The Tigers never even trailed at any point in the ALCS, marking only the fifth time that's happened in a postseason sweep. And as the domination unfolded, the Tigers' potential problems and pitfalls seemed to melt away - helped along, of course, by the New York Yankees' internal combustion:
- Could they take advantage of the luck of the draw? Check. We're talking about the No. 3 seed here. That seventh-best record of 88-74 set up the Tigers to host the AL West-champion Oakland A's for the first two games of the LDS a one-year-only aberration due to commissioner Bud Selig forcing the new playoff format into effect even though previous scheduling commitments wouldn't allow for two LDS off-days.
Sure enough, the Tigers grabbed control of the series by winning the first two at Comerica Park before needing Justin Verlander to dominate Game 5 in Oakland.
- Offense? Check. Specifically, support for Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Without it, run production sputtered at times in the regular season. But how about these numbers from the supporting cast:
Delmon Young was the ALCS MVP with two homers, five RBI including four game-winners and 11 total bases. He drove in one less run than the Yankees scored. With a two-homer, three-RBI performance in ALCS Game 4, Jhonny Peralta raised his postseason batting average to .343.
And we could very well be witnessing the breakout of the next Tigers' star in 21-year-old Avasail Garcia, who has four RBI with his six post-season hits.
- Starting pitching? Check-plus. The numbers are all you need: Nine postseason games (all quality starts), 62 innings pitched, seven earned runs, 1.02 ERA, 76 strikeouts. In the ALCS, Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez combined to allow only two earned runs in 27.1 innings.
"We're going to have to talk about those two earned runs,'' manager Jim Leyland joked afterward. "At end of day, they pitched unbelievable.''
Any question about Scherzer's sore shoulder that limited his innings down the stretch have been erased. And whether it's the Cardinals or Giants - both of whom have rotation issues - there's no starter left capable of dominating more than Verlander.
Defense? Check: As range-challenged as so many of the Tigers' defenders are, they're catching what they get to. Cabrera hasn't made an error in more than a month. Peralta is playing his best defense lately in a season in which he committed only seven errors. The team's total of four errors wasn't costly.
- So that leaves the bullpen. And even here, the ALCS only brought positive developments that could carry into the World Series.
Rookie left-handed starter Drew Smyly closing out a 12-inning Game 1 victory with two scoreless innings? Phil Coke entering the series as an unreliable situational left-hander, and coming out with three saves? These were not expected outcomes. Smyly's regular-season opponents' OPS was 88 points lower against left-handed hitters (.671) than right-handed hitters (.759). So he's capable of succeeding in late-inning situations against left-handed hitters, as well as multi-inning relief appearances.
The Cardinals know all about journeyman right-hander Octavio Dotel, since he was a key contributor in their bullpen last post-season. His repertoire is slider-dominant, which helps explain his success against right-handed hitters - .197 batting average, .217 on-base, .307 slugging for a .523 OPS.
And five off days until World Series Game 1 also could allow Jose Valverde to make a mechanical and/or mental adjustment. Since the postseason began, he's been an obvious liability, but a majority of the damage has been done by left-handed hitters. In fact, his regular-season splits are wide:
Vs. left-handed hitters: .257 BA/.337 OBP/.417; Slugging/.754 OPS
Vs. right-handed hitters: .193 BA/.270 OBP/.246; Slugging/.515 OPS
So at the very least, Valverde should be able to have success against right-handed hitters - and the Tigers could need that against St. Louis, or the Buster Posey/Hunter Pence No. 4-5 combination if the Giants advance.
And the funny thing is - especially when you're talking about a closer - there has been little correlation between the Tigers' won-loss record and Valverde's performance.
When the Tigers won eight of their last 10 to pass the Chicago White Sox and win the AL Central, Valverde pitched five scoreless innings and earned four saves.
But in a 7-2 postseason, Valverde has the ugly line of 2.1 IP, 7 hits, 7 runs, a loss and a blown save.