October 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers still have edge in series, though lineup shuffling might be in order

Detroit Ė Dissecting whatís gone down through two fantastic games between the Tigers and Aís in the American League Division Series:

News: The Tigers continue to not hit a bit, scoring all of three runs in Oakland Ė and going scoreless in their last 17 innings.

Views: Yes. But lost in all this talk is this fact: The Aís arenít hitting either. They also have scored exactly three runs through two games, and have three fewer hits.

Itís proving what so many said before this series: These teams are as evenly matched as can be Ė which should make this the best first-round series this postseason.

Both teams have phenomenal starting pitching, which always is going to get the edge over dangerous hitting. Always. Max Scherzer and Bartolo Colon made maybe five total mistake pitches in Game 1, and Justin Verlander and young Sonny Gray waged a battle for the ages in Game 2 Ė neither allowing a run, while striking out 20 between them.

The Aís finally got to the Tigers where they are weakest, in the bullpen, late Friday night when Al Alburquerque struggled in his second inning of work, and Rick Porcello couldnít get the ground ball he needed to get out of a ninth-inning jam.

And so the series is tied, probably as it should be, ahead of shifting to Detroit for Game 3 at 1:07 p.m. Monday.

But the Tigers still have the advantage in this series, as they now, essentially, have home-field advantage. They also have Anibal Sanchez, the leagueís ERA leader, starting next, and letís not forget how brilliant he was in last yearís playoff run.

The Aís will counter with right-hander Jarrod Parker, who the Tigers saddled with two losses in last yearís Division Series Ė and who was pummeled by Detroit back in April. Heís not a dominant pitcher like Gray; the Tigers will put the ball in play. And thatís a start in turning things around on offense.

News: Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson and Jose Iglesias have four hits between them Ė just one apiece.

Views: Itís disturbing, to be sure, especially when it was clear from the start that somebody would have to step up with some thump in the absence of Miguel Cabrera Ė who, yes, remains in the lineup, but is a shell of the guy who next month will be announced as a repeat Most Valuable Player winner.

Itís why I suspect Jim Leyland is thinking long and hard about his Game 3 lineup. This, everybody knows, is the most-pivotal game in the series Ė the team that wins is, by far, the higher-percentage bet to move on to the AL Championship Series.

So donít be surprised if Jhonny Peralta gets his first start in the series, and donít be surprised if itís at shortstop.

Iglesias isnít a threat on offense right now. At all. Heís barely a threat to get the ball out of the infield.

Putting Peralta at short Ė a scenario Leyland hasnít ruled out, by the way Ė would allow the Tigers to play Andy Dirks in left. And while Dirks has had his ups and downs, too, most would agree a lineup with those two is better than one without.

Neither started in Game 2, and Don Kelly did have two singles in his three at-bats. But heís not typically gonna give you many extra-base hits, and thatís what the Tigers have really been lacking during this stunning down-the-stretch shutdown. They havenít had any extra-base hits since the first inning of Game 1, and havenít homered since Sept. 24.

News: Fielder, again, is doing his disappearing act in the postseason.

Views: Folks can talk all they want about Cabrera, and how itís his injury that could prevent this team from its ultimate goal: winning a world championship.

But thereís enough fire power throughout the rest of this lineup to make that a moot point, and it starts with the $214 million man, Fielder.

The Tigers can get by with one half of the dynamic duo missing, but certainly not both. Yet, Fielder is off to another rough start in the playoffs, with just a single in eight at-bats. With a chance to break Game 1 open in the first inning, he grounded into a double play Ė which, granted, did at least get one run home.

But Fielder hasnít had a playoff extra-base hit since last yearís ALDS against Oakland, and heís now down to a .167 average in four playoff series with Detroit.

Thatís on par with his career postseason average (.179). With Milwaukee, though, at least he had eight extra-base hits in three playoff series. With Detroit, he has one in four.

Mike Ilitch brought him aboard two winters ago with the hopes that, by 2013 when Victor Martinez returned from injury, he would help bring him that elusive World Series ring.

Instead, with just one single to show for 14 World Series at-bats last autumn and another rough showing so far this year, Fielder looks more like the missing link than the final piece to the puzzle.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

From left, Jose Iglesias, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Omar Imfante wait during a pitching change Saturday night. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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