When the Tigers fell behind 3-1 to the Texas Rangers after an extra-innings meltdown, the prevailing thought among many was that the series was all but over. A disheartening loss, the requirement Detroit win three games in a row (and two on the road) ... it was too much to imagine the Tigers coming all the way back to win the ALCS.
The "impossible" became a little more possible with a win in Game 5, but the Tigers still have a long way to go. So what has to happen now?
1. Detroit's batters have to show up consistently. I don't think it's the more unique analysis in the world to say "The Tigers have to score runs" but, fact is, they have to. The Tigers have lost five times in the playoffs this season. Each of these times, they've been held to three runs or less. The Tigers have won five times in the playoffs this season. In four of these times, they've scored five runs or more. It's frustrating because the Tigers have held Texas to three runs in nine innings three separate games only to lose all three of them. If Detroit's lineup can't tap into its potential, even good pitching performances are probably not enough to save the series.
2. To do that, the key Tigers in the lineup have to show up. I think we've seen some slight evidence of re-awakening, but I don't want to push that thought too far. Game 4 looked good for a spurt too before Detroit got stuck on "3" again. Miguel Cabrera is batting .375 with five extra-base hits and seven walks. Victor Martinez has a home run and a triple in his last couple of games but he has to have hits fall in more consistently. A tall order for a guy with an oblique injury, of course. The worn-down Alex Avila, too, has to do a bit more. He had a home run yesterday. The next two games have to look a lot more like the last one for all these figures to keep playing past this weekend.
3. Continuing the theme, the Tigers have to break through against the tough Rangers bullpen. They'll be seeing Derek Holland and Colby Lewis as the starting pitchers. They chased Holland after three runs in 2 2/3 innings last time they saw him, but lost the game because the Rangers bullpen was too good. Scott Feldmen went 4 1/3 innings that game, allowing just one hit. Four more pitches, including nemesis Alexi Ogando, allowed three hits and no runs to finish that game.
4. Now is not the time for Max Scherzer or Doug Fister to turn into a pumpkin. These two pitches have been the true studs of the Tigers' postseason, so they just have to keep carrying the fire. Scherzer is up first, of course. But if Detroit forces Game 7, Fister's back on the mound being asked to do what we've come to expect of him. Again, going as deep as possible into games is key because the Tigers' bullpen can look a bit scary in the seventh inning. Maybe the re-emergence of Phil Coke will help solve that inning.
5. Someone else has to step up in the Tigers' bullpen. Like I mentioned, maybe that someone is Phil Coke. Joaquin Benoit has been asked to go more than one inning frequently. It hasn't turned out real well when Jose Valverde has been asked to go more than an inning. You can't rely on a two-man bullpen. Coke may be able to help matters, but pressure will be on Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry not to mess up if the starter can't go deep enough. That's kind of worrisome. They need to battle their demons and prove everyone wrong.
What are the odds the Tigers come back to win this series? I don't know. Not real great is what I'd say, just based on the fact several key Tigers seem pretty banged up and haven't been able to contribute like we had come to expect in the regular season.
But at least the right pitchers are on the mound for Detroit, so the odds are definitely greater than 0. On one hand, they have no room for error. On the other, this is baseball. Get a few bounces your way and a three-game winning streak isn't really all that hard to imagine. It's not like the Tigers struggled with the Rangers during the regular season.
It's do-able. We'll just have to watch to see what happens.