| By ERIN SAELZLER
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wanted the Cardinals to win the NLCS because I thought the Tigers matched up better against them than they did against the Giants. So far, they haven’t really done much to prove me wrong. Granted, the pitching has had a little more stamina than I thought it might (with the exception of Justin Verlander), and when I say that, I’m referring more to pitching deep into games than giving up or not giving up runs. The Giants have a lot of pesky hitters who really grind out at-bats and get the pitch count up quickly, even when they’re not getting on base or scoring runs. And yet Doug Fister was able to give the team six innings despite taking a line drive to the head, and Anibal Sanchez put in a strong seven-inning effort tonight. Unfortunately, his one hiccup was the second inning, and that proved to be the difference.
There’s a cliche that leadoff walks are the kiss of death, and though Sanchez only walked one batter for the entire game, it was a leadoff walk and it did score. The fact that it was Hunter Pence was kind of an insult to injury, since he’d only walked once in the entire postseason up until then. He would then steal second, move to third on a wild pitch, and score on a triple by Gregor Blanco. I was already a little bit familiar with Blanco before this series began. He was the MVP of the LVBP (the Venezuelan winter league) last year, but I don’t exactly remember him for perfect bunts or diving catches in the outfield. I remember him for having the ability to hit a mid-90s fastball a really long way, and he showed that in the second inning (granted, it was on a hanging slider and not a fastball, but the point still stands). It went for a triple in this game, but that’s a home run in a lot of other ballparks. Blanco would later score on a two-out single from Brandon Crawford. But that’s all Sanchez would allow. He got straight busy from that point on and continued his dominance of the Giants. I really do hope this is not the last time we see him in a Tigers uniform. For one thing, I would really like a Game 7 and for another thing, I want the Tigers to re-sign him. I’ve liked him ever since his Marlins days and now that he’s in Detroit, I don’t want it to just be a cameo. The pitching side of things was wrapped up by scoreless outings from Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke.
The biggest concern I had about the Giants was not necessarily that they had a good pitching staff. It was the type of pitching that they featured. The Tigers have had some success against fastball-heavy pitchers who throw hard, but they have had trouble with the “Art of Pitching” variety, meaning guys who don’t necessarily throw hard but are either “sneaky fast” or rely on spotting their fastball on the corners and getting hitters to chase breaking balls and changeups. They especially struggle against lefties who fit this description and that was demonstrated in Games 1 & 2 with them getting shut down by Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner. They had a better approach tonight against Ryan Vogelsong, strange as that sounds. For the most part, they did work the count and elevate his pitch count to the point where he exited in the sixth inning. However, they didn’t get a whole lot to show for it and there are a couple reasons why. For one thing, they didn’t the leadoff man on at any point in the game, which makes rallies a little more difficult. A second reason is that there were no extra-base hits, so the rallies consisted entirely of singles and walks and were all station-to-station (at no point did anyone go first-to-third on a single). And the third reason is that once runners were on, that’s when the at-bats got less patient and more jumpy. Prince Fielder has struggled to the point where he’s now swinging at anything and everything, and that means you are likely to hit into inning-ending double plays. Quintin Berry had worked the count in his first at-bat and coaxed a walk, but in his next at-bat (which came with two on and one out), he hit a first pitch grounder to Scutaro for another 4-6-3 double play. He then got antsy in the fifth inning and struck out with the bases loaded. Miguel Cabrera seemed just as antsy and popped out on the second pitch of his at-bat (which was just about at his shoulders).
After Game 2, I made an observation that everyone seemed too tight and they were pressing, and when that’s happening, sometimes all it takes is one big hit to get everyone loosened up again. They didn’t get it in Game 3. They will have to get it in Game 4. And it’ll be up to Max Scherzer to put some zeros on the board while the offense looks to solve Matt Cain, who has never faced the Tigers before. If they can just break through, that gives Justin Verlander another start, and so on down the line. They do have the pitching to make this series competitive again, but they’ve got to get there first.