Can the best hitter in baseball truly carry a team to greatness, even while not being at full capacity?
For the Detroit Tigers, one swing of the bat from Miguel Cabrera answered all they needed to know. It was a resounding yes, and regardless of how fortuitous the moment really was in the scheme of things, it confirmed just about all the reasons why preseason prognostications pegged them as World Series favourites: they had players who were born for the big moment, who could turn it on at any time, and who could be difference-makers.
To the awaiting Boston Red Sox, however, Detroit’s moment of fortune might as well have revealed their biggest weakness.
Not that you need the reminder or the obvious statement, but these Red Sox aren’t the Oakland Athletics. These are the guys who out-scored the Tampa Bay Rays 26-12 in just four games, knocking around guys like Matt Moore and homering off David Price like they were amateurs (well, at least David Ortiz did).
What the baseball world saw was Cabrera redeeming himself for nearly a month without an extra-base hit, John Farrell and co. simply saw a vulnerable man who couldn’t hit anything but singles for nearly a month.
The fact is, while a less-than-100 percent Cabrera did ultimately make his mark in Game 5 of the ALDS, it only belies the fact that at even 70 percent (60? 80? Does it matter?), he’s simply not even close to being a menace at the plate. As it turns out, greatness hobbled does not equal greatness, and considering that the Tigers outscored the A’s 17-15 though five games in their series, all it says is that it was just barely enough.
The thing is, barely enough isn’t necessarily going to cut it in a seven-game series.
Sure, the Tigers will always have a chance behind the brilliance of pitchers like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but one look at the former’s 4.32 ERA through four starts in the ALCS, and maybe he’s not such a sure thing anymore. Jim Leyland is right that a core like Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez can go off any time, but when?
If they couldn’t get it done in the ALDS, why expect that it’ll suddenly turn around? What if that home run in Game 5 is Cabrera’s only shot in the postseason?
Detroit is finding themselves playing a pitch-first, grind-it-out type of baseball as a result of their ailing centerpiece, and the fact is that it’s just not their style. They were held to three runs or less in four of the five games against Oakland, and as the Red Sox averaged 6.5, that’s just not going to be enough.
So yes, there is no doubt they were on a high, having just conquered a familiar foe in the ALDS once again; but in the process, they’ve demonstrated that without a fully healthy Miggy, any team is going to be able to slug with them, and that a team who scored barely three runs a game almost took the series.
They say pitching ultimately wins championships, but the Tigers need to look no further than Game 2 and ask Verlander how not being able to score a run worked out for them.
Oh, and that’s not to mention the high-wire act that was Joqauin Benoit.
While they will be able to match the Red Sox’ pitching in the ALCS, the Tigers will go in to the series with the biggest disadvantage — that their best player is now pedestrian while hobbled by injury, and that their offense is out of sync as a result. They always have a chance, but instead of being able to legitimately say that can match up offensively, their hope boils down to relying on the proverbial big hit and hoping that it’ll be just enough.
And you know the thing about big hits? They don’t really come around too often.