Playoff games preview: October 13
Following their 11-inning loss on Wednesday night, the Tigers are the first team in this year's League Championship Series to face elimination. On Thursday afternoon, they'll send Justin Verlander to the Comerica Park mound to try to stave off the gloomy history of teams that have fallen behind 3-games-to-1 in a best-of-seven series.
Since the best-of-seven LCS was introduced in 1985, this is the 17th time (and fifth straight year) an AL team has gone down 3-games-to-1. Only five of the previous 16 managed to force a Game 7 but four who did -- the 1985 Royals and the Red Sox of 1986, 2004 (who were down 3-0) and 2007 -- came back to win the series. Of that quartet, only the '85 Royals and '04 Red Sox were able to do what the Tigers are hoping to accomplish: win Game 5 at home and then Games 6 and 7 on the road.
The history is even worse in the National League, where the Brewers will try to avoid falling into a similar 3-1 canyon against the Cardinals tonight in St. Louis. Fourteen previous teams were behind 3-1 heading into NLCS Game 4. Only three forced a Game 7 and just two -- the 1996 Braves and the 2003 Marlins -- won the series. In Milwaukee's case, they would at least be able to head back to Miller Park, where they had the best home record in baseball.
Overall, between the LCS and World Series, there have been 72 best-of-seven series that started 3-1 and the trailing team came back to win just eight of those, or 11 percent.
• If the Tigers could choose one pitcher to save their season, it would surely be Verlander, who should be the unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young this season. However, over his last 20 innings pitched, Verlander has allowed 13 runs, which works out to 5.85 ERA. Rain has hindered him somewhat, as his Game 1 start in the Division Series ended after just one inning due to a rain suspension, and his Game 1 start in this series ended after just four innings due to a rain delay, but Verlander still gave up four runs in those five innings, four in his Game 3 start in the Division Series and five against the lowly Orioles in his final start of the regular season.
It could well be that he's winded. Verlander threw a major league leading 251 innings during the regular season, 11 more than his career high set in 2009, and 27 more than in 2010, and with his postseason work included he's now up to 264 innings. Verlander stumbled a bit down the stretch in '09, too, posting a 4.62 ERA in his final five starts of that season. Verlander didn't have a single-1-2-3 inning in Game 1 against the Rangers and the big hits off him were a David Murphy triple and a Nelson Cruz home run.
• Cruz is the one Texas batter the Tigers can't let beat them in Game 5. Cruz had actually gone 0-for-his-last-6 before his three-run home run in the 11th inning of Game 4, but he's still hitting .357/.438/1.286 on the series (5-for-14 with four home runs and a double) and became the first player ever to hit two extra-inning home runs in the same series with his shot Wednesday night. He is the only Ranger to homer thus far in this series, and is also the only Ranger to start each of the first four games and post an OPS above .722. That makes it all the more perplexing that, in the 11th inning of Game 4, Tigers manager Jim Leyland ordered an intentional walk of Adrian Beltre, who leads the Rangers in strikeouts in this series, thereby guaranteeing Cruz an at-bat in that inning.
• C.J. Wilson's basic stats for the 2011 postseason above look worse than Verlander's, but he didn't give up a run in Game 1 of this series until a rain-delay interrupted his work in the fifth inning. Wilson worked out of a couple of jams in the first two innings of that game, then retired eight in a row before giving up a leadoff double to Ramon Santiago in the fifth. After Wilson got Brandon Inge to groundout for the first out, the rain caused a delay, and when Wilson returned he was clearly off his game, giving up an RBI double, two walks, and another run on a wild pitch before another rain delay ended his night.
• During the regular season, Wilson, as is common for Rangers pitchers forced to work their home games in the launching pad that is their home ballpark in Arlington, was far better on the road. He posted an ERA that was a run and a third lower than his home mark and allowed just six home runs in 121 innings, less than half the league average rate and almost exactly his own home rate. Wilson had three complete games on the season, one of them a shutout, and all three came on the road. That said, his only start against the Tigers during the regular season came in Detroit back in April and saw him allow four runs in 6 2/3 innings.
