Commentary

Tigers offense still toothless

Detroit needs more from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder if it hopes to survive

Originally Published: October 15, 2013
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Speaking of power outages …

On a Monday evening, when the ballpark lights briefly went out early in the game, the Detroit Tigers trailed the Boston Red Sox 1-0 in the eighth inning but had runners on first and third with the heart of the order coming up: Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Things were looking up and the sellout crowd was roaring.

But Cabrera, the likely MVP for the second consecutive year, struck out on four pitches against Junichi Tazawa. The Red Sox then brought in Koji Uehara to face Fielder. Prince watched Uehara throw his warmup pitches, then stepped into the batters' box and looked out at the Boston closer with the game on the line.

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsPrince Fielder may not say much about his frustration, but there's cause to feel frustrated.

And then he struck out on three pitches. "There was nothing I could barrel up," Fielder said.

Fielder had singled in the first inning Monday and would have had a second hit in the seventh inning had it not been for Jonny Gomes's diving catch in left. He now has a hit in every game except one this postseason. Unfortunately, only one of those hits has been for extra bases. None has cleared the fences for a home run. None has driven in a run. Fielder doesn't have an RBI and the only time his at-bat produced a run was when he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the first inning of the division series opener.

Asked if he felt himself pressing, Prince replied, "No, no. Because if they throw a mistake, I'll hit. If not, I won't. It's that's simple."

Well, no, it's not. Fielder is being paid $23 million to bat cleanup and provide some run production. He can't simply hope that an opposing pitcher makes a mistake, especially when the pitching has been so dominating this entire postseason. He has to hit good pitches, too. And with the Tigers down 2-1 in the American League Championship Series, the sooner he does so the better.

Fielder, however, is only one part of a much larger problem for the Tigers. After all, only two Detroit players have more hits than he does this postseason. And one big reason Fielder doesn't have an RBI is that he has only batted three times with runners in scoring position.

[+] Enlarge Miguel Cabrera
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsMiguel Cabrera, who fanned twice in Game 3, is 2-for-11 in the series.

Simply put, other than Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Cabrera, the Tigers aren't hitting as a whole. Even Cabrera is batting just .226 (though he has two home runs) while six players are at or below the Mendoza Line. The Tigers were second in the league in runs this season but have not been the same team since Cabrera started hurting in late August. They've been shut out 1-0 twice this postseason and three times in their past nine games. They are averaging barely two runs a game since the final Wednesday of the season.

Tigers haven't looked this sluggish since the scene in which Richard Parker is seasick in "Life of Pi."

"At this time of the year, the pitchers dominate," catcher Alex Avila said. "It doesn't matter what your offense did the rest of the season."

The problems start at the top of the order, where center fielder Austin Jackson is killing the Tigers in the leadoff spot. He has just three hits in 33 at-bats and has struck out 18 times. He has scored only one run. "The only thing to do is keep swinging and hopefully come out of it," he said.

Another easy solution would be to drop him in the order or out of the lineup entirely. The difficult question is who would replace him?

"The only thing you could think about is possibly play Don Kelly in center field," manager Jim Leyland said. "I would think that would be about the only move you could think about. I thought about that one time in the series. But I'm not really sure that's the answer. I'll have to think about that one, sleep on it tonight."

It's never a good situation when you are considering starting Don Kelly in center as your best alternative.

Another option would be to flop Fielder and Martinez, but Leyland said he isn't going to move Prince. Plus, the Tigers need to see how Martinez is feeling for Game 4. He's hitting .419 this October but  injured himself rounding first base on a ninth-inning single. He said he was fine, that it was only a cramp, but players often understate injuries. If the injury is more significant, the Tigers could really be in trouble.

"Like I said, the other teams aren't going to just let you do what you want to do," Fielder said when asked about the team slump. "You've got to give credit to them. This is the big leagues. Sometimes you do it and sometimes you don't."

For the sake of the Tigers' season, Tuesday better be one of the times he and they do it.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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