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Tigers' task requires key areas of improvement

Tigers' task requires key areas of improvement

Tigers' task requires key areas of improvement
DETROIT -- The odds grow exceedingly long, but if the 2012 postseason has taught us anything, it's that a series isn't actually over until the final out is recorded. So while the Tigers would need a historic rally to bounce back from a 3-0 World Series hole against the Giants, it absolutely is possible. They just need an awful lot to go right.

Here's a look at five ways Detroit can improve its odds to overcome the nearly impossible.

Keep the starters going: Not a lot has gone the Tigers' way in the first three games, but Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez both pitched quite well. Justin Verlander didn't, but he's Verlander, and hardly anyone is expecting him to have another rough outing if he gets a second start.

And it could well get better, as Detroit sends Max Scherzer to the mound in Sunday's Game 4 (8 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:15 ET first pitch) to counter Matt Cain. The hard-throwing right-hander has the second-best stuff on the Tigers' staff, and at times has been their second-best pitcher. After that, it would be Verlander, then Fister and Sanchez again.

World Series

"I have total confidence in anybody we send out there," said manager Jim Leyland. "When you send out Verlander and Fister and Sanchez and Scherzer, you know, you feel pretty good. You feel pretty good about any of those pitchers."

Get the big guys hitting: Lineup depth is not one of the Tigers' great strengths. Their offense is driven by stars Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Jackson has had a strong World Series and postseason overall, but Cabrera and Fielder are scuffling.

The Nos. 3-4 hitters in Detroit's lineup are a combined 3-for-19 with two walks, one RBI and no extra-base hits in three games. For the postseason, Cabrera is batting .267 with a .365 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage, while Fielder is at .188/.250/.250.

"I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit," said Fielder. "I'm just unfortunately not getting it on the barrel."

The issues are exacerbated by the lack of a good bridge between leadoff man Jackson and Cabrera and Fielder in the 3-4 holes. The Tigers' No. 2 hitters have a .327 OBP for the postseason, and .250 for the World Series. Detroit's best chances to score will come when all three stars get a chance to contribute in the same inning. Having the guy who hits between them contribute would help make that happen.

Convert on opportunities: The Tigers haven't done a good job of getting on base this series, but they've been even worse at converting baserunners into runs. San Francisco has five more baserunners than Detroit (counting hits, walks and hit batsmen), but has nine more runs. That's a huge disparity.

The inefficiency comes down to two main elements. One, a Tigers team that was the best in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position in the regular season has been flat-out bad in those situations against the Giants. They hit .286 with a .799 OPS with RISP in the regular season -- both numbers leading the Major Leagues. In the World Series, Detroit is 1-for-11 with one walk and no extra-base hits.

"It's baseball," lamented catcher Alex Avila. "A little bit of both -- them making good pitches, and us not taking advantage of mistakes."

Additionally, the Tigers have fallen back into bad a habit that plagued them throughout the regular season: hitting into double plays. Detroit led the Majors by hitting into 156 double plays in 2012. It's already amassed four in three games in the World Series.

Get a little luck: The Giants have played exceptional defense so far in the World Series. Gregor Blanco has stolen hit after hit from the Tigers. Those double plays don't happen without infielders doing something right.

San Francisco's defensive efficiency rating is a ridiculous .773 for the series. Put another way, Detroit hitters have gotten on base on just 22.7 percent of the balls they've put in play. Some of that may be a matter of not hitting the ball hard, but some of it also comes down to having well-hit balls go for outs.

"They've played outstanding defense," said Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks. "They've got guys making plays all over the field. That's just the way it goes."

It's not really something the Tigers can change, that's true. But if they're going to win some games, the Giants' defense is going to have to cooperate and stop catching every single thing that's put in play.

Hit the ball out of the park: OK, there is one sure way to make sure the defense doesn't make a play. Hit a home run. The Tigers have done that exactly once through three games, and that's a problem.

Detroit wasn't an unusually homer-reliant team in the regular season, totaling 163 to rank 16th among the 30 Major League teams. But it was closer to 10th-place Tampa Bay than 19th-place Seattle, an indicator that this is at least to some extent a power-driven offense.

The thing is, nearly every good offense is at least somewhat a power-driven offense. The Giants, relying on base hit after base hit, are very much the exception and not the rule. It's difficult to string hits together in October, especially against a team catching the ball like San Francisco is. For the Tigers to score enough runs to win the series, they're going to need to start hitting the ball over the fence.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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