Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tonight I'm a Guest Panelist on This Week In Tigers Baseball

I'm happy to be a guest panelist tonight on This Week In Tigers Baseball, hosted by Joe Dexter and Motor City Bengals Live.

The podcast can be streamed LIVE at 7:00 p.m. ET, if you click here.

I'll join Joe, and Tigers bloggers J. Ellet Lambie , Ian Casselberry, and John from Tigergeist.com.

Looking forward to it!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 6/22-28: 4-2

This week: 6/29-7/1: at Oak; 7/3-5: at Min

Goat of the Week

It was a pretty good week for the Tigers, so it's hard to find a true goat.

But a couple things happened on Friday night in Houston that were troubling, because they flare up from time to time.

First, the Tigers' uneven offense was at full bloom.

They jumped off to an early 4-0 lead, thanks largely to Placido Polanco's three-run homer. They had Justin Verlander on the mound. Their seven-game winning streak looked good at being extended to eight.

But the offense began stranding runners, exhibiting its ill-timed flare for not being able to move runners along. The 4-0 lead just sat there, as the Astros pecked away at it.

The Astros got to within 4-3 going up against Verlander, and then the Tigers' bullpen stepped into the fray.

Then, the other season-long, nagging thing the Tigers occasionally do reared its head.

Issuing free passes.

This time the culprit was Joel Zumaya, who walked three straight in the eighth inning, including the tying run.

Tigers pitchers' inability to throw strikes at precisely the wrong moment has been an Achilles' heel kind of thing all season. Even closer Fernando Rodney has been a transgressor at times.

So all those runners the Tigers left on base, combined with handing out walks, essentially cost them the ballgame on Friday. It was a giveaway, pure and simple.

You can't give ballgames away in the big leagues--especially when you're trying to maintain a lead in the division.

The Astros had no business winning Friday, but the Tigers let them off the hook.

Hero of the Week

Just as the Tigers had no business losing on Friday, they stole one on Sunday.

Brandon Inge was so the hero.

Inge, the brilliant third baseman-turned-deadly power hitter, pulled the game from the fire Sunday, blasting a two-run home run off Astros closer Jose Valverde in the top of the ninth to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead.

Valverde now is an unsightly 6-for-10 in save chances.

The impact of Inge's home run was like that of a meteor slamming into Earth.

With one swing, Inge saved the Tigers from a sweep, won them a game on a day in which everyone else in the division also won, and maintained their lead in the AL Central at four games, instead of it slipping to three.

Valverde walked Marcus Thames, who had a marvelous at-bat, before facing Inge with two outs.

And here's how Inge has matured into such a dangerous hitter.

"I saw him throw a lot of split-fingered pitches to Marcus, which missed," Inge explained afterward about his blast on a 1-0 pitch. "Then he started me off with a splitter, missed, and so I thought he might go fastball because he wouldn't want to fall behind 2-0."

So THAT'S how it's done, eh?

The Tigers swept the Cubs, thanks in part to Ryan Raburn's pinch-hit, two-run, walk-off homer on Wednesday night. But Inge's homer was one of those "huge" hits that playoff teams get during the course of the season.

Yeah, you heard me -- playoff teams.

More on that later.

Quick scouting reports: A's, Twins

The Tigers have been on the road an inordinate amount of time during the first half, so it's no wonder that they're off on another extended trip.

This week it's off to Oakland and Minnesota.

The A's are scuffling. The Tigers swept them in Detroit in May. The biggest name right now, at least as far as Tigers fans are concerned, is Matt Holliday.

Holliday, the right-handed hitting slugger, has been mentioned as a possible trade deadline acquisition for the Tigers. Certainly, he would qualify. The A's figure to be sellers come July 31, and Holliday is having an off year, with just 8 HR in 270 AB, plus a .274 BA that is way below where he's used to being.

But July 31 is the inter-league deadline, as far as players being traded without having to go thru waivers. Teams within the same league don't have such restrictions come August 1. So if Holliday is to be dealt to the Tigers (or any AL team), it doesn't necessarily have to be by July 31.

Aside from Holliday, the A's are 31-43, fading fast, and coming off a gruesome 5-13 spate of interleague play.

The return of Jason Giambi to Oakland has been mixed in its results. Giambi has 10 HR, but is only hitting .203.

Ah, the Twins --- and that lovely Metrodome. My favorite place, as all my faithful readers would attest.

Yes, the sarcasm drips.

Another reason why Inge's homer was so big on Sunday was that it maintained the Tigers' lead over the Twinkies at four games. Anything less than four when the Tigers invade Minnesota this weekend puts the Twins a sweep away from tying or surpassing the Tigers for first place.

The Tigers were swept away in the Dome in May. Which was hardly the first time that's happened.

Speaking of the Twins, the usual suspects are at it again: Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Crede, and Joe Mauer all have double digits in homers, and Mauer is batting .394 in nearly 200 AB.

