November 26, 2020

Tigers Flip Script; Series Tied

The game one script was all about the Yankees’ best hitter and their young pitcher performing on a National stage. Robinson Cano and Ivan Nova were able to give the National audience a performance that will resonate with even the most casual fan. The two led the Yankees to a resounding game one victory. The Detroit Tigers evidently decided to use that same script in game two as their best hitter and their young pitcher were more than enough to pull them even with the Yankees as the series shifts to Detroit with two very interesting pitching match ups. Miguel Cabrera, a hitter who has consistently ranked just behind Albert Pujols as Baseball’s best hitter, helped the Tigers grab an early lead with a two run homerun in the top of the first inning. Max Scherzer, the Tigers’ 26 year old right hander, took care of the rest by not allowing a hit until the sixth inning in a dominant start against the a Yankees’ lineup that finished second in the American League in runs scored.

Cabrera staked Scherzer to a 2-0 lead, a score that would remain the same until the sixth inning when he would again drive in a run against Garcia with a single up the middle. Garcia, who had allowed just 1 hit since Cabrera’s first inning homerun, would finally succumb to some fatigue with Cabrera’s single, followed by a Victor Martinez single. Garcia’s final line of 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), 0 walks, and 6 strikeouts looks pedestrian, but from innings two through 5, he successfully kept  the Tigers’ lineup off balance and off the scoreboard.

Cabrera would finish the day with 3 hits in 4 at bats with the 1 homerun and 3 RBI. It is the type of dominant performance that the Tigers need as the rest of the lineup can be pitched to. Cabrera is the best hitter in the series and the Tigers need to exploit that advantage. For a hitter with such talent, it is odd that Cabrera is somewhat underrated. He won’t be mentioned as a serious MVP candidate, but that looks to be an injustice. He led the American League in hitting with a .344/.448/.586 slash line with a league leading 48 doubles, 30 homeruns, and 105 RBI.

Perhaps the glancing over of his Pujols-like seasons is due to the perception that he is somewhat of a lazy player and does not play the game “the right way”. The perception is exacerbated by his two incidents involving alcohol over the past few seasons. But, a player with a career .317/.395/.555 batting line is someone who has elite skills. His Manager also describes a player who may just be misunderstood.  ”He has a lot of energy. What comes out of Cabrera, if you watch him, is how much he loves to play the game. He’s like a big kid, or a little kid, however you want to look at it. He just loves to play the game. He’s the most instinctive player I have. He’s smart. When I mess up, he knows it. Not all of them do, but he does,” said Jim Leyland.

That doesn’t sound like a player who isn’t into the game. Perhaps his game two performance will have some sort of impact on how he perceived around Baseball. Cabrera has appeared in the post season once before as a 20 year old rookie for the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins. His first post season homerun was hit against Roger Clemens. He added his second career homerun at a time that the Tigers needed a jump in an important game two. For Cabrera, the chance to get back to the post season means so much. “A lot. We work for this. We work to get to the playoffs. We work to get a chance to win the World Series, if you get a chance. When you’re here, you have nothing to lose. You have to go out there and play hard and try and do your job,” said Cabrera.

While the offensive story was all about Cabrera, the Tigers most dominant player was right hander Max Scherzer. The day didn’t start that way as Scherzer threw 11 of 12 pitches out of the strike zone in the first inning. But, after walking two batters in the first inning, Scherzer would settle in. Even the hit he gave up, wasn’t hit hard. Robinson Cano would bloop a hit to left field to get the Yankees in the hit column. He’d give up a walk and hit in the seventh before giving way to Joaquin Benoit. Scherzer ended the night with six shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits, 4 walks, and striking out 5.

