Miguel Cabrera, here striking out with two runs aboard in the eighth inning of Game 3, is 2-for-11 in the ALCS. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — To a man, from the top on down, the Tigers answer the persistent the same exact way, almost as if they’d been handed talking points.
Question: Guys, why the cold bats?
Answer: It’s pitching, man!
And there’s plenty to be said for that. Teams that make the playoffs, particularly the later rounds, all feature good pitching staffs. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. Just consider this: The Tigers have nine extra-base hits, a .225 batting average and a .295 on-base percentage – and, in those categories, no ballclub is better among the four remaining teams.
“Runs are pretty stingy,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose team, in this American League Championship Series against the Red Sox has been on the good end and the bad end of 1-0 games. “This is what it’s about in postseason, good pitching.”
Here are the complete offensive numbers from this round of the playoffs, through three games in the AL and four games in the National League:
■ Tigers: Six runs, 23 hits, nine extra-base hits, two homers, seven walks, 25 strikeouts, .225 average, .295 on-base.
■ Red Sox: Seven runs, 12 hits, four extra-base hits, two homers, 10 walks, 43 strikeouts, .133 average, .228 on-base.
■ Cardinals: Eight runs, 19 hits, six extra-base hits, two homers, 13 walks, 35 strikeouts, .148 average, .231 on-base.
■ Dodgers: Seven runs, 31 hits, nine extra-base hits, no homers, 10 walks, 36 strikeouts, .223 average, .280 on-base.
And three of these teams — Red Sox, Tigers and Cardinals —were 1, 2 and 3 in runs scored in the major leagues this season.
“This time of year, a good pitcher that knows how to pitch will be able to shut down a good offense,” Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. “And it happens to every good offense.
“But at the same time, where experience comes in as far as being a good hitter, when he does make a mistake, and you have that opportunity, take advantage of it.”
And that, folks, is where the Tigers have come up short — and, thus, trail 2-1 to the Red Sox, with Game 4 set for 8:07 tonight at Comerica Park.
The Tigers had ample opportunities to get on the board in Game 3, particularly early, and particularly against the supremely hittable John Lackey, who certainly wasn’t throwing 98, 99 or anything close — and, apparently, wasn’t opposed to hanging a curve or five.
But Omar Infante, with big runners on, was completely overanxious and swung at a couple Lackey breaking balls in the opposite batter’s box, only fouled off the two hangers he got, and eventually struck out. Miguel Cabrera, facing Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa with a runner on third and one out, got an unthinkable four consecutive fastballs and swung through three of them — with three of the worst swings you’ll ever see from him, by the way — including two well out of the zone.
Prince Fielder had a single early in the game, but on Lackey hanger — which is a pitch Fielder should be doing more damage with. Then, later, against Koji Uehara, Fielder missed his cookie fastball, then whiffed on a nasty splitter.
Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball, and Fielder is paid like one. They should be able to destroy pitchers’ mistakes, and at get a least a piece of pitchers’ best. But they are 5-for-22 this series, and are batting a combined .250 this postseason. Fielder remains RBI-less.
“Gotta swing at better pitches,” Cabrera said afterward, in one of the few comments where a Tiger actually took some blame.
It was refreshing, to be sure.
After all, there’s only so much you can tip your cap to the opposition — especially when the opposition, Lackey in particular, gave you a chance. Odds are, Jake Peavy — a pitcher the Tigers are most familiar with, from all his time with the AL Central-rival White Sox — will allow them a shot, too, in Game 4.
Maybe somebody, anybody, finally will step up. Or, given what we've seen, maybe not.
But if not, it won’t — it can’t — be all on the pitcher. As convenient as it is to say otherwise.