The Twins have a feeling of invincibility at home, where they are 24-15, but where they play at a much higher percentage, it seems, against the Tigers.

It's never fun when the Tigers play in the Metrodome. Fans of the team will concur that it's a place where you close your eyes, grab on to whatever you can, hold on tight, and hope for the best.

Even when the Tigers get swept, you're still left with a feeling of "I'm glad THAT'S over with."

Going into the Metrodome is like going to the dentist, in that regard. Even if the doc finds nothing, you're still glad to hop off the chair.

Under the microscope

MMM is placing Zumaya under the scope.

Talk amongst yourselves.

OK, the reason why is that Zoom Zoom has been the biggest offender of bullpen wildness. For every 102 MPH fastball, there's a curve ball missing the strike zone. For every "blow 'em away" strikeout, there's a trouble-inducing walk.

And, for every big out, there's an ill-timed home run surrendered.

Zumaya is still a presence, but he's been unreliable, if you want to talk honestly.

His ability to put out fires consistently in the 7th and 8th innings is just as important, maybe more so, then anything Fernando Rodney has to do in the 9th.

A more consistent, reliable Zumaya is imperative for the Tigers in the second half of the season.

Hence, him under the scope.

Bottom line:
The Tigers will have the benefit of playing tons of home games after the All-Star break, where they have a very impressive record. But it's also why they need to finish this latest road trip strong.

Puffing up the road record -- and there's no better place to do that than in Minneapolis this weekend -- would really put pressure on the teams below the Tigers. This, of course, assumes that they continue their stellar play at home.

It's been a grind, this first half has, with all the travel. But these six games in Oakland and Minnesota are the kinds of games that test a team's attrition. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to keep grinding it out. No more giveaways, like what happened in Houston on Friday.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, June 26, 2009

Leyland An "Every Man" When It Comes To Embracing The City

Jacques Demers, as the irrepressible coach of the Detroit Red Wings, wasn't happy.

It was early in his tenure in Detroit, circa 1987. And his team was slumping. Worse, Jacques thought the effort wasn't always there, which he couldn't abide.

So he called practice at 7:30 a.m. one blustry winter morning.

"I wanted them to get up early, just like all the hard-working people who pay to see them play," Demers said, explaining the early-bird ice session. "I wanted them to fight rush hour traffic and everything. Just like the fans do every day."

On another occasion, Demers arranged for a field trip--bussing his players to a blighted part of the city, so they could see how fortunate they had it in the NHL.

Demers took a team that surrendered over 400 goals and mustered just 40 points the season prior and instilled a more intense work ethic. On the ice, he emphasized defense and checking first, scoring second.

It worked. The Red Wings went from 40 points to 78 points in his first season, and made it all the way to the conference finals.

Demers had a good handle on the city in which he worked while he was in Detroit.

Jim Leyland possesses that same keen awareness, as Tigers manager.

Leyland was effusive in his praise of the Detroit baseball fans Thursday, in the aftermath of a 6-5 matinee win over the Chicago Cubs, which gave the Tigers another sweep and a perfect 6-0 record on their homestand.

"Detroit’s a tough, resilient town, and they’re going to make it," he was quoted in the Free Press today. "They’re not going to give up, they’re going to fight and going to make it. I think what you’re seeing out here is case in point. They’re out here supporting their team. I wish I could give every one of them a ticket, to be honest with you, for one game. But I can’t. I wish I could because the support is unbelievable."

Leyland gets it. That's one thing I can't take away from him. When it comes to appreciating his lot in life, and the responsibility that he has as Tigers manager--responsibility whose range extends beyond what goes on between the white lines--Leyland has no false illusions.

That's why I was so surprised and disappointed in him last fall when he crabbed to the media about his contract situation, and that he felt he deserved an extension (which was signed last week). It was a calling out of the owner and, in an indirect way, a slap to the folks in town who were--and still are--going through job loss and other stress.

His words were calculated and self-serving, and I didn't think Leyland had that in him.

But all is forgiven. The Tigers are playing well, the manager appreciates the fan's support, and he knows that a good baseball season can do wonders for the psyche of the people in and around the city.

“We’d like to do something special for them, but I’m not putting the cart before the horse. We’re playing pretty good, it’s June, and I’m not getting excited about that. But I’m happy to see happy faces; I’m happy to see people up there drinking a beer, having a good time. It’s great, it’s wonderful.”

Leyland, who's very close to St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, and who worked for the Cardinals as a scout, has now been associated with two of the best baseball cities in the country, according to him.

"I keep talking about it all the time. St. Louis and Detroit are the two best baseball towns for me, without any question, they’re the two best. They’ll come out, they’ll figure out a way to get in the ballpark and support their team. That’s what I like about it. Detroit fans, they’re different. They don’t care who the leftfielder, rightfielder, centerfielder, rightfielder, manager is, they’re Detroit Tiger fans and that’s what the best thing about it is to me. ... It’s just a great baseball town."

