Alex Avila and Winning Games You Shouldn’t

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Sometimes, if you are going to be a good ballclub, you have to win games that you probably shouldn’t win. Last night in Detroit, the Tigers won a game in which Justin Verlander allowed six earned runs in just six innings of work, a game that saw the Tigers commit four errors, and one in which they had to work through the last inning without their closer.

By all accounts it was a sloppy game. In the bottom of the fifth, with the Tigers trailing 3-1, Miguel Cabrera lined a three-run shot over the left field fence which gave Detroit a brief lead. Even that play never should have happened.

Wade Davis, the Rays starter, painted the black with a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner. From the comfort of my couch, I could clearly see that the pitch was a strike, replays showed the pitch as a strike, even the pitch tracks thing that FSD uses showed the pitch was a strike. But the umpire didn’t flinch and ruled the pitch ball three. A short while later, Cabrera took a might hack at a pitch that was off the plate inside and drilled it into the night.

But the evening will likely be best remembered for the two home run game from catcher Alex Avila, who had committed two of the Tigers four errors. Avila stepped in in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on first and the Tigers trailing 6-5. Cesar Ramos was summoned from the Tampa Bay bullpen to face the Tigers backstop, doing so for the second straight night. On Monday, Ramos had retired Avila on a groundball to thwart a Tigers rally. Last night, Avila got his revenge by connecting with a two-run long ball that gave the Tigers a lead to stay.

Avila’s eighth inning jack was his second of the evening and his eighth of the year, which sets a new career-high. Six of those eight have come in games when Verlander has started for the Tigers, including a pair of two home run games. The shot off of Ramos was the second time this year that Avila has gone deep against a left hander and just the second time in his career that he has taken a left handed reliever deep.

Ramos entered the game having never allowed a home run to a left handed hitter at the major league level. Left handed batters were hitting just .160 against him coming into the game. But he fell behind and left a fastball over the plate where Avila could reach it and the rest was history.

I wrote a month ago today that Avila’s early season success was a mirage and that much of his potency at the plate was fueled by luck. Since that time, Avila’s seen his BABiP drop by almost 50 points, but he has been able to maintain his good fortune at the plate, by-and-large. Avila now leads the Tigers in slugging and ranks second in home runs, RBI, OPS, OPS+, and wOBA.

It sure looks like maybe he is becoming a heck of a hitter.

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