October 7, 2013 at 1:12 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers turn to Jhonny Peralta's bat at risk of defense

A few things on the Tigersí to-do list, beyond winning a game or two, as the division series today moves to Comerica Park:

Tigers fans wonder if Jhonny Peralta would be a shrewd choice for a malnourished batting order.

This is why baseball is so beautiful and, at the same time, confounding. Most teams want, in order, during a playoff series: good pitching, and good defense. Thatís because they figure a team good enough to have made the postseason has sufficient offense to win as long as the pitchers and fielders do their job.

The Tigers have been a textbook playoff team through two games in that their pitching has been breathtakingly good and their defense has been a plus. That leaves offense. And thatís where the story bogs down.

With so many established hitters in shutdown mode, fans wonder why manager Jim Leyland didnít opt for a proven, extra-base bat in Jhonny Peralta during at least one of those two games in Oakland.

Fair question. With an easy answer. He more likely would have jeopardized the balance between pitching and defense, considering that left field is new to him and his ability to track down fly balls and line drives is, at best, adequate. If you consider the foul fly Don Kelly sprinted and caught in Saturdayís game, as well as the fact Kelly got half of the Tigersí four hits, you begin to appreciate why Justin Verlander was relieved to have Kelly in left.

It doesnít mean you shelve Peralta, who is starting Game 3 today. You use him strategically, which is why today makes sense at Comerica Park, where he has more comfort and a little less foul area to guard than at O.co Coliseum.

Itís real simple. If other healthy Tigers hitters were doing half their jobs, Peralta would not be an issue. His defense could, however, become an issue if you risk the gain of his bat, as the Tigers will do today.

Tigers have only so many options on offense.

It was anticipated heading into this arms-heavy series that the Tigers might need to do one of two things: shake up the batting order, or become more daring on the basepaths. Understanding the first option isnít terribly smart Ė or probably helpful Ė for a team that won 93 games and did just fine until Miguel Cabrera got hurt, that leaves the basepaths.

During Thursdayís news conference, Leyland was asked about becoming more aggressive. I thought the skipper might want to do something to offset Cabreraís bad groin and stifled bat.

He acknowledged as much, saying he ďhad to pick his spots.Ē And that was understandable. He has a lineup half-loaded with slow-footed runners. You canít do much with them. But you can take a shot, as he did Saturday, when he had Omar Infante on third, Jose Iglesias at first, and Austin Jackson at the plate, with one out in the fifth inning.

He made a forward move when he sent Iglesias on 3-and-2. But of all the scenarios that could have been a plus, the Tigers were shot down on both ends when Jackson chased a bad pitch and struck out, and when Iglesias, with a bad jump, was dead at second.

This also is baseball. Or rather, itís baseball when your MVP is hurt and your lineup has collapsed. And youíre trying to launch a counter-punch.

Why good hitters arenít hitting.

Say you were the Chicago Bulls of the early 1990s. Michael Jordan shows up for the playoffs with a bad wrist. He canít shoot. Not from outside. He can do everything else, which is significant, but his 15- to 18-foot jumper is wounded.

What would have happened to the Bulls?

This has been the Tigersí fate with a crippled Cabrera. They are playing at half-strength because of a sore groin that has all but benched him. Why, then, do the Tigers play him? Because he is still Miguel Cabrera. He can still hit the ball, hard, for singles. But his power has been jettisoned by the bad groin.

The double whammy is that now other good hitters in the lineup have added so much pressure to their own at-bats that the Tigers have become a paralyzed team.

Maybe home field and a home crowd changes all of that. A baseball team from Detroit prays so. The new venue needs to restore some old prowess, or this season is adjourned.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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With Don Kelly, here making a catch in foul territory in Game 2, the Tigers have a sure-handed fielder while the outfield is unfamiliar territory for Jhonny Peralta. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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