New Lions coach Jim Schwartz spoke recently about the "responsibility"--that word again--that he feels he has as the football coach in town. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has expressed similar views as Schwartz and Leyland, vis-a-vis the tough times the fans are going through in Detroit, and how winning teams can do wonders to soothe them.

I don't always agree with Leyland's in-game decisions--what a boring world this would be if I did--but I have to hand it to him: he knows which side his bread is buttered on. And he also knows that there are some people who are fans of his team who might not know where that next loaf is even coming from.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 6/15-21: 4-2

This week: 6/23-25: CHI (N); 6/26-28: at Hou

Goat of the Week

This isn't exactly going out on a limb, but sometimes you have to go with the obvious.

Magglio Ordonez is not right. That's clear. Now, why he isn't, is the $64,000 question. A bonus question would be, "Can he be the player he once was?"

MLB.com's Jason Beck quoted an anonymous MLB scout thusly.

"I see him getting worse. He's getting old fast. The ball doesn't come off his bat the same way. He seems content to hit singles to the opposite field."

It's gotten so bad, Ordonez's lack of production (2 HR, 21 RBI), that manager Jim Leyland benched him last week, initially using the word "indefinitely" when referring to how long the benching would last.

Leyland has backed off that a bit, and hints that Maggs might be in the lineup as soon as tomorrow, when the Chicago Cubs visit Comerica Park.

"Sometimes you just have to get away from it," Leyland said, explaining his decision to sit Ordonez.

It's a chicken vs. the egg thing. Sometimes, the only way to battle out of a slump is to keep playing. But then, continuing to play and getting deeper into a funk isn't any good, either.

My thoughts?

Maggs is at that age (35) where some power hitters suffer a mysterious loss of pop. As that scout told Beck, the ball doesn't explode off the bat anymore. It could be that Ordonez needs to reinvent himself, and focus more on spraying the ball and hitting the gaps, which is ideal for Comerica Park.

An example that comes to mind, of someone who suddenly stopped hitting home runs, is Ted Kluszewski.

Big Klu was a terrifying hitter in the National League, primarily for the Cincinnati Reds, clubbing 171 homers from 1953-56, including 49 in 1954. But then he hit only 34 over the next five years, and he was done by age 37.

So it does happen.

The "goat" label at MMM this week isn't so much of a derisive one as it is a simple statement of fact. Ordonez isn't getting the job done. And this is a game of performance. Those that do, play, those that don't, don't.

Hero of the Week

The Tigers didn't need to beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, having already won the first two games of the series. But looking deeper, it's good that they did.

This is because a loss would have been the second straight for Justin Verlander.

But Brandon Inge, this week's hero, prevented that with a clutch, two-out, three-run home run in the sixth inning to put the Tigers ahead 3-1 in a game that Verlander was starring in -- again.

It wouldn't have been tragic had JV's latest pitching gem resulted in a loss or no decision, but the Tigers' ace lost last week in St. Louis, and so did No. 2 starter Edwin Jackson. And aces don't lose very often. It's a psychological thing -- teams get an air of invincibility about them when certain studs take the mound.

Best not to let any chinks occur in the armor.

Plus, if Jackson were to lose tomorrow, you'd have your top two guys 0-4 in their last four appearances.

Again, not a crisis, but why go through all that?

Inge's home run -- and wouldn't it be something if he and Curtis Granderson each hit over 30 homers this season -- gave Verlander just enough of a margin to set the bullpen up for a hold and a save. And a JV win, to stop his losing streak at one.

Which is long enough, for your unequivocal ace.

Honorable mention: LF/DH Marcus Thames, who's come off the disabled list and a minor league rehab assignment smoking. Thames is, again, punishing baseballs, and only the fact that Comerica gets all Yellowstone Park-ish in deep left center kept him in the ballpark Sunday afternoon.

Oh, how the Tigers needed Thames-like power. Now they have it.

Quick scouting reports: Cubs, Astros

Interleague play winds up this week, with two interesting matchups.

First, the Cubs come to town, and that's always fun. Folks old enough still rue the day the San Diego Padres upset the Cubs in the 1984 NLCS, thus denying old school fans a rich Tigers-Cubs World Series.

Plus, Carlos Zambrano pitches tomorrow, and that's always fun. Or, at least, bemusing.

It's a great battle, potentially: Zambrano vs Jackson. Zambrano is 4-2 with a fine 3.44 ERA, and Jackson has been terrific -- 6-4 with a 2.39.

The Cubs are led offensively, sort of, by Alfonso Soriano, who has 14 HR and 30 RBI, but is hitting a very un-Soriano-like .224.

The real leader, from a consistency basis, is 1B Derek Lee (11/36/.287).

After a 21-14 start, the Cubs lost eight in a row and have hovered around .500 ever since.

The Astros host the Tigers over the weekend, which means a familiar face: catcher Pudge Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who recently set the all-time MLB record for games caught, is hanging in there at age 37, hitting .249 with six homers and 29 RBI. Reports are that his defense is still above average.

