Tigers remaining confident despite 2-0 World Series deficit
SAN FRANCISCO -- Stationed in unfamiliar territory -- the outfield -- Delmon Young played his position conservatively, standing just shy of the left-field warning track, his back seemingly against the wall.
And while that's a fitting metaphor for the state of the Tigers, who trail the Giants 2--0 in the World Series, it's not an altogether helpful spot for a fielder to stand.
Then again, Young logged just 11 complete games in Detroit's outfield this season and hadn't started there in six weeks before playing in a National League park necessitated such a maneuver to keep his bat in the lineup.
As the series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Saturday, the Tigers can be grateful that they are returning home, both for its own sake and for the fact it can field a normal, AL-friendly lineup (with Young retreating to the more familiar terrain of the dugout, for instance, from which he can manage his designated hitter duties just fine).
But the shift home probably isn't the most important factor in the Tigers' chances for a comeback -- which, if history is any indication, are not great. The last eight teams with a 2-0 lead went on to win the World Series, as did 14 of the last 15 -- the 1996 Braves were the lone exception -- and 41 out of 52 overall, a 79 percent conversion rate.
"You're not going to see anybody hanging their head," ace Justin Verlander said. "No one thinks were out of this. We've been playing must-win games for the better part of two months now."
The Tigers' woes in the first two games of the World Series weren't just a matter of playing away from home or without a DH but also the pitchers they were facing.
Despite fielding a World Series lineup with four right-handed hitters who averaged 23 homers this season, Detroit actually hits righties much better, with the majors' third-best success against right-handed pitching (.771 OPS) and only a 14th-place ranking against left-handers (.724).
So, yes, the Tigers blew an opportunity to win either of the first two games in which they had a perceived pitching advantage with Verlander and Doug Fister opposing San Francisco lefties Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner. Now they must face the Giants' hottest pitcher, Ryan Vogelsong, and their most accomplished pitcher, Matt Cain, but at least those two are both right-handed. (Detroit will pitch Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, who both pitched better at home this season and have allowed a combined three earned runs this postseason in 24 1/3 innings for a not-too-shabby 1.11 ERA.)
The Tigers' heretofore quiet sluggers, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, have batted a combined 20-for-89 (.225) with just two homers this postseason and are 2-for-11 with two walks and a hit by pitch in this World Series. But they thrive on right-handed pitchers and ranked second and third in the AL this season against them, each with an OPS over 1.000.
Also, the reinstatement of the DH and the chance to face a righty pitcher puts Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry in the corner outfield spots, improving the defense and offense indisputably.
"We have a really good hitter in Andy Dirks, and he hasn't started two games," catcher Gerald Laird said.
Indeed, playing in an AL park isn't so much about the actual production from the DH -- the Tigers received the AL's second-fewest home runs (16) and the third-worst OPS (.687) from that lineup slot during the regular season -- as it is about the restoration of Dirks into the everyday outfield.
Dirks batted .336 with a .889 OPS against right-handed pitching this year; the latter figure ranked 15th among all major league hitters with 250 plate appearances against righties. Berry, who often bats second, had a .351 on-base percentage against right-handers.
And, of course, the Tigers aren't just returning to any old AL stadium but to Comerica Park, where they won 50 of their 81 games. They played 19 three-game home series, sweeping six of them, winning two of three seven times, losing two of three five times and getting swept once. Replicating either of the latter two scenarios means losing the two games that would end the series.
One would also presume that with each game the Tigers might shake off a little bit of the rust that accrued between the end of their four-game series with the Yankees last Thursday and the five days off before beginning the World Series, making them unwitting victims of their own success.
"I can't say 'tough luck,'" Verlander said. "We swept [New York], you know?"
Baseball is a sport of routine and consistency, now in its ninth month when counting spring training and the postseason. That's three-quarters of a year in which the players almost never have more than one day off at a time. The exceptions? After the All-Star break, before the start of the playoffs and any intermittent gaps between postseason series.
The Tigers won eight out of their first 10 after the All-Star break and won the first two games of the ALDS, so it's not like they've previously struggled after time off. But, as catcher Gerald Laird noted, they faced two crafty, softer throwers in the first two games of the World Series, and against those pitchers it can be harder to regain one's timing.
"I'm certainly not going to sit up here and rip my offense because [in Game 1] I thought we had some pretty good swings," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "Cabrera hit a bullet [in Game 2]. I think our offense is fine. I tip my hat to [the Giants] a little bit and we've got to do a little bit better offensively, but no, our offense is fine."
The players, too, are confident that they will send the Series back to San Francisco. "We know we've got two tough right-handers we're going to face from them, but I like the guys that we're sending out there," said Laird. "Anibal is pitching the best he's pitched all year. Scherzer's pitching really, really well. And then we've got the best pitcher in the game going third.
"If we can get Game 3 and then get the game to Scherzer and Verlander, I like our chances to do what we can do at home and come back here [up] 3-games-to-2."