MLB: Why the Detoit Tigers Are No Lock for the World Series

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees
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The Phillies super-staff of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee never made it to the World Series. The “Murderers’ Row plus Can├│” Yankees of the mid-aughts also never made it MLB’s winner-take-all best-of-seven. After losing three of four games to a piecemeal Yankees squad in the Bronx, numerous questions linger about the Detroit Tigers’ potential in the 2014 MLB playoffs despite the┬áthree Cy Young award winners fronting the team’s rotation. Here what the Tigers are up against. (Stats in this article are current as of August 8, 2014.)

Offensive issues

Much was made of the ballyhooed Tigers rotation heading into four games with the Yankees in the series ending August 7. The three Cy Young winners of the past three years — Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander — took the mound the first three games of the set. Though Scherzer was bailed out by a spectacular catch by Ezequiel Carrera in the first game, the trio of Detroit aces ended up allowing just seven runs in their three starts. That equated to two losses. Rick Porcello followed in the fourth game allowing one run to New York hitters (also a loss).

It doesn’t take a crew of stat analysts to realize the Tigers rotation did its job in New York. The Tigers’ offensive performance is another story.

Tigers hitters scored six runs in the four-game set against a Yankees staff that featured Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Capuano, and Shane Greene. The Yankees’ lockdown bullpen factored into every game, but the dominant starts by Capuano (who beat Verlander) and Greene (who beat Porcello) would be enough to worry a hitting coach. Both Yankees were recently pitching in the minor leagues.

In fact, Tigers hitters have been struggling since the All-Star break.

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Since the Midsummer Classic, Tigers hitters rank No. 20 0f 30 MLB teams in on-base percentage (.305) and No. 22 in slugging (.364). Those woes were magnified in the four games at Yankee Stadium when the team stuggled for production at every part of the batting order. While Victor Martinez (6-15) shined throughout the series, Miguel Cabrera (1-10, 3 BB) seemed uncomfortable at the plate and creaky on the basepaths. Coupled the injury to Torii Hunter and light hitting from every other corner of the lineup, it’s easy to imagine playoff pitching overwhelming the Detroit offense.

Postseason pitching

Looking beyond the Tigers’ slumping bats, Detroit’s rotation will be expected to carry the day in October. Scherzer, Price, and Verlander are the most formidable three starters a team can trot out in the playoffs, but their postseason numbers don’t exactly inspire confidence. Verlander (7-5, 3.28 ERA career postseason) was brilliant in 2013 after trouble earlier in his career. The 2014 Verlander (10-10, 4.57) is different from any year of recent memory, so there is a case to be made for Porcello starting the third game of any postseason series.

Scherzer (4-2, 3.42) has been terrific in the postseason in the past two years, so there is little worry there. The newly acquired David Price is another story. Price is 1-4 with a 5.06 ERA in nine career postseason appearances. In Price’s four postseason starts (26.1 IP), the lefty allowed 17 earned runs and surrendered 5 HR while picking up losses in all four games.

Building a super-team is no guarantee that squad will go deep into October. For Detroit, question marks for the hitters and postseason rotation (not to mention the bullpen) will linger until the Tigers the team advances through its first playoff series.