Commentary

Five questions heading into Game 4

Who's healthiest? How will Matt Harrison do? Why pitch to Miguel Cabrera? Plus more

Originally Published: October 12, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- The following are five questions to consider before Game 4 of the ALCS while pondering whether Al Kaline or Willie Horton are available to pinch-hit …

1. Will either team have enough healthy players to advance to the World Series?

OK, here's the injury report from Game 3: Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young is hurt again due to that strained non-oblique muscle (or something), and Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he doesn't know when he can play again. And now designated hitter Victor Martinez is questionable after straining the intercostal muscle in his chest while hitting a game-tying home run in the fourth inning Tuesday night (did this ever happen to Hank Aaron?). Despite the pain, Martinez stayed in the game to much applause (more on that later), but the issue remains how he'll feel Wednesday.

"We don't need another [injury], believe me," Martinez said. "You don't get this kind of opportunity very often, and I will do anything I can to go out there tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre fouled a ball off his knee in the fourth inning and spent the rest of the game hobbling around in obvious pain. "It's like taking a baseball bat and whacking yourself in the shin," Detroit's Don Kelly said in describing the pain of fouling a ball off your leg. "That hurts. And I think he got himself two or three times. That hurts bad, and then your foot goes numb. It's bad."

Asked whether he expects to play in Game 4, Beltre replied, "Hopefully." Now, Beltre is a very tough guy (he once finished a game after a grounder smacked him in the testicles -- and no, he was not wearing a cup) so when he answers "hopefully" to such a question, it's a little like if you had heard Cal Ripken Jr. say he was "crossing his fingers" he could keep his streak going.

Both players could very well be in the lineup Wednesday, but if so, the question is how well they can perform and whether there will be enough Advil and duct tape left over for anyone else.

2. Can Matt Harrison come up big for the Rangers in Game 4 the way Doug Fister did for the Tigers in Game 3?

[+] EnlargeMatt Harrison
Pierre Ducharme/Getty ImagesThe Rangers need a big Game 4 start from Matt Harrison to avoid facing Justin Verlander in Game 5 with the series tied 2-2.

The Texas Rangers have a very good rotation, but Colby Lewis was their third consecutive starter to struggle. Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson gave up two runs and 11 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings. Game 2 starter Derek Holland gave up three runs and nine baserunners in 2 2/3 innings. Lewis started well but gave up four runs and 10 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings. It's hard to win in the postseason without quality starts, and the Rangers could easily be down 0-3 in this series had it not been for the superb performance of their bullpen.

Harrison worked five effective innings (two runs, nine strikeouts) in Game 5 of the division series against the Tampa Bay Rays. However, the left-hander was 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA against the Tigers this season -- including one game when he pitched with a kidney stone -- and is 1-3 with a 5.66 ERA in Detroit during his career.

"Hopefully [I'll] go out there and do what [reliever Scott] Feldman did [in Game 2]," Harrison said. "He was real aggressive, kept the ball down in the zone and mixed up his pitches in and out and used his breaking balls a lot. So I think you just have to be aggressive against these guys."

Detroit counters with Rick Porcello, who threw 22 pitches in relief during Game 1 on Saturday. The low number of pitches should not affect his start.

3. Will Michael Young break out or will Washington switch up his order?

Michael Young hit .338 with a .474 OBP and 106 RBIs during the regular season. He was probably the Rangers' most valuable player. But he's struggling during the postseason (3-for-23). He has one single in 12 at-bats this series and just that lone hit in his past 20 at-bats. If this were the regular season, that would barely qualify as a slump. But this is the postseason when EVERYTHING IS MAGNIFIED AND CAPITALIZED AND PANIC ENSUES AND FANS DEMAND SOMETHING BE DONE IMMEDIATELY!!!

Not that Texas manager Ron Washington will.

"Michael has struggled before," Washington said when asked whether he might move Young out of the cleanup spot. "I don't think there's a baseball player that's played the game that hasn't struggled. I'm not concerned. Michael will figure it out."

Washington had Young at first base in Game 3, partly so he could give catcher Mike Napoli a break as DH and partly to take a burden off Young's mind by getting him on the field. "I don't think anything is necessary to get anything going for," Young said. "I know what I'm capable of doing as a hitter."

4. Second-Guessers Special: Should the Rangers have pitched to Miguel Cabrera in the fifth inning?

The game was tied 1-1 and the Tigers had runners at the corners with two outs and Cabrera batting against Texas starter Colby Lewis. Martinez went to the on-deck circle (the crowd roared with approval), but there was considerable question about whether he would be able to swing. Should the Rangers have intentionally walked Cabrera to pitch to a batter who might not be healthy? Or would that just be asking the baseball gods to punish you with a series-altering Roy Hobbs/Kirk Gibson moment that would have sent fireworks exploding from the light towers and a back-lit Glenn Close cheering in the stands?

Before you answer, remember that Martinez had homered his previous at-bat, and walking Cabrera would have advanced a runner into scoring position. Washington said he didn't want to do that, so the Rangers pitched to Cabrera. Colby Lewis got ahead of Cabrera 0-2 (good) but then left a fat pitch up in the strike zone that Cabrera whacked fair down the line for a run-scoring double (whoops). "The ball was supposed to be out of the zone," Washington said. "He didn't put it there."

5. Why does one game seem to swing the momentum in a series so much?

Because there are so few games. Fans are used to a 162-game season when there is almost always time to break out of a slump or recover from injury. Not so in the postseason, when six months of work (plus spring training) comes down to one week under the spotlight. It's always this way. If the Rangers win, they will lead the series 3-1 and there will be champagne chilling in the clubhouse for Game 5. If Detroit wins, the series will be tied with Justin Verlander going for the Tigers in Game 5 and a return to Texas guaranteed.

So stay tuned and be careful opening up a beer on the sofa. We don't need anyone else getting hurt.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com