had even retired twelve in a row.  Not bad for a guy that have up double digit hits to this team during the year.  Honestly, the fault goes more to the offense for that Nelson Cruz home run than it does to Scherzer.  Max pitched a gem, but this offense has just looked tired since about halfway through the ALDS and they did not perform the way they should have.  Great job by Max, as a whole.

Phil Coke did a pretty good job as well.  He wasn’t pitching for a full inning, but was instead in to face Murphy and Moreland (lefties) in a situational role.  That’s all he was required to do, and that’s what he did.  Unfortunately, Coke didn’t come in with a lead, and instead was just trying to turn things back over to the offense.  Which is fine, because Coke has been great out of the bullpen, and kept doing exactly what he’s doing.  I know that Coke wants to be a starter, and I know his overall numbers as a starter this year weren’t nearly as bad as his win-loss record would suggest, but man he’s great out of a bullpen.  Someone like Coke out of the pen can have just as important an impact as any starter.  Just ask Alexi Ogando.  Or Rafael Soriano.  Even Joaquin Benoit.  I think Phil should stay right where he is, and be that kind of impact player every other day, rather than a maybe impact starter once every five days.

Speaking of Joaquin Benoit, he was pretty clean too.  In a much-needed turnaround from the mess he was in during Game 5, Benoit’s only blemish was a walk that was immediately erased on a lineout double play by Josh Hamilton.  It’s a shame the Tigers couldn’t pick up that lead again, because Valverde was all set to go tonight.

As much as Jim Leyland talks about “track records” and plays the numbers and the lefty-righty matchups, he certainly seems to conveniently forget about Valverde’s dreadful numbers (including an ERA over 6.00) in non-save situations.  I was so sure that the game was over the minute he came into the ballgame tonight.  So glad I was proved wrong.  Not that it wasn’t close to being proven right.  How do you come into a tied game as the best closer in the majors and load the bases on three straight batters?  Granted, the intentional walk to Napoli was Leyland’s call, but still.  I’m thrilled that he got out of that jam, and pitched a clean tenth.  But it doesn’t change the fact that if there’s no save on the line, Valverde is a far from stellar pitcher.  Of course, that fact begs the question of why there’s such a ridiculous difference between the two types of situations.  Whether a save is on the line or not, I would think as a player in a position like Valverde would want to make sure he’s giving his team the best he can every time he’s brought out (like Phil Coke does), and not just in certain situations to do what seems like pad one particular stat.

Ryan Perry was far from good tonight.  Granted, Leyland wanted the righty-righty matchups on Young, Beltre, and Napoli, and his only other option by that point in the game was Alburquerque, who has simply been sloppy (to put it nicely) during his two outings this postseason.  Perry also wasn’t too bad in his outings this postseason, even if he did come in with a loss in both games and much wasn’t expected of him in those situations.  But four straight hits?  Really?  Including a walk-off grand slam?  Someone get these players a Red Bull or Five-Hour Energy or something that will make them seem less tired and like they’ve simply given up.  If they get swept in the ALCS while in Detroit, there may be a riot downtown Wednesday night.  It was actually a pretty good pitching job by the staff as a whole…right up until the end.  Then it was just a disaster.  There really have been too many disasters late in games during this postseason.  Someone is going to have to pick things up in the next couple games if the Tigers want to tie things up and stay in this series.

2.    Pitching Recap—Rangers

            Derek Holland has not faced the Tigers this year.  He did, however, face Delmon Young while Delmon was with the Minnesota Twins.  And Young rocked him.  Holland couldn’t have been happy to see Young in the lineup tonight.  Right away, Holland wasn’t sharp either, giving up a walk and a hit in the first inning.  The second inning wasn’t much better, as three walks loaded the bases before he got out of it.  The third inning was his last, however, as the Tigers finally got to him a little bit.  A hit, a hit batter, and a three-run home run by Ryan Raburn put the Tigers on top.  The very next batter, Jhonny Peralta, added to the damage with a double, and Holland was done for the night.

