Tigers' starting pitchers taking a bite out of opponents in playoffs
Detroit's starters have not allowed an earned run in the past four games
Umpiring calls hurt the Yankees, but a slumping offense has been even worse
Madison Bumgarner struggled again but Tim Lincecum is pitching as well as ever
Anibal Sanchez became the latest Tigers starter to wipe out the opposition, shutting out the Yankees on three hits over seven innings in Detroit's 3-0 win in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday. Sanchez struck out seven, walked three and allowed just one runner to reach third base.
In one trip through the four-man playoff rotation, dating to Game 4 in Oakland, Tigers starters allowed no earned runs (just one, total) in 27 2/3 innings. In the entire postseason, they have six quality starts in seven games and a 0.94 ERA. They try to extend the streak -- and possibly gain a nearly-insurmountable 3-0 edge in the ALCS -- when they send Justin Verlander to the mound in Detroit on Tuesday night.
2. Panic! At The Half-Empty Disco
The Yankees got enough breaks and big hits in the Division Series to survive a poor offensive showing. That's not the case in this round, where scoring in just one of 21 innings -- their four-run ninth on Saturday -- has them down 0-2 in the series and reeling. The Yankees are 15-for-78 (.192) in the ALCS with 20 strikeouts. For the postseason overall, they're hitting .205/.277/.326 in the postseason and striking out in more than a quarter of their at-bats.
Joe Girardi's Game 2 lineup reeked of desperation, with Raul Ibaņez (.240/.308/.453 in 2012) batting cleanup and Russell Martin in the No. 5 spot (.211/.311/.403), followed by Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher. You can acknowledge that your stars are having poor stretches without turning your lineup into something pulled out of a hat or created with no regard to anything that happened more than a week ago. The absurdity peaked in the fourth inning, when Ibaņez -- who runs like the 40-year-old man he is -- was thrown out stealing on a blown hit-and-run. That all this happened in front of a late-arriving, non-sellout, eerily quiet Yankee Stadium crowd gave the proceedings the air of a funeral.
That's the Twitter hashtag used to denote umpiring follies, especially ones that would be correctable quickly and painlessly by a fifth umpire in a replay booth, that are allowed to change the course of baseball games because people tend to have power and fear change in equal proportion. In Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, Robinson Cano beat out an infield single with the bases loaded in the second inning to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. That's what happened. What also happened is that first-base umpire Rob Drake called Cano out, replacing what happened with his version, which ended the inning, keeping the game tied. On Sunday in ALCS Game 2, Nick Swisher made a terrific play in the eighth inning, throwing behind Omar Infante rounding second base on Austin Jackson's single to end the inning and cut short a Tigers rally. That's what happened. What also happened is that second-base umpire Jeff Nelson called Infante safe, replacing what happened with his version, which extended the inning. The Tigers would use their fourth out to score two critical insurance runs.
It helps to think of things in these terms: Something happened, and the lowest-paid people on the field decided it didn't happen, that something else happened. We shouldn't be OK with this. The only humans whose element matters are the players. Bring on expanded replay to end this constant altering of reality by middle management functionaries.
4. I Left My Start in San Francisco
Madison Bumgarner and Lance Lynn combined to allow 10 runs in 7 1/3 innings and both were knocked out during four-run fourth innings in the Cardinals' 6-4 win in Game 1 of the NLCS. It was the second straight terrible outing for Bumgarner in the postseason, and extends a streak of poor pitching that dates back two months.
Bumgarner, who was a fringe contender for the Cy Young Award at one point, has one quality start in his last nine outings, with a 6.85 ERA, a 37/18 K/UIBB and a 17.9 percent strikeout rate in that time. The last figure is a real concern; Bumgarner isn't a power pitcher, but he'd struck out 23.6 percent of the hitters he'd faced through Aug. 20. He simply hasn't been the same since throwing eight shutout innings in Los Angeles on that night.
Lynn, meanwhile, managed to cram Bumgarner's season into one start; he threw three no-hit innings and was cruising through 3 2/3 frames, then allowed four straight hits to plate four runs on his way out of the game. It may have been fatigue; Lynn, a starter most of the year, had pitched out of the bullpen three times in the Division Series and allowed the home run to Jayson Werth in Game 4 that extended the series to Game 5. Tonight's starters, Chris Carpenter and Ryan Vogelsong, will try to clear the low bar set by Lynn and Bumgarner.
5. Shutdown Innings
When Lynn left in the bottom of the fourth, the game was 6-4 and seemingly on its way to 16-14. Not so much. Eleven relievers combined for 9 2/3 shutout innings in a game that ended. . . .6-4. The Cardinals' Joe Kelly and Mark Rzepczynski each pitched out of jams in the fourth and fifth before four relievers paraded through with a shutout inning apiece -- exactly how Mike Matheny wants to run his 'pen.
The Giants were even better; their relievers allowed just one baserunner over the minimum in 4 1/3 frames. Tim Lincecum, looking more and more like the Cy Young winner of old, needed just 24 pitches to get through two innings, and will probably be the Giants' Game 4 starter. Lincecum has three relief appearances in this postseason, allowing one run in 8 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts and just one run allowed. Given how these two teams can score -- sabermetrically speaking, they had the best two offenses in the NL -- look for more short starts and a lot of pressure on the bullpens throughout the series.