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FRANCISCO -- The Detroit Tigers can win with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder playing small roles. They're not a two-man team. But since baseball awards no bonus points for degree of difficulty, they'd really rather not have to.The Giants have managed to contain Detroit's two best hitters. Largely because of that, they've also kept the American League champions' offense quiet while building a 2-0 World Series lead. The Tigers' Nos. 3-4 hitters are 2-for-11 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch and one RBI in the series."I don't know how to say it, but our game is slow a little bit right now," Cabrera said after San Francisco's 2-0 win in Game 2 on Thursday night. "I think we need to pick it up a little bit more, be more aggressive and try to get more lucky. We had good at-bats. To me, I hit two line drives, I walked. But we need to get more aggressive, get more confident and try to win the first one."
There are plenty of reasons the two have been quiet. Defense has been a large part of it, as both of the stars have had terrible luck. In both Game 1 and Game 2, the Giants robbed a potential base hit from each man on a well-hit ball. Additionally, San Francisco was able to pitch Cabrera and Fielder carefully on Thursday because they rarely hit with runners on base.
There's a long-held notion in baseball that dangerous hitters need "protection" in the form of a threat behind them to prevent intentional and semi-intentional walks. It may or may not have much merit outside of extreme cases, but plenty of people in the game will tell you there's another method to keep your stars from being minimized: putting effective hitters in front of them. It's tougher to pitch around a power hitter when there's not a base open. Overall, Major League hitters batted .249 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage with the bases empty in 2012. With runners on, those numbers went up to .262/.333/.415."That's not just their lineup," said Giants Game 3 starter Ryan Vogelsong. "It's every lineup. Your best hitters are in the middle, and those are the guys that are going to do the most damage. You don't neutralize guys like that. You try to make sure they're hitting without guys on base. That's all you can do."In Game 1 on Wednesday, Austin Jackson and Omar Infante combined for three hits in the top two positions in Detroit's lineup. So Cabrera, hitting third, batted with at least one man on base three times. He had a hit and a walk, and was robbed of another hit by left fielder Gregor Blanco's diving catch. Fielder batted with two men on base two separate times, and he had a hit and was likewise robbed of a hit by Blanco.In Game 2, each man batted with the bases empty the first time through the lineup. In the fourth, Infante reached on an infield single, and Cabrera and Fielder had their most threatening swings of the night. Cabrera smoked a liner to third base, and Fielder hit a ball deep to the track in left. Nothing came of it, but they were very much in the game. Cabrera walked leading off the seventh, and Fielder hit into a double play, ending the last real opportunity that the Tigers had. Sergio Romo retired Jackson and Infante to end the game and prevent the sluggers from getting a fourth trip to the plate.It's entirely possible that as soon as Game 3, Fielder or Cabrera will break out in a big way -- runners on or no. They're two of the game's most dangerous hitters, a right-left combination that makes for matchup nightmares. For the time being, though, the Giants are happy to keep trying to minimize the chances they have to do damage, and hope that frustration builds and the sluggers get away from their disciplined approaches."They're two of the best in the world for a reason, so you've got to respect what they can do," said Romo. "Frustrated or not, those guys can hurt you with one swing."