Bad hitting or good pitching? It’s the latter, and Tigers are well-armed

In his last three starts against the Oakland A's in the playoffs, Justin Verlander has allowed one earned run in 23 innings.

In his last three starts against the Oakland A’s in the playoffs, Justin Verlander has allowed one earned run in 23 innings.

It’s popular to say that hitting a baseball is the most difficult thing to do in sports. That’s because it’s true.

Don’t talk to me about hitting a jumper from 22 feet away with Lebron in your face, or slipping a tackle from a 275-pound linebacker who can run the 40 in under five seconds and lift 400 pounds with his butt cheeks. Don’t want to hear it.

Try hitting a baseball traveling 96 miles per hour thrown from less than 60 feet (the pitcher drives toward home plate off the mound). Oh, and the ball, which has 108 raised stitches that affect the aerodynamics of the sphere, can dip, curve, drop, hop, and even rise when thrown homeward. You have about 4/10ths of a second to decide to swing or not, and if you do, when the ball is 25-30 feet away from home, you have to start your swing, or else it’s all useless, you’ll be way too late.

It’s so hard to do that — as one long time baseball coach said — it almost requires psychic ability. “The good hitters get their tip-off from the pitchers,” said Charlie Metro. “If they want to really get a good [swing on the ball], they need to know where and what is being thrown before the pitcher throws it.”

How hard is it? For every hit Ty Cobb had in his career, he made about two outs. For every crowd-pleasing home run the Great Bambino swatted, he struck out three times. The Colossus of Clout led his league in striking out 11 times. Often, very good hitters are made to look ridiculous by major league pitchers. It’s a humbling experience.

Let’s put it this way – you know how frustrating golf is? How you can take your time, concentrate, and practice your swing, only to duff the dimpled little white thing 12 yards in the wrong direction? That ball is stationary.

Alright, so what’s my point? It’s this: the next time you yell at the TV when your favorite slugger waves in futility at a baseball that looks like it’s two feet out of the strike zone, remember that it’s very difficult to see that when you have a sliver of time to decide to whip the bat around.

I hear the moan from Tigers fans: What’s wrong with the offense? Where are the runs? Why are they swinging at that? This game is boring!

Maybe you think a 10-7 game is much more enjoyable, that’s not a crime, but just because runs are scarce doesn’t mean hitters are terrible. Sometimes, the pitchers are good. That’s what happened in the first two games of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s: the hurlers are very, very good. Max Scherzer is going to win the Cy Young Award. Bartolo Colon and Justin Verlander have won it before. Verlander was named the most valuable player of the entire league, and has tossed not one, but two no-hitters. Sure, Sonny Gray looked like Beaver Cleaver (Justin Beiber for you younger folks?), but he has skills. It’s not that the hitters are crappy, they’re overmatched.

Tied at 1-1, this series shifts to Detroit where I suspect the Tigers will score more runs. Maybe being able to sleep in their own beds will help. The Tigs have played very well in front of the crowd in The D, and Oakland isn’t getting a break in facing Anibal Sanchez, who was the stingiest pitcher in the AL based on earned runs allowed. How many times can the Oakland batters strike out in on series?

With two games at home and two wins needed, I like Detroit’s chances to clinch at home. Even if the scores are 2-1 and 3-2, don’t be bored, Tiger fans. Enjoy the ride.

Game Two Notes and looking forward to Game Three

– Since September 1, Verlander has a 1.93 ERA, and in his last three starts he has racked up 33 K’s in 19 innings without allowing a run. It seems the answer to the question: what’s wrong with JV? is nothing at all.

– So far this has been a well played game in the field. On the Detroit side, it helps that 29 outs have been recorded via K compared to 22 on balls in play.

– After a good Game One, Austin Jackson looked lost in Game Two. He was the Tiger most puzzled by Gray, and he continues to have difficulty adjusting his swing with two strikes.

– Miguel Cabrera made a nice play on a foul popup behind third, but he couldn’t get his glove on a ball hit to his left in the 9th inning. It was only a few feet to the side of Miggy. His range is pretty bad, even when he’s healthy, which is a big reason why the acquisition of Iglesias was important.

– Jim Leyland explained that he didn’t start Jhonny Peralta in left field, preferring to go with Don Kelly, because Kelly had better range and a stronger arm. Kelly had two infield hits in the game.

– Verlander showed about as much emotion as we’ve ever seen from him in a game, in both the 6th and 7th innings when he stranded a total of four Oakland runners.

– JV never touched 98 miles per hour in the no-decision. While it may be a quirk of the radar gun in Oakland, it’s interesting to note that Verlander has not reached the 100 MPH mark in any of his last three starts, despite piling up the strikeouts.

– Dennis Eckersley continues to be enjoyable in his role as color man on TBS broadcasts. Eck is one of the freshest characters in the game. But the insistence on three broadcasters in the booth is a mistake by TBS. Often, the discussion seems orchestrated to ensure each of the three men has something to say.

– Drew Smyly was bailed out by Al Alburquerque, who threw some nasty sliders to get two strikeouts in the 8th. But lost in that was the fact that Smyly struggled to find the plate and hung too many pitches.

– Many Tiger fans are moaning that Detroit hasn’t manufactured runs. What do they want Leyland to do, ask this offense, which is built around hitting the ball in the gap and moving station-to-station, to start bunting for hits, and stealing bases? Not going to happen. Besides, in Game Two, the Tigers had six baserunners. Not many opportunities to “manufacture” anything.

– Sanchez lost Game Three last season when he allowed two runs in Detroit’s 2-0 loss. This will be his fourth postseason start and he has a 1.77 ERA in his previous three.

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