There are certainly people out there who will tell you that Jim Leyland mismanages the Detroit Tigers. And, sometimes, those people might have a point.
Leyland ain't Joe Maddon, that's for sure. Before Tuesday's game with the Oakland Athletics — which the Tigers eventually won and forced Thursday's decisive Game 5 — Leyland told the assembled media, "We are what we are, and this is the way we play the game. This is who we are. There are no tricks."
Essentially, he wasn't going to reinvent everything at the eleventh hour. He wasn't going to use nine pitchers. And he wasn't going to bring back his Cy Young candidate to start the game on short rest. He wasn't going to start moving around the lineup — not too much at least.
But Leyland needs to be applauded for a couple of moves he did make. They were moves that would surely be second-guessed, moves that the whiners would be whining about right now had they gone awry. But ultimately they were moves that worked.
First off, he stuck Jhonny Peralta in left field, despite Peralta spending his entire career as an infielder. Peralta has played 1,153 games as a shortstop, 213 at third and exactly three in left field. Those three all came after he returned in the final days of the season from a 50-game PED suspension. The Tigers favored Peralta's bat enough to tolerate his outfield inexperience.
The defense was shaky a few times — the first fly ball hit to Peralta, you watched him twist and turn a bit, thinking "Here it is, he's going to blow it." He didn't. There were a few moments where he could have played a ball better or made a better throw, but those things were bound to happen.
Know this: The Tigers wouldn't be in a Game 5 if not for Peralta's bat. He leads the team in RBIs this ALDS with five, and his three-run homer in Game 4 is the blow that woke up Detroit. Without it, the A's might have been enjoying a day off right now instead of prepping to face Justin Verlander this evening.
Leyland's other move that worked wonderfully in his favor was using Max Scherzer out of the bullpen. Some people — on this very blog even — wondered whether the Tigers would be better off starting Scherzer if he was ready to pitch. Leyland, however, stuck Scherzer in the bullpen and said he would call on him in essentially a set-up role. The Tigers had the seventh-worst bullpen ERA in the regular season, so it made sense.
Turned out it was genius. Hindsight, of course, often helps genius, but in this case, Leyland got it right. Scherzer survived one of the most tense moments we'll see this postseason — facing the A's with the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning, as the Tigers clutched to a one-run lead. It was most improbable that Scherzer made it out without surrendering a run. Scherzer struck out back-to-back hitters, then got a fly out to centerfield. A lesser pitcher might not have done it.
Just how improbable was this? Well, ESPN and Elias Sports Bureau broke it down:
[T]here had never been a postseason game in which the team at bat had the bases loaded and nobody out and didn't score in the eighth inning or later of a game in which the team in the field had a lead of exactly one run (there were four instances in which that situation came up).
In other words, an escape of this sort had never happened before this late in a game.
But Scherzer was the right man for the job. Opponents are now 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts with the bases loaded against Scherzer in 2013. He’s faced 14 hitters with the bases loaded in 2013 and only one, Eric Hosmer, produced a run in any way -- with a bases-loaded walk on April 24.
And now, the Tigers are alive and awaiting a Game 5 in which Justin Verlander is pitching on normal rest. From where they were two days ago, this is ideal. Things could have backfired for Jim Leyland. They could have went sideways a few times. But they didn't.
So remember this for Game 5: Jim Leyland isn't one for tricks. He prefers calculated risks.