Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (7/23-26: at CWS; 7/27-29: at LAA)

The Tigers have a very home-heavy schedule, beginning August 3rd. That's when they'll start a stretch of 32 of their final 53 games being played at Comerica Park.

And that's the bad news.

For whatever reason, the Tigers, after 96 games played overall, are five games over .500 (26-21) at home, and 15 over on the road (32-17). It's an imbalance that is difficult to figure out, except to maybe just chalk it up to the same adage you use anytime anything perplexes: That's baseball.

But it's also not alarmist to say that the Tigers better spiff up that home record if they expect to remain in the thick of things throughout September.

They dropped another home series over the weekend, to the resurgent Royals, being led by a kid named Billy Butler. (I'm sorry, but I can't say his name without thinking about Billy Buckner).

The Tigers play 32 more road games this season. Let's say they falter a bit on the road in the Dog Days and only manage a 16-16 mark. It would put even more pressure on them to make hay at home.

It's likely that it will take 93-96 wins to secure a playoff spot, comfortably. The Tigers have 58 now, so they need 35-38 more. That means, in the above "Let's say" scenario, the Tigers would need 19-22 home wins in their final 34 home games. That's a hefty percentage for a club who's treated Comerica Park, so far, as if its home cooking is being done by Debra Barone instead of Martha Stewart (yes, you need to be an Everybody Loves Raymond fam to get that reference).

There haven't been too many offers of explanation emanating from the Tigers clubhouse about this home/away thing, but you wouldn't really expect any. Ballplayers are the last people you go to, to explain statistical oddities. Plus, they don't really care about all that stuff nearly as much as the folks who write about them.

I remember asking Curtis Granderson, back in May, about the "big" seven upcoming games with the Cleveland Indians.

What if a team, I asked, gets off to a 5-2 or 6-1 start in the season series? Does that mean anything?

"I think it means a lot more to the fans and the media than it does to the guys in this room," Granderson said, which didn't surprise me in the least. And, indeed, the Indians won the first five games. But the Tigers have come back to win four of the last five. And who's in first place, anyway?

Still, I don't think it's a matter of nitpicking to say that if the Tigers list their concerns in the season's final two months, their home record ought to be on it.

But look at it this way: maybe the pedestrian home mark so far means there's plenty of magic in those creamy whites and Old English D still left in the tank for the pennant push.

The beer glass is half full, right?

Two unusual things on the Tigers' docket this week. Actually, one of them has already occurred this season, but in reverse.

The first is a five-game series with the White Sox in Chicago. You don't see too many five-gamers anymore, and this one is due to a rain date that will be made up this week as a day-night doubleheader. (Speaking of things you don't see anymore, how about twi-night doubleheaders?).

The other is a Chicago-to-Anaheim trip, Thursday to Friday. In April, the Tigers went from Anaheim to Chicago in one day. Granted, Thursday's game is an afternoon affair, but I still think the schedule makers got this wrong. Manager Jim Leyland crabbed about it in April, and I don't blame him. Doubtless he'll crab again, especially after playing five games against the Chisox.



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