The 'Stros have four .300 hitters: SS Miguel Tejada; CF Michael Bourn; LF Carlos Lee; and RF Hunter Pence.

Oh, and there's been a Brian Moehler sighting!

The former Tiger, also 37, is in the Houston rotation, but barely. Moehler is 4-4 with a 6.43 ERA.

All that hitting, and yet the Astros are in fifth place at 32-35.

One of the reasons? The Astros have been doing the "closer by committee" thing. LaTroy Hawkins has blown three save opps, and three different pitchers have closed games for Houston already.

Under the microscope

This week, MMM turns a double play.

We're "goating" Magglio Ordonez, and putting him under the microscope. The dreaded double whammy!

But why not?

Maggs, as indicated above, might be back in the lineup tomorrow, though it's uncertain where in the batting order he'll hit. You can be sure it won't be at cleanup, where Marcus Thames is comfortably nestled, right behind Miguel Cabrera.

Young Don Kelly has done well in the five hole, so look for Maggs at No. 6 -- if he's in the lineup at all. Josh Anderson, who's been playing RF during Ordonez's benching, is struggling as well.

Let's put Maggs under the scope and see how he responds to his benching.

Bottom line: The Tigers have been streaky, which is disconcerning. They tend to win three or four in a row, then lose the same. The good news is that the losing streaks haven't been catastrophic in length. The bad news is they continue to let teams hang around in the division.

But no one, save the Minnesota Twins, seems to be making a move yet, and you wonder if they ever will. Still, a four-game lead now, as bad as the Central has played, means the Tigers have some work to do.

They bounced back nicely after four losses in Pittsburgh and St. Louis. But that's the thing -- they keep having to bounce back.

Then again, I know four teams who'd trade places with the Tigers in a heartbeat. Care to guess which ones?

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, June 19, 2009

"Lame Duck" Leyland Seems To Be Holding His Own, So Far

The lame duck manager has his team in first place. It's past the halfway mark of June.

I thought this was supposed to be an almost impossible task.

Where are the fools now who insisted that Tigers manager Jim Leyland have a contract that extends beyond just this season?

This was supposed to be a travesty.

Leyland, signed only thru 2009, was supposed to be so hamstrung by this fact that he couldn't possibly manage his way out of a paper bag.

That term, lame duck--you can stuff it, as far as I'm concerned.

It was tossed around, as it usually is, with reckless abandon last fall and winter. I warned that those using the term so casually might end up choking on it.

Anyone know the Heimlich Maneuver?

The back story is this. Leyland pouted to the papers last fall that he'd earned a contract extension. That's what started everything, and Leyland knew that it would. His words were of design and self-serving, and for that I lost some respect for him.

He called his owner out, all but daring to be fired, because the timing couldn't have been any worse. The Tigers were coming off a stinker of a year (74-88), a season in which they were supposed to score 1,000 runs and run away with everything by Memorial Day.

Leyland said, well, yeah, but I've had two good years out of three!

I wrote that his logic was flawed, because the Tigers have never, in the three years that Leyland has managed them, had a good second half. And I'm including their Cinderella-like 2006 run to the World Series.

When it comes to performing solidly after the All-Star break, the Tigers are 0-for-3 under Jim Leyland. That's my logic, and I think it's more indicative of the job he's done.

So I wasn't too pleased with Leyland when he called out Mike Ilitch and cried for a contract extension, coming off such a disappointing season. This is because if there is ever a fair owner in pro sports, it's Ilitch. He doesn't make players or coaches or managers come crawling to him with their hands out. If a performance is worthy of reward, Mike Ilitch rewards it. Been doing it, to a fault perhaps, ever since I've covered him--some 27 years and counting.

But be that as it may, I'm going to defend Leyland in this way: he's the manager, because that's what his contract says. And I knew darn well that his contract status wouldn't hinder his ability to do his job. At least not before the All-Star break.

After that, he still has a lot to prove to me.

So far, I'm right.

The Tigers might be a wobbly first place team, but they are a first place team. None of the nonsense that was supposed to happen with a "lame duck" manager--player revolt, clubhouse lawyering, etc.--has occurred. As I knew it wouldn't.

I'll drudge it up again: the Dodgers did fine and dandy with Walter Alston and his annual one-year contracts. Walt managed the team for over 20 years with that set-up, even after the team offered to give him longer-term deals.

Nowhere does it say that a manager or a coach need be signed beyond the current season in order to do his job competently. The list of canned coaches with multiple years left on their contracts ought to prove that theorem in a backwards kind of way.

Like I said, Jim Leyland has a lot to still prove, to me. He needs to navigate his team around the land mines in August and September a lot better than he's done so far. It'll be especially crucial that he do so this year, because the Tigers are letting teams hang around in the Central Division, thus encouraging a tight race down the stretch.

But he's no lame duck.

Not that I ever thought he was.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 6/8-14: 4-4

This week: 6/16-18: at StL; 6/19-21: MIL

Goat of the Week

This week, we hand out the Goat dishonor as a group effort.