• Despite injury concerns, Delmon Young, Victor Martinez and Beltre all played their customary positions in Game 4. However Young and Beltre combined to go 0-for-8 with four strikeouts (two each), and Martinez managed only a groundball single in five trips. Young, who strained his left oblique in Game 5 of the Division Series is now 0-for-8 in this series since being activated to replace Magglio Ordoñez.
• Thursday's forecast for Detroit, per Weather.com, includes "a few showers this afternoon" and for tonight "considerable cloudiness with occasional rain showers . . . chance of rain 60 percent."
• The Brewers are in desperate need of a well-pitched game, but Randy Wolf doesn't seem likely to give it to them. Wolf was awful in his Game 4 start in the Division Series. He gave up five runs in the first inning on a pair of home runs, one a grand slam, allowed three of the five men he faced in the scoreless second inning to reach base, gave up another run in the third and was pinch-hit for in the fourth. Altogether 11 of the 19 men he faced reached base, seven of them scored, and he threw just 51 percent of his 81 pitches (in three innings!) for strikes. In his last three starts, Wolf has allowed 17 runs in 14 2/3 innings, which translates to a 10.43 ERA.
• During the regular season, Wolf had an inferior won-loss record and ERA on the road (6-7, 3.81), but his strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate were all better outside of Milwaukee
• Kyle Lohse was a big reason why the Cardinals exceeded expectations this season, as he posted a 3.39 ERA in 188 1/3 innings and the team won 57 percent of his starts. In his Game 1 start in the Division Series against the Phillies, Lohse retired the first 10 men he faced and allowed just one run through five innings before being victimized by the Phillies lefthanded power bats for five runs on a pair of sixth-inning home runs that ended his night.
Lohse wasn't particularly homer-prone during the regular season, however, nor did he struggle with lefties, holding them to a .249/.299/.397 line (righties did even worse). He also handled the Brewers well. Like seemingly every one else he got hit in Milwaukee (four runs in five innings), but in two home starts against the Brewers he allowed just one run in 14 innings, including holding Milwaukee scoreless for six frames while striking out six on September 6. He has held Prince Fielder homerless in 34 confrontations (6-for-26, .231) and has good numbers against most of the Milwaukee bats save for Ryan Braun (9-for-29, .310, with two homers and three doubles) and . . . Craig Counsell (14-for-32, .438/.471/.688).
• Brewers manager Ron Roenicke took a chance on a small-sample split by starting Mark Kotsay against Chris Carpenter in Game 4 and was rewarded with a solo home run, but also punished by Kotsay's first-inning baserunning blunder and his missed catch on an RBI double that the man he replaced in the lineup, Nyjer Morgan, might have made. Morgan's cold bat helped Roenicke make that decision. Don't expect a similar one with Counsell tonight as third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt have both been hot and second baseman Rickie Weeks is too central to the Brewers' attack to bench on a hunch.
• Coming back from a hand injury, the Cardinals' Matt Holliday is 5-for-19 (.263) this postseason with eight strikeouts and no extra-base hits. Albert Pujols is 14-for-31 (.452) with eight extra base hits and just five strikeouts. As a result, the Brewers seem to have decided to stop pitching to Pujols. In Game 3, Roenicke twice ordered Pujols to be intentionally walked (once after his pitcher fell behind the Cardinals slugger 2-0, but the point remains). Both walks came with two outs and a runner on second, and both were followed by inning-ending strikeouts by Holliday. Swapping Holliday and Lance Berkman in the order may not help matters as Berkman is 6-for-28 (.214) with just two extra-base hits, neither of which came in this series.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese, however, is red hot (6-for-12 with two doubles, two homers and just one strikeout in this series) and could be an option. He actually hit fourth three times during the regular season, batting ahead of Berkman on September 18, and hit fifth in most of the games that Holliday missed down the stretch. It's therefore not outlandish to expect Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to move Freese up in the order, particularly against the left-handed Wolf in this game, but it would still be a bold move for La Russa to put the 28-year-old sophomore ahead of his two All-Star middle-of-the-order sluggers, no matter how much either one is slumping.