Friday, July 31, 2009

Washburn Trade Nice, But May Not Be Enough

The Tigers figured that if they can't hit, then they'd pitch as well as they can.

It still might not be enough.

The Tigers' trade deadline day acquisition of veteran lefty Jarrod Washburn from Seattle should be more exciting than it is right now.

But what's the difference, really, if the Tigers don't score for Luke French or if they don't score for Washburn?

Well, at least the Tigers will be wasting the efforts of a better brand of pitcher, anyway.

Forgive my cynicism, because Washburn is a heck of a pick-up, or at least should be. The Tigers, by surrendering French and prospect Mauricio Robles, certainly didn't get rooked in the deal, even with Washburn being free agent-eligible after this season.

And, there's another veteran in the rotation, invaluable during tension-filled games in September.

Let's bottom line it: who do you feel more comfortable with in the rotation---Washburn or the rookie French?

No, there's really no debate about whether the Tigers made themselves a solid deal today. They did. But did they do enough?

There could still be some help on the way for the offense, by way of trades that occur after players clear waivers. It's not as easy to do, but it can be done. This still might not be the same offense come mid-August or early-September.

It better not be, by hook or by crook.

The Tigers remain, among the three-headed monster of contenders in the AL Central (along with the White Sox and the Twins), the club with the most inept offense. If this was a mock high school election, the Tigers would be voted The Team Least Likely To Slug Their Way To Victory.

The White Sox can win some games 7-6, 9-7. So can the Twins, especially in the Hefty Dome.

The Tigers? Not so much.

And don't dismiss the Chisox's addition of Jake Peavy, which could nullify the Washburn move.

Sometimes you have to win games that turn into slugfests. As attractive as the Tigers' rotation is now with the addition of Washburn, it's asking an awful lot to have the top three consistently surrender three or fewer runs per start.

Then there's the case of Brandon Inge, whose legs are being held together now with bailing wire and string.

Inge is a different player post-All-Star Game. He's not even the Brandon Inge of old. He's a pitcher with a bat in his hand.

So there goes one of your few reliable offensive options. Don't be surprised if Inge's knees break down completely and we wake to news of him being done for the season.

I like Jarrod Washburn. I like him in the Tigers' rotation. I like what they gave up to get him, which wasn't as much as feared.

But if that's it for procuring help from outside the organization, then I don't like the Washburn move so much.

Still need some thump.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 7/20-7/26: 4-3

This week: 7/27-29: at Tex; 7/31-8/2: at Cle

Goat of the Week

Once again, even though the Tigers went 4-3 last week, including taking three of four from the White Sox over the weekend, the goat is still the overall team offense, for dropping two more 2-1 games last week, at home against Seattle.

Armando Galarraga's one-hit ball for seven innings was wasted on Tuesday night, and the team again looked anemic the next afternoon. I'm too lazy to look it up, but the Tigers had four consecutive 2-1 losses, which surely must be a team record or close to it.

Sunday night's loss on ESPN was the result of another heinous offensive performance.

It's terrific that the Tigers went 3-1 against the White Sox, but they didn't exactly club the ball around Comerica Park. In fact, they resorted to playing some NL-style "small ball" at times over the weekend---sacrificing in the first inning, laying down squeeze bunts, etc.

Dishonorable mention goes to Brandon Inge, who's been mostly awful since returning from the All-Star break. Maybe his torn up knee is bothering him more than he'd care to admit.

Hero of the Week

Justin Verlander, hands down.

JV was the horse that every championship club needs on Friday, in Game One of the day/night doubleheader.

The White Sox breezed into town on an emotional high, both from how well they've played lately and from the euphoria of Mark Buehrle's perfect game on Thursday.

The Tigers, on the other hand, were licking their wounds---losers of five of six since the All-Star break, including all those 2-1 losses. Their divisional lead had evaporated.

Enter Verlander.

JV threw a complete game, tossing a career-high 127 pitches, and wiggled out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the ninth inning that threatened not only his CG but also the victory itself.

He was still hitting about 100 MPH on the gun on his 120th pitch.

