Tigers don’t look like a champion

They don’t quite pass the smell test do they?

There’s the old saying that if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it probably is a duck.

The Detroit Tigers looked like a duck a few months ago, but they aren’t acting like one now. The duck in question, of course, is a championship prize-winning duck.

Title winning teams get the breaks and they usually get them because they’re the team that’s working harder, that’s built better, faster, stronger.

The Boston Red Sox over the past five games of this ALCS, have exposed the Detroit Tigers lineup for what it is, a collection of big-time hitters that can do little else.

The Tigers don’t play defense, they don’t play small ball, their bullpen is a mess. All things which the Red Sox have, and do, in spades. And as David Ortiz showed in Game 2, they have power hitting too. The shockwaves of Ortiz’s grand slam are still being felt in this series. It was the moment when the Tigers, who had dominated Boston to that point, loosened their grip and gave the Red Sox life.

The Tigers have problems that can’t really be solved. When manager Jim Leyland has to decide to either put Jhonny Peralta at left field for use of his bat, or put him at shortstop and sacrifice slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias, that says it all doesn’t it?

If the Tigers should win two games in Boston and make the World Series, a whole new set of problems arises.

Some AL teams are well equipped to play in NL ballparks, where the designated hitter slot is not available. The Tigers are not one of them.

Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are all ill-equipped to play a position on the field. Peralta is a mediocre shortstop. Any one of those four would be better off as a DH, all have powerful bats. In an NL ballpark, Leyland can either play all four at their natural positions and field possibly the worst defensive team to ever play in a World Series, or sacrifice power for defense.

Prince Fielder is quickly becoming the goat of the postseason and just so happens to bat in the sweet spot of the order. Leyland is loyal and understands slumps. Fielder will not be demoted in the order; Leyland holds out hope that the slump will suddenly end. It’s a nice thought. Hopefully he’s right.

The more conventional, though risky, move might be to either bench Fielder or switch his spot in the order with Peralta, who has been on a tear. Fans are frustrated and deservedly so. Fielder was showered with boos late in game 5 when Detroit’s third rally attempt of the night was squashed by another one-pitch groundout to the Tigers’ slugger.

Is it better to stay with the status quo and wonder what if, if the Tigers are eliminated tonight?

There is still hope. Aside from their power hitting, the other area where Detroit holds an advantage, is its starting pitching. Two of the game’s top three pitchers are up next for the Tigers. Max Scherzer Saturday night and Justin Verlander in a prospective Game 7. With the assumed Cy-Young winner and the 2012 Cy-Young winner set to go, the Tigers will have a shot to pull it out, but each will need to go eight innings. The bullpen simply cannot be trusted, and that even includes closer Joaquin Benoit.

The Red Sox, on the other hand possess the nearly unhittable Koji Uehara with an ERA of 1.13, a WHIP of 0.50. He barely even allows runners on base.

If the Tigers don’t have a lead in the late innings, they can forget about it.

Great pitching will almost always beat great hitting.

So tonight, a team built to slug their way to the World Series must do just that, and a pitcher that is favored to win the Cy Young must pitch like it. And maybe, if it all comes together, the defensive miscues will become an afterthought, the slumping slugger will be forgiven, we will celebrate and then ponder these same questions one night later for Game 7.