Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 7/13-7/19: 0-3

This week: 7/21-23: SEA; 7/24-26: CWS (DH on 7/24)

Goat of the Week

Anyone holding a bat.

How ironic, that in a baseball stadium that cost about a billion dollars to build, the Tigers couldn't buy a hit over the weekend in New York.

A grisly 1-for-26 with RISP.

So there's no one goat, for that would be letting way too many guys off the hook. The whole lot of them, I'd like to cast out, like lepers. The Tigers proved that they are, unequivocally, the worst first place team in baseball.

Oh, how they wasted some fine pitching performances.

Luke French on Friday. Justin Verlander on Saturday. And Edwin Jackson on Sunday.

In each instance, the Tigers starter surrendered an ill-timed home run, but in a ballpark that's quickly gained a reputation for being a band box.

But that's what happens when you're swinging a bunch of limp noodles at the plate---you give your pitchers very little, if any, margin for error.

Here's manager Jim Leyland.

"If you had told me that we'd hold that lineup to nine runs over the weekend, I'd have said that we'd win two out of three, maybe even sweep," Leyland opined after Sunday's game, another 2-1 loss.

If Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski doesn't bring in some hitting help at the trade deadline (11 days away), then you can imagine who'll be the Goat at MMM. And it won't take much of an imagination.

Dishonorable mention: Brandon Inge, for his 0-for-10 performance in the Home Run Derby on Monday. I don't consider Brandon a Home Run Derby kind of guy, but geez, one dinger would have been nice. Or even a fly ball to the warning track.

Hero of the Week

Why, the starting pitchers, of course.

The Tigers simply couldn't have asked much more from the rookie French on Friday, and Verlander and Jackson gave the team starts befitting the All-Stars that they are.

Three terrific starts in New York, and nary a victory to show for them.

Those three couldn't really have been expected to pitch much better. If a starter's main objective is to give his team a legitimate chance to win, then all three of those guys satisfied their mission in Yankee Stadium. That they have nothing to show for it is certainly not on them.

Quick scouting reports: Mariners and White Sox

In Seattle, the offense pretty much starts with Ichiro Suzuki---as usual.

Ichiro has 134 hits and a .363 BA, and has stolen 20 bases. He's the Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs of the 21st century in terms of his ridiculous consistency. Ichiro and batting averages that look like Los Angeles Clippers winning percentages have been as perennial as tulips.

If power's your thing, there's 1B Russell Branyan and his 23 homers. Branyan's also your guy if watching someone striking out is your thing; he's K'd 99 times in 302 AB.

Oh, and Ken Griffey Jr. is still kicking around, in case you've forgotten, since the Tigers and M's haven't hooked up since April. Junior, though, is hitting just .215 with 10 homers as the Mariners' DH.

But the pitching, especially the starting variety, is pretty darn good in Seattle.

Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, and Erik Bedard all have ERAs under 3.00.

David Aardsma is making people say, "J.J. who?" as he's 22-of-24 in save opportunities, replacing J.J. Putz, who left as a free agent after last season. Aardsma has a 1.83 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 44 innings. But he's also walked 25 batters in those 44 innings, outlandishly high. His low ERA indicates that he works himself in and out of ninth inning jams.

But the Mariners, despite as surprisingly well as they've played at times this season, are just the appetizer this week for Tigers fans.

The White Sox are coming, the White Sox are coming!

The Pale Hose invade Comerica Park right after the M's, and they might have taken first place over by that time. Or maybe the Twins will have. Or maybe the Tigers will still have their skin-of-their-teeth lead. That's how tight things are in the AL Central these days.

There's a day/night doubleheader on tap for Friday, then single games on Saturday and Sunday.

Don't you dare let anyone tell you that there's no such thing as a "big" series in July.

The White Sox have been hot after sinking to 15-22. That's because they can actually hit. Theirs is another Central lineup that blows Detroit's away in terms of power and overall production. Sadly for the Tigers, the other one of those lineups resides in Minnesota, the other Central contender.

Paul Konerko might be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.

Konerko has 17 HR, 61 RBI, and is hitting .299. This after a lousy 2008 (22/62/.240).

Jermaine Dye, a notorious Tiger killer, has 21 HR and is also batting .299. Carlos Quentin, who could be the division's X-factor when he returns from injury, is close to returning but may not be back in time for the Tigers series.

The Sox' starting pitching isn't bad. Closer Bobby Jenks is having another banner year. Scott Linebrink and Matt Thornton do a pretty good job getting the team to Jenks in the ninth inning.

The White Sox are blending their ample offense with their pitching, and that's why they're nipping at the Tigers' heels.

This upcoming series in Detroit, because it's a four-gamer, is big, no matter what you hear. Four-game series are interesting because a team can make up two games during it, by winning 3 of 4. They can also gain four games, obviously, but four-game sweeps are rare.

Will the winner of the Central Division be decided this weekend in Detroit? Of course not. But do the Tigers need a good showing to re-assert themselves as players in the race? You betcha.

The White Sox have knocked the Tigers around for a few years. Detroit needs to find some offense and find it quick---within or outside their organization.

Under the microscope

Jim Leyland, because it's after the All-Star break. Enough said in this space, but read this to find out more.

Bottom line:
The Tigers have frittered away most of their modest divisional lead, as not taking advantage of their rivals' earlier woes is coming back to haunt them, as I suspected it would.

So it's a three-horse race, and maybe it was just destined to be that way.

No sense crying over spilled milk. The Tigers need to pick themselves up and start winning some ballgames, with or without a reliable offense.

I mentioned Quentin earlier. It could be that the Tigers somewhat counter that with the return of their own Carlos---Guillen---who's close to returning from injury himself.

Not good enough, though. Dombrowski has to inject something, and as much as I adore Guillen, a player from outside the organization usually has more of an impact than a guy activated from the DL. Those types are often hungry guys who come from losing teams.

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

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday as we co-host "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!



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