Alex Avila is in the starting lineup, which was really the one question lingering about the Tabbies’ starting nine tonight.
“I just left the trainers room. … He’s ready to go,” Jim Leyland said in the interview room Saturday afternoon. “He feels good. I don’t think that’ll be any kind of drawback.”
TIGERS (career/series numbers against Buchholz)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-27, 4 walks, 6 K’s / 0-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (6-for-24, HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s / 1-for-3, HR, K)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-9, walk, 3 K’s / 1-for-3, 2B, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-8 / 2-for-2, 2 2B, HBP)
- Jhonny Peralta, LF (6-for-20, 4 K’s / 1-for-3)
- Alex Avila, C (5-for-11, HR, 3 walks, K / 2-for-3, HR)
- Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-11, walk, K / 1-for-3)
- Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-22, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s / 0-for-3)
- Jose Iglesias, SS
P: Max Scherzer
RED SOX (career/series numbers against Scherzer)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (5-for-11, HR, 4 walks, K / 0-for-2, walk)
- Shane Victorino, RF (3-for-12, 4 K’s / 1-for-2, HBP)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B (5-for-20, 2 HR, 4 K’s / 1-for-3, 2B, 2 K’s)
- David Ortiz, DH (7-for-17, 3 HR, 4 walks, 4 K’s / 0-for-2, walk, 2 K’s)
- Mike Napoli, 1B (1-for-13, walk, 5 K’s)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (5-for-15, HR, 4 K’s / 0-for-3)
- Jonny Gomes, LF (2-for-9, 5 K’s / 0-for-3, 3 K’s)
- Stephen Drew, SS (2-for-13, walk, 5 K’s / 0-for-2, K)
- Xander Bogaerts, 3B
P: Clay Buchholz
Jim Leyland returned to town Friday afternoon still not sure whether he’ll have catcher Alex Avila available to play Saturday night in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. He also wasn’t sure who might catch if Avila can’t go.
He has not ruled out Victor Martinez.
“That has been thought about, yes,” Leyland said on a Friday conference call.
It’s a possibility the Tigers have kept open all along for the postseason, but for the World Series, not the ALCS. If the Tigers advance, they’ll lose the designated hitter for Games 3-5 in the National League city, either St. Louis or Los Angeles. Martinez, 7-for-18 in this series and 16-for-38 in the postseason, would have to find a position in the field in those games, and he caught three times down the stretch in the regular season without any problems to be prepared.
This is different. Martinez, whose days as even a semi-regular catcher ended with knee surgery last year, could bat in the DH spot in Boston. However, Avila’s absence could leave Leyland deciding whether it’s best to catch Brayan Pena and leave everyone else alone, or catch Martinez, move Miguel Cabrera to DH and play one of his utility infielders at third.
Leyland isn’t ready to take the discussion that far.
“It would be an option, let me put it that way, that you could DH Miggy and catch Victor and then obviously play Santiago or Donnie Kelly at third,” Leyland said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen but it would be an option if Alex were not able to play.”
As for Avila, Leyland said he was still dealing with some soreness in his left knee when the Tigers boarded their team plane for Boston on Friday. They won’t make an evaluation until Saturday.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Leyland said. “I have no idea. I’m hoping Alex Avila can catch. That decision will be way down the road yet.”
Just as Jim Leyland forecast, he went with the same lineup in Game 5 that he used in Game 4. The one change he made was in flip-flopping Omar Infante and Alex Avila in the batting order, getting back-to-back right-handed hitters against left-handed Jon Lester.
With Boston manager John Farrell looking for a way to spark his own offense, the Red Sox are going to roll with rookie Xander Bogaerts at third base over Will Middlebrooks.
