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The unnecessary crisis

The Tigers won Game 5 of the ALCS tonight, 7-5. They did it without their two best relievers, Joaquim Benoit and Jose Valverde, who manager Jim Leyland said would be unavailable after being used heavily in Games 2, 3, and 4. Owing at least partly to the unavailability of his set-up man and closer, Leyland allowed starter Justin Verlander to throw 133 pitches and work into the eighth inning; Verlander surrendered a two-run homer, shrinking a five-run lead to three. Coke allowed a run in the ninth and allowed the tying run to reach base before retiring Mike Napoli to end the game.

In Game 3, Benoit pitched the eighth inning. He entered with a four-run lead and gave up a run before getting out of the inning. Valverde pitched the ninth, earning a save in the process. Despite the fact that they had pitched the day before, and that there were games the next day and the day after that, Leyland used his best relievers to get six outs that any major league pitcher–yes, even John Lackey–could be trusted to get before allowing four runs.

Had Benoit and Valverde stayed on the bench in Game 3, it’s reasonable to believe that both of them would have been available in Game 5. The comfort of knowing he had his best arms might have–I’d even say probably would have–encouraged Jim Leyland to remove Verlander after completing the seventh, rather than send him out for the eighth. A nail-biting finish, in all likelihood, would instead have been an easy victory.

The Tigers won both games, so it’s not as if Jim Leyland’s questionable bullpen tactics cost his team anything in the long run. That said, I’m sure Detroit’s fans would rather have had an easy 7-2 win in Game 5 than the narrow escape they had to endure instead.

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