Who was it, exactly, who decided that Jeremy Bonderman was ready to pitch in the big leagues?

Bondo, who's been recovering for about a year from major shoulder surgery, made his 2009 debut last Monday in the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago.

He wasn't anywhere near big league caliber.

It wasn't just his pitching line (4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 3 HR). It was his velocity, too.

Bondo was nowhere near the low-to-mid-90s fastball that he's accustomed to.

Sure enough, he's back on the DL, as even the wild and wooly Dontrelle Willis is deemed a safer bet in the rotation right now.

The DL is of the 15-day variety, but Dr. James Andrews, the renowned surgeon for pitchers, has indicated to Bonderman and the Tigers that this stay may be of significant length.

Translation: he wasn't ready to pitch in the bigs, after all.

Let's just hope that last Monday's start didn't do any more long-term damage.

Hero of the Week

Rick Porcello, on Friday in Pittsburgh, was a one-man wrecking crew.

Seven innings pitched. Six hits and one run allowed.

Oh, and a couple hits and two knocks, too.

The Tigers won, 3-1. Porcello's two ribbies were the difference.

Porcello had two singles in his big league debut as a hitter, driving in the Tigers' first two runs.

The 20-year-old is now 7-4 with a fine 3.71 ERA. He's walked a paltry 21 hitters in 68 innings.

Can you say "Rookie of the Year"?

Maybe the Silver Slugger, too, for pitchers.

Quick scouting reports: Cardinals, Brewers

The Tigers find themselves in the thick of interleague play right now, and usually that's not a bad thing.

They are among the top three, in terms of winning percentage, in interleague play since 2006. They have feasted on NL teams lately.

This week, a return to St. Louis, the Tigers' Waterloo in the 2006 World Series.

All Cardinals talk starts and ends with Albert Pujols.

Pujols is at it again: 22 HR, 57 RBI, a .324 BA. His OPS (On Base Avg. plus Slugging Pct.) is a sick 1.131. And he's only struck out 24 times in 219 AB.

Trouble is, the Cards aren't getting much offense from anyone else. After Pujols, the next highest Cardinal in HR and RBI is Ryan Ludwick, with 9 and 31. Ludwick broke out in 2008 with 37 dingers and 113 RBI, plus a .299 BA.

The most reliable starter has been Adam Wainright, who's 6-4 with a 3.49 ERA. He'll likely start on Tuesday. Although, Chris Carpenter has a 1.59 ERA in 51 innings and is 4-1. But Carpenter missed about a month of the season, divided between April and May. Carpenter pitched on Sunday, so the Tigers will miss him in this series.

The closer is Ryan Franklin, who's 15-for-16 in save opportunities and has a tiny 1.09 ERA. Franklin blew eight saves last year, but he's been lights out in '09.

As for the Brewers, Prince Fielder is again leading the way, with 15 HR and 56 RBI. Mike Cameron and Ryan Braun have combined for 25 HR and 72 RBI.

41-year-old Trevor Hoffman has proven to be a terrific free agent signing--15-for-15 in saves with a microscopic ERA of 0.47.

In the Cardinals and Brewers, the Tigers play the top two teams in the NL Central; Milwaukee leads St. Louis by a half-game.

Under the microscope

I'm not sure that I like the new, powerful Curtis Granderson.

I think I prefer the "other" Granderson -- the one who hit .300-ish and slapped triples all over the ballpark.

Granderson has 14 homers already, but his batting average has suffered; he's muddling along in the .260 range. Not only that, but the triples that he's become famous for have virtually disappeared.

Grandy has just two three-baggers this season, after producing 23 in 2007 and 13 in 2008.

He's not even making it up with doubles; he has only seven in 247 AB, after averaging 32 the past three seasons.

So what's up?

The home run stroke clearly is working, which has placed him fifth from time-to-time in the batting order. But it says here that Granderson is more valuable as the leadoff hitter he's been since 2006.

MMM is placing Granderson under the microscope, especially as interleague play continues, to see whether the "old" Grandy returns while the Tigers play NL ball.

Bottom line: The Tigers took three of five in Chicago, which was huge for them--especially coming in a ballpark that has been less-than-friendly to them over the years. But that was partly nullified by dropping two of three to the feeble-hitting Pirates in Pittsburgh.

The Tigers continue to stay at arm's length in first place, but there still seems to be a feeling of a missed chance to really put some daylight between them and the rest of the division, in which they are the only team playing .500 or better.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Tigers Politely Staying Near The Rest Of The AL Central Pack

The rest of their division is sleeping, and the Tigers aren't wandering off.

The AL Central, I thought, was going to be a nip-and-tuck, close shave the whole way. A three, maybe four team battle.

The Indians looked like the team to beat. Tells you how much I know.

The Twins are always hovering, thanks to that damned Metrodome.

The White Sox are defending champs, and they have handled the Tigers in recent years.

