Pat Holden: The Tigers have a good number of big name players, but who is a lesser known player that will likely have a big impact on the series?
Grey Papke: Does J.D. Martinez still count as lesser known? He's basically been for Detroit what Steve Pearce has been for you guys - a guy who was on waivers at one point, came out of nowhere, and was a big offensive producer for the team. I don't even want to think of where the Tigers would be without J.D. He adds a third big threat to the middle of Detroit's order - an extra bat who can provide support and knock in the bigger names of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. When Detroit's offense is clicking, J.D. is usually involved.
PH: Some things I've read throughout the year have been critical of Brad Ausmus in his first year as manager. How would you assess the job he's done?
GP: Well, he did get them to the playoffs, I guess, but I've been quite critical of Ausmus. He's pretty old school, which I deal with, but the big issue has been his bullpen management, which tends to vary from poor to awful. Admittedly, he hasn't been given many great pieces to work with, but Dave Dombrowski went out and parted with two pitching prospects to get him Joakim Soria. Ausmus has proceeded to use him basically only in blowouts or the seventh inning while Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan pitch to varying degrees of success. Soria is Detroit's best reliever but Ausmus essentially uses him as a mopup guy. The other criticism is that Ausmus can be slow to make moves; if he does something and it doesn't work, he sometimes gets caught without a backup plan. He can be frustrating to watch.
PH: As someone who has watched a lot more of the Tigers this year than me, is their defense as bad as advanced metrics suggest (26th in MLB)?
GP: Well... yes. The Tigers are strong at short with Andrew Romine and at second with Ian Kinsler, and Alex Avila is a good defensive catcher. Everything else is average at best. Nick Castellanos is below average at third, Miguel Cabrera is better at first than he was at third but still not great, and the outfield defense is a major issue - J.D. Martinez is okay, Rajai Davis is merely okay, and Torii Hunter isn't the Gold Glover he once was anymore. Defense is not Detroit's strong point, especially in the outfield, where the Tigers never really replaced Austin Jackson's outfield defense. Davis is a clear step down, and the defensive mistakes have become more frequent since he took over everyday duties.
PH: What worries you the most about facing the Orioles?
GP: If you ask me, the most important thing the Tigers have to do in this series is keep the Orioles from hitting the ball out of the ballpark, because Baltimore can hit homers pretty much anywhere. Us Tiger fans are very familiar with what Nelson Cruz can do in a postseason series as he basically singlehandedly torched them back in the 2011 ALCS when he was with Texas. As good as Detroit's rotation is, David Price can have moments of homer-proneness, Justin Verlander wasn't Ace Verlander this season, and Rick Porcello has been leaving the ball up at an alarming rate lately. If the Tigers can't keep the Orioles in the ballpark, they'll have issues.
PH: If you had to name one thing that makes you confident of the Tigers chances in the series, what is it? And the one thing about the Tigers that gives you the most concern?
GP: As for confidence: the Tigers will go as far as the rotation takes them, and it's hard not to feel good about a group headlined by Max Scherzer and Price. Plus, despite the concerns listed in the last question, Detroit pitching has actually done a pretty good job keeping homers down this year. And while I hate to be this obvious, the bullpen is a huge concern. Chamberlain and Nathan have been better lately but you still never really feel that great when you entrust the ballgame to them. If the Tigers get into a bullpen battle with Baltimore, the odds will be stacked against them.
Thanks to Grey for taking the time to answer these questions.