Wednesday night was a wild one in the divisional series matchups and the Detroit Tigers got caught up in the middle of it. Up 3-1 heading into the bottom of the 9th, the Tigers brought on their embattled closer Jose Valverde who gave the game away with rapid disgrace. Jose coughed up 3 runs with the final blow coming on a Coco Crisp single to right to score the game-winner.
Max Scherzer deserved better. He didn’t allow an earned run through 5.1 innings and struck out 8. He did what we thought he would. The bullpen even stepped up initially navigating the rest of the 6th inning and then the 7th and 8th in scoreless fashion. And then the meltdown occurred.
A’s closer Grant Balfour claimed ownership of this quote as Valverde took the mound: “No disrespect to anyone, but we’re going to rock this guy’s world tonight.” He’s really become that predictable.
Can Justin Verlander dominate the A’s one more time?
From my perspective, it’s actually hard to truly hate Valverde for this. The guy is doing the best that he can with what he has. The problem is quite simple – he isn’t good anymore. He lives on a 92-94 MPH fastball and basically nothing else, aside from the occasional hanging split-fingered fastball. If he isn’t laser sharp with his command he gets roughed up. Last night he found the middle of the dish far too often and got burned. No deception or overpowering stuff from a closer is trouble. Valverde has neither.
The Tigers as an organization committed last season to Valverde knowing full well that his skills were eroding. That became even more evident as the season progressed but the team never wavered from using him as the closer. And now it just might cost the Tigers their postseason.
As quickly as the Avisail Garcia 8th inning single that put the Tigers up 2 restored hopes that Detroit would clinch the series, it was taken away with a series of bullets off the bats of the A’s.
And now the attention turns to the shouldn’t-have-happened Game 5. Detroit fans will say with pride today: “We’re fine, we have Justin Verlander starting.” Oakland’s rowdy (and awesome) fans will laugh and say: “Who cares, we’ll find a way to win anyhow.”
And they just might. For the Tigers there is obviously no other pitcher in baseball that they’d rather have on the mound tonight. True, they would have preferred to have had him on the mound for Game 1 of the ALCS, but here we are.
The game time is set for 9:37 eastern again and Verlander will be opposed by A’s rookie Jarrod Parker in a rematch of Game 1. Both Parker and Verlander were outstanding last Saturday but the 11 K’s and dominant middle innings stretch by Verlander proved to be the difference.
JV went 7 innings and allowed just 3 hits but 4 walks and just one lonely run on a leadoff homer by Crisp. Parker lasted 6.1 innings. He allowed 7 hits and a walk to go along with 3 runs (2 earned). Alex Avila hit an opposite field solo homer against him in the 5th inning of that game.
The lineups won’t change tonight but the stakes will. Win and set sights on New York or Baltimore. Lose and set sights on an island in the Caribbean. Both sound nice, but only one option is acceptable for the Tigers.
Emotions will be through the roof tonight. The stadium in Oakland has been absolutely rocking these past two games. It’s really been something to see. I guess when your local fans rest at home for the 81 regular season games they have all kinds of gas left in the tank come the postseason.
Nobody knows how this thing will shake out. We do know that Verlander has been terrific against Oakland this year. He is 3-0 against the A’s in 2012 with 24 K’s in 20 innings of work. He’s allowed only 10 hits to their strikeout happy offense.
Pitch count will be the buzzword tonight. If Verlander can go the distance you just have to like the Tigers’ chances. If Oakland battles him hard and drives up the effort level early in the game, Detroit will once again be left to the devices of their shaky pen.
In my series preview I mentioned that if the series became a battle of the bullpens then the Tigers would be in deep trouble. They somehow won in that situation at Comerica Park but they got roasted last night, as predicted.
Detroit has only scored 3 runs thus far against Oakland on the road in this series. That too must change. It is probably time for Miguel Cabrera to have a breakout game and swat a few homers just to make sure Verlander has enough support.
This series has become one for the ages so far. Game 5 promises to be more of the same.