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Sunday, September 29, 2013
Tigers limp into playoffs after Alvarez no-no

By David Schoenfield

We interrupt your wild-card races to give you Henderson Alvarez and one of the strangest celebrations you'll ever see.

The Miami Marlins right-hander struck out Matt Tuiasosopo to end the top of the ninth -- completing nine no-hit innings against the Detroit Tigers. But it wasn't -- yet -- a no-hitter. The Marlins hadn't scored a run and a no-hitter isn't official unless it comes in a complete game.

Ask the great Pedro Martinez. He never threw a no-hitter in his career but in 1995 with the Expos he pitched nine perfect innings against the Padres. But the game was tied through nine innings. Bip Roberts led off the bottom of the 10th with a double and Martinez lost his perfect game and no-hitter (at least he'd get the win).

So Alvarez watched the bottom of the ninth from the dugout and then the on-deck circle, his moment of fame perhaps resting on the Marlins' ability to push across a run (although with just 99 pitches it's likely he would have come out for another inning). Giancarlo Stanton singled with one out and the Marlins eventually loaded the bases with two outs, Greg Dobbs facing Luke Putkonen, who had already thrown one wild pitch in the inning.

Putkonen threw a hard-breaking curve that dived low and in toward Dobbs, catcher Brayan Pena was a little lazy getting down to block it and Stanton raced home with the winning run as Alvarez, who was on deck, was mobbed by his teammates in foul territory along the third-base line. A great moment for Alvarez and the Marlins' fans.

It was sort of reminiscent of the perfect game Mike Witt threw for the Angels against the Rangers on the final day of the 1984 season, except that game was between two teams counting down their hours until the first round of offseason golf. We don't have pitch counts for that game, but it was played in a brisk 1 hour, 47 minutes, so I'm guessing there may have been a few aggressive approaches at the plate. (The only other no-hitter on the final day was a combined four-pitcher no-hitter by the A's in 1975.)

The Tigers, however, are heading to the postseason. Even though their Division Series doesn't start until Friday they did sit several regulars, including Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, but it was a decent lineup out there. Still, give Alvarez credit for his efficient four-strikeout, one-walk affair. He threw 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes, throwing his fastball 66 times all told. He's a guy who throws harder than his strikeouts would indicate, averaging 94.1 mph on his fastball against the Tigers and topping out at 96.9 mph. But he struck out just 57 in 102 2/3 innings for the Marlins this season. The scouting report when he was with Toronto was the fastball was too straight and he didn't have a put-away breaking ball.

The interesting thing about Alvarez is that he changed his approach in the 17 starts he made with the Marlins. In 2012, he threw 46 percent four-seam fastballs and 29 percent two-seam fastballs. This year, he threw 56 percent two-seamers versus 25 percent four-seamers, while mixing in his slider 15 percent of the time. The net result was huge: Not more strikeouts, but after allowing 29 home runs for the Blue Jays in 187 innings, he surrendered just two with the Marlins. There may be a degree of luck there as his overall fly ball rate was basically the same; last year they left the park, this year they didn't, but perhaps better movement on the two-seamer helped, as well.

Anyway, he remains an intriguing arm, especially if he can develop a change or curveball to offset the fastball-slider combo. While unlikely to develop into an ace, he's a guy who could slot into the rotation nicely next season after Jose Fernandez, Nate Eovaldi and Jacob Turner.


As for the Tigers, they were no-hit on Sunday, scored one run in 10 innings on Saturday and just two on Friday in getting swept by the 100-loss Marlins. Even though the games didn't mean anything, it's not how you want to head into the postseason. They did hit .270 in September -- fourth in the majors -- but their power disappeared as they hit just 16 home runs in 26 games after hitting 37 in July and 38 in August. This is a team that doesn't manufacture runs with speed, so it relies on the long ball -- and Miguel Cabrera -- to generate offense. With Cabrera hobbled in September, the Tigers averaged just 3.7 runs per game after averaging more than five per game the previous two months.

You don't want to read too much into those September numbers, but I'd be concerned if I were a Tigers fan. If Cabrera can't generate any power -- and he had just two extra-base hits in September -- somebody else needs to step up.