Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 8/10-16: 3-4

This week: 8/18-20: SEA; 8/21-23: at Oak

Goat of the Week

The umpiring crew in Boston.

MMM didn't think the Tigers would win more than one game in Fenway Park during the four-game set last week, but they just might have, had Tuesday night's beanball debacle not occured.

It all started Monday, when Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge were hit, along with Kevin Youkilis of Boston. On Tuesday, Cabrera was hit again, in the first inning, by Red Sox starter Junichi Tazawa. Tigers starter Rick Porcello brushed back Victor Martinez, who took exception, in the bottom of the first. FSD cameras caught Martinez mouthing very clearly, "What are you doing?" to the Tigers' rookie.

You know what happened next.

Porcello plunked Youkilis in the bottom of the second, and the Red Sox third baseman charged the rookie, triggering a bench-clearing brawl.

Without any warnings handed out, the umpires ejected Youkilis AND Porcello. Youkilis, for certain, should have been kicked out, but to eject Porcello without a warning to both dugouts about all the brushbacks and HBPs, was highly questionable. Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a fit; to the umpires' credit, they let him go off and didn't eject him. Sometimes the boys in blue will do that---let a manager blow off some serious steam---when a highly controversial decision is rendered.

The Tigers were leading 3-0 at the time.

Chris Lambert replaced Porcello and before you could say, "Uh-oh," he surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer.

Now, it's impossible to declare without some fear of being wrong that had Porcello stayed in, that three-run dinger by Jason Bay wouldn't have occurred. But the Tigers were off to a good start, had a three-run lead for one of their better starting pitchers, and it might have been their night.

We'll never know for sure.

But the decision to run Porcello out of the game turned out very poorly for the Tigers, who lost the contest, 7-5.

Dishonorable mention: The Tigers' up-and-down offense (again), which went 0-for-16 with RISP in Sunday's loss to the Royals, when just one key hit likely would have given the team a three-game sweep.

Hero of the Week

Justin Verlander, without question.

JV has been MMM's hero several times, and usually it's for the same reason: bailing the Tigers out when they need to stop some bleeding.

Verlander was up to the task yet again last Thursday, when he blew the Red Sox away so the Tigers could avoid a four-game sweep in Boston.

On his 123rd and final pitch, to Bay, JV hit 100 mph and struck Bay out swinging.

Verlander pitched eight shutout innings, in a rough ballpark for pitchers, in a game the Tigers absolutely had to win. He's turning into an MLB-wide ace before our very eyes, folks.

Twenty wins seem within JV's grasp. He has 13 now and is showing no sign of wilting in the dog days of the season.

Verlander, by, far, leads the AL in strikeouts, averaging well over 10 Ks per nine innings.

"That's a horse," Leyland said after Thursday's game.

No kidding. And the Tigers keep saddling him up, asking him to lead them to safer ground.

Honorable mention: Brandon Inge, for ending Friday night's game with a bang---a walk-off home run in the ninth for a 1-0 victory. Especially nice, considering how hurt and ineffective Inge has been since the All-Star break.

Quick scouting reports: Mariners and A's

A strange scheduling quirk this week means the Tigers will play a home game Thursday afternoon then have to shuttle themselves out to Oakland to play the A's the next night.

The quirk is that the Tigers' day off this week is Monday, not Thursday. Time was that West Coast trips were rarely preceded by a game day. But the Tigers have just completed a stretch of games in 17 straight days, which explains Monday's day off.

The Seattle Mariners are hanging tough in the AL West, though they remain long shots to unseat the LA Angels.

As usual, the offense is keyed by RF Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro is hitting .360, which we've come to expect---that's how good he is. This is a career .333 hitter who's likely Hall of Fame-bound. Sometime soon Ichiro will collect his 2,000th hit, and there's no reason to think he won't surpass 3,000 for his career.

In each of his eight seasons, Ichiro has banged out at least 200 hits, which is mind-boggling. He has 175 this year, so that streak looks like it will be extended to nine straight years.

Oh, and how's this for his run-scoring totals, by season?

Year One: 127
Year Two: 111
Year Three: 111
Year Four: 101
Year Five: 111
Year Six: 110
Year Seven: 111
Year Eight: 103

Amazingly consistent.

Ichiro hits. Ichiro runs. Ichiro can steal bases. Ichiro can bunt his way on. Ichiro can catch the ball. Ichiro can throw the ball.

Yeah, Hall of Famer---one of those first ballot guys.

If you like power with frequent breezes, big 1B Russell Branyan is your man. Branyan has 27 homers---but also 130 strikeouts.

On the mound, ex-Tiger Luke French---traded for Jarrod Washburn---is 1-1 in three Mariners starts, with a 4.41 ERA. According to the rotation schedule, the lefty should start Thursday's game in Detroit.

But the real star is righty Felix Hernandez, who'll start Tuesday's game. Hernandez is 12-4, with a 2.74 ERA. He's 2-0 against the Tigers this year, with a 2.77 ERA.

In Oakland, the Athletics waved the white flag at the trade deadline and are looking ahead to 2010.

The lineup is mediocre, with only DH Jack Cust a serious home run threat. Only one batter, CF Rajai Davis, is hitting .300---and Davis is at exactly .300. But Davis, through July and August, is hitting 36-for-95 (.379).

Their best pitcher, statistically, is on the DL (Dallas Braden). The rest of the rotation is struggling, and their bullpen is a shambles.

The closer is Andrew Bailey, who's actually been pretty good---converting 15-of-16 save opportunities since June 1.

But Bailey only has 21 opportunities, period, and that's saying a lot about the A's, who sit in dead last in the West.

Under the microscope

I don't like Clete Thomas's defense.

He's butchered too many plays for my liking, and if he's going to be the left-handed-hitting guy in RF---which he appears to be as the platooning with Magglio Ordonez continues more often than not---then he has to be better with the glove.

Maggs is no Gold Glover, either, but Thomas's mitt right now is cast iron.

To be fair, some of his missteps have been due to over-aggressiveness. But still, he's cost the Tigers and with the team playing so many low-scoring, tight ballgames, an ill-timed miscue could easily cost them a game.

Let's put Clete under the scope and see if he stops stumbling in RF.

Reminds me of a funny story.

Slugger Dave Kingman, never known for his defense, was having his glove's laces fixed one day, and the TV cameras caught it in the dugout.

The announcer---and I wish I could remember who it was---said, "They should call a welder, not an equipment guy."

Bottom line: Once again, Verlander had to stop the bleeding. And once again, he responded.

That scenario has been happening too much for a team in first place.

Sunday's game of tiddly-wink offense, following a ten-run outburst on Saturday, has also been too typical.

How many wins have the Tigers left on the field because they couldn't drive in a freaking run or two?

They should be making a mockery of this divisional race, with the White Sox just two games above .500.

Even the Twins, five games below .500, are still in the hunt, though longshots.

This Seattle at home/Oakland on the road week can be tricky for the Tigers. The Mariners have played the Tigers tough all season, and the West Coast is unpredictable.

The Tigers remain three games ahead of the White Sox in the all-important loss column, which is the column to watch more than any other.

But I like how Miggy Cabrera has woken up and is starting to play more like the Albert Pujols-like superstar he has the potential to be. And Carlos Guillen has shown me something since returning from injury sabbatical.

But more guys have to get in on the fun, offensively.

Going 0-for-16 with RISP is atrocious, and brings back ghoulish memories of 1-for-26 in Yankee Stadium last month.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 43

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 night 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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