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Published: 10/4/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

Commentary

Tigers must rekindle bats to oust A’s

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Baseball’s regular season and what follows are two different beasts. One is a marathon, the other a sprint. A 162-game schedule turns into best-of-five.

Still, we return to Aug. 26-29 when the Oakland A’s visited Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers were 77-53 coming in, but the A’s had 34 runs cross the plate in four games and won three of them. Detroit played at a .500 clip, 16-16, to the finish, ending with a three-game sweep and a hitless effort in Miami against one of baseball’s more pathetic entries.

The Tigers and Athletics hook up again in the ALDS starting today in Oakland. Here are five things besides momentum to think about before Bartolo Colon and Max Scherzer head to the mound with 39 wins between them and comparable, sparkling ERAs.

■ Everyone knows Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers has been playing hurt, but he looked to be healthier during the Miami series with four singles in seven at-bats. He wrapped up his third straight AL batting title with a .348 average.

And perhaps no player in the postseason appreciated the five days between games more than him.

But … and this is a big but. Miggy has two extra-base hits since Aug. 26, a double and his lone home run of September. There is no taking extra bases, no scoring from first on a hit in the gaps, no scoring from second on a line-drive single, no hard or quick dives to either side for a well-hit grounder near third base.

He is a dangerous hitter but has not been the same hitter or fielder as before his issues with an abdominal injury.

■ And that leads into this rather startling fact: A Detroit team with five regulars hitting in the .300s and with eight players sporting double-figure home run totals has scored either zero runs or one run in nine games since Sept. 1. It is October now, sure, but the Tigers scored fewer runs with fewer home runs in September than in any month of the season.

With all due respect to Miami’s Henderson Alvarez, don’t read too much into his season-ending no-hitter. He was facing a lineup just a cut above the Mud Hens. But there may be something to read into the Tigers’ overall production in the final month.

■ You may not be familiar with some of these guys, but even minus ailing 14-game winner A.J. Griffin, Oakland’s four-man ALDS rotation isn’t bad. Colon, the stocky veteran, has 18 wins and a 2.65 ERA. Sonny Gray, a rookie who gets the ball for Game 2 on Saturday, is 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA at home. Jarrod Parker has won 10 of his last 12 decisions. And Dan Straily is 4-1 (2.00) in his last six starts.

■ In the event you have sensed some pessimism thus far, neither Oakland nor probably any other AL team can quite match the Tigers’ starting pitching. You know the names. You know the numbers. We won’t bore you. Detroit pitching, simply, can dominate in a short series.

■ Finally, will there be a Jhonny Peralta factor? Whether you favor or oppose the decision to activate the one-time shortstop for the postseason after a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drug abuse — and I’m against it, not that Dave Dombrowski or Jim Leyland give a hoot — he is on the roster. All indications are he’ll start in left field against left-handed pitchers or otherwise be used as a pinch-hitter. He batted .303 (.352 against lefties) in 107 games.

If that’s indeed the plan, he’ll start on the bench against Oakland, which has an all-righty starting rotation set. But he could be a factor late in games when the A’s go to much-used southpaw relievers Jerry Blevins and Sean Doolittle. Also, Tommy Milone, a 12-game winner and normally a left-handed starter, is expected to be used out of the pen.

Leyland would prefer to slot Peralta in the No. 6 hole to protect No. 5 hitter Victor Martinez, who was pitched around quite often after Peralta was suspended. So maybe he’ll bat more than expected against righties. It’s not as if he’s feeble in those matchups. And he could definitely impact run production.

■ Prediction: If this goes the distance, the Tigers could be in trouble. Their best bet is to get a split in the first two games in Oakland, then win it at home. They should avoid a return trip to the West Coast for Game 5.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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