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October 21, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Six Recap: Red Sox 5, Tigers 2

by Zachary Levine

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In the end, they all became true Tigers.

Jose Veras was good enough in his limited closing opportunities on a terrible team to write his ticket out of Houston, and hadn’t allowed a home run to a right-handed hitter since joining the Tigers. In the end, he was a member of the Tigers bullpen, and this is what the Tigers bullpen does.

Then there was Jose Iglesias, defensive wonder. He’d been a staple of the highlight shows as recently as one game ago. But in the end, he was a body playing defense for the Tigers and this is what the Tigers defense does.

Even if some new names were involved, the Tigers were let down by exactly what we always knew could hold them back as the Red Sox finished them off in Game 6 of the ALCS. Shane Victorino’s righty-on-righty grand slam on an 0-2 pitch was the deciding blow in a 5-2 game, but as the Red Sox party on to the World Series, Detroit will realize that it got to that point of elimination thanks to some familiar weaknesses.

The bullpen was about as anticipated, but if the rest of the problems can be summarized, it would go like this: The Tigers were terrible from the moment the ball hit the bat.

They were statistically by far the worst baserunning team in baseball, and that came back to kill them in their only productive inning when Prince Fielder’s beached whale routine kept them from adding on when the Red Sox could barely get one out on their own.

The next inning, Austin Jackson was picked off first base, watching from the dugout as the next two hitters reached base and the Tigers couldn’t plate an insurance run.

The Tigers were the fourth-worst defensive team in baseball as well, and we’ve seen examples of that all week, culminating in the seventh inning of Game 6.

There will be plenty of time to discuss the Red Sox and how they match up with the Cardinals in a rematch of the 1946, 1967, and 2004 World Series. They are not free of questions after tonight.

In particular, there’s Clay Buchholz, who has struggled as the games get later. Pitching worse the third time through the order is extremely common, but Buchholz wasn’t like that all year. He gave up four runs in the sixth and final inning of his Game 2 start, and he seemed exhausted in the sixth Saturday night. Buchholz, who averages 92.7 mph on his fastball, threw four four-seamers in that inning: 89, 89, 89, 88, and he was done.

Buchholz has averaged 95 pitches in his six starts after coming back from the disabled list. On Saturday, he threw only 85, and he sputtered to that point. One has to wonder whether Boston can piggyback him with Ryan Dempster and maybe have him throw only 60 pitches in Game 3 (though Game 4 might not be the worst idea).

Then there’s how to get Xander Bogaerts to take the place of Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew in the lineup. Bogaerts had three doubles and three walks in nine plate appearances this series, while the left-side regulars went a combined 2-for-30. And his take of an oh-so-close pitch in the seventh was among the plays that set up Victorino; that one put two men on with one out. As for whether the call was correct or not, well…see pitch six.

Bogaerts said in the moments just after the game that he had already gone and looked at the pitch on video. He called it in perfect ballplayer-speak “a good pitch.”

That was Scherzer’s last batter. The rest was all the Tigers being the Tigers.

The Iglesias misplay came next, and not only was it a missed opportunity to get one out, but Jim Leyland thinks it might have been a chance to get two.

“I think we could have,” Leyland said. “Probably could have turned two even though Ellsbury runs good. But that’s part of the game.”

It’s a part of the game he’s seen way too much, as was what happened next to an 0-2 curveball that effectively sunk them.

The Tigers’ strengths are maybe as strong as those of any other team. Their starting pitching is the best in baseball and proved it in defeat. They strike batters out to take some of the burden off that defense. They hit balls over the fence and stay off the bases.

But eventually the ball goes into play. And when it was out there on the diamond—no matter which team was running the bases and which team was on defense—the 2013 Tigers were always outclassed.

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

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Boston Red Sox,  ALCS,  Detroit Tigers,  Postseason

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Playoff Prospectus: NL... (10/21)
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Playoff Prospectus: NL... (10/21)
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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wo... (10/23)
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