The Royals, to me, looked improved--a good pitch, no-hit team but pitching is the name of the game, right?

The Tigers?

I had them around 90 wins--which didn't endear me as a very smart man to a lot of folks.

The pitching, they said, was supposed to be awful. The bullpen would be positively heinous.

Hold up, I countered. They play 162 games on the field, not on paper, for a reason.

Things aren't always what they seem, I reminded the doubters.

I whiffed on the Indians, but I've pegged the Tigers pretty good. So far.

But the Detroiters aren't getting off scott-free here.

This division, it's turning out, is so for the taking that you can practically see the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card lying on the ground and the Tigers stepping right over it. No team is playing particularly well. This is evident in the won/loss records, which show only Detroit playing on the north side of .500.

Oh, if the Tigers could only hit with any consistency! This race would be over with by now.

Curtis Granderson, the fleet centerfielder who has been dared mentioned in the same sentence as the words "potential MVP", is slamming home runs at a career-high pace but is hitting a very pedestrian .259.

Magglio Ordonez, The Incredible Shrinking Man, is a cleanup hitter performing like Eddie Brinkman.

Marcus Thames, strong as a bull, has been injured most of the season. Same with deft switch-hitter Carlos Guillen.

Placido Polanco, no stranger to batting averages that resemble weights of offensive linemen, is muddling along in the .250s.

The catcher, Gerald Laird, has already authored slumps of 0-for-18 and 2-for-27. You need a microscope to find the BA of his backup, Dane Sardinha.

Only Miguel Cabrera, whose name you don't dare NOT mention as an MVP candidate, has been a consistent threat all season.

But the Tigers can pitch, to the tune of the best ERA in the American League, and that's why they're pulling away ever so slightly in the AL Central.

The chance is still being missed, however.

The Tigers could be walking away with this thing, making a mockery of the divisional race, if they had gotten their act together offensively by now.

It's a peak-and-valley sort of attack. But mostly valley, and that's why the Tigers have relied so much on their pitching to give themselves chances to win.

The Royals, who sprinted out of the gate because of starting pitching, are in their familiar last place position because the hitting stayed moribund while the pitching cooled off.

The Tigers have been better offensively than Kansas City, but not much. And they'll need to improve, lest they put too much pressure on their arms.

"The big boys have got to get it going," manager Jim Leyland said last weekend. "I'm starting to get a little worried."

It's nice to worry from the perch of first place. But the Tigers could be so far afield from the rest of the bunch that they'd have little to worry about, period.

The AL Central is snoozing, and the Tigers are sticking around. How nice of them.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 6/1-7: 2-4

This week: 6/8-11: at CWS (DH 6/8); 6/12-14: at Pit

Goat of the Week

This week's Goat earns his Tigers stripes for what has been a Goat-like season thus far.

What in the world is wrong with Magglio Ordonez?

By early-June, you need more than two home runs from your cleanup hitter. You need better run-producing than one RBI per nine at-bats.

Maggs has been swinging a wet noodle ever since the team returned from Florida in early-April and the suggestions as to why range from the dire to the mysterious.

Dire: he's done. Finished, at age 35. His power unplugged, for good.

Mysterious: it's an anomaly; it's just "one of those things." He'll break out of it...we think. We're pretty sure, anyway.


Of course, there's more to all this than just a baseball decision. There's a big-time money one, too.

Maggs is owed a boatload of dough if he reaches milestones this season based on at-bats.

It was suggested by a local columnist that the Tigers consider releasing Ordonez, a la Gary Sheffield, to save money and to open up the lineup for younger players.

Food for thought, though I doubt the Tigers would do that. Then again, I didn't see Sheff's release coming, either.

Money or no money, manager Jim Leyland is faced with a similar quandary as what Boston's Terry Francona faces everyday with David Ortiz, who is struggling mightily.

Drop Maggs down in the order? Sit him? Play him mainly against lefties?

It's the classic "chicken or egg" thing: the more a hitter slumps, the more he needs to play, sometimes, to break out of it. The more he plays, though, the more he hurts the cause.

The Tigers' offense has looked like an EKG readout all season. More peaks and valleys than a teenaged girl's fledgling love life.

My opinion? Maggs isn't done, but he isn't producing, either. Give him till the All-Star break then maybe you have to make a decision, which could also be the king domino that determines other moves at the July 31 trade deadline.

Hero of the Week

Close call here.

I was about to name Edwin Jackson for the second week in a row for his gutsy, complete-game 2-1 win over the Angels on Saturday, which he finished by striking out Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, and Torii Hunter in the ninth inning.

Pretty heady stuff, I know.

But then I thought, the Tigers might not win that series, which they needed to do very badly, if Clete Thomas doesn't hit his first career grand slam on Sunday.

Thomas struck in the 8th inning, breaking a 5-5 tie and giving the Tigers a much-needed series win over the Angels after a 4-9 stretch.

Congrats, Clete!