TIGERS (career/series numbers against Jon Lester)
- Torii Hunter, RF (13-for-33, HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s / 0-for-3, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (11-for-21, HR, 6 walks, K / 1-for-2, walk)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (5-for-17, walk, 3 K’s / 1-for-2)
- Victor Martinez, DH (6-for-17, HR, 2 walks / 0-for-3)
- Jhonny Peralta, LF (10-for-30, 2 HR, 5 walks, 7 K’s / 2-for-3)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-9, K / 0-for-3, K)
- Alex Avila, C (4-for-9, 3 K’s / 1-for-3, K)
- Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-17, walk, 3 K’s / 1-for-3, K)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (1-for-3 / 0-for-2)
P: Anibal Sanchez
RED SOX (career numbers against Sanchez, which generally is the same as series numbers)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Shane Victorino, RF (10-for-46, HR, 4 walks, 9 K’s)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B (0-for-1, 2 walks)
- David Ortiz, DH (3-for-6, 2 HR, 2 K’s)
- Mike Napoli, 1B (0-for-2, walk, 2 K’s)
- Jonny Gomes, LF (1-for-4, walk)
- Stephen Drew, SS (5-for-22, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
- Xander Bogaerts, 3B
- David Ross, C (2-for-12, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
P: Jon Lester
It seems to depend on who you ask. Technically, everybody but Jose Iglesias was batting in a different spot in the order. The sequential order of most of the hitters, however, remained the same.
As players gave their opinion, you could tell those two facets drew different opinions.
It certainly felt different to Jackson, who got to watch seven batters’ worth of pitches from Jake Peavy before stepping to the plate.
“It felt a little different, just hitting down in the order and coming up after guys have already hit and getting a chance to see what he’s doing to guys,” Jackson said. “I think that it definitely helped to be able to get to see some of the pitches that he was throwing other guys and just have a game plan when you go up there.”
For Torii Hunter, the feeling was in reverse, only by a much smaller difference.
“It was a lot of fun, being at the top,” Torii Hunter said. “It kind of created havoc. You try to change the mindset of the players in the lineup, Miggy hitting second, Prince hitting third, Victor hitting fourth. It was a lot of fun. I think it settled us down and allowed us to do what we had to do.”
It was less of a difference for everybody else.
“The first inning, it was a little bit – I don’t know how to say,” Miguel Cabrera said. “But in the second inning, third inning, we made the adjustment and tried to do our job.”
That job did not change for him batting second compared to third.
“I’m not going to bunt. I’m not going to hit and run,” he said. “I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and try to do my job.”
Said Alex Avila: “After the first inning, it doesn’t matter where anybody bats. Obviously because Skip changed it, people are going to ask about it, but it’s not really a big deal to us.”
Said new cleanup hitter Victor Martinez: “[Leyland’s] the boss. We still have to execute.”
Austin Jackson is not on the bench tonight, but he’s not leading off, at least not in the opening inning. Basically, Jim Leyland dropped Jackson from first to eighth in the order, kept Jose Iglesias ninth, and moved everybody else up. For a manager who has always set the goal of his batting order to get as many guys on base as possible ahead of Cabrera, batting Cabrera second is a very big shift, much bigger than Jackson. It’ll be the first game in the two spot for Cabrera since June 27-28, 2004. It’ll be the first start for Hunter in the leadoff spot since July 4, 1999
For Jackson, it’ll be just his third career start somewhere other than leadoff. He batted second on April 17, 2011 and ninth on May 1 of the same season.
“Basically I just moved everybody up,” Leyland said. “That means in the first inning we’ll have Hunter, who’s had some success [against Peavy], and then I followed it up with two guys who can hit it out of the ballpark. Miguel and Prince will both come up in the first inning.”
Martinez, meanwhile, will bat cleanup. The reason he cited for that were similar to the reasons he cited for the order he hit Magglio Ordonez with Cabrera a few years ago: Baserunning.
“The only reason I did it the way I did it,” Leyland said, “is if I’ve got Martinez and Cabrera back-to-back, it’s going to be hard for Prince to knock in a run. So I put Prince ahead of Martinez because Prince can score a run if Martinez can knock him in. He can run a little bit, so he might be able to score him. But if you Prince behind both of those guys, it’ll be hard to get an RBI unless you can knock [the ball] out of the ballpark.”
In other words, Leyland considers Fielder the stronger runner. In a way, though, it also might be a statement about Fielder’s hitting lately, homerless since Sept. 22 and held to a double as his only extra-base hit so far this postseason. That said, Fielder has also been tasked with driving in Cabrera, whose running has been limited for a while.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Leyland said. “Everybody acts like you’ve got magical players.”
The reason for starting Jackson was the same as for starting Jose Iglesias at short. He said after last night’s loss that he was going to think about what to do there, and he said he sat watching the Cardinals-Dodgers game with a pad and pencil trying to come up with solutions. But the defensive aspect was something he did not want to sacrifice.
