Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Morning Manager Will Return Next Week

MMM is on vacation!

See ya next Monday!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Damon Forever Ingratiates Himself to Detroit Sports Fans

The Detroit sports fans are an easily scorned bunch.

When they're happy and when it's moved them, the Detroit sports fans have long cheered the miscreants, the black sheep types. They've leaped from their seats to yell themselves hoarse for pugilistic, alcoholic, drug-taking hockey players. Players coming off suspension have been greeted like returning war heroes.

They've also booed mightily at some of the most talented athletes to ever roll through this town.

The basis for this is quite simple.

Work hard and show that you want to be here, want to be one of us, and we're behind you through thick and thin.

But display a desire to be elsewhere, and you'll get a swift kick between the back pockets.

The Detroit sports fan is fiercely loyal, maybe to a fault. And he/she expects that same loyalty from the athletes wearing the city's uniform colors.

I've seen them go mad for Bob Probert, when Probie was living in an apartment near enough to Joe Louis Arena so he didn't have to drive---because he couldn't, thanks to legal issues. I've seen them rise and roar for him when he battled the Blackhawks and the bottle, and cocaine.

I've also seen them mercilessly boo Sergei Fedorov, a player infinitely more talented than Probert and who defected from Russia and who helped the team win three Stanley Cups, because Fedorov had the temerity to flee as a free agent.

Because of this insecurity that the Detroit sports fans have ingrained in them, Johnny Damon should forever be a member of their fraternity.

Damon has rejected a trade to the Boston Red Sox. He's turned his back on a better playoff race, and playing for a higher profile team. He's said no to chasing the Yankees and the Rays and being on ESPN every week and a chance to rekindle old, strong teammate relationships.

Damon has pulled a reverse from the playbook. Normally it's the Detroit teams that lose players to the brighter lights of fame and relevance.

Damon, 36, was placed on waivers and the Red Sox claimed him. He had about 48 hours to approve a trade to Boston, since the Bosox were not one of the eight teams to which Damon would consent being traded.

The Red Sox wanted him for real. They say it wasn't merely a procedural move to keep the Yankees and Rays from making a play for him. Red Sox players of the magnitude of Jason Varitek and David Ortiz reportedly reached out to Damon, campaigning for him to return to Boston, where he spent some of his finest years.

This is where it usually goes against the Detroiters. This is where the celebrated player is wont to tell us it's been nice and all, that we have a decent town, but that the allure of the Red Sox or the Celtics or the Lakers or the Patriots is too damn much to resist.

Except when it comes to the Red Wings.

But these are the Tigers, and they're 63-63 and nine games out of first place and seem to be nothing more than destined to finish Show to the Twins and White Sox's Win and Place.

This is Detroit with its hard-scrabble town and its beleaguered, unemployed fans and a baseball team that's never on ESPN and which has fallen out of the playoff race faster than a sinking lead balloon.

No matter. Damon is staying.

"I'm not jumping ship," he says.

Damon loves the city and the organization and the fans and being a mentor to all the Toledo Mud Hens surrounding him.

"I'm almost a player-coach," he said recently, and it was with pride, not prejudice.

Damon likes the Tigers so much that he is making early overtures to come back in 2011, putting some pressure on the front office. He even went so far as to say that had he been traded elsewhere this season, he'd still like to come back next year. And he'd only agree to a trade to a team not on his list of eight if he could be guaranteed that the Tigers would get good young prospects in return.

When was the last time you heard a player say that?

Damon says in his heart he's a Tiger. And he's only been a Tiger since February.

The Detroit sports fan eats that stuff up. Damon is exhibiting that desire to be here in spades, belying his relatively short time in town.

What Johnny Damon did this week, nixing a trade to a better team with a more grandiose near future just so he could stay in Detroit and play as a Tiger, won't soon be forgotten by the sports denizens in this town.

The love he gets here from now on ought to be the 180 degree opposite of the vile he has gotten from Red Sox fans ever since leaving Boston for New York some five years ago.

Damon left a good thing once, and it's come back to haunt him.

He's not about to make that same mistake again.

And Detroit will forever love him for it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 4-3
This Week: KC (8/23-25); at Tor (8/26-29)

So What Happened?

The Tigers had a "sandwich week."

Their bread was a win over the Yankees on top and a sweep of the Indians on the bottom. In between there were three losses to the Yanks.

Kind of like good rye bread with head cheese inside.

Still, it was a winning week---4-3 when so many of them recently have been lopsidedly losing.

The week also showed the vast difference in competition between the Yankees, who might be World Series-bound again, and the Indians, who are among baseball's dregs.

But the Tigers will take their four wins and run, won't they?

Hero of the Week

MMM likes this Will Rhymes cat.

