Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-2
This Week: (7/21-23: at KC; 7/25-27: CWS)

The Tigers have cooled off, and it's not all that surprising. After all, the team went on an 18-4 tear to go from 24-36 to 42-40, and is now on a more modest 7-9 pace. Still, the overall record since dropping a season-low 12 games below .500 is 25-13, and that's the kind of ball that the Tigers will have to play to keep themselves relevant in the AL Central race.

First, forget all thoughts of a Wild Card berth. The division's the thing for the Tigers. Why? No. 1, the Tigers are a full 7 games behind the Red Sox -- a half game worse than they are behind the White Sox for first place in the Central. But more important, whenever you start talking Wild Card, you open up the party for so many more teams in the league. Don't get fooled by the "Wild Card standings" that you'll see on ESPN -- which the network has already begun flashing on the screen. It's one thing to be seven games behind one team; quite another to be seven games behind the leader when there are several teams between you and first place. The more teams you have to leap frog, the more of them have to lose on a consistent basis, last year's Colorado Rockies be damned.

The Tigers already have to pass two teams just to win their own division. In a Wild Card race, you must add the Yankees and the A's and the Rangers to the mix. Now you're talking four teams to pass -- the Twins (or White Sox) plus those three. Not to mention teams just behind the Tigers, like the Blue Jays and the Orioles and even the Royals, who are just one hot streak away from getting involved.

Safer to keep your eyes on the Central prize. Less crowded.

It's also time to start looking at differential in the loss column -- even before you look at overall games behind. Losses are games you can't make up -- at least not on your own. The further you fall behind in the loss column, the more you need to rely on teams ahead of you losing. So, basically, it's better to be seven games behind with six of those games in the loss column and eight in the win column, than vice versa (games behind are calculated by adding the gaps between wins and losses and dividing by two).

Here's an illustration:

Chicago 55-42
Minnesota 55-43

These are the standings today. The Tigers are 6-1/2 games behind the White Sox. Note the loss column. The Tigers are seven behind the White Sox. But look at this hypothetical situation:

Chicago 56-43

This is also a 6-1/2 game differential, overall. But the loss column difference in this scenario is only six. It may not look like a big deal, but it is. In this scenario, the White Sox don't have to lose as much; the Tigers have to win a little more. You'd always rather have your fate tied to how many games YOU win as opposed to how many games your opponent has to lose.

Confused? Suffice it to say that wins are easier to make up than losses. It's kind of like "games in hand", which they talk about in hockey a lot. In my hypothetical scenario, the Tigers would have played one fewer game than Chicago -- a game they can use to add to their win total. In the real standings this morning, the White Sox have that important "game in hand." And they'd have to lose it to help the Tigers. Capeche?

This is a big week for the Tigers, bigger than most. The pesky Royals, who have beaten the Tigers like a drum, host Detroit for three, then the Tigers play host to the White Sox. Pretty obvious why this is potentially a crossroads week for Detroit. A bad week here, and you might be looking at being a seller at the July 31 trade deadline.

The Tigers swept the White Sox in Detroit last month, at the start of their 18-4 run. Perhaps the Chisox didn't take the Tigers as seriously back then. That will certainly change this weekend.



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