The Tigers needed that performance in the worst way.

It was what a clear-cut ace is supposed to do under such circumstances. Verlander's gem set the tone for the series, as it turned out.

Honorable mention: CF Curtis Granderson, for his clutch, two-out double off closer Bobby Jenks to tie Saturday's game in the ninth inning. The Tigers won it in the tenth.

Quick scouting reports: Rangers and Indians

Texas' Michael Young is hitting .317. Ho-hum. What's new?

Well, this might not be news, but the Rangers can flat out mash the ball.

They have six players with 13 home runs or more. But they don't have a lot of guys hitting for average, including even rising star second baseman Ian Kinsler, who has 23 HR and 60 RBI, but is only hitting .244.

Maybe the most extreme example of this all-or-nothing offense is 1B Chris Davis, who's having a Rob Deer-like season: 15 HR, but with a .202 BA and 114 strikeouts (!) in 258 AB.

The pitching staff is led by veteran starter Kevin Millwood, who's having a fine season (9-7, 3.39 ERA) and 26-year-old Scott Feldman, who's 9-3 with a 3.59 ERA. But in Game One tonight, the Tigers will see 23-year-old righty Tommy Hunter, who in five starts is 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA.

The closer's role has been shared by lefty C.J. Wilson and righty Frank Francisco, who've converted 25-of-29 chances between them.

Then there's the Cleveland Indians.

Who had the Indians on pace to lose about 100 games this year?

Not me.

While I thought the Tigers would win around 90 games---and that looks good so far---I thought their stiffest competition would come from the Indians. I grossly under-estimated Cleveland's pitching woes, and many of their hitters have under-performed.

CF Grady Sizemore, for example, is hitting an unsightly .230.

But the pitching has been the biggest culprit along Lake Erie.

Only one starter, lefty Cliff Lee, has an ERA anywhere near 4.00 (Lee's at 3.14). The rest are in the fives, sixes, and even sevens.

Prized free agent signee Kerry Wood is a pedestrian 13-for-17 in save opportunities. The second number is the red flag: just 17 save chances so far for Wood in almost 100 games. Wood's ERA is 5.08, and he's surrendered a horrifying six homers in just 33 innings.

It's been a rough year in Cleveland, where the Tigers swept three games earlier in the season.

Under the microscope

Rick Porcello, the 20-year-old rookie pitcher, is beginning to look like, well, a 20-year-old rookie pitcher.

Porcello struggled mightily in the first inning of Sunday night's game, and he's been more bad than good as of late. It's time to re-evaluate whether he can be considered one-third of a rotation's top three. The kid's won nine games so far, which is pretty good, but he seems to be hitting that proverbial rookie wall.

Bottom line:
Baseball is wonderfully unpredictable. Look at the high the White Sox were on when they came into town on Friday, and look at how the Tigers were kind of hanging their heads after the Seattle series.

You could have made a mint if you predicted the Tigers would take three of four, given the circumstances.

But that's why they play the games, right?

As for this week, the Tigers are just 21-29 on the road, so this six-game trip takes on another dimension, in addition to being key to maintaining their lead in the division.

"We're going to have a little talk about that," manager Jim Leyland said, referring to the team's struggles on the road. "We just haven’t performed as well. We’ve got to take care of that."

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!


Friday, July 24, 2009

Granderson Not Alone, But Most Guilty Among Tigers Offenders

Curtis Granderson is bright, engaging, a terrific guy, and as fine a representative as any to represent Major League Baseball internationally.

He's also dragging the Tigers' offense down.

Grandy isn't the only one who's guilty, for sure. There are plenty of suspects you could place in a lineup---not a batting lineup, I mean a police lineup---and different fans would select different perps.

Some might point at second baseman Placido Polanco.

"There! THAT'S him! That's the guy who's taken our offense," an excitable fan might say about Polanco, who's hitting a very pedestrian .262, some 40 points below his career average, in the Tigers' No. 2 slot in the batting order.

Another witness is likely to wag a shaking finger at right fielder Magglio Ordonez. Perhaps most of them would.

