Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 5-1
This Week: (6/30-7/2: at Min; 7/3-6: at Sea)

It's crazy where these baseball sabermatricians (sp?) come up with some of their fodder.

The Tigers, it was revealed, became the only team in modern history to edge over .500 for the first time in a season at the exact halfway point of the season. They are 41-40 now, thanks to a five-game winning streak.

Chew on that for a moment -- not that it has any flavor. But there it is.

What's far more important than any statistical oddity is that the Tigers are -- FINALLY -- playing the type of baseball that everyone expected they would when the curtain was raised on March 31. So much has happened since then; it almost seems like another season, doesn't it -- the sleepwalking of April and May?

Certainly the roster has changed. And the positions of the players. And the look of the starting rotation. And the complexion of the bullpen.

You could fill a decent sized book with the lives and times of the Tigers in the first half of the 2008 season -- a first half that may go down in franchise history as being one of the most bizarre and turbulent of any, at anytime.

Yet here the Tigers are -- five games out of first place and about to play a quote-unquote big series against the Twins in Minnesota, in that damn Metrodome (frequent Grubber readers know of my undying affection for that piece of garbage stadium). All those twists and turns, and managerial moves that were mostly made out of desperation, and still the Tigers have landed at the halfway point in (no pun intended) halfway decent shape.

Half of the Toledo Mudhens' position players and several of their pitchers have spent some time in Detroit, at one point or another. Even now, many of them wear Tigers uniforms, mainly due to injuries. Here's how well things are going for the Tigers, who are 17-4 in their last 21 games: a weak-hitting catcher named Dane Sardinha smacked a triple to drive in the winning run yesterday. It was his first career MLB hit. And the night before that, the Tigers shrugged off a four-run Colorado Rockies rally in the ninth -- a rally that put them down a run -- and simply went out and needed just three batters to score two runs to win the game in the bottom half of the ninth. Both of those games -- Saturday and Sunday -- the Tigers probably would have lost had they been played in the season's first two months.

But now, more injuries. Magglio Ordonez, shelved for two-plus weeks with another of those oblique injuries, the kind the Tigers are now becoming famous for. Brandon Inge still smarting from the same type of malady. Jeremy Bonderman, of course, out for the year with a circulation problem in his arm. Dontrelle Willis a riddle wrapped inside of an enigma. Or vice-versa. Either way, he's of no use to the team right now.

The Tigers have begun winning games because they are playing the game right and exhibiting the ability to come from behind and answer their opponents' body shots. Toss in a settling-down rotation (featuring Toledo grads Eddie Bonine and Armando Galarraga) and a tighter defense and a healthy Gary Sheffield, and this is the result. A genuine pennant race looms in the season's second half. How about that?

The Tigers, as their nickname implies, are like the proverbial cat that somehow lands on his feet.



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