Max Scherzer is no stranger to expectations. He’s been a pitcher who has dominant stuff, but has failed to find any sort of consistency. The 26 year old averages 8.7 K/9, but has also allowed 69 homeruns over the past three seasons. This season has been his most inconsistent. He allowed 29 homeruns, 207 hits in 195 innings, and posted a career high 4.43 ERA. But, he posted the best walk rate of his career while maintaining his strikeout rate. Scherzer is expected to be the Tigers’ second starter, but obviously hasn’t put together a season that has lived up to his expectations. Game two showed the full potential of the young right hander who was acquired by the Tigers in that three-way trade that involved Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson, and Ian Kennedy. When locked in, Scherzer can dominate a game.

Leyland was effusive with his praise of his pitcher. “Well, you never know what’s going to happen. Big stage, and he was terrific. There was no question about it, he was terrific today against a great lineup. He powered the ball pretty good, mixed his pitches well, got some outs with change ups. He pitched a terrific game,” stated Leyland.

Like Ivan Nova in game one, Scherzer showed remarkable poise for a big moment in a park that is conducive to homeruns. “ I think he’s a real thought out guy. I think he zeroed in today. He was locked in. He was determined,” said Leyland. For Scherzer, it was all about focusing and sticking with the game plan. “You really can’t focus on the ballpark per se. I was more focused on the quality of their hitters. And making sure I was executing pitches throughout the whole night. Even when I was behind in the count, never giving in in a situation where it could cost me. They’re a very good power hitting ballclub. For me it was making sure whether it was a fastball or off speed pitch that no matter the situation I had to execute it no matter what,” said Scherzer.

Aside from evening up the series heading to Detroit, Scherzer has helped put the Yankees in their nightmare scenario. Game three will be the long awaited duel between Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia. Every game is a must win, but the Yankees feel a bit extra pressure due to the inconsistency of their game four starter, A.J. Burnett. Burnett wasn’t supposed to start in this series, but the rainout has forced him into action. If Verlander does dominate the Yankees and lead the Tigers to a game three victory, the Yankees’ season will come down to A.J. Burnett, their much maligned and most inconsistent starter.

But, that is still a game away. For now, both teams will trust their aces in a series that has been marked by superstar play. Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera have each seized the spotlight thus far. Now, it is the pitchers’ turn. With the specter of A.J. Burnett on the horizon, the Yankees will be a desperate team in game three. Although Burnett is perfectly capable of dominating a start, the circus that his presence brings with the media questions and anxiety of every pitch will loom over game four, especially if the Yankees are down 2-1.

Quick Cuts

Alex Rodriguez is 0-8 in the series. Rodriguez seemingly shook off the boo birds with his 2009 performance, but New Yorkers have shown their true colors by booing a player who is clearly playing hurt. Joe Girardi’s decision to pinch hit for Brett Gardner with Eric Chavez was curious. “Gardner is fine. Was hoping he (Chavez) would pop one,” said Girardi. But, that left Andruw Jones hitting against Jose Valverde in the ninth. Jones delivered a sacrifice fly, but Gardner would’ve been a better match up. Girardi drew some curious looks by having Jorge Posada in the lineup as the DH in game one. He did the same in game two. Girardi relies on experience and Posada is swinging well. If he continues to hit, he’ll play. Posada’s benching this season wasn’t about age; it was about performance. Miguel Cabrera has hit a homerun in three of his four post season series. Curtis Granderson’s homerun was the first run that Joaquin Benoit has given up since August 2nd. Yankees fell to 10-4 at the current Yankee Stadium in the playoffs. Jim Leyland admitted to at least thinking about intentionally walking Robinson Cano to get to Alex Rodriguez. He didn’t like the situation in game two, but that may happen if Rodriguez continues to flounder. Joe Girardi’s decision to use Luis Ayala in the ninth will be viewed as a mistake because Ayala gave up a run and the Yankees ended up losing by two. But, Ayala has been a key member of the bullpen all season and with three consecutive games coming, Girardi needed to conserve his bullpen as much as possible. It wouldn’t have been a mistake had he went with David Robertson, but it’s not as if he called upon Scott Proctor. Both Verlander and Sabathia are essentially pitching on short rest, even with the low pitch count. It will be interesting to see how sharp they are early in the game.