“I did not want to play Donnie Kelly in center alongside Jhonny Peralta,” Leyland said. “I wanted to play my regular center fielder with Fister pitching.”
On moving Jackson down, Leyland said, “He’s on the big stage. He leads off every game. He’s struck out a lot of those times. The focus is on him leading off for the Tigers, so I tried to get him away from it. That’s all. If I can get him down there and maybe relax him a little bit, maybe he’ll come up with two men on and get a hit.
“He got arguably the biggest hit of the postseason so far, which was a broken-bat single. I don’t know. He might strike out four times tonight, but I had to try something. For one time, I agree with the media. I had to try something. I didn’t do it for the media’s purposes. I did it because it made sense.”
If it makes no sense, well, Leyland hopes maybe that will help too.
“It might almost be a funny thing for [players],” Leyland said. “What’s he doing, panicking? You can call it whatever you want. I don’t give a care what anybody says. If they want to say we’re panicking, say we’re panicking. I don’t give a [care]. We had to try something different.”
- Torii Hunter, RF (7-for-16, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (13-for-45, 3 HR, 4 walks)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (10-for-36, 2 walks, 10 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-7, HR, K)
- Jhonny Peralta, LF (7-for-34, HR, 2 walks)
- Alex Avila, C (4-for-21, HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-5, K)
- Austin Jackson, CF (9-for-28, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS
P: Doug Fister
RED SOX (career numbers off Doug Fister)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (3-for-8, 3 walks, K)
- Shane Victorino, RF (4-for-5, HR)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B (3-for-13, walk)
- David Ortiz, DH (5-for-20, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
- Mike Napoli, 1B (2-for-14, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Daniel Nava, LF (5-for-12, 2 walks, K)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (5-for-11, HR, K)
- Stephen Drew, SS (1-for-9, 2 K’s)
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B (2-for-5, walk, K)
P: Jake Peavy
The graphic above shows the strike zone plot for Red Sox starter John Lackey from last night, courtesy of brooksbaseball.net (you can find more detailed results here). It gives you an idea of how many pitches Lackey spotted around the corners and at the knees, and how many he left over the middle of the plate.
The quotes below show the Tigers’ reactions to that pitching:
- “We had some really good at-bats,” Alex Avila said. “Their pitchers just didn’t make any mistakes. … I would say he probably threw a lot more curveballs and a lot more sliders than he had probably in all of his starts this season. He was mixing it up really well, which kept us off-balance really well, and he wasn’t missing. He was right on today.”
- “He didn’t miss too much tonight,” Austin Jackson said. “When he did, I think he got hit, but he used his experience and was able to get out of some of those jams.”
- “He definitely wasn’t in the middle of the plate,” Prince Fielder said. “He was on the corners. I think that’s playoff pitching. He did a good job, as well as [Justin Verlander].”
- “If they throw a mistake, I hit it. If not, I won’t,” Fielder said. “It’s that simple.”
The problem, as evidenced above, is that there aren’t many mistakes to hit. It’s not just Lackey, but most of the starting pitchers the Tigers have seen this postseason. Sonny Gray missed on some pitches and paid for them in Game 5 of the AL Division Series in Oakland. That’s about it.
Of the four base hits the Tigers posted against Lackey (the light blue boxes on that map), two were around the middle of the plate, one was at the knees and another was off the plate. They also swung and missed at a couple of pitches over the plate. If you look at the map, you can also see right-handed hitters swinging and missing at pitches off the plate, as well as chasing a couple high fastballs.
According to Bill Chuck, Lackey threw 18 out of 20 curveballs for strikes (Brooks has 17 of 19. Just two of those were swings and misses. Four of those were balls put in play. He threw 14 out of 17 sliders for strikes, six for swings and misses and none put in play.
All this illustrates the problem for the Tigers. If they’re going to get to the World Series, they’re going to have to hit a pitcher who doesn’t throw many mistakes. Either that means being closer to perfect in capitalizing on bad pitches, or it means hitting a good pitch. The latter is something that makes Miguel Cabrera so tough for pitchers to attack, but he swung and missed eight times last night, fouled off two other pitches, and put two balls in play for outs.
