Given that all three games of the 2013 ALCS thus far have been decided by one run, it’d be reasonable for Jim Leyland and co. to think that they’re in the middle of a dogfight, and that a swing here and a pitch there would have maybe even put them up 3-0 in the series in the this point. But results don’t care for what-ifs, and in a battle of inches between two juggernaut teams, the Tigers are losing in exactly those inches.
Don’t just take my word for it, though — just ask Justin Verlander.
Yes, the scores will say that games are close, but fans who witnessed the drama have undoubtedly noted a couple of things: Detroit’s bullpen is making a difference in the worst kind of way, and the team isn’t scoring enough runs. The former was widely expected even before they went into the playoffs, but the latter must be frustrating for Tigers fans, especially given that they’ve out-hit the Red Sox 23-14, doing so in every single game of the series thus far.
Some of that is luck, and some of that is the difficult-to-quantify quality we call clutch; but when the sample size is so small and the differences so minute, anything that gives the team an edge can be a major difference-maker.
In this case, one only has to look at the Detroit lineup and how the middle of the order has let the team down. Ailing all-world superstar Miguel Cabrera owns a .182/.250/.455 triple-slash with just two hits in the series thus far (though one was a homer), while $214 million man Prince Fielder hasn’t homered at all or driven in a single run in these playoffs, posting a .748 OPS through 13 PA in the ALCS.
But good ol’ Victor Martinez? Oh he’s practically at his best yet, following a stellar 1.150 OPS showing in the ALDS with a .962 ALCS through 12 PA thus far … with only one run batted in.
RBI is a lineup dependent stat, of course, and in this case, you could argue that V-Mart is simply not being put in the best situation to take advantage of his current form. And really, outside of maintaining continuity for the sake of doing it, is there a good reason not to at this point?
Imagine, for a moment, if it was Martinez who batted at Cabrera’s no. 3 spot in the lineup in Game 3. Not only would the Tigers have gotten a 2-for-4 performance as opposed to an 0-fer, but the Tigers may well have ended up playing in extras assuming that Martinez would have been able to single home at least Austin Jackson in the crucial first-and-third in the eighth (he did so in his last two at-bats).
In short, it would have been a difference-maker, even if it would only given the team a chance to extend the game.
While there’s no doubt that Cabrera has that ability dormant in him, the fact that he probably shouldn’t be playing baseball at all means he’s no longer the team’s biggest weapon in the playoffs. That man is Martinez at least for the moment, and even if hindsight is 20/20, the Tigers have had the entire postseason to see that his current streak means that even one extra at-bat can be a game-changer.
Right now, he’s just not getting that extra opportunity at the no. 5 spot.
No, Leyland isn’t going to even consider taking his star slugger — however hobbled — out of the no. 3 spot, but with their backs being potentially pushed against the wall with one more loss, it’s at least an intriguing possibility to consider, no?