There really wasn’t much drama during Game Four of the 2013 ALCS. The Detroit Tigers won 7-3, and the score probably belied an even more lopsided game. It was 5-0 after two innings, 7-0 after four. The series is now even, two games apiece.
Okay, that was the wrong word. The series is certainly tied, but it would be incorrect to call it even at this point. That’s because the Red Sox will have home-field advantage if this (now) best-of-three reaches a winner-take-all climax, but it’s also because Red Sox manager John Farrell has positioned his team for these games better than Tigers skipper Jim Leyland has.
Leyland, who was so good all season at relying on his starting pitchers and evenly dolking out relief work, has suddenly gotten far too trigger-happy about pitching changes and spending relief bullets. It started in Game Two, when he inexplicably tried to use four relievers where one would do, to get through the eighth inning with a four-run lead. It continued in Game Three, when he asked three different hurlers for the three outs Justin Verlander didn’t get, down 1-0. It might have reached its nadir, though, on Wednesday night, when he not only used Al Alburquerque to get a single out in the seventh inning, up five runs, but then asked eight outs (requiring 39 pitches) of Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit.
Alburquerque has now pitched in all four games of the series. He’s only faced eight batters and thrown 33 pitches, but still, he’s pitched in every contest. Smyly made his third appearance of the series, throwing 18 pitches en route to 1.2 shutout innings. Benoit needed 21 pitches to survive the ninth, despite a five-run cushion. It was his third appearance against Boston, the second to include over 20 pitches, and his fourth such outing this month.
Using those three pitchers, especially the way he did, bespeaks an unhealthy mistrust, on Leyland’s part, of his lesser relievers, He needed to recognize that lead as a safe one, and find a way to get nine outs (or fewer, because Doug Fister surpassed 105 pitches 22 times this season but left after 98 low-stress offerings on Wednesday night) without firing his best bullets. Rick Porcello would have been perfect for that duty.
On the other hand, John Farrell happily turned the game over to his shock troops. After Jake Peavy was only able to get nine outs, Brandon Workman, Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront marched in and took care of the rest. They shut the Tigers out, too, giving the team whatever slim hope it might have held down to the end.
Farrell has three relievers he wants to use when it matters: Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawz and Koji Uehara. He’s been exceptionally careful not to toss them out there when too little was on the line, and as a result, they’ve been fresh and tremendously effective. Leyland, with nothing too much worse behind his big three (or four, because he also trusts Jose Veras) than what Farrell has, is just not comfortable enough using those lesser arms to record lesser outs. As a result, his bullpen has been inconsistent and relatively ineffective, and now might face serious fatigue problems at the worst possible time.
The Tigers will again throw their three stud starting pitchers over the next three games, giving them a great chance to win each, and Miguel Cabrera seems healthier than he has in a while, which is huge for Detroit. Still, if the Red Sox (a great team in their own right) keep the games close, they’ll have an edge at the end, and the Tigers will have their manager to thank if a bullpen collapse ends their season.Next post: Chicago Cubs Sign Ryan Sweeney: What Should Their Outfield Look Like Next Season?
Previous post: Dodgers Score Big Win in NLCS Game 5, Will Send Clayton Kershaw to Mound for Game 6