Quick scouting reports: White Sox, Pirates

There are no such things as "big" series in early June, right?


The Tigers and the White Sox have a five-gamer this week in Chicago, including a day-night doubleheader today.

Not big? Puh-leaze.

The Tigers, despite the series win over the Angels, are teetering. They're a first-place team by default in the AL Central, which is far worse than I imagined, at this point.

The White Sox are trying to find themselves, and to me, are the team in the division most likely to do so before it's all said and done.

Time to do a little less saying and a lot more doing right now.

Of course, there really won't be that big a swing in the standings unless one team wins four of the games.

But who's to say that can't happen?

The White Sox have had their way with the Tigers, pretty much, for the past several seasons--especially in Chicago. If any team can win four of these games, it's the Pale Hose.

Ah, now what to say about the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The "other" Detroit-Pittsburgh sports matchup this week will be barely a blip on the landscape, but then again, the Pirates don't do much more than blip. Haven't for over 15 years.

The Pirates are 26-30, and in fifth place in the NL Central. Typical.

So, a quick cram course on the Bucs, if you will.

They're led offensively, sort of, by 2B Freddy Sanchez, who's batting .311 in 222 AB.

I say sort of because Freddy has just four homers and 18 RBI, primarily batting leadoff.

You want some power?

Well, um, there's Adam LaRoche. He has seven homers. Sanchez is second on the team, with his four.

I know; not too impressive.

OK, so what about pitching?

26-year-old lefty Zach Duke is having a fine season: 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 11 starts. He's only allowed four homers in 79 innings.

The closer is Matt Capps, who's converted 13-of-15 save opportunities despite an ERA of over 5.00.

Look for the usual "Jim Leyland comes back to Pittsburgh" storylines to try to generate some interest in this series.

But this series becomes huge for the Tigers if they do poorly in Chicago.

Under the microscope

It's easy to put Ordonez here, but that seems lazy to me.

Instead, MMM is putting Miguel Cabrera under the scope, as much as that causes consternation.

Cabrera is gimpy with a touchy hamstring, which he tweaked Thursday afternoon against Boston. He had to be taken out of the game on Sunday, his first game back, because of the tightness.

Of course, his replacement was Thomas, and we all know what he did after coming into the game.

Still, a lengthy Cabrera absence is the last thing a struggling Tigers offense needs. Miggy is a legitimate MVP candidate. The thought of him being placed on the disabled list ought to give Tigers fans the heeby-jeebies.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, June 05, 2009

Tiger Stadium Must Go, But The Fight Wasn't Really Fair

Until they come up with a way to erase people's memories on volition, then I'll never understand the brouhaha over tearing down vacated stadiums and arenas.

They built a light guard armory at the corner of Grand River and McGraw, also known as the intersection on which Olympia Stadium stood.

Fine by me.

I was sad to see Olympia become victim of the wrecking ball, but it wasn't being used anymore. As much as I thrilled to watch hockey in that Red Barn, it had outlived its usefulness.

It's gone, but not my mental image of the stadium, from the steep, narrow escalators to the sight lines to the balcony. I can still see Pete Mahovlich tossing pucks up to the kids in the balcony before games.

No one appreciates baseball history like I do. I revel in the stories, the anecdotes, the old, flannel uniforms. I wish the Tigers would go back to their plain, staid road outfits from the 1960s, to show you.

The ones with "DETROIT" in simple, blue block letters against a grey primary color.

The road uniform of the 1968 World Series team.

I'm another who has wonderful, vivid memories of Tiger Stadium.

I can recall some details of my first game attended there--on July 9, 1971 against the Yankees--like it was yesterday.

Took me awhile to cozy up to Comerica Park, and its surrounding area, which doesn't have near the character that Tiger Stadium's Bricktown possesses. In fact, I don't think I'll ever truly embrace CoPa's Fox Theater district environs.

But a new stadium, they said, was needed, so again, fine by me.

Also fine if they yank what remains of Tiger Stadium to the ground.

Do it forthwith, in fact.

This Band-Aid that is being torn painfully slowly from the faces of the folks who adore the stadium's remains so much as to pull a Tiananmen Square and throw themselves in front of the tractors and demolition equipment, must be removed, and removed right now.

I know this places me in an unpopular, almost hated group of people.

The good folks of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy are fighting the good fight, but it's misplaced energy.

Other cities have knocked down their old ballparks, their old baseball cathedrals, and they seem none the worse for wear.

I've said it before. Why should Tiger Stadium's fate be any different than that of Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds or Shibe Park or Crosley Field or old Comiskey Park?

I know the conservancy folks believe that something useful, something that's not an eyesore, can be salvaged from what's left of Tiger Stadium. There's been a boatload of money cobbled together toward that end.

They wonder why the plug must be pulled now, when they've come this far, and raised this amount of cash.

It's not a pittance, I will grant you.

So perhaps that's the gist of the protestations.

"We've come this far! What's a few more months?"

Point well taken.