Already into the bullpen, the Rangers turned to Scott Feldman to put up a few innings and make up for Holland’s short start.  Feldman did just that, pitching from the third inning all the way through the seventh with only a sixth-inning hit as damage.  This brought about the Tigers’ worst nightmare in Alexi Ogando.  Ogando continued to dominate Detroit by pitching a clean eighth before giving up a hit in the ninth. Ogando was replaced with Gonzalez, but after a double on the only batter he faced, he was taken out for the closer, Neftail Feliz.  Feliz gave up two walks (one intentional) in his outing, keeping the game tied until being replaced by Adams in the eleventh.  Adams was almost out of the inning before giving up a hit, but nothing came up of it and the offense did the rest in the bottom part of that inning, giving the Rangers the win.

                           a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Rangers

                                    Holland—2 2/3 IP; 4 H; 3 ER; 0 K; 4 BB

                                    Feldman—4 1/3 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 4 K; 0 BB

                                    Ogando—1 2/3 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 2 K; 0 BB

                                    Gonzalez—1 BF; 1 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

                                    Feliz—1 1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 2 BB

                                    Adams—1 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 2 K; 0 BB

                          b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Rangers

            This was an amazing job by the Rangers bullpen tonight.  There’s really not much to say about Holland, considering how short his outing was tonight.  I expected to him to be something of an x-factor for the Rangers, since the Tigers haven’t seen him.  At least they would have had a surprise element.  But really, he got lucky.  Some very bad hitting by the Tigers left Holland leaving the game with a lot less damage than he probably should have taken.  Three walks in second inning alone should have been enough to get the Tigers a run or two.  But they came up empty in that inning.  Luckily, Holland threw a ton of pitches in three innings, and Washington had no choice but to take him out.

Fortunately for Texas, the bullpen came up in a big way yet again.  Feldman went more innings than Holland did, which is certainly impressive in its own right.  But, on top of that, Feldman only gave up one hit in that outing.  That’s just really impressive, and an amazing contribution when your team has a tremendous offense and is only down by a run.  And then Alexi Ogando did it yet again.  He just owned the Tigers, making sure that the Rangers could get back into the game.  Ogando is a force when it comes to the Tigers.  And I hate that their batters can’t seem to do anything against him.  Ogando only threw 23 pitches in the game tonight, which could mean that he’d have enough left in the tank to throw a quick inning tomorrow, if need be.  If not, then he’ll certainly be ready to go for Game 4.  If the Tigers can’t start getting some hits and runs off of this guy, then it is going to be a short Championship Series.

Feliz did a remarkable job yet again.  It’s too bad he doesn’t have some Valverde in him, because the Tigers could have used a few runs in that non-save situation.  Oh well, I guess it’s more common for a closer to come out and do a good job all the time and be a good PITCHER as opposed to just a good save specialist.  Too bad neither team could have gone to their closer with a lead.  It would have made for a much shorter game.  Then perhaps Fox wouldn’t have had to remind us every thirty seconds that “Terra Nova” and “House” would still air in their entirety.  Anyway, it came down to a battle of the bullpens, and Texas won without so much as breaking a sweat.  Tigers’ hitters are going to have to start getting serious against the starting rotation if they want to stay in this series.

3.    Hitting Recap—Tigers

            The Tigers didn’t do too bad hitting wise, with a couple of lesser-known players coming up with key hits again.  Austin Jackson led off with a walk, and Ramon Santiago had a single in the first inning, which set the tone for the difficulty that Holland would have.  Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, and Austin Jackson would have walks in the second inning to load up the bases, but nothing would come of them.  Fortunately, a double by Miguel Cabrera, a hit by pitch of Victor Martinez, and a three-run home run from Ryan Raburn would put the Tigers up 3-2.

