Game Notes: Backs are against the wall as Tigers try to hold on

In Game Three, Justin Verlander turned in another brilliant performance, only to see his team lose the game.

In Game Three, Justin Verlander turned in another brilliant performance, only to see his team lose the game.

The Detroit Tigers’ season is on the brink. Sure, they’re only down one game, but never before has one game felt more like a cavernous divide between hope and hopelessness. After a Game Two where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, the Tigers now seem to be limping toward their demise.

The offense
I’m not going to spend too much time on the offensive woes, because I’ve discussed it at length in recent columns. Also, as I’ve pointed out, the pitching is pretty damn good. Sometimes you give credit to the pitcher on the other side. Veteran John Lackey sparkled in Game Three, doing what we should have thought was impossible – outpitching Justin Verlander. Still, even though Boston’s pitching staff is making great pitches, the Tigers can do more. Austin Jackson continues to perform like a guy who’s already on his off-season fishing trip. Torii Hunter seems to be trying to do it all by himself, swinging from the heels in an effort to hit a 5-run homer. Without those two getting on base, it’s tough for Detroit to compete.

The happy skipper shakes up the lineup
As I finalized this edition of game notes, the manager has posted his lineup for Game Four. Gone from the top spot is Austin Jackson, replaced by Hunter. Everyone else essentially slides up a slot. That puts Miguel Cabrera in the #2 slot, which prompted this response via social media from one fan: “Miggy hitting second, are you effing kidding me?”

Well actually, having your best hitter bat as close to the top of the order as possible (maybe even leadoff) is not a dreadful idea. Sure, in the first inning he’ll have only one batter to get on base in front of him, but after that, the lineup just rolls through as is. Iglesias and Infante, who are hitting 9th and 7th in the new lineup, are just as adept at getting on base as Jackson has been in his postseason slump. The way Martinez and Peralta have been hitting, maybe moving them up a spot will get each of them another plate appearance, which can’t hurt. Fact is, that according to studies of past seasons and based on computer models, lineup construction has been shown to have very little to maybe no effect on run scoring.

The manager seemed quite pleased with his shakeup. “I love it. I don’t give a [care] how it works out. I love it, because I’m doing something that, in my heart, I know I had to do. When I came up with this lineup, I was so (expletive) happy, I couldn’t wait to get here today.”

The left-hander out of the bullpen
On Sunday, the manager of the Detroit Tigers was asked why he didn’t use Phil Coke to face David Ortiz with the bases loaded in the 8th inning. “[He] hasn’t pitched in a big game in a while,” he said. Well, apparently, Coke must have pitched in a big game at some point between Sunday evening and Tuesday afternoon. He was on the mound for the Tigers in a 1-0 game. It doesn’t get much “bigger” than that. To use Coke in a one-run game, when you decided not to use him in a game where you had a four-run lead, is puzzling. But, consistency doesn’t seem to be a concern for the man sitting in the manager’s office.

Power outage
The bizarre loss of power from Prince Fielder continues. It’s at the point now where we should probably remove the term “slugging” as an adjective to describe the hulking Detroit first baseman. It’s fitting perhaps, that Fielder will be most remembered this postseason for missing a foul popfly.

Verlander’s “lost” season
Poor Justin Verlander, even when he pitched well this season, he usually didn’t have things go his way. In April and May he was pitching wonderfully, still looking pretty much like the hurler who won the MVP and Cy Young in 2011 and finished as a runner-up for the Cy Young in 2012. On May 15, he had a 1.93 ERA through eight starts but his record was just 4-3. Those fans who still think win/loss records are important were scratching their heads. In the middle of his season, a large chunk that included 19 starts, he had some bad outings that ballooned his ERA to 4.41 over that 19-game stretch, but his record was 8-6. But still, it wasn’t a 24-win pace, so he was hounded by fans, the press, and his ex-girlfriend. He then when 2.62 in his last seven starts of the regular season, including 12 shutouts innings in his final two outings. Of course, he extended that shutout stretch to 33 1/3 innings with his phenomenal performance in the postseason. He lifted the Tigers past the Oakland A’s, and dominated the Red Sox in Game Three of the ALCS. But, his team scored four runs in his last four starts. Verlander had a funky 2 1/2 month stretch in the summer, but other than that he was Verlander, the same fella who we know. He’s one of the 2-3 best pitchers in baseball.

Home cooking not going down too well
The Tigers have now played three playoff games at home and lost two of them. In their lone win the came from behind to win in the late innings against Oakland in Game Four last week. After playing very good at home this season (and over the last several seasons), they are now facing the very real possibility that they could end their season at Comerica Park. If the Tigers don’t win one of the next two games in Detroit, they won’t have any reason to get on a plane to fly back to Boston.

Miggy’s streak halted
On Tuesday, Cabrera failed to reach base in a postseason game for the first time since joining the Detroit Tigers. He had stretched that streak to 30 games before John Lackey and the bullpen shut him out.