Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 9/14-20: 3-4

This week: 9/22-24: at Cle; 9/25-27: at CWS

Goat of the Week

The Metrodome, pure and simple.

Oh, and Jim Leyland.

The Dome jumped up and got the Tigers again on Saturday, as left fielder Don Kelly lost a harmless (HA!) fly ball in the lethal combination of white lights/white dome roof/white baseball, opening the floodgates for the Twins in the 8th inning of a game the Tigers were leading, 2-1.

So the Dome gets blamed, but so does Leyland.

Why on Earth did he have the rookie Kelly in left field, in that situation and in that stadium?

It's been whispered before about Leyland---that he sometimes places players in positions to fail. Yes, more veteran outfielders than Kelly have lost balls in the Metrodome's roof, but don't you feel better with a guy who's played there many times before?

Dishonorable mention: The offense in general, which labored to score runs all week---contributing mightily to the Tigers' losing two of three to the Royals at home.

Hero of the Week

OK, who had Nate Robertson in the "Tigers pitcher most likely to be the 'x' factor down the stretch" pool?

Good ole Nate saved the Tigers' rear ends on Sunday, twirling five terrific innings, allowing just two runs and striking out six. A loss would have drawn the Twins to within one game. Instead, the Tigers left town with a small but not tiny three game cushion.

Robertson, since returning from his injury and rehab assignments, has been mostly brilliant as a spot starter, rescuing the Tigers with quality starts and providing for them, essentially, what they thought they'd get from fellow lefty Jarrod Washburn, their prized trade deadline acquisition.

The Tigers needed Robertson to stifle the Twins as much as possible, while hoping to scratch out enough offense to snatch a victory. And Nate did that, followed by some stellar bullpen work from Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, and Fernando Rodney.

Honorable mention: Justin Verlander, who deserved a much better fate on Saturday.

Quick scouting reports: Indians and White Sox

A few weeks ago, when the Indians came to town, MMM warned folks about them.

The Tribe was on a 35-game run in which they actually had won more games than the Tigers during the same stretch.

Beware, MMM said.

The Tigers swept them out of Detroit.

But no team is without some danger in the final two weeks, when it's an accomplishment to win any game, regardless of opponent.

The Indians, since that sign of life, have sunk back into the morass of bad baseball.

But the Tigers often play, on the road, as if they're in that same morass.

As for the White Sox, the Tigers are likely to get a look at starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who was acquired in July but who wasn't able to pitch for weeks due to injury.

Peavy made his White Sox debut on Saturday and reported nothing more than general soreness after the 73-pitch effort. Peavy was returning from a three-month absence due to an ankle injury.

The White Sox probably didn't think they'd be on the brink of elimination by the time Peavy got around to pitching for them, however.

But that's where the Chisox are---on life support. They're seven games behind the Tigers in the loss column, and the magic number to eliminate them is down to seven.

The White Sox do have six games left with the Tigers, and they pretty much have to win them all to have any shot at a miracle finish that would make the 1964 Phillies collapse look like child's play.

Under the microscope

MMM says keep a close eye on Edwin Jackson.

The Tigers' hard-throwing starter is showing signs of breaking down, and at the worst possible time.

Maybe the Tigers expected too much from Jackson after his wonderful first 2/3 of the season. Regardless, he's just not the same pitcher. Yet an Edwin Jackson at 75% is still better than a lot of big league starters.

The Tigers need Jackson, big time---especially in the playoffs, where power pitching and pounding the strike zone is at a premium.

Watch EJ. Very closely.

Bottom line:
The win on Sunday was a huge one for the Tigers. Not only did it mark the difference between leading the division by one game or three, it now puts the Tigers in a position where the "clock is their friend," so to speak.

If this was a football game, the Tigers would need to just keep the ball on the ground, make a couple of first downs with safe passes, and drain the clock.

They can grab a couple of first downs by sweeping the woeful Indians. Winning two of three would be alright, too. The Tigers' magic number to clinch is 11.

The goal?

Make the Twins need to win three of four---or all four---of their games in Detroit next week.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 11

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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