That’s where the hit parade stopped however, as the Tigers wouldn’t put up another hit until the sixth inning on an Alex Avila single.  After two more innings of no offense, a Santiago single, a Don Kelly double, and a Cabrera intentional walk would load the bases for Victor Martinez…only to have him bounce out without doing any damage.  The Tigers put up one more walk in the tenth inning, and a single by Don Kelly in the eleventh, but no more runs.  So, the game came to a 7-3 end with only eight Tigers’ hits.

            a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Tigers

            This is getting sad.  I know that pitchers have a job to do, and that’s get out hitters.  But there were so many wasted opportunities tonight.  Both the second inning and ninth inning saw the bases loaded.  Holland couldn’t find the strike zone, and Victor Martinez is great with runners in scoring position.  Yet both times there was nothing.  No production, no runs that could have easily given the Tigers a big lead to work with late, nothing.  After that third inning when Cabrera rocked that double (that, as C.J. Wilson said, would have been a home run in July), it looked like his bat may be coming back to life a little bit.  But then nothing.

Delmon Young turned out to be a nonissue tonight for Holland, both because Holland was taken out before the end of the third inning, and because Delmon didn’t get any hits.  It was pretty obvious that Young is hurting when he throws, but they say it doesn’t effect his hitting.  Who knows what the next few days will bring, though.  Colby Lewis is a right-handed pitcher, so I would think Leyland will go with Dirks and Kelly in the outfield.  But Matt Harrison is a lefty, so Delmon might see action again on Wednesday.

Alex Avila is apparently hurting in the knee.  Clearly not enough to take him out of the lineup, but I think it’s pretty obviously enough to effect his hitting.  If the Tigers could have managed to take a 3-1 lead in this series I would have imagined that Leyland would have given him a day off.  But that implies that the Tigers can take any lead at this point.  Maybe, with a win tomorrow night, they’ll think about playing Omir Santos at catcher (bats right) against the left-handed pitcher Matt Harrison.  But who knows.

It’s getting harder and harder to hate Don Kelly, but I think I can manage.  If he in any way, shape, or form wins some sort of series MVP or becomes Detroit’s next Brandon Inge, I will consider never watching baseball again.  Granted, it’ll be a short conversation there, and I’ll ultimately decide to keep watching, but seriously.  I get that he’s had a couple of good hits, and managers love when they have players that can play every position.  But it doesn’t matter if you play every position if you can only play them passably at best.  Francona made a comment during the game how Don Kelly is really like having two players.  Call me crazy, but I’d rather have one really, really good player (like another Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez) than two subpar players.  There’s one stat that gets brought up often when I hear talk about Kelly.  If you’re a Tigers fan, then go read the blog DesigNate Robertson sometime.  He hates Don Kelly more than anyone alive.  And the stat he always brings up is OPS+.  It’s on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for the ballpark you’re playing the majority of your games in.  I guess an OPS+ of 100 is average, what even a mediocre player should have in their home ballpark.  Don Kelly’s OPS+ is 74, lifetime.  He’s not even average when it comes to getting on base and really hitting the ball.  So while a few key hits here and there are nice (and, actually, none of his hits in the postseason have yet to turn out to be “key”), it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a subpar player when it comes to hitting the ball.  I’d rather rest my hat on Cabrera, even if he is struggling a little bit, or even Peralta after the career year he put up this year.  Don’t turn Don Kelly into a hero until he actually earns it.

If you need a hero, Ryan Raburn seems like a pretty good choice right about now.  Don Kelly got two hits after coming in the game, but they did nothing to help.  Raburn, on the other hand, is 5/11 this postseason, has once again had a great second half of the season, and was the deciding factor in the Tigers’ lead tonight (for how long it actually lasted).

Actually, let’s not make anyone a hero just yet.  Because this team needs to step up and win some games before they should get the hero treatment.  They barely squeaked by the Yankees in the ALDS, and now they’re already down two games to Texas in the ALCS.

4.    Hitting Recap—Rangers

            When it comes down to it, Texas didn’t actually do better in hitting until the final inning.  Elvis Andrus started things off with a single, and back-to-back doubles by Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre put the Rangers up 2-0 in the first.  Nelson Cruz continued things to lead off the second inning with a double that was mere feet away from being a home run.  Unfortunately for the Rangers, Scherzer settled in after that, until the sixth inning, when he gave up a single to Josh Hamilton, and then the seventh, when the game-tying home run to Nelson Cruz carried out, taking Scherzer with it.  An Adrian Beltre double, an intentional walk of Mike Napoli, and Nelson Cruz being hit by a pitch loaded the bases, but to no avail.

