The Tigers last played in Boston on Sept. 4, losing 20-4. (Winslow Townson / Getty Images)
Boston — They’ve left one team in the dust, bothered and bewildered. Can the Tigers do it to another?
The only problem with winning Game 5 of a Division Series, as the Tigers did Thursday while eliminating the A’s, was this:
Game 5 was exactly that.
Leaving the Tigers little time to get ready for the next round.
Then again, for a team that’s often had too much postseason time on its hands, and can trace the interruption of its momentum to what it has referred to as “lulls,” a day between the end of one series and the beginning of the next could prove to be an advantage.
The Tigers won’t be faced with picking up where they left off days ago because it won’t be days ago. There was only one in between.
But logistically, it hasn’t been easy.
Once they were done drenching each other, and looking like soaked Martians in the aftermath of winning, the Tigers boarded their plane and were in the air for nearly six hours — turning to the American League Championship Series upon landing.
From the Bay Area to the Bay State, the page officially was turned when the Tigers woke up and later worked out.
Here’s what is facing them: A team totally different than the one they just beat. (The Red Sox, however, have struck out fewer times than the Tigers and A’s during the postseason.)
One that played in a tougher division than the A’s.
One that can scare you with its offense.
But one that struck out more during the regular season than the team the Tigers just beat.
And that leads to what could really decide the outcome of the Championship Series.
A's can't overcome K's
They’ve not just become the Tigers friend, but an essential ally. When all was said and done, the A’s were left muttering about their inability to make sufficient contact.
It absolutely stunned them, even those for whom “contact” won’t ever be their middle name.
Take Brandon Moss, for example. Against the Tigers during the regular season, he struck out 13 times in 26 at-bats but also had four home runs and 10 RBIs.
In the Division Series, his K-ratio was worse: He went 2-for-18 with 13 strikeouts.
In Game 5 against Verlander, Moss fanned in all three at-bats, flailing away like he’d won some sort of online chance to take his hacks.
“I swung through a lot of pitches trying to do too much,” Moss said. “It’s pretty disappointing. They pitched great, but there were also times when I got certain pitches in certain counts that I just missed.”
If anything, it was the A’s, not the Tigers, who suffered from lull-itis. Among the players it affected was Josh Donaldson, who’ll finish high in the American League’s MVP voting, but went 3-for-21 with eight strikeouts. He walked once and had no extra-base hits or RBIs.
During the season, he went 10-for-28 against the Tigers with no strikeouts.
But when it came down to Game 5, “my plate discipline was absolutely terrible,” Donaldson told the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune.
The Tigers can do that to hitters, even good hitters.
In Moss’ case, they enticed an over-eager slugger to swing through the ball. In Donaldson’s case, they turned a team’s MVP into mush.
Strikeouts will be key
The key to the Championship Series is directly linked to Moss and Donaldson’s disappointment because the Red Sox also can be had if they don’t bring plate discipline to the dance.
Make contact against the Tigers and you have a chance.
Flail and you don’t.
It’s easier said than done to make contact, though.
■ In his last 27 innings, Justin Verlander has 43 strikeouts — and no runs allowed. He’ll start Games 3 and 7, if needed.
■ Max Scherzer struck out 13 in nine innings against the A’s. He’ll start Games 2 and 6, if needed.
■ Anibal Sanchez didn’t pitch his best in the Division Series, but finished the season with 34 strikeouts in his last 232⁄3 innings.
The Red Sox might not fall into the same traps as the A’s, however.
For one thing, they won’t be bothered by a delay as Donaldson was.
“Not seeing live pitches for a little while kind of throws your timing off,” Donaldson said about the four days between the end of the season and the beginning of Division Series.
For another, the Red Sox have enough experience to try to do too much with each at-bat.
The Tigers have the starting pitching to dominate most teams, even good ones, when it’s on.
They also have the starting pitching to win a seven-game series when only two are on but striking out everyone in sight.
More than anything else, almost anything, strikeouts will be the key.