Had demolition been done in one fell swoop, we wouldn't be where we are now--which is a very ugly situation indeed.

Instead, some of the grandstand was left standing, and the conservancy people were to try to make something of it.

A museum, perhaps.

A sandlot ball field.

Or shops. Or anything that might drive some traffic and revenue toward the venue.

I'd be willing to go along with the desire to have more time, but I don't know if the conservancy people can talk sense into the folks within city government.

As much as I believe that what remains of Tiger Stadium should be razed, I also admire the efforts of the conservancy movement, and they seem to be playing by the rules laid out for them.

The inner workings of City Hall, though, appear to be moving along a crooked path.

Communication and requests for meetings have ceased and been ignored, even those made by the office of U.S. Senator Carl Levin, who has earmarked $3.8 million in federal funds for a stadium redevelopment project.

That seems odd to me.

But regardless, demolition could move forward as soon as tonight, despite the protests.

This pains me to say, because I count some of those who are pushing for conservancy among my friends.

Move on with your lives. Please.

Keep those memories vivid, and toast to yourselves on a good battle. But it's a losing one, and not of your own doing.

You're playing poker against the house, with a deck of marked cards that they brought to the table with them.

It's over.

Tiger Stadium, as corny as this sounds, lives in each one of us who enjoyed baseball games there as a child and as a parent, or just plain adult.

And it always will.

They can knock it down with their sliding rules, but that's just the shell.

The soul and spirit, they can never destroy.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 5/25-31: 4-3

This week: 6/2-4: BOS; 6/5-7: LAA

Goat of the Week

Not so much a goat, but a demonizer.

Luke Scott of the Baltimore Orioles has absolutely obliterated Tigers' pitching.

Ten homers in less than 40 AB? That's crazy.

Scott terrorized the Tigers over the weekend, slamming five more home runs.

Manager Jim Leyland said before Sunday's game that had Scott come up to the plate with first base open, he'd have walked him.

"I've seen enough," Leyland said.


Hero of the Week

Edwin Jackson is turning into a fine pitcher.

But beyond that, he's exhibiting the kind of mind-set and attitude befitting an ace.

It's not hyperbole to suggest that Jackson would be a No. 1 starter on teams that don't have Justin Verlander on the payroll.

No less than Baltimore's Aubrey Huff said after Jackson shut the Orioles down on Sunday on two hits thru eight innings: "I've been in the big leagues for nine years, and those guys (Verlander and Jackson) are the best 1-2 I've seen in my nine years."

Pretty heady stuff, and Jackson appreciated it.

To have someone of Huff's stature say that, Jackson said, "Means a lot. It means a lot."

Jackson, Huff said, did a masterful job of changing speeds, locations, and basically being nasty and filthy.

It was fitting that the Tigers won the final two games of the Orioles series with JV and Jackson on the mound after losing the first two. The Tigers needed to even that series badly, and they had just the two guys who could give them that opportunity.

And they did.

JV and Edwin Jackson, MMM's Heroes of the Week.

Quick scouting reports: Red Sox, Angels

The Boston Red Sox are a totally different team away from Fenway Park than they are in it.

They average over six runs per game at home, and sport a 17-6 record in Fenway.

On the road?

12-16, and averaging just a smidge over four runs per game.

Even manager Terry Francona acknowledged the disparity, suggesting that the Red Sox approach the plate differently at home than they do on the road, and that some of the swings that might turn out to be productive at Fenway don't necessarily end up that way elsewhere.

One thing is for sure: David Ortiz isn't being productive anywhere.

Big Papi has been more like Little Pop.

Ortiz is hitting .185 and has just one home run in 178 AB, which is rather mind-boggling.

Francona has tried dropping Ortiz down in the order and sitting him for a couple days.

Nothing is working.

It'll be interesting to see how Ortiz's season plays out. At age 33, is the end near?

The Angels are making a move in the West. No one should be surprised.

This is the most talented team in the division, yet they got off to a bad start.

But the Angels are 18-12 in their last 30 games and are creeping closer to the first-place Texas Rangers.

The Angels took two of three from the Tigers in California in April.

Torii Hunter leads the Halos with 12 HR, 42 RBI, and a .313 BA. Not to mention a strong slugging percentage of .592, thanks to 25 extra-base hits.

Righty Jared Weaver (4-2, 2.36) and lefty Joe Saunders (6-3, 3.26) anchor the rotation.

Life post-Francisco Rodriguez has been dicey, but new closer Brian Fuentes is 13-for-16 in save opportunities, despite an elevated ERA of 5.30.

Under the microscope

This week we're placing Rick Porcello under the scope at MMM.


Well, despite a fine start (6-3, 3.48), it's now June, and we'll see if, between now and the All-Star break, whether the 20-year-old rookie can keep up his good work.

That, plus Porcello leads off the Red Sox series, and even though the Bosox are different on the road, they're still dangerous. Let's see how the kid handles them.

Keep your good eye on Porcello over the next six weeks or so.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!