It's too early---far too early---to determine whether Rhymes can be a serviceable, everyday second baseman. But it's not to early to render an early, snap judgement on the kid.

MMM likes Rhymes' range, his arm, and the fact that he appears to be a throwback to the hard-nosed, pesky middle infielder of days gone by.

Rhymes was recalled last week as a replacement for the perpetually-disabled Carlos Guillen, whose knee took a hard slide from the Yankees' Brett Gardner on Monday night.

Rhymes rapped out four hits in Sunday's win over the Indians, and scored three runs. Since his recall, Rhymes is 8-for-17 with five runs scored. His batting average is up to .310.

Even better is that Rhymes swings lefty, and solid-hitting middle infielders who bat left-handed aren't aplenty.

MMM likes how Rhymes always seems to be in the middle of things---rallies, double plays, you name it.

But his time with the Tigers is still a small sampling.

If the Tigers make a splash in free agency this off-season, and pick up some offensive pieces elsewhere, maybe Rhymes can be the everyday second sacker in 2011 and beyond.

Close runners-up: the Tigers' starters in the Cleveland series, who made the Tribe look helpless most of the weekend.

Goat of the Week

The Tigers' bullpen's luster keeps becoming more of a distant memory.

With the exception of solid and steady Phil Coke, the relief corps has been as guilty as any for the team's freefall after the All-Star break. Leads have been lost and close games have turned into laughers, thanks to the guys in the pen.

It didn't manifest itself against the Indians, but it sure did in New York, and that was just a continuation of a nasty trend that's more than 30 days old.

MMM has been cranky with the bullpen for a few weeks, and this time it lands them as Goats of the Week.

Upcoming: Royals and Blue Jays

Things never seem to go according to plan when the Tigers play the Royals, whether it's in Detroit or in Missouri.

The Royals have a knack for taking series from the Tigers when you least expect it, and when the timing couldn't be worse.

Nothing is really all that crucial now, because the Tigers are out of playoff contention. Still, it would be nice to take 2-of-3 heading into Toronto---especially since the Tigers won't see Comerica Park again until Labor Day.

If the Blue Jays were a boxer, they'd be a slugger with no finesse. Their ballgames are like Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns battles.

The Blue Jays like to pound you into submission, slamming home runs at a dizzying pace. If you like four-baggers, the Blue Jays might be the most exciting team in baseball. Earl Weaver, who just turned 80, would love to manage them.

The Tigers don't play on artificial surfaces too much, and they're not really designed for such an environment. Yet they would be best served avoiding a slugfest with the Jays, whose entire lineup, just about, can take you deep.

Perhaps looking ahead to the Jays series, the Tigers reportedly are recalling slugging outfielder Casper Wells from Toledo today.

That's all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sudden Immortality Forever Linked Thomson, Branca

Bobby Thomson didn’t hit his famous home run off a tee, in case you were wondering.

Nor did he flip the ball into the air, fungo-style, and swat it over the left field wall at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951.

Most of the great history makers had sidekicks.

Charles Lindbergh had the Atlantic—and his plane. Dr. Jonas Salk had mold. Elvis Presley had his hips.

And Bobby Thomson had Ralph Branca.

Thomson, auteur of the biggest walk-off home run in baseball history, died this week at age 86.

It was Thomson who slammed Branca’s pitch into the Polo Grounds seats in the bottom of the ninth of the tiebreaker game between Thomson’s New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, lifting the Giants into the 1951 World Series.

With one swing, Thomson became as famous as Babe Ruth, even though he was one-tenth the player that Ruth was.

Such is the gravitational pull of the legendary singular moments that occur from time to time in baseball, a sport where nothing can happen until the pitcher hurls the ball toward the plate. After that, all bets are off.

Thomson’s three-run home run capped a furious second half charge by the Giants, who found themselves double digits in games behind the Dodgers at one point during the 1951 season.

The Giants chomped into the Dodgers’ lead like a Pac Man game until the two teams were in a dead heat by season’s end. Baseball rules at the time mandated a best-of-three playoff to determine the league champion.

The teams split the first two games of the playoff, and the Dodgers were ahead 4-2 when Branca was summoned from the bullpen in the ninth inning of Game 3.

Thomson had some power; he hit 264 home runs in his 15-year career. This wasn’t Bucky Dent/1978 at the plate.

You know what happened. Branca threw, Thomson swung, and Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges lost his mind.


A young whippersnapper on Bleacher Report suggested to me that Hodges’ call—long heralded as the most famous in sports history—was overrated.

“All he did was yell the same thing over and over,” the whippersnapper whined. “What was so special about that?”

If he’d been sitting next to me I would have backhanded him across his puss.

Instead, I took a deep breath and wrote back to him that Hodges’ call gained so much notoriety because it was basically the veryfirst dramatic sports call captured on audio tape.

That, plus even many non-sports fans