The Tigers got their money’s worth from their new first baseman in the regular season. But Fielder needs to start delivering in the postseason to justify his $23 million salary in 2012.
Although Fielder hit 39 points lower against left-handed pitchers during the regular season (.289 vs. .328 against righties), that doesn’t explain his struggles against San Francisco Giants starters Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner in the first two games of the World Series. He’s only 3-for-18 versus Zito lifetime, but he was 3-for-7 versus Bumgarner entering Game 2 of the series.
Of greater concern to the Tigers are Fielder’s .205 batting average and three RBI through 11 postseason games thus far.
His struggles were easier to overlook when Detroit’s pitching was bailing him out against the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees in the first two rounds of the playoffs. But now that the Tigers have reached Major League Baseball’s biggest stage, Fielder’s playoff failures are magnified, especially since this is developing into a disturbing trend.
Fielder also struggled in the 2011 playoffs as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. He did provide slightly more power and run production, with three home runs and six RBI in 11 total playoff games.
However, his .200 average in the NLCS was a major reason why the Brewers fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games, despite beating out their NL Central rivals for the division crown.
In 25 games played across three different playoff appearances—the Brewers also qualified for the National League Wild Card in 2008—Fielder has amassed a paltry .202 average and .296 on-base percentage with five home runs and 11 RBI in 94 postseason at-bats.
Those are alarming statistics for a player still in his prime—Fielder just turned 28 in May—having just completed the first of a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Detroit’s path to a World Series title was going to be tough enough even if Fielder were not struggling. After 2011 Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP Justin Verlander got knocked around in Game 1, the Tigers were faced with the prospect of overcoming an unfavorable piece of recent World Series history.
The Game 1 winner has gone on to win 13 of the last 15 World Series. Teams that go up 2-0, as the Giants just have with a 2-0 victory over Detroit Thursday night, are 8-0 in the Fall Classic since 1997.
The Tigers can take solace in the fact that they are 4-0 at home this postseason, but that record will not remain perfect if Fielder doesn’t begin to deliver like the $200 million player he is.
San Francisco is 4-2 on the road this postseason, not to mention the fact that they are playing with house money, with two more home games awaiting if needed.
Fielder has been a much better hitter at home this season. He hit .337, with 18 of his 30 home runs and more than half of his 108 RBI coming at Comerica Park.
That’s the player who has to show up for Detroit, starting with Saturday’s Game 3. If he can use the home field to get himself going, he’ll need to find a way to carry that momentum into Games 6 and 7 in San Francisco.
That’s the only hope the Tigers have of making an improbable comeback against the Giants.
San Francisco is just two years removed from winning it all in 2010. Many of the players from that squad are contributing to the Giants’ 2012 postseason run, so the Tigers must overcome their opponents' recent playoff success, as well as an 0-2 deficit.
The Giants are counting on their World Series experience to help them win another title.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have to be hoping that they can count on Fielder to forget his recent postseason history and deliver Detroit its first championship since 1984.
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