In Games 1 and 2 Brad Ausmus called on Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria late in games.
Tigers fans haven't had a problem with that — and they shouldn't. They're probably the team's two most highly regarded relievers.
The problem has been their results.
Ausmus should not call on either pitcher first if a similar situation arises in Game 3. Instead, he should go to Anibal Sanchez — who pitched two perfect innings on Friday — and Al Alburquerque.
Yet, Ausmus seems reluctant to give Alburquerque a chance to pitch late in games. After Friday's game, Ausmus said, "Usually when we use Albie (Alburquerque), it's earlier in the game, sixth inning, occasionally seventh inning."
But why? Alburquerque had the lowest ERA of any Tiger reliever this year — 2.51 compared to Chamberlain's 3.57 and Soria's 4.91 with the Tigers. Alburquerque has kept his walks down this year (3.3-per-nine innings) and is still striking out close to 10-per-nine innings.
Facing elimination in Game 3, Ausmus can't afford to wait for Chamberlain and Soria to revert to the mean. Both relievers' confidence has to be gone. Just as managers can ride the hot hand in the playoffs, sometimes they need to avoid the cold one.
Consider the raw results from the past two games.
Game 1 — Chamberlain: Two batters faced, one reached on error, one singled. Soria: Five batters faced, one double, two singles, one intentional walk, one groundout.
Game 2 — Chamberlain: Three batters faced, one single, one hit-by-pitch, one groundout. Soria: Four batters faced, one double, one walk, two outs.
That's equated to nine earned runs and four outs recorded.
It's disappointing that these two relievers who had such good regular seasons have faltered in the postseason. But luckily, there is an alternative that's been here the whole time, Alburquerque. With the team facing elimination, Chamberlain and Soria are risks that Ausmus and the Tigers cannot afford to take.