Play moves to Detroit as Tigers try to avoid three game hole
This postseason, the San Francisco Giants have proven just about everything. They’ve won with the long ball and the small ball. They’ve blown out their opponents and they’ve treaded through nail biters. They’re also resilient, overcoming Cincinnati down 0-2 in the series, and St. Louis down 1-3. On the brink of elimination, they play even better.
Which begs the now relevant question, what do they do with a series lead? The only time they’ve led a series was their first win over the Cardinals in the NLCS. From then on, it has always been an uphill battle, trying to tie a series or at least keep some hope alive. Now, with a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Tigers, they’re in unfamiliar territory, and head to Detroit confident, but aware of their new challenge.
Conversely, the Tigers have never trailed in a series, but are just as excited to come home, where they haven’t lost a game during the playoffs. The Comerica confines have only seen opponents tally seven runs total in the four matchups it’s hosted. The Yankees’ anemic offense may be partly responsible for those numbers, but equal credit must be given to Tiger pitching. Entering the World Series, the rotation boasted a 1.02 ERA, aided by the dominant work of one Justin Verlander. He was superman, until he faced his Kryptonite, coming not from a bald Lex Luther, but a Giant Panda.
Pablo Sandoval eats Verlander’s fastball up like bamboo, and analogies aside, seems to be the pitcher’s Achilles’ heel. After the All-Star Game bases-loaded triple in July, which effectively gave the National league home-field advantage, Sandoval’s three home run performance (two off Verlander) made that midsummer-classic fluke feel very relevant. The cape was pulled, the glasses returned, and briefly Detroit fans saw Clark Kent again this postseason.
Doug Fister pitched into the seventh inning on Thursday, but was pulled by manager Jim Leyland after a Hunter Pence seeing-eye single. He would later come to score on a bases loaded double-play ball that the Tiger infield was content to surrender. But for the second consecutive game, their offense, filled with arguably the best 3-4-5 combination in the game, scuffled again, shut out for just the second time this postseason. Maybe, with the DH rule coming back into effect, the offense will find their rhythm, as Andy Dirks replenishes left field and Delmon Young thinks about hitting and hitting only.
It’s possible, but the odds are against them. Out of the 52 times that a team has swept the first two games, 41 have gone on to win the series. Out of those 11 to battle back, the most recent were the Yankees in 1996, who stormed back over Atlanta and the 1986 Mets, thanks in part to a Bill Buckner mishap at first. Detroit might not want to rely on a play like that, but the way San Francisco has executed so far, they may need to.
Aside from getting offense in all shapes and forms, including the resurgent Marco Scutaro, so far the rotation and bullpen feel much like it did during their 2010 championship run. Substitute Barry Zito into the rotation and character Sergio Romo (with his own unique beard) into the closer’s role, and the pitching staff has only allowed four runs in their last five games, three of which came in Game One of the World Series when the game was already well under control. Romo has also quelled any doubts about his new bullpen mentality in the pressure cooker role, carrying a 1.04 ERA this postseason and looking unhittable in Thursday’s Game 2 performance, which earned him a save.
Tonight, The Tigers throw Anibal Sanchez to the hill to oppose the Giant’s Ryan Vogelsong, both of whom have become reliable options this postseason. Sanchez is coming off seven innings of three hit shutout baseball that came against the Yankees. Vogelsong has been just as dominant, cruising through the NLCS with a 1.29 ERA and pitching seven innings in both of his outings. The product from Kutztown University has had a pinball-like career, but he has settled nicely into the starter’s role this year, especially this postseason, while Tim Lincecum figures things out in the bullpen.
In his two starts against the Giants, Sanchez went 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA, but his familiarity with National League hitters is still high after being acquired from the Miami Marlins at the trading deadline. But this arguably is the most pressure-filled game he’s had to throw in. The Tigers cannot afford to fall behind 3-0 in the series, and for their offense to get hot again, they will have to fight the brisk chill swirling around Detroit. Game time temperatures expect to be below 50 degrees and will drop to the low 40s by night’s end.
Bottom Line: Vogelsong attained a 3.87 ERA away from AT&T Park this year. The DH will help the Tigers defensively and let Delmon Young settle back into his more comfortable role, but Omar Infante and Austin Jackson will need to get on base if the Tigers want to rediscover their explosive offense. The Giants just need to keep playing the same game they do by the Bay. If they do, it will be a dagger to Detroit and an almost insurmountable pit from which to climb.