1) Can Delmon Young handle left field?
After an ALCS in which he was good enough to win the MVP, driving in the go-ahead run in all four games, his bat is simply too hot to take him out of the lineup. But, anyone that watched him regularly back in April, or in 2011, or with Minnesota, is aware of the defensive struggles he has.
Now, he might not trip over his own two feet, but expecting him to make any difficult catches, or even cover as much ground as Andy Dirks or Quintin Berry would in his place, is likely unrealistic. That’s fine if Young hits in the World Series like he did in the ALCS. It’s not if he reverts to the free-swinging, GIDP Delmon that he became frequently throughout the year.
If Young is hitting still, the Tigers are going to learn to live with the rough defense. If not though, or if he makes a bad error that costs the team runs, I think you’ll see manager Jim Leyland be much more aggressive with substitutions and bringing in Avisail Garcia and Berry at opportune times to maximize defense, especially if the Tigers are protecting a lead late.
2) What do they do with Jose Valverde?
After his four run ninth inning in game one, Valverde never returned to the mound in live action. Pitching coach Jeff Jones believed he discovered a flaw in his mechanics, and that was causing the flatness on his fastball and the spinning on his splitter.
However, Valverde appeared in Sunday’s simulated game with a pitch count, and yielded two singles and also a walk, along with a called third strike and a fielder’s choice (per MLB.com’s Jason Beck). If they were looking for an improved performance and a quick inning from Valverde, they didn’t get it.
So, now what? Leyland has already announced that there will be no changes to the roster, so Valverde will be active. But what role will he have? The likelihood of him coming in for a save situation in the ninth seems about as close to zero as it can be, but if they don’t trust him to close, will they trust him with a two run lead in the 7th inning? Hard to see that being the case. In that event, Valverde may well sit on the roster, but also sit on the bench for the entirety of it, unless he’s brought in for a situation that is closer to blowout than it is nail biter.
3) Is Phil Coke the closer?
I think the definitive answer to this question is “maybe.” In the right situation, and that right situation being a left-hander at-bat, or a number of left-handers due up, Coke is likely going to get the ball. The top of the Cardinals lineup is left-handed heavy, the middle of the lineup is right-handed heavy. Who is due up could likely determine match-ups for much of the back end of the bullpen, with Leyland trying to maximize the lefty/lefty, righty/righty match-ups. Coke will face the left-handers, Octavio Dotel, or maybe Joaquin Benoit, for the guys on the right.
4) How late will the starters go in games?
The Tigers have had the benefit of not worrying about substitutions much for their starting pitchers, with them going deep into games frequently. Excluding Max Scherzer, who we know is battling an arm that isn’t 100% and is seeing his starts cut short, the average start of the team has gone 7 1/3 innings, leaving just five outs for the bullpen to record.
But frequently, those games have been close. If the Tigers are holding a slim lead, or tied, or trailing by just a run, are they going to be more likely to pull the trigger to try and avoid giving away an all-important out and at-bat?
It’s hard to see Justin Verlander coming out in just about any situation unless you can tell he’s done pitching (like in the top of the ninth for game three). Other than that, expect Leyland to pull the trigger early, which is going to put additional pressure on middle relievers like Al Alburquerque and Drew Smyly to get important outs in the middle innings; outs that the starters likely handled in the AL-only games.
5) Will Prince Fielder hit?
It’s probably a bit unfair to judge a player on a total of just nine games, but the reality is that the $214 million man is hitting just .211 so far this postseason. He has just one extra base hit, a home run in an eventual loss of game four of the ALDS, and has only driven in three runs total.
Players will have good games and bad games. Up until the ALCS-winning game four, Miguel Cabrera’s numbers weren’t much better, though he was at least still hitting .290, even without much power.
The reality is though that the offense is one that is full of holes, and while it will hopefully get isolated good games out of guys like Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta, it’s ultimately going to be up to the big boys to deliver. The Tigers are going to need more from Prince to end the World Series draught.