As Jim Leyland announced yesterday, Andy Dirks is back in left field. He’s batting ninth today only because he likes Alex Avila batting more towards the seventh spot the way he’s swinging. Remember, Dirks hit 6th or 7th for a good portion of the season.
As for why Dirks wouldn’t bat higher, Leyland indicated he’s not going to change the top of the order. He liked some of the swings he saw from Austin Jackson in Game 2, and he’s not moving Torii Hunter out of the two spot.
TIGERS (career numbers off John Lackey)
- Austin Jackson, CF (3-for-8, 3 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (13-for-56, 2 HR, 3 walks)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-12, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (4-for-9)
- Victor Martinez, DH (11-for-29, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (11-for-31, 8 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-7, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-14, walk, 6 K’s)
- Andy Dirks, LF (2-for-5, walk)
P: Justin Verlander
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Shane Victorino, RF
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- David Ortiz, DH
- Mike Napoli, 1B
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
- Jonny Gomes, LF
- Stephen Drew, SS
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B
P: John Lackey
Four different Tigers relievers pitched in the bottom of the eighth inning. All of them gave up a baserunner.
Three of them gave up base hits, two of them with two outs.
One of them, closer Joaquin Benoit, gave up the game-tying grand slam to David Ortiz, 6-for-22 off of him previously with a half-dozen singles and one RBI.
Make no mistake, though: The Tigers bullpen collapse in Game 2 of the ALCS was a group effort.
“That’s baseball. It happens quick,” Smyly said on his way out of a quiet clubhouse at a still-rowdy Fenway Park. “I mean, Ortiz should’ve never come to the plate that inning, but he did and he made it count. Baseball can turn on you in a hurry.”
This series sure did.
“We came away with the split,” Max Scherzer insisted. “You have to see the glass half full. This one stinks tonight, but guess what, the sun comes up tomorrow and we’re going to be playing these guys at home in front of our fans.
“It’s up to us to choose if we’re going to come out and compete. I think we will. I don’t think this is going to deter our effort. I believe in this clubhouse. I believe in everybody in here, all 25 guys here. I still believe in us.”
The question, however, now has to come up what this game does to the bullpen. Whether or not there was a lack of belief in the clubhouse, there was an abundance of frustration.
“I’m [ticked] off,” Torii Hunter said. “The one guy you don’t want to beat you, he beat us. One of the best hitters in postseason history. And this guy, he hit the ball out of the park and ties the game up and they end up coming back and winning the game.
“I’m [ticked]. That’s the way it goes. We’re all [ticked]. Everybody on this team is [ticked] off that that happened.”
Tigers pitching held the mighty Red Sox offense to scoreless on one hit for the first 14 innings of this series, and one run on three hits over the first 16 innings when manager Jim Leyland handed a 5-1 lead to his bullpen.
What followed was a series of relievers giving up punches in small doses that added up to a game-tying whallop. For Jose Veras, it was ninth hitter Will Middlebrooks, who took advantage of a 1-0 sinker and lined it into the left-field corner for a one-out double.
Thus, instead of Boston’s dangerous leadoff man, Jacoby Ellsbury, coming up with two out and nobody on, he entered with a runner in scoring position. Left-hander Drew Smyly, the other reliever who had been warming up in the top of the inning, put him in a 1-2 count, missed with three consecutive pitches and walked his only hitter.
“I just let it slip,” Smyly said. “Once I had 1-2, I didn’t want to give him a good pitch to hit, and then 3-2 I just missed low. That’s all there was to it.”
Out goes Smyly, in goes Al Alburquerque, who put a stop to the damage for a batter by getting Shane Victorino to chase a slider for a strikeout.
With two outs and two on, Dustin Pedroia stepped to the plate and saw two fastballs, the pitches Red Sox hitters had taken from Alburquerque for strikes in Game 1 Saturday night. Pedroia took the first for a strike. He swung at the second and sent it through the right side for a single to load the bases.
“The way Pedroia took [the first pitch], it looked like he might have been sitting slider,” catcher Alex Avila said. “At least, that’s what I thought. We threw a fastball that ran back towards him, jammed him a little bit actually, and he just hit it right in the perfect spot.”
