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?"'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!



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