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October 13, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game One Recap: Tigers 1, Red Sox 0

by Zachary Levine

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In so many ways, what the Tigers did to the powerful Red Sox offense in holding them hitless for 8 1/3 innings of a 1-0 victory in Game One of the ALCS was exactly what the Tigers did all season.

It’s fitting that this team should hold at least a tie for the record with 17 strikeouts of Red Sox hitters in a nine-inning game that lasted a magnificent 3 hours and 56 minutes. As strikeouts hit their apex (or maybe not their apex, which is the scary part), the Tigers staff is at the forefront of the trend. And Anibal Sanchez, who struck out 17 on his own once this year, is a large reason why.

Sanchez pitched the first six innings, striking out 12, walking six, and coming out of the game after needing 116 pitches to get through those first six no-hit innings. Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras and Drew Smyly took it from there until Daniel Nava ended the Tigers’ bid for the third ever playoff no-hitter with a one-out single on the seventh pitch of his at-bat against Joaquin Benoit.

Tigers pitching recorded 49 strikeouts more than the second-place team in baseball (Cleveland), which manager Jim Leyland called “a Catch-22.”

“It’s not so valuable because you don’t get a lot of quick outs so pitch count goes up,” Leyland said of his team’s high-strikeout ways, which also mitigate the effects of a very poor defensive team. “But when you get in a jam they have the capability of striking somebody out.”

The problem part of this, however, hasn’t generally been a problem for the Tigers. In part because of the fact that—to put this scientifically—they’re really good, Tigers starters threw the most innings of any starting staff this year. The difference between their starters’ innings total and that of the no. 2 team—the Royals—was bigger than the difference between the no. 2 and no. 9 staffs in the American League.

They’ve generally survived the high pitch counts that result from the true outcomes by avoiding that other outcome. The difference here was the walks. Sanchez was wild. In addition to the six walks, don’t forget the strikeout/wild pitch that helped Sanchez become the first pitcher in Tigers history to strike out four in an inning and only the second player on any team ever to do it in the postseason.

The whole game had sort of a strange feeling to it. No-hitters, which have been pulled off in the playoffs only by Don Larsen and Roy Halladay, are supposed to be celebrations of a pitcher’s brilliance. This one felt—given that the entire press box spent most of the game on Baseball-Reference Play Index—a celebration of trivia. Whether it was the strikeout record, the two 1-0 playoff games on the same day (a first), Sanchez’s 12 strikeouts and six walks (a first since Randy Johnson or in the playoffs, Walter Johnson) or just combined no-hitters in general, we were witnessing history that we kept looking up.

The Tigers won because of their pitching, though, and in the end, that really is the Detroit way of doing things.

Some other notes:

  • Speaking of the Tigers way, they were terrible on the bases, just like they usually are. Miguel Cabrera could barely jog. The first inning saw him bounce a ball off the Monster, have it misplayed by Nava, then watch Prince Fielder smack one to center and have that one misplayed by Jacoby Ellsbury. At the end of that whole sequence, Cabrera was on second base. Then in the fifth, Jhonny Peralta was caught off second on a grounder to first, and there was also a baserunner cut down at the plate, though that was nobody’s fault.

    Funny enough, though, they scored their only run because of a play on the bases that went their way. Victor Martinez beat (by a fraction of a step) a relay throw on a potential double play to keep the top of the sixth inning alive for Peralta to single home the game’s only run.

  • The umpiring was much better than the Red Sox made it seem. Martinez was indeed safe, and the ball-strike calls that they argued all night were mostly correct.

    Dan Brooks of Brooks Baseball tweeted the grave exception to Joe West’s mostly decent night behind the plate, a potential ball four called a strike (pitch five) in an at-bat that would end with a swinging strike on pitch six.


    But for a game that had the Red Sox barking all day, West and his associates at first and third on a night of many check swings were mostly proven to be correct on replays.

  • Leyland explained his reasoning for taking Miguel Cabrera out of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning and replacing him with Ramon Santiago as part of a double-switch that landed Don Kelly in left and in a spot in the order that came up with two men on.

    It’s a decision that Leyland could face any inning with the hobbled Cabrera, but he reluctantly decided to go with it when he did because of the part of the Red Sox order that was up.

    “I wasn’t comfortable doing that, particularly in this ballpark with a 1-0 lead,” Leyland said. “I think the biggest key in that situation was the two guys they had coming up to lead off that inning were (Shane) Victorino and (Dustin) Pedroia. Both are excellent baseball players, both smart. Victorino could have dropped a bunt down on Miggy. Pedroia could have dropped a bunt down on Miggy. We felt like it was the best way to go.”

    The Red Sox had plenty of chances to drop a bunt down over the first seven innings and never found any success doing it. Victorino, batting right-handed against Sanchez as he does these days in all at-bats, pushed one to the first-base side toward another bad infielder in Fielder, but that was about it.

    “We’re looking to get on base any way we can,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, expressing no regrets. “And by virtue of the deep counts we drew a decent number of walks to put some men on base. But I can’t say that we missed opportunities by (not) making him move any more than we did.”

  • For somebody who did not play, Jonny Gomes managed to have a big impact on the game. His presence was pretty much the only thing keeping Sanchez in the game through the entirety of a 28-pitch sixth inning that featured three walks.

    Had Leyland gone with Drew Smyly to turn around Daniel Nava and/or face the left-handed-hitting Stephen Drew with two outs, he felt Farrell would have countered with Gomes. Instead, Sanchez walked Nava and used a slider on pitch 116 to strike out Drew and set up a playoff-caliber 720-degree fist pump.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

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