"Arrest that man! Forthwith! HE'S the one!"

The evidence against Ordonez is plentiful.

A .257 BA. Five homers. Thirty-two RBI. A measly slugging percentage of .351. And Maggs was the Tigers' cleanup hitter for most of the first two months of the season. But it was left to the others to clean up after his mess.

There are even some, and one of them is banging away on his keyboard right now, who would look cross-eyed at Miguel Cabrera.

Miggy has solid numbers, at first blush. But he hasn't put the Tigers on his back, like the true superstars do, and carried them when they weren't able to carry themselves, which is most of the time anymore.

I have sneers for all of the above, but I'm coming back to Granderson.

I don't take any joy in blistering Curtis, because I'm one of those who's had the good fortune to spend time with him, and he's simply a joy to talk to. He's the kind of young man who I'd love for my daughter to marry.

Three years ago, early in the 2006 season, I predicted great things for Granderson, who at the time had just beaten out a kid named Nook Logan for the center field position in Detroit. I compared his cherubic grin to that of Isiah Thomas, and warned the rest of the American League that Grandy's smile would be like Thomas' in another manner---it would be an assassin's smile, bright on its face but lethal in its cold heart.

If you care to, you can read my boosterism of Granderson here.

Fast forward to 2009, and where are the doubles? Where are the triples? Where's the annoyance he's causing opposing pitchers at the leadoff spot? Where's the .280-.300 batting average?

It's almost as if Granderson sold his baseball-playing soul to the Devil, in exchange for a season as a home run hitter.

Curtis has 19 dingers, which means he'll likely eclipse his career high of 23 this season.


So we're left with a .257 BA, 10 doubles, and four triples.

When Granderson missed the first few weeks of the 2008 season, his absence was used as one of the reasons why the Tigers came out of the gate oh-so-slowly. Made sense, as Grandy was coming off his dynamite 2007 season, when his 2B/3B/HR line read 38/23/23, and his average was .302.

How he failed to make the All-Star team in 2007 is almost as baffling as why he made it this year.

Granderson isn't an All-Star---not now, and not when the team was announced. Maybe he made it because the center field crop is dry this year. Not sure.

Regardless, he hasn't performed at an All-Star level, the 19 home runs aside. He's still flashing some decent leather defensively, but he's simply not being the catalyst at the top of the order that the Tigers need so badly now.

It's almost cruelly ironic, to Tigers' fans, that Granderson hit one of his once-signature triples in the All-Star Game.

And as for the home runs, this isn't Rickey Henderson. Or, closer to home, Louis Whitaker. It's not like Curtis has been leading off a bunch of games with the longball.

One of the beat writers in Detroit, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, suggested that Granderson's off-the-field benevolence might be catching up to him. Too many distractions, in other words. Henning's theory was indirectly seconded by manager Jim Leyland, who fretted that Granderson is one who hates to say no to anyone.

This isn't the Curtis Granderson that I signed up for. Despite playing half his games at spacious and extra base-friendly Comerica Park, Grandy has just those 10 doubles and four triples, which is, frankly, sickly. They aren't numbers that cause disruption, which is what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do.

I was asked on a recent podcast whether I thought Granderson had it in him to make a sharp turnaround in the second half of the season.

It's always been in him, from Opening Day. Why it hasn't presented itself is a mystery that may never be fully explained. So to think that it could suddenly materialize after almost 100 games is a stretch. I hope I'm wrong.

Granderson has gotten a free pass from the media, for the most part, despite his subpar performance. Maybe it's because, as I indicated in the opening, there are lots of people at whom to point fingers. His bad year is getting lost in the shuffle with everyone else's bad years.

But the leadoff hitter ought to be auspicious, both in his praise and in his scolding.

It's time to quit ignoring the facts. Curtis Granderson is dragging the Tigers down, and it needs to stop. Right now.

Easier said than done, I know.

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!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Tigers' Second Half Malaise Under Leyland Must End, Forthwith

The All-Star Break has come and gone, and Jim Leyland is now officially on the clock.

It may only be my clock that he's on, but that's all that matters, in my little, narcissistic world.

