Monday Morning Manager
Week of 8/24-30: 4-2
This week: 8/31: TB; 9/1-3: CLE; 9/4-6: at TB
Goat of the Week
Time to go into nitpick mode.
The week was four up, two down for the Tigers, against two contenders, so how many Goats can there be? Of course, at MMM, we only need one.
Putting Aubrey Huff under the microscope last week didn't have the magical effect it's had for others this season. He's still scuffling along.
Huff, acquired a couple weeks ago from Baltimore, hasn't done much of anything since joining the Tigers. These things typically go one of two ways: the newly-acquired player with hardly any pennant race experience comes in and provides an instant spark; or the pressure of possibly being the missing piece to the puzzle weighs heavily on the new guy.
With Huff, it appears to be the latter.
However, there might be a sign of life. Huff had a hard-hit double into right-center field in the seventh inning of Sunday's game, and while the Tigers stranded him, maybe that's a good sign. It was the hardest ball Huff has hit as a Tiger.
Ian Casselberry, from BlessYouBoys.com, said on a podcast I was on yesterday hosted by Joe Dexter that he feels Huff is one big hit away from bursting out and going on a tear.
We'll see. But in a week deemed successful from a team standpoint, Aubrey Huff contributed very little to it. Hence the Goat label.
Dishonorable mention: Righty starter Edwin Jackson, who's only gone into the seventh inning once in his past six starts. Yes, this is really nitpicking, but there you have it. MMM isn't always interested in justice---it needs word count!
Hero of the Week
How about some love for Fernando Rodney?
For someone who didn't even have a true role on the team in spring training (set-up man? "disaster" closer?), Rodney has been, in a word, magnificent.
Only one blown save opportunity all year. The vaunted changeup working on most nights. The walks-to-innings pitched ratio down considerably.
Rodney saved three of the Tigers' four wins last week, and he's pretty much money in the bank anymore.
Sunday's game was prime for major disappointment. The Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth, on Placido Polanco's dramatic, two-out home run, and had taken a 4-3 lead on a day where the bats were once again limp noodles. It was a game that, had the Tigers blown it in the ninth, would have been devastating.
But Rodney did his thing, taking care of the Rays in the ninth, and the Tigers had themselves the closest thing to a walk-off win: a lead-changing bottom of eighth, followed by a shutout top of the ninth.
Honorable mention: Normally light-hitting Gerald Laird and Adam Everett, who had back-to-back two-run doubles in a five-run fourth inning to spark the Tigers on Friday night.
Quick scouting reports: Indians and Rays
At first blush, the Tigers should take care of the Indians, right?
Not so fast, Delaware Mud Breath!
The Tribe, despite waving the white flag at the trade deadline and preparing for the future, have been playing pretty good baseball as of late. In fact, since July 22, they've won more games than the Tigers.
The Indians are on a 21-14 roll, during which time the Tigers have gone 20-17.
Yet the Tribe doesn't have Victor Martinez. Doesn't have Ryan Garko. Doesn't have Cliff Lee. And still doesn't have a "normal" Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore is having a disappointing season, a la that other great AL center fielder, Curtis Granderson.
The numbers: .247 BA, 18 HR, 62 RBI, 91 K.
Here's another telling one: 13-for-21 in stolen bases in 2009, compared to 38-for-43 in 2008.
Not very Sizemore-ish, is it?
He's down in doubles, too---though up in triples.
Yet the Indians are playing well, so this three-game set in Detroit may not be the slam-dunk people think.
The Tigers will quickly re-acquaint themselves with the Rays on Friday in Tampa, just four days after completing a four-game series in Detroit.
MMM gave you the Rays scouting report last week, so let's just say that it will be interesting to see how the Tigers fare in Florida, after finally getting the road monkey off their backs by virtue of winning their series at the Angels last week.
Under the microscope
This week, MMM doesn't put a player under the scope, but rather, an entire position.
What will happen of left field for the Tigers?
The other two OF positions seem set: Granderson in center; Magglio Ordonez, warts and all, in right.
But who will play left field the most down the stretch and, the baseball gods willing, in the playoffs?
Marcus Thames? Herculean strength, but not much else.
Ryan Raburn? Maybe the most athletic of anyone, and with some pop, but is he more of a utility player?
Carlos Guillen? How healthy IS he, anyway?
Aubrey Huff? A clang-clang glove perhaps best suited for DH duty.
Clete Thomas? More of a RF, but he's played some LF, too.
Manager Jim Leyland has some decisions to make. So let's put LF under the scope this week and see who gets the bulk of the playing time out there.
Bottom line: Last week showed MMM that the Tigers might, indeed, have what it takes to fend off the chasers in the Central Division. Taking four of six from the Angels and Tampa is encouraging.
The Tigers are close to putting this division race to bed. They're maybe one five or six-game winning streak away from pounding some nails into the coffins of the Twins and White Sox.
BUT...the Tigers don't go on long winning streaks. They win a few, lose a couple, etc. Why? Because their hitting isn't formidable enough to bash its way to wins for a week or so.
The division is there for the taking, obviously. But the Twins aren't to be trusted, so beware.
Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 29
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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