The eleventh inning turned into the true hit parade, though, as Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli hit back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases, right ahead of a grand slam by Nelson Cruz.  The eleventh inning was the deciding inning, as the Rangers took the 7-3 win in Game 2.

            a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Rangers

Like I said, the Rangers were actually outhit until the eleventh inning.  They just managed to make more big strikes when it counted.  With the number of hits this team has racked up against Max Scherzer this year (22 in 76 at bats), and the way the first inning went for the Rangers, it looked like they were going to pick up right where they left off and lead Game 2 from start to finish.  Yet when it was all said and done, both teams had seven hits until the eleventh inning.  Then Texas put up four to Detroit’s one.

These hitters are lethal.  They’re all so good, and any one of them can come to life at a moment’s notice and rock a pitcher.  For instance, Michael Young, who was in the top three in hitting for the American League the entire last month of the season, was in danger of going four consecutive postseason games without a hit.  Then he came up with that leadoff single in the eleventh.  Any moment could be the last moment you get against this team.  Normally, the Tigers are like that too.  Just not right now, apparently.

These Texas hitters stayed tough through some really good pitching, and made the most of their opportunities (save for the ninth inning, bases loaded zero out debacle that sent it into extra innings) to come out a winner in this one.  Also, congratulations to Nelson Cruz for hitting the first ever postseason walkoff grand slam.  After being hit on the wrist and in the ribcage by a pitch during your previous at bat, you really showed everyone.

5.    Fielding Recap

There were plenty of key fielding plays in this game that could have turned the entire tide of the game for either team.   In the fifth inning, an error by Mitch Moreland at first put Victor Martinez on base, but nothing got started.  In the third inning, during the at bat where Martinez was ultimately ruled hit by a pitch, it didn’t quite look like he was.  Mike Napoli thought he was, and therefore didn’t really try to get the ball when it went past him.  Cabrera didn’t think it had hit Martinez, so he scored from second while Napoli was being lazy.  He was ultimately sent back (which didn’t matter because Raburn jacked the three-run shot in the very next at bat).

Brandon Inge caught a screaming line drive off of Josh Hamilton’s bat that Elvis Andrus ran too far on, which doubled him off first in the eighth inning.  After Valverde loaded the bases in the ninth, Cabrera made a great heads up fielding call by throwing a Mitch Moreland ground ball home to get the force out, which Avila then threw back to him for the tag out.  That double play ended the ninth inning with no damage and sent things into overtime.  Then, in the eleventh inning, Andy Dirks made an attempt at a fly ball from Napoli that he probably should have caught.  But, he instead missed, the ball bounced off Austin Jackson’s leg behind him, and the bases were loaded with no outs.  Any one of these times could have turned into a big chance for the Tigers to do some real damage, but they all went by the way side.  (Note: it’s not that the Rangers did anything bad, save for the Moreland error.  All of the Tigers’ outs were just much more conventional, with no drama.)

6.    ALCS Game 2 – Final Thoughts

This was just terrible for the Tigers.  Holland gave them ample opportunity early on to take a commanding lead, and nothing.  They all look tired out there.  The big bats have disappeared.  The auxiliary players are coming up with hits, but Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago can’t carry this team through the World Series.  The big hitters have to come alive.  They need something to jumpstart the fire again.  Perhaps getting home to Detroit and facing Lewis and Harrison will be exactly what they need.  The Tigers really knocked around both pitchers this year, and Comerica Park certainly takes away a lot of the dangerous fly balls that were hit tonight in Rangers Ballpark.  Add to that Fister’s command, Porcello’s ground ball game, and Verlander getting his arm fully rested again, and the Tigers still have a really good chance of sweeping all three games at Comerica, sending it back to Arlington only needing one.  But, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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