Going in to this series, I wasn’t really expecting the Tigers to sweep (even though they have done well at Target Field this year, going 5-1 so far), and of the three games, I thought that this one was the game they were most likely to lose, so the fact that they lost doesn’t really surprise me. However, the path that they took to losing was downright painful. Drew Smyly did an admirable job of filling in for the injured Max Scherzer. His pitch count ran up a little too quickly, but he kept the Twins off the board and he was generally efficient in the strike zone. Was he pulled too early? Maybe, but he had thrown 78 pitches in his last start. Stretching him to 93 pitches seems like the range that would commonly be used (though I have seen guys stretched further than that). Unfortunately, the bullpen had a couple hiccups.
Phil Coke did his job, for the most part, retiring every lefty he faced except Justin Morneau, who reached on an error. And then we had the dilemma of Coke facing the switch-hitter Ryan Doumit. It’s no secret that Coke has struggled against righties this year. He’s allowed a .390/.441/.570 line to right-handed batters this year (though only two of those hits have been home runs, which is the same number of home runs he’s given up to lefties). At the same time, Ryan Doumit has a .245/.287/.384 line as a righty this year. So you had a pitcher who struggles against righties going up against a switch-hitter who struggles against lefties. Something had to give, and it didn’t go the Tigers’ way. Doumit won that battle of attrition and hit 2-run bomb to get the Twins on the board. Octavio Dotel came in and finished the inning, but had to leave after that with a biceps injury. That brought in Brayan Villarreal in the eighth inning with the score now tied, and unfortunately, it was one of those nights where he was way too amped up. Contrary to what some may think, he has performed well in most high-leverage situations this year, especially in games where the Tigers are leading by one or two runs (You can check out his game logs if you don’t believe me). However, he has had one odd Achilles heel, and that is tie games on the road. His opponents on-base percentage in tie games was .452 coming into this game, but it splits to .318 at home and .500 on the road, and a lot of that is due to walks (thanks to GWilson at Bless You Boys for the info). Four of his five losses have come in tie games on the road. I don’t quite understand what it is about that particular situation that puts him on fast-forward (as opposed to any other situation), but when he gets amped up like that, he can’t throw strikes, and when he can’t throw strikes, you get an inning like that one (and looking at his game logs, I made a very odd discovery; all of his walks except three have come in games where the score was either tied or the Tigers were already losing). At any rate, the killer blow came from Ryan Doumit again, who hit a two-run double on the first pitch he saw. Villarreal did come back to strike out the next two hitters but the damage was already done. He’s got more than enough talent to be a setup man (and Leyland himself recently included him when he listed off his late-inning guys), but somehow, he’s got to find a way to settle down in tie games on the road.
Alas, the offense could not bail out the bullpen. The reason I thought that this would be the most likely game for the Tigers to lose is that Scott Diamond is a decent pitcher, just like I said last week. He had the sinker working tonight. It seemed like the right-handed batters were constantly hitting ground balls to third base or shortstop, one after another (though oddly, they didn’t hit into any double plays). For the most part, the guys who were able to get hits did so by driving the ball the other way (except for Miguel Cabrera on his first hit, which he pulled to left field). The Tigers’ only early scoring opportunity was squelched a little bit by Cabrera thinking he’d hit a home run and ending up with a long single, and then later getting thrown out at the plate on a single by Delmon Young. A defensive miscue by Trevor Plouffe in the eighth inning opened the door, and Diamond finally left a pitch up to Infante, who blasted a two-run home run to tie the game. However, Cabrera and Fielder were unable to give the Tigers the lead against the Twins’ bullpen, and once the Twins regained the lead, the Tigers went down quietly in the ninth.
The series continues tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be Justin Verlander against PJ Walters.