Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (8/21-23: CLE; 8/24-27: NYY)

There's no bigger indicator, right now, that this isn't the 2006 baseball season for the Tigers than this: there is no Wild Card to default to, to get into the playoffs. It's win the division to get in -- that's it. No cushy 10-game leads to fritter away, only to outlast the White Sox anyway for the title of Kings of Second Place. The Tigers are going to have to get into the October tournament the old fashioned way -- by winning their division.

After losing three straight in New York (I figured the Tigers would lose 3 of 4 in the Bronx, even after Thursday's win), the Tigers are three behind the Yankees, but the Yankees are not the Wild Card leaders at the moment. That honor goes to the Seattle Mariners (remember them?), who are 1/2-game ahead of the Yankees. But here's the rub: the Mariners lead the Tigers by five games in the loss column.

I've had some folks ask me why being behind in the loss column is such a bad thing, and why is it worse than being behind in the win column? It's because losses are games that are, well, lost. You can't "make them up." But if you're tied in losses yet behind in wins, it means you have games in hand and, theoretically, can make up your deficit simply by winning them. Make sense?

Being five back in the loss column, with less than 40 games to play, isn't healthy. Having two teams ahead of you isn't healthy, either -- especially when one of them (the Yankees) doesn't appear to be slowing down at all.

The Tigers' objective should be to focus on the Central Division and let the Wild Card be damned. They are 1-1/2 games behind the Indians -- but only two behind in the "L" column. And they have the Tribe in three head-to-head matches this week at Comerica Park.

Last year, the Tigers stumbled home 19-31 and blew the division on the last day of the season. Of course, they had qualified for the playoffs the weekend before, thanks to being Kings of Second Place. There's no such safety net in 2007. It's "Division or Bust!" -- or at least it should be.

Random thoughts after a rough weekend in New York:

The Tigers continue to have a maddening knack for striking out when simply putting the ball into play would drive in a run. Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson have been the biggest offenders lately. Each seems to be easy pickings with breaking balls below the shins. Manager Jim Leyland, without naming names (he didn't have to), talked about the team's inability to drive in runners against the Yanks.

"The swings we had were unacceptable. We're taking strikes and swinging at balls," Leyland said.

Inge: "I can't explain it. They're pitching me like I'm Babe Ruth. Everything is away. I haven't seen a ball in the middle of the strike zone in a week."

Um, Brandon? It's called "advanced scouting." You know, those guys who go to ballgames and report on what they see? Obviously the book on you is, "throw him down and away. Feed him off-speed stuff, especially with two strikes."

They're not going to change until you do, my friend.

Now, about Cameron Maybin, the prized rookie fly catcher. Extremely raw, obviously. Hits a lot of balls to the right side and straightaway, it seems. Shaky defensively. Made a bad throw to the plate when a good one might have made the play close. Struck out a lot. But hit a majestic homer to center field off Roger Clemens. Bottom line? All I can go by is what everyone in the baseball world says: that Maybin is a legit five-tool player who'll make Detroit go crazy in a few years. And if that's true, then I'll never forget the homer off Clemens Saturday.

Also, you can't get any rougher than starting your MLB career in New York in a playoff race, going against Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. So it's all smooth sailing from here, Cameron. If only.

BTW, nice, classy move by Derek Jeter to throw the ball Maybin hit for his first big league hit (a single on a hit-and-run play) into the Tigers dugout for keepsake purposes. I like Jeter. A lot. He's about the only Yankee I can stomach, actually.



Post a Comment

<< Home