DETROIT -- Given that Jhonny Peralta has played almost his entire career in the infield and has barely played anywhere the past two months, starting the shortstop in left field for Game 3 Monday probably is not manager Jim Leyland's preferred move for the postseason. But Detroit Tigers managers have taken bigger risks in October.
Detroit fans can only hope for similar results if Peralta does start in left -- Leyland strongly implied he would do so, but didn't specifically say so -- because they need someone to spark what had been one of the league's best offenses. The Tigers scored the second-most runs in the American League during the regular season, but they haven't scored in the past 17 innings of their American League Division Series with the Oakland Athletics. They don't have an extra-base hit since the first inning of Game 1, and five of their 10 singles in that span didn't get out of the infield.
And remember, the Tigers also were no-hit in the final game of the regular season.
No wonder Leyland would be willing to play Peralta out of position. Peralta hit .303 with 11 home runs and 30 doubles this year but lost his shortstop spot to Jose Iglesias this summer when he received a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use and missed almost the entire final two months of the season. In 15 years of pro ball, Peralta had never played anywhere other than the infield until the final three games of this season when the Tigers experimented with him in left.
"We're still pitching-oriented, and you're taking a little bit of a chance because, defensively, you don't know what's going to happen,'' Leyland told reporters at an off-day news conference in Detroit. "But there comes a point where you say, 'Well, you might have to give up something to get something.' So I'm just hoping that maybe he can knock in a couple of runs and we can get a lead and maybe get him out of there later in the game.''
The Tigers need to try something because their current offensive struggles extend further back than one week. Including the division series, Detroit has been shut out five times since the start of September and held to one run another five times. The Tigers have scored seven runs and hit no home runs in their past six games.
This must feel all too familiar to Detroit fans, who watched their team get shut out twice and swept by the San Francisco Giants in last year's World Series.
"It's tough to hold that lineup down,'' Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "I know they were struggling a little bit toward the end of the season, but there really shouldn't be any carry over from that. You have the days off, the separation. It's a whole different feel once you get to the postseason.''
The postseason usually means better and tougher pitching, but there is carry-over when it comes to what is slowing the game's best hitter. Struggling with a variety of injuries (groin, abdominal strain, hip flexor), Miguel Cabrera still is delivering hits regularly but they are almost exclusively singles. He has only two extra-base hits since Aug. 26.
And that's a major problem. When Cabrera and Detroit's other sluggers aren't able to produce their normal power, the middle of Detroit's lineup faces a challenge to manufacture runs. Watching Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez run the bases is like watching the Molina family in a sack race.
"You go an entire season producing runs however you produce runs. In our case, it's extra base hits and home runs; same in [Oakland's] case as well,'' catcher Alex Avila said. "You try to take advantage of any opportunity you have. The thing about the postseason is that more times than not, you're not going to have many opportunities. Usually, the team that takes advantage for the one or two hits during the games wins.''
That's the upside for Detroit. The Athletics aren't hitting either. They were third in the American League in scoring during the season but have scored just three runs (the same as the Tigers) while striking out 29 times in 68 plate appearances. Detroit also has 2013 American League ERA leader Anibal Sanchez starting Monday at home against Jarrod Parker.
"There are still some games left to be played, and both teams have the ability to put runs on the board, which we've seen with two of the better offenses in the American League,'' Melvin said. "It could turn. It could stay in this direction; you never really know. But it seems like in the postseason, for whatever reason, the pitching rules the day a little bit more so and runs are tougher to come by.''