Not only was the potential tying run suddenly at the plate in a game the Tigers seemingly controlled six batters ago, it was David Ortiz. From there, Leyland had a decision to make: Give just-reinstated Phil Coke a chance against a hitter he owned for most of his career (2-for-18) except for a go-ahead hit earlier this year, or turn to Joaquin Benoit for a four-out save.
Leyland would’ve preferred a lower-leverage situation for Coke, who hadn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 18. He went with Benoit.
“Coke hadn’t pitched a big game for quite a while,” Leyland said. “Benoit is our guy against the lefties, and we felt he gave us the best chance to get the out.”
You know the rest. You also know that he shouldn’t have been in that bind anyway if one of the three relievers before him got one more out. Benoit would’ve been able to face Ortiz leading off the ninth that way, in a 5-1 game.
Still, the veteran whose rash of home runs last year raised concerns gave up a huge one here.
“I wanted it down,” Benoit said of his first-pitch changeup. “Left it middle out, he took a good swing and hit a ball.”
Just as Jim Leyland did behind Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, he has Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and Don Kelly in left field. Max Scherzer hasn’t pitched to strikeouts and fly balls to quite the same extreme as Verlander, but he’s in the same mold when he’s on. Considering how many sliders and breaking balls the Red Sox missed in Game 1, it’s an offensive tradeoff Leyland clearly felt was worth the risk.
That said, Leyland defended Peralta’s play at short in the interview room.
“Jhonny Peralta is no donkey. He’s made the All‑Star team twice for me as a shortstop in the last few years,” Leyland said. “He’s a very good shortstop. We’re trying to get another bat in there, and we felt it would be the best way to do it.
“Like I said, this guy is a bona fide Major League shortstop. This is not a utility guy you’re playing there. This is a topnotch shortstop. He doesn’t have the range [Jose] Iglesias has, but this is a very, very good shortstop.”
So why Don Kelly in left field over Andy Dirks, you ask? Leyland has your answer.
“Donnie Kelly probably wouldn’t be playing left field tonight if Andy Dirks was swinging good,” Leyland said.
TIGERS (career numbers off Buchholz)
- Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-19, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-24, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (5-for-21, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (1-for-6, walk, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-6)
- Jhonny Peralta, LF (5-for-17, 4 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-8, 3 walks, K)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-8, walk, K)
- Don Kelly, LF (1-for-3)
P: Max Scherzer
RED SOX (career numbers off Scherzer)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (5-for-9, HR, 3 walks, K)
- Shane Victorino, RF (2-for-10, 3 K’s)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B (4-for-17, 2 HR, 2 K’s)
- David Ortiz, DH (7-for-15, 3 HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
- Mike Carp, 1B (2-for-8, walk, 5 K’s)
- Jonny Gomes, LF (2-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (5-for-12, HR, 4 K’s)
- Stephen Drew, SS (2-for-11, walk, 4 K’s)
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B (1-for-6, 4 K’s)
P: Clay Buchholz
Pretty standard lineup for the Tigers these days. The one difference is that Omar Infante moved up to seventh, with Alex Avila bumped down to eighth.
As expected, Jhonny Peralta is in left field, especially against the left-hander Jon Lester. Also as expected, Leyland is getting tired of the questions about Peralta and the Green Monster.
“You know what the key is to this wall? I’ll tell you what the key. If you read off the bat right away that it’s going to be high off the wall, which you should be able to read, then you get back [from the wall],” Leyland said. “And if it’s one in between that you might be able to catch or it hit might hit the wall, then you can’t do a damn thing about it. That’s as simple as it is.”
TIGERS (career numbers off Lester)
- Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-14, walk, 2 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (13-for-30, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (10-for-19, HR, 5 walks, K)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (4-for-15, walk, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (6-for-14, HR, 2 walks)
- Jhonny Peralta, LF (8-for-27, 2 HR, 5 walks, 7 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-6)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (1-for-3, 2 K’s)
P: Anibal Sanchez
RED SOX (career numbers off Sanchez)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Shane Victorino, RF (10-for-43, HR, 4 walks, 7 K’s)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- David Ortiz, DH (3-for-3, 2 HR)
- Mike Napoli, 1B
- Daniel Nava, LF
- Stephen Drew, SS (5-for-20, walk, 4 K’s)
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B
- David Ross, C (2-for-11, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
P: Jon Lester