Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (6/18-20: at Was; 6/22-24: at Atl)

Much has been made over the Tigers' come-from-behind, 7-4 win at Philadelphia Sunday afternoon. The focus has been on the five-run seventh, which turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 lead.

But I contend that the victory was bigger for the bullpen than it was for the Tigers hitters.

Oh, did the bullpen need those three innings of one-run ball! A 3.00 ERA for the game, for a pen that has been on the wrong side of 5.00 for most of the season -- and that has been causing manager Jim Leyland undo stress, even when his team scores seven, eight, twelve runs in a game.

They had their moments yesterday, did the Tigers relievers. They put some men on base. An error by Carlos Guillen taxed the already-fragile Fernando Rodney. But the bottom line is, the Phillies scored just the one run in the final three frames.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.

It's very much up to conjecture as to whether the Tigers' bullpen woes will iron themselves out by the time the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline passes. That's but six weeks or so away. The key will be the rotation, coming back to full strength soon. Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson will join Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, Mike Maroth, and Chad Durbin to give the team seven starters. More chances for the bullpen to not have to enter games in the fifth and sixth innings as often. The effect of fatigue can't be overlooked when it comes to relief pitchers. The domino effect of Joel Zumaya's injury has been felt for the past several weeks. It speaks volumes when your most reliable reliever is Tim Byrdak -- who was not even on the radar in spring training.

The booming bats have been great, and it was wonderful to see them come to life in the late innings yesterday to help win the Phillies series. But when I watched the game unfold,I was very attentive to see how the bullpen would do. They needed that lead preservation more than the hitters needed the big inning.

Fun fact: tonight's game in Washington is the Tigers' first in the Nation's Capital since September 8, 1971. No, Kenny Rogers wasn't in the big leagues back then.

This weekend, we'll be treated to another possible World Series preview: Tigers at the Braves. Should be fun. And another of Gary Sheffield's former teams. This guy is like having Larry Brown on your side!



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