Talk about unfamiliar territory. With the San Francisco Giants sweeping the first two games at AT&T Park, we now head towards Game 3 with two team that are facing circumstances they have not yet experienced this postseason. On one side, the Giants find themselves in firm control after overcoming 2-0 and 3-1 deficits respectively. On the other side, the Detroit Tigers have to dig out of a deep hole after jumping up two quick games before ultimately winning the ALDS and ALCS rounds.
Obviously, there's little reason to believe the Giants aren't capable of playing from ahead. They have what is proving to be a very balanced roster that has again picked the month of October to start clicking in every possible way. By the same token, there's little reason to believe the Tigers can't or won't rally to turn the entire series around before making a return trip to San Francisco.
It can still go either way, and as I continue to say in this particular postseason, just throw any and all logic out the window when it comes to predicting the next twist in the road. That said, there are some pretty clear things the scuffling Tigers must focus on and improve on if they hope to stage a World Series comeback only eleven teams have accomplished in 52 tries. Right now, I'll focus on the three most important.
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Value their scoring opportunities: It's easy to look at the scoreboard and then say the Tigers need to produce more offense and score more runs. Everybody can see that. But when you really look at how Game 2 played out for Detroit, two things became clear. First, their opportunities will be limited by San Francisco's staff. Second and more importantly, when they have do those opportunities, they can't continue giving them away with overaggressive base running.
Everybody — including third base coach Gene Lamont — realizes their best scoring chance on Thursday was wiped away by Prince Fielder being gunned down at home. A couple innings later, Omar Infante was picked off first by Madison Bumgarner when he took off for second on first movement. By my math, that's forty percent of their base runners dying on the base paths. I understand being aggressive to create offense, but there's a fine line they pretty clearly crossed in both cases.
Of course there's no guarantee they would have scored in either situation, regardless of how well they could have been set up. But any time you lose a game 2-0 and can point to two breakdowns of that magnitude, you'll probably lose a lot of sleep.
Get better length from their starters: Surprisingly it was Justin Verlander who set the tone for Detroit with a disappointing four inning stint in Game 1. In Game 2, Doug Fister, despite being struck in the skull by a vicious line drive, remained in the game and was much more effective in his six plus inning outing. However, in both cases, we saw the flaws of the Tigers bullpen come in to play.
I don't know that Detroit had it in them to rally in either game, but in one case the bullpen — specifically Jose Valverde — made sure that wouldn't happen. In the other, the bullpen made it more difficult. It's apparent they will need to get their starters at least into the seventh inning to effectively hide their weakness, and it probably wouldn't be unreasonable to say they need eight innings from Anibal Sanchez this evening.
Get the bottom of the order going: This will obviously be an easier task moving back to Detroit, where the designated hitter will again be available to Jim Leyland. But regardless of who he pencils into those 7-8-9 spots, he's going to need a lot better than the 0 for 20 — 0 for 17 not including pitchers — he received in Games 1 and 2. That's almost seven times through the bottom third without a baserunner to keep the line moving or create a scoring chance.
Without those three spots chipping in at least one base runner every two or three turns, it's difficult to imagine them producing or sustaining the offense they will need to overcome San Francisco's surging offense. A single here, a walk there. Now you're on to something. Just find a way on base or at least make the pitcher work hard and sweat a little bit.
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