October 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Tony Paul

News and views: Offensive, defensive woes push Tigers to brink of elimination

Detroit – Taking a quick look back at Game 3 of the American League Division Series, which went the A’s way – in so many ways:

News: The Tigers’ season suddenly, and somewhat surprisingly, is on the brink. A loss Tuesday , and a year that began with World Series aspirations will end 10 wins short.

Views: It’s not necessarily stunning the Tigers are in this position. It was widely known before this series that the A’s match up very well — and let’s face it, in baseball today, there’s no such thing as a certain World Series champion.

The postseason field is 10 teams deep these days, with legit contenders from East (Red Sox) to West (Dodgers) and in between (Tigers).

What is absolutely dumbfounding, however, is the Tigers’ offense going completely AWOL for the second postseason series in a row.

You all remember the debacle that was last year’s World Series.

Well, this ALDS is the second act of that tragedy.

Think about it: In the series, the Tigers have scored six runs on the strength of three extra-base hits — all in two innings, the first inning of Game 1 and the fourth inning of Game 3. And the other 25 innings? Absolutely nothing.

I talked to Torii Hunter after Monday’s loss and asked him if, back in November when he signed with his preferred employer, Detroit, he could’ve imagined this kind of an outage. And he gave me the stock answer: Sometimes you have to credit the pitching.

I’m sorry.

You can tip your cap till your arm falls off for the job young Sonny Gray did Saturday night. That was mighty impressive. But please put the cap back on when talking about Bartolo Colon and Monday’s starter, Jarrod Parker. Those are guys the Tigers have crushed before, and could’ve and should’ve again.

The Tigers, though, let both guys off the hook, with a some poor approaches at the plate. And please don’t blame this all on the health woes of Miguel Cabrera, who, by the way, has been aching since the first week of July.

Austin Jackson has looked lost; Prince Fielder has looked hesitant, though he did have two singles Monday; Hunter, who wants that World Series ring so bad, has looked overanxious; Jose Iglesias squares to bunt so much, you’d think he was a National League pitcher; and Alex Avila, who recently said his legs feel as good as they have in quite some time, is back to not driving the ball.

Maybe some guys are feeling the heat — Avila disputes that; he said players relish being in this situation, in the playoffs — and perhaps others are trying to do too much.

In any event, the offense has been a whopping dud — all this from a team that, would you believe, was outscored only by the Red Sox in 2013.

There’s time, yet, to turn around, but a whole lot less than there was.

News: Some fans want to see lineup changes for Tuesday’s elimination game.

Views: Max Scherzer’s not going to start on three days rest, and manager Jim Leyland’s not going to pull names out of a hat to craft his lineup. It’s not his style, and he confirmed as much after the Game 3 loss.

“There is no tricks,” he said. “There is no different players or no different pitches, anything of that nature.”

I respect Leyland on this front, for this reason: The pressure can be so suffocating, you’re trying to keep the team calm, keep it from panicking like the fans. But by changing the lineup that got you in this position in the first place, you’d be sending the complete opposite message to your team.

Jackson has struggled; would Omar Infante be a better leadoff hitter in Game 4? Cabrera’s power has departed, with his legs; should he be dropped to No. 5 in the order?

We’re not going to find out, and for good reason. How much good did it do the Yankees in 2006 and again last year when they dropped Alex Rodriguez down in the order? These are moves you toy with in May or June, not all of a sudden when the season’s on the line.

If there’s one thing I’d do, it’d be to slot Jhonny Peralta into his old home, shortstop – which Leyland has considered – and use Andy Dirks in left. Peralta had two RBIs on one swing Monday, and Dirks is at least a threat to pop one at Comerica Park. Iglesias’ bat, meanwhile, is at present a big liability.

As for Scherzer being moved up, I understand the sentiment. He’s dominant; Doug Fister pitches more to contact. But let’s not forget Fister’s worth. He’s a cool customer who won’t be overwhelmed by the situation (1.71 ERA in his last five playoff starts).

News: Defense, never the Tigers’ strength, haunted them again.

Views: One of the lowlights wasn’t much of a surprise. In the fourth inning, Peralta definitely looked like an infielder playing outfield.

After Josh Donaldson lofted a fly ball to shallow left, A’s catcher — catcher! — Stephen Vogt took off for home, and made it easily. Peralta’s footwork was all off, and his throw was even worse — on the 45th anniversary, no less, of Willie Horton’s rocket home to catch Lou Brock in the 1968 World Series. The plays share a date, but nothing else.

“Can you ask Jhonny that?” Hunter, smiling, said afterward, when asked to assess Peralta’s throw home.

Peralta, of course, drove in two, and only let in one — that’s a net gain!

And other than that, Peralta played fine out in left, zigging and zagging back to grab a wind-aided ball in the second inning. A couple batters later he humorously even called off Jackson, the outfield captain, on a ball in shallow left-center.

Cabrera, unlike Peralta, isn’t new to his position, yet he made a rookie mistake in the third inning. Anibal Sanchez was threatening to put out another A’s threat, and he got the two-out grounder he needed to do it — a blistered ball hopper off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes to Cabrera at third.

Cabrera, afterward, seemed to gripe about a bad hop, but that’s no excuse for not getting in front of it. Instead, he played it off his side, allowing it to carom into left field, and A’s speedster Coco Crisp scored easily from second.

News: Sanchez got rocked by an A’s team that also teed off on him in August.

Views: You could sense early on that it wasn’t Sanchez’s day. He was pitching in trouble early and often. Six runners reached on Sanchez through three innings, and he got away with several other hittable pitches up in the zone.

Not in the fourth and fifth innings, though — as Josh Reddick, Brandon and Seth Smith all took him deep, including Reddick and Moss to against-the-wind right field. Sanchez allowed just nine homers all season, then three in the span of nine batters Monday.

Leyland probably could’ve pulled him a tad sooner. But he knows what we all know: No disrespect to the bullpen — which, by the way, has done a very commendable job this series — but if the Tigers go to the relievers too early, they’re usually going to be in trouble. So he rolled the dice, and crapped out.

The Tigers definitely needed more from Sanchez, the league’s ERA leader, though, to be fair, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Detroit’s starting pitchers right now.

The offense isn’t clicking, at all, and you could just see from the get-go that Sanchez felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. After a strikeout of Cespedes, he allowed himself one of the most exuberant first-inning first pumps you’ll ever see.

It all but said, “Whew! If I give up one run, we lose.”

In that context, Scherzer and Justin Verlander’s starts in Game 1 and 2 are even more remarkable.

News: Historically speaking, the Tigers are in trouble.

Views: It’s true. Of the 38 best-of-five series that have been tied at one win apiece, the team that won Game 3 has gone on to win the series 30 times.

The 2011 Cardinals are the only team since 2002 to win after falling down 2-1.

But that’s only history. It has nothing to do with this team. And, really, the odds all change if the Tigers can just find a way to send the series back to Oakland.

The Tigers haven’t won back-to-back elimination games since 1968, but have recently won elimination games on the road: in 2011 in New York, and in 2012 in Oakland.

So they’re not afraid of doing the dirty work in somebody’s house.

They just have to take care of business at home first.



From left, Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante, Prince Fielder and Jose Inglesias wait while Jose Veras warms up in the eight inning Monday. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News