The Tigers manager has done a pretty solid job in his four years, when it comes to games played before that symbolic halfway point, aka the All-Star Break.

After that? Not so much.

Readers of this blog for any considerable amount of time might be rolling their eyes right about now, for they know what's coming.

Eno's annual warning of Jim Leyland's second half troubles in Detroit.

Well, tough.

The facts are these: even in 2006, when the Tigers zoomed to the top of the standings and made the playoffs, they stumbled down the stretch. They did so again in 2007. Did it again last year, even though they weren't in true contention, as they were in '06 and '07.

You want numbers?

In 2006, the Tigers were 59-29 at the break, but went 36-38 after it--including a brutal 19-31 stretch run that cost them the divisional title.

In 2007, the team was 52-34 before the break, and 36-40 after it.

Last year: 47-47 before, 27-41 after.

The grand total under Jim Leyland reads 158-110 before the All-Star Break, and 99-119 after it.

That cannot happen this year, because it will cost the Tigers not only the division, but the Wild Card, which is almost certain to come out of the East Division.

In Leyland's defense, the Tigers recovered in the 2006 post-season and made the World Series.

But it's still a strange and disturbing trend.

Injuries have played a part; another excuse for the apologists.

In '06, Placido Polanco injured his shoulder diving for a ball in Boston, and missed several weeks. The Tigers' offense wasn't the same without him.

In '07, Gary Sheffield injured his shoulder diving for a ball in Detroit, and missed several weeks. The Tigers' offense wasn't the same without him.

But if just one player's absence can so disrupt a team, then doesn't that reflect on the manager?

Aren't the true "geniuses" able to adapt, and go with the flow, pushing different buttons and keeping the team afloat?

The Tigers have done anything but stay afloat in post-All-Star Game play under Leyland. They've sunk like rocks, truth be told. Only the Wild Card saved face for them in 2006.

It was an argument I used last fall, when Leyland told the papers that he felt he deserved a contract extension.

I had two good years and one bad one, the manager told the press, knowing it would be printed and show up his owner---not normally a smart move.

Wrong, Jim, I countered.

You had three decent first halves and three bad ones, is what you had.

Three bad second halves is often more than enough to get a manager tossed out on his ear, rather than get his contract extended.

But I was also one of the first to say that if Leyland was deserving of an extension as the 2009 season grew older, then he'd get one---because he works for a very fair owner.

Well, the Tigers played about two months and hadn't fallen on their faces, so Mike Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski gave Leyland that extension, after all.

So that's settled, anyway.

What's not been tied up in a big, red bow is this issue of second half malaise in the Jim Leyland Years.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 7/6-7/12: 4-2

This week: 7/13-7/16: All-Star Break; 7/17-19: at NYY

Goat of the Week

The Tigers did what they were supposed to do this week---take four of six from the lowly Royals and Indians at Comerica Park. So this week at MMM we don't really hand out a Goat label, per se, but we do raise a concern---because that's what we do here!

Fernando Rodney was inserted in a non-save situation on Friday night and promptly decided to make it into one---even though MLB rules say that's impossible.

Rodney and non-save situations are like oil and water.

His ERA in such scenarios, as the good folks at FSD displayed on our TV screens, was a ghastly 7.71 entering Friday's contest, compared to under 1.00 in save situations.

Opponents hit about .280 against Rodney when there's not a save at stake, compared to below .200 otherwise. The walks and strikeouts are similarly skewed.

On Friday, Rodney entered the game with a four-run lead. An error and a walk made things interesting, and Rodney was shaky until the final out.

So what gives?

It might just be a statistical fluke, but the numbers are so out of whack that it might go beyond that.

His concentration might waver. He's not as locked in. Something.

It's not just Rodney, though. Many closers run into the same trouble when there isn't a save on the table.

Maybe the real goat is manager Jim Leyland, for continuing to put Rodney into games where there's not a save involved. Fernando's not doing anything for the skipper's smoking habit in those circumstances, that's for sure.

Hero of the Week

There were more than a few of them this week.

