The key to the 2012 World Series coming into game one was pitching. The Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants boasted some of the best pitching in all of MLB. Now, down three games to none, and their backs against the wall, the key for the Tigers has to be fundamentals.
Maybe seeing their ace-of-aces, Justin Verlander, get shelled in game one took the Tigers out of their comfort zone and made them start doing things they normally wouldn’t do. Bad defensive plays that will never be seen as errors on the scorecard, baserunning blunders that cost them precious scoring opportunities, and impatience at the plate which played right into the hands of the Giants pitchers.
Those are all things the Tigers didn’t do through the regular season, and certainly didn’t do in their dominating four-game sweep over the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Game four will be the Tigers last gasp, but they aren’t going to dip into their oxygen reserve. Despite being on the brink of elimination, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is not going to throw Verlander on short rest. Instead, Detroit will go with Max Scherzer to counter the Giants big game master, Matt Cain.
What this means is that game four is going to look very similar to games one through three, and the Tigers need to handle it better.
Cain – who threw a perfect game against the Houston Astros on June 13 – is a pitcher that depends on movement and keeping hitters off balance, which means the Tigers will have to show a great deal more patience at the plate than they have in the first three games.
Detroit will also need to make the most of their scoring opportunities. So far, the Tigers are only 1-11 with RISP, and have left 17 runners on base in the first three games.
The other big story will be Leyland’s decision to go with Scherzer instead of Verlander in a potential closeout game. Scherzer is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in four career match-ups with the Giants, including a 15-3 whitewashing last season in Detroit. Scherzer gave up nine runs (6 earned) over two-plus innings in that game.
Should Scherzer falter and give up a lot of crooked numbers in the box score, the second guessing of Leyland, from fans to analysts, will be monumental in scope.
If the Tigers can steal game four and keep themselves alive in this series, then anything can happen. But beating Matt Cain is going to be a tall order for a team who seems to have lost their identity.