There are few ways to put a positive spin on last night’s drubbing in San Francisco other than simply hoping a win tonight converts the series into a best-of-5 in which the Tigers have home field advantage. But… even bad games can have lessons learned that help a team going forward.
The most important one of those for Jim Leyland is this: Jose Valverde still ain’t right. After Valverde’s appearance against the Tigers lineup in the between-series scrimmage, we heard that he felt good and was making the pitches he wanted to make (but they still got hit). What they to expect in real game action? We were bound to see the Big Potato thrown into the fire at some point in this series, in hopes that his time with Jeff Jones had paid off and he would – at least – be able to be effective against right-handed hitters. A rare short start by Justin Verlander and a large lead for the Giants gave Leyland an opportunity to throw Valverde out there in a genuinely low-leverage situation and let him prove himself. Things started well – he did strike out the pitcher – but four singles and two runs later Valverde was leaving the game without recording another out. Whatever it is that Valverde is doing wrong, it hasn’t been fixed and it’s unlikely to be fixed before the end of this postseason. We probably aren’t going to be seeing Papa Grande any more in a Tigers uniform and while I think that is something the Tigers can easily endure, it’s still sad. He has done some great work for the Tigers and he has always been fun to watch.
So how is this a good thing? Imagine that game 1 had been tight and that every game after had stayed tight… Eventually Leyland would have felt compelled to give Valverde his chance and it might very well have meant the difference between a win and a loss. Now he has gotten that out of his system. Do I think Leyland is foolish to want to see what he has in Valverde? In a sense yes, because I probably would have left Valverde off the World Series roster in favor of Brayan Villarreal, but in another sense no. The Giants don’t have the same all-lefty lineup that made the ALDS a generally losing proposition for Valverde (who was very effective against righties during the regular season). Closer or not, if he was simply back to his regular season not-as-good-as-the-old-Papa-Grande form, he would definitely be an asset out of the ‘pen and probably more valuable than Villarreal. Given that he kept him on the roster, he had to find some way to get him in a game.
So… Valverde imploded, sadly, but no harm done (aside to his 2013 contract terms). He wasn’t the only giant question mark in the Tigers bullpen – after allowing a lot of home runs over the season’s second half and a couple of damage-free rockets against the Yankees, there were good reasons to worry about Joaquin Benoit. So… after Papa Grande made that mess in the seventh Benoit was called in to try to clean it up. Really, with the Tigers down 8-1 what’s the worst that could happen? In the end, nothing bad happened at all – perhaps because Benoit didn’t have to face Pablo Sandoval. After coming in with two on and one out, Benoit struck out Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt to end the threat and “keep the Tigers in the game”. This – unfortunately – doesn’t prove that Benoit is in some way a different guy than the one we saw over the last half of the season. The problem was never that he couldn’t find the strike zone or couldn’t miss bats, it was that whenever ball and bat did connect the ball went like a rocket. In a sense it would have been a little more encouraging to see Benoit induce some weak contact rather than striking Pence and Belt out, but I think we can hold down our terror the next time Benoit enters a (presumably close) game. It’s also worth mentioning that Jim Leyland finally found a time to get Rick Porcello on the mound – and he looked decent out there, though he was going up against the Giants 7-9 hitters.