Justin Verlander, for giving the Tigers' bullpen a break on Sunday with a solid performance after a few dicey ones.

Freshly-added All-Star Brandon Inge, for his statement game on Sunday: two home runs with the big game looming, along with the home run derby, in which he'll participate.

But how about Clete Thomas, eh?

Thomas, recently adorned the Tigers' right fielder against right-handed pitchers in a platoon operation with Magglio Ordonez, went bonkers on Sunday in a game that the Tigers needed to complete their 4-2 week.

Thomas tripled in the Tigers' first run, then slugged a three-run homer in his next at-bat, giving Verlander all the breathing room he really needed. Not finished, Thomas added a single, leaving him a double shy of a cycle.

It was a terrific way of validating, at least for the time being, Leyland's decision to give Thomas the bulk of the at-bats in right field.

Quick scouting report: Yankees

Seems as though the New York Yankees have themselves a billion-dollar band box in the Bronx.

Baseballs have been flying out of the new Yankee Stadium---to the tune of about 3.3 per game.

I'll save you some research for comparison; that's a LOT.

But what that number doesn't tell you is how many of the dingers hit are of the solo variety, as compared to with men on base.

I'm fine with a starting pitcher who surrenders a home run now and then---even more than now and then---as long as most of them are solo shots.

It's the relief pitcher who serves up gopher balls that ought to get the hair on the back of your neck to stand up---for those are almost always with ducks on the pond.

The Yanks took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit back in May, but there was something very significant about the Detroit victory.

It was Verlander's first gem in a string of them, as JV was on his way to being named pitcher of the month for May. Verlander will have another shot at the Yankees this weekend---or is it vice-versa?

The Yankees have a high-octane offense, no doubt helped by playing in their new, cozy ballpark.

Johnny Damon, for example, has 16 home runs in the leadoff spot.

The pitching has been a mini-mess, and the Yanks' being in second place has more to do with them slugging their way to wins than anything else.

Every time the Tigers play members of the "old" AL East, like New York, Boston, etc., I'm reminded how much fun it was to play them more than just six times a year.

The Tigers were in the East when MLB realigned in the mid-1990s, but got shifted to the Central when the Milwaukee Brewers were moved to the National League in 1998. The newly-formed Tampa Bay Devil Rays took the Tigers' place in the East.

It's kind of like how the Red Wings rarely play Original Sixers like the Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens and Maple Leafs anymore.

Under the microscope

Only three games this week due to the All-Star break, so we'll simply say this about the dreaded microscope in this edition: we're eager, at MMM, to see how the Tigers do in New York in their first visit to new Yankee Stadium.

That's all.

But next week, we'll have a dandy for you under the microscope---supported by stats and facts and everything! I can hardly wait to start banging on the keyboard next Monday.

Bottom line:
Last week, MMM beseeched the Tigers to go at least 4-2 with the bottom-feeding Royals and Indians coming to town. Mission accomplished, and the Tigers are comfortably nestled in first place at the break.

Moreover, the Tigers kept their home-winning formula active and working, which is key because of the lopsided schedule the rest of the way; 41 of the remaining 75 games will be played at Comerica Park.

The team had a good first half, despite some warts. I predicted 90 wins before the season, and right now that's looking good. Inge is turning into one of the best stories in baseball this year. Verlander and Edwin Jackson have given the Tigers a 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation that few could have imagined.

But they still need some more offense. There are 18 days until the July 31 interleague trade deadline.

Stay tuned to this station for further instructions.

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


Friday, July 10, 2009

Tigers' Need For A Bat Could Be Solved From Within, But It's No Sure Bet

The Tigers need a bat.You and I need oxygen. The comparison is spot on.

Fortunately, you and I know where to get our O -- we need to simply intake it, wherever we're located. Unless we're trapped in a sealed archives room from which the oxygen supply has been cut off, like that scene in "Angels and Demons." But I digress.

Manager Jim Leyland has a couple of quandaries as far as where he's going to get that big bat needed to resuscitate an offense on the critical list, and even though he is trying to control one of them, he's pretty much at the behest of fate in each instance.

