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When a team knows it needs just one win to advance, they can "pull out all the stops" when the opportunity arises. This is when you see starting pitchers come in on their "day to throw in the bullpen" or see a star reliever go 2-3 IPs instead of their usual one. The ability to go "all in" to grab one game gives a manager like Jim Leyland an extra trump card. If...That card is in his deck to begin with.
With Leyland's 2012 Tigers, the way games 3, 4, and 5 are set up, that card does not appear to exist. If Anibal Sanchez or Max Scherzer struggle, Leyland can't go to Justin Verlander because Verlander is still in turn to pitch game 5. When would Doug Fister be available? By game 5, which is the only game started by a better pitcher (Verlander). So it's unlikely that you'll see a surprise appearance from a starting pitcher just to secure one game.
And then there's the bullpen. What is Leyland going to do to grab a game? Pitch Jose Valverde for 2.1 IP? Please do. Go early to, and stretch out...who? Phil Coke? Al Kissbuquerque? The Tigers' bullpen is not a strength, and has no capacity to "stretch" for one game. The more they pitch, the better off the A's are.
Defensively, the Tigers lack range but their worst fielders, some of whom are even named Fielder, are also their best hitters. So in order to put their best foot forward, the Tigers have to put "two left feet" forward and roll with Cabrera at 3B, Fielder at 1B, Peralta and Infante "turning DPs into fielder's choices in a single slow turn!"
The Tigers are a good team, but they're also a team without the ability to provide "shutdown relief" or the ability to hit and field well at the same time. Even knowing he just has to secure one game, once and for all, there's not much Leyland can do other than just "play the game". Basically the Tigers' "Plan A" is fine -- but there really is no "Plan B".
Which might be enough. But the A's aren't going to face Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, and Mariano Rivera for a total of 5 IPs, or a surprise appearance from El Duque out of the pen, this time around because Leyland's team, while built to win games overall, is not built to "stretch" just to ensure one win. And until the A's lose one at home, they are very much alive.