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Tigers lose the momentum, but still have an edge

Oct 14, 2013, 12:32 AM EDT

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Getty Images

It’s not going to be the joyous plane ride home the Tigers were looking forward to, but achieving a split in Fenway, with Justin Verlander about to pitch in Game 3, is a great place for Jim Leyland’s team to be with up to five games remaining in the ALCS.

There’s something to be said for the way the Tigers lost on Sunday night. Up 5-1 in the eighth, victory seems all but assured. That was particularly true in light of the fact that the Red Sox had struck out 30 times and scored once in 16 innings up that point.

But, as the Red Sox showed tonight, momentum counts for so little in baseball it might as well not exist at all. They went from left for dead to Gatorade bathings in the blink of an eye. The Tigers are practiced at coming off tough defeats. They just came from 2-1 down to beat the A’s in the ALDS. Last month, they lost 20-4 to the Red Sox, then came out and drubbed the Royals 16-2 in their next game,  The last four times they were shut out in the regular season (not including that Henderson Alvarez no-hitter in game No. 162),  they won their next game).

Sure, the Red Sox are feeling much better about themselves after David Ortiz‘s grand slam. They know the Tigers bullpen is vulnerable. But they knew that going in. They were the favorites two days ago, and they could still be considered the favorites now.

The Tigers’ starting pitching, though, is completely unblemished, and Verlander is coming off two dominant performances against the A’s. To win this series, the Red Sox still need at least two more wins in games started by Verlander, Sanchez and Scherzer, and it’s not like they’re any sort of cinch to win Game 4 with Doug Fister on the mound.

What the Tigers do need is some sort of threat from the top of their lineup. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are both 1-for-10 after two games, and Hunter, in particular, has looked awful at the plate. Because of their struggles, neither Miguel Cabrera nor Prince Fielder ever got to hit with a man on base in Game 2. As much as the Red Sox’s offensive impotence was the story for most of Saturday and Sunday, both teams now have scored in exactly three of the 18 innings played.

Game 3 should be fascinating. John Lackey has been rock solid for the Red Sox, but he’s probably going to give up two or three runs, at least. If the Tigers are up 3-1 after seven, will Jim Leyland push Verlander in response to what happened tonight? Verlander is better equipped to go the distance than Sanchez or Scherzer, but he hasn’t completed a game this year and, if nothing else, the Red Sox will probably drive up his pitch count. How the Tigers handle a Game 3 save opportunity could well swing the rest of the series.

  1. Staff - Oct 14, 2013 at 12:44 AM

    Reblogged this on SoshiTech.

  2. skeleteeth - Oct 14, 2013 at 12:45 AM

    Thanks for the update Capt. Obvious.

  3. riverace19 - Oct 14, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    Matthew you’re wrong… Series over

    • psunick - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:42 AM

      Yep. It’s over, all right.

      Detroit 4 games, Boston 1 game

  4. florida76 - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:11 AM

    Baseball is just like any other sport, momentum is real and factual. It may not show up in the box score, but anyone who has played competitive sports at a certain level knows all about momentum. The St. Louis Cardinals were pushed to the limit in their last playoff series, and are clearly riding that momentum to a 2-0 lead over LA.

    The box score doesn’t always tell the whole story.

    • dan1111 - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      There are some psychological effects in the game that could be real, but are really hard to measure (for example, team chemistry). However, momentum is very measurable, so if it were “real and factual”, it would be easily detectable. All you are talking about is a relationship between performance in a game and performance in the few games preceding it.

      As far as I know, no one has ever detected such a relationship. Momentum isn’t real; it is just a narrative framing device. It feels very significant to the fans, and, I’m sure, to the players, as well. But it has no impact on who is going to win the next game.

  5. Matt Aromando - Oct 14, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    I agree that momentum isn’t particularly useful in baseball but I don’t understand how you can believe that and also assume Scherzer and Sanchez will continue to dominate this much in their next two starts.

    • paperlions - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      Scherzer and Sanchez don’t dominate because of momentum. They dominate because they are good pitchers. In addition, there is a huge difference between a player that is performing well and momentum. The concept of momentum explicitly attributes events to those immediately preceding them (e.g. a quickly moving vehicle has a lot of momentum due to its mass and velocity and it requires a lot of force to slow it down due to that momentum….the vehicle continue to move quickly in the absence of other forces because of its previous state). Teams that are playing well (or poorly) and that continue to win (or lose) are more likely to be doing so because they are talented and healthy (or not talented or healthy) than because they had a few good games before.

      Momentum attributes cause to the effect (they won so they will keep winning because they won), and there is no such cause in baseball.

      • Matt Aromando - Oct 14, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        In the above article, the idea that the Red Sox were dominated by Scherzer and Sanchez in games 1 and 2 is being used to predict that they will be dominate again in games 5 and 6. In order to believe this, one would have to believe they have some kind of personal momentum in order to keep the most potent offense in baseball quiet.

  6. km9000 - Oct 14, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    If game-to-game momentum were that significant in any sport, you’d see sweeps all the time. It gets “lost” so often, so what good is “having” it? And when sweeps do happen, it’s usually when one team clearly outmatched the other anyway.

    The Cards have won two 1-run games that easily could’ve gone either way. A game 1 victory doesn’t give you momentum that just lets you coast to victory the next night… As the old school types like to say, you actually have to play the game.

  7. Jack Marshall - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    I’d call this Detroit spin rather than analysis. Yes, if the entire Detroit pitching staff throws no-hitter stuff at the Sox, then Detroit has an “edge.” Logic tells us that this won’t happen, that the Red Sox can work the pitch counts to get to the pen, and that there’s a reason that the Tigers ended up with only the third best record in the league despite having (supposedly) the best talent. The 2004 Red Sox demonstrated how victories like this can define a series.

    Go ahead, bet on Detroit.

    • dan1111 - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:52 AM

      I’m a Sox fan, and I think it is fair to say that the Tigers have a bit of an edge due to home field advantage and their starting pitching. However statements like “The Tigers are practiced at coming off tough defeats” and “John Lackey has been rock solid for the Red Sox, but he’s probably going to give up two or three runs, at least” do sound more like spin than analysis.

      • km9000 - Oct 14, 2013 at 8:00 AM

        “Team A split the first two games and have seized home field advantage!” Because home field evidently helped Team B in both of those first two games.

  8. nbjays - Oct 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    I love all the baseball oracles on here this morning.

    The fact is that NOBODY knows how the rest of the series will turn out, just like nobody knew that the Red Sox would walk off with a win last night.

    Anyone who says they KNOW who is going to win this series is full of shit, plain and simple.

    That’s why they have to play the games.

    • dan1111 - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:38 AM

      You’ll eat your words when my prediction ends up being right :)

      • nbjays - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:27 PM

        Nope, I’ll just point out (correctly) that you guessed right.

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