First, he's going to platoon Magglio Ordonez and Clete Thomas in right field. The old, "two heads are better than one" theory. Or, in baseball terms, the much more verbose and clunky "two bats that swing from the different side of the batter's box are better than one that swings from one side" approach.

Righty-swinging Maggs will start against left-handers, the lefty Thomas against right-handers. It's an approach in baseball that's decades in the running. The numbers don't always back it up, but it's still a rather sound idea.

This also means Thomas should see the lion's share of at-bats, because there are far more right-handed starters than southpaws.

Ordonez, then, is not just platooning --- he's being reduced to a mere part-time player. Or, to be more accurate and less diplomatic, he's getting the playing time that he deserves.

Ordonez is providing us with one of the more confounding individual seasons in recent memory. No doubt it's even worse for Leyland, who has some emotional investment into Maggs, having managed him for four years now and never having any problems with him, until this under-achieving season.

The power has been dialed down on Ordonez's bat, which now functions on a lower setting than ever before in his big league career. He's a singles hitter, which would be fine if his batting average at least hovered near where it's been accustomed. But Maggs hits in the pedestrian area of the .260s, and that makes him, well, Adam Everett, who has way more clutch hits this year than does Ordonez.

So here comes Thomas, back from another stint at Toledo, as the Tigers continue to wear out I-75 shuttling players back and forth.

The other quandary is the not-so-strange case of Carlos Guillen.

Guillen has been hurt most of the year, which is where the not-so-strange part comes in. There's usually something the matter with Carlos, which is too bad because he's one of the game's fine men. But he can't stay healthy, and just because he's set to soon return from his latest extended stay on the disabled list, doesn't mean he'll stay injury-free from now thru September.

Those itching for the Tigers to add a bat who would put their eggs in the Carlos Guillen basket ought to make sure those eggs are hard-boiled first.

It would be terrific if the Tigers' two-headed monster in right field added up to one productive bat. And it would be lovely to see Guillen burst back onto the scene and function as a sort of deadline day acquisition who injects life into his new team.

Neither is anything close to a certainty.

Guillen is healthy and close to returning to the Tigers, for what it's worth

It's presumed that GM Dave Dombrowski and his MLB scouts have been scouring the majors, looking for a stick that could be had before the July 31 interleague trading deadline expires. Maybe a fifth starter is being scouted as well.

This is the time of the year when teams are grouped into two lumpings: buyers and sellers, as the trade deadline fast approaches. The Tigers are in the former, and will try to play vulture, picking away at the seller's carcasses.

A bat on the cheap.

The absolute cheapest route, of course, is to promote from within. But Magglio Ordonez, with his curiously unproductive bat, and Carlos Guillen, with his notoriously fragile body, are anything but a sure bet. Clete Thomas might be the most reliable of them all, and I don't even know what that says, and I just wrote it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

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

Week of 6/29-7/5: 2-4

This week: 7/6-7/8: KC; 7/10-12: CLE

Goat of the Week

The Tigers labored for 16 innings before finally beating the Twins on Friday night, and you can thank Zach Miner for that.

Miner inherited a nifty five-run lead in the sixth inning from starter Luke French, and promptly squandered it all away in two-thirds of an inning, enabling the Twins to tie the game and leading to it going into extras. And extras. And extras.

The Tigers won, but not before taxing the bullpen, including Joel Zumaya, who threw a career-high 52 pitches. Moreover, it was a long night before a day game, thanks to Saturday's contest being shown on Fox nationally.

Miner's been fairly decent this season, but someone has to be the goat this week, and his coughing up a five-run lead, leading to unplanned mega-innings from the rest of the bullpen, hangs him with the MMM goat albatross.

Hero of the Week

Back to Zumaya.

He's been rollercoaster-like this season, particularly with his control. But on Friday in Minnesota, his manager did something that earns Jim Leyland the Hero label.

In the 11th inning, with Denard Span on third base and two outs, Leyland walked both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (both lefty bats) in order to let Zumaya go after the right-handed hitting Michael Cuddyer.

It was a supreme show of confidence, especially considering how uneven Zumaya has been with his control. Walking the bases loaded gave Zumaya no margin for error.

So what does Zoom-Zoom do? He carves Cuddyer up on three pitches. Threat ended.

Things like that, where the manager lets his guy succeed or fail, can resonate for a long time.

It wasn't just a bold strategic, on-field move --- walking Mauer and Morneau --- it was also an investment in Joel Zumaya's confidence.

Jim Leyland --- this week's MMM Hero of the Week.

Quick scouting reports: Royals, Indians

This is a big week for the Tigers.

Their lead in the division is shrinking --- it's now just two games after going 1-2 in the Metrodome over the weekend.

But now they return home to play the two weak sisters of the Central.

The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are bringing up the rear, and for two different reasons.

The Royals, mostly, can't hit. The Indians, mostly, can't pitch. If the two teams combined rosters, you'd have a contender.

The Royals have a trio of capable starters in Zack Grienke, Brian Bannister, and Gil Meche. The Tigers won't face Bannister, but they'll get Meche and Grienke.

The Indians, as Ian Casselberry of Bless You Boys said in our podcast last week, probably showed one of their red flags when they made Carl Pavano their No. 2 starter before the season. In other words, that should have been an indicator that they had rotation issues.

And rotation issues they have --- big time.

Reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee is 4-8, albeit with a fine ERA of 3.45. After Lee, it gets ugly.

Pavano: 7-7, 5.36; Fausto Carmona: 2-6, 7.42; Jeremy Sowers: 2-6, 5.68; David Huff: 4-3, 6.06.


No wonder the Indians are struggling to play .400 baseball.

Here's a quick joke: Which will be higher at the end of the season---Mauer's batting average (he's around .390 now), or the Indians' winning percentage?


The Tigers need to make hay against these teams this week at Comerica Park.

Under the microscope

Last week, MMM placed Zumaya under the scope and he responded with his 52-pitch effort on Friday night in Minnesota.

So let's see what happens when MMM puts Placido Polanco on the glass plate and beams in on him.

Why Poly?


That's all I need to say.

Polanco is a much better hitter than that. The Tigers' uneven offense is largely that way because Curtis Granderson (even though he made the All-Star team) and Polanco don't have that same 1-2 dynamic at the top of the order as they've had in the past.

Grandy isn't slapping doubles and triples anymore. He's becoming strictly a power hitter. Polanco is hitting about 40 to 50 points below what he's hit as a Tiger. The two of them aren't providing the same kick start to the order as before.

Grandy was under the scope a few weeks ago. This week, it's Poly's turn.

Placido has slugged some homers lately, but that's not what the Tigers need from him. They need a .290-.300 hitter who works in concert with Granderson better.

Bottom line:
The Tigers are starting to see now why it would have been so nice to put more daylight between themselves and the rest of the division, when the rest of the division was playing below-.500 ball.

You just knew one or two teams would make a move. And the Twins and the White Sox are those teams.

Taking four of six this week, at home (where the Tigers are a healthy 23-11) against the two worst teams in the division is very important, especially heading into the All-Star break.

This figures to be a three-horse race the rest of the way, so the more the Tigers can build on their impressive home record, with all the home games remaining on their schedule (47 of the remaining 81 games are at home), the more pressure that puts on Chicago and Minnesota.

But it has to start this week.

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


Friday, July 03, 2009

My Appearance On "This Week In Detroit Tigers Baseball"

On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of being a guest panelist on Motor City Bengals' "This Week in Detroit Tigers Baseball."

You can listen to the finished product HERE.

I had a blast discussing the Tigers' first half with J. Ellet Lambie , Ian Casselberry, and John from, who are some of the best Tigers bloggers in town.

Special thanks to host Joe Dexter, who pulled it all together, including editing the podcast for your consumption.

Inge Bronze-Bound At CoPa

It was in a fit of boosterism, some two years ago, when I took leave of my senses and banged out some tripe on this very blog about the bourgeoning third baseman of the Tigers, Brandon Inge.

I all but called him Mr. Tiger--declaring that he would never play for another big league team, and since he wouldn't, and since his career would extend a dozen or so years in Detroit, why not go ahead and erect a statue of him in left centerfield at Comerica Park, to join the other Tigers greats in bronze?

Well, guess what? I stand by that boisterous tripe.

Inge, the catcher-turned-third baseman-turned-catcher-turned back into third sacker, is having a career year. He's about to obliterate his previous high in home runs (27 back in 2006), and has pumped his batting average above his norm, which means it no longer competes with his weight, but the weight of an NFL linebacker (.275 thru Wednesday).

The increased power and batting average, we're to presume, is a direct result of a new batting stance--something Inge worked on feverishly in the off-season, both with and without hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.

The new stance--Inge stands straighter and points the barrel of the bat toward the pitcher slightly--hasn't done anything for his propensity to strike out. He's still fanning once every four at-bats, roughly. But he doesn't seem to be striking out in as many key situations.

In fact, Inge is becoming another kind of Mister--as in Mr. Clutch (with apologies to NBA star Jerry West).

Inge is, to me, the one Tiger I'd like to see at the plate in a late-inning, close game situation--with or without men on base. With his increased power (18 homers already), Inge places himself into scoring position simply by stepping into the batter's box.

OK, but what's this jazz about erecting a statue?

First, a caveat.

No other statues of Tigers should go up until the organization gets with it and immortalizes Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker -- turning a double play, naturally. That's first and foremost.

After those two, I say do one of Inge.

You won't be able to prove me wrong until the next decade, so if you care to, print this out and seal it in a waterproof envelope or something.

Brandon Inge will retire a Tiger, after wearing the Old English D, and the Old English D only, for as long as he shall play.

And it's not just about his play on the field.

Inge is gradually weaving himself into the fabric of the metro Detroit community. He's one of the good guys in town who gives back. We're going to see his kids grow up before our very eyes. He'll have chances for free agency but will opt to stay in Detroit, even for less money.

Says me.

Inge, at age 32, already has put in about nine years with the Tigers.

I know--time flies.

I figure he's got about five, six more solid seasons left in his body, which he treats ruggedly.

Inge doesn't just play third base; third base is his beat. He chases pop flies like they're kids who just threw rocks into the jeweler's window. He pounces on bunts and dribblers like an eagle on a rodent. He throws batters out at first base with disdain.

He won't be anywhere near a Hall of Famer, but he'll be a terrific Tiger, when all is said and done.

Terrific enough to make sure folks down the line -- even those who haven't been born yet -- never forget what he did for the team back in the early 21st century.

There was a time when it didn't look good for Inge to stick around. And that time was just a year ago spring training, when Brandon found himself being nudged out of the lineup once again.

He had been squeezed out once before, when as a catcher, the Tigers cast him back to the bench upon the signing of Pudge Rodriguez. Inge whined back then that he was just as good defensively as Mr. Rodriguez, and that the Tigers didn't need to spend all that dough after all.

I thought him to be a petulant, immature smart aleck. I couldn't have cared less if he played another game in Detroit.

That was then.

So the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera, who was a third baseman at the time. Inge was getting squeezed again. He would be a backup at both third base and catcher, a position that he grew to loathe.

Some more pouting, but this time it was done differently. Basically, Inge just wanted to play third base so badly it hurt. It got so bad that manager Jim Leyland, with Inge beside him, called a press conference in Florida to address the matter.

You know the rest of the story. Inge ended up at third base in a roundabout way--following some injuries and lineup shuffling, which saw him try his hand in the outfield on occasion. But then Pudge got traded at the end of July, and so Inge went back behind the plate. His offense suffered. He was an unhappy man.

That's in the past.

Inge is growing roots at third base, fast. He should be the Tigers' guy there for years to come. He's starting to remind me of Brooks Robinson, with his ability to make the circus play look routine.

You heard me.

So hit "control-P" on your keyboard if you'd like, put this somewhere safe, and wave it in my face when the Tigers trade Inge, or when he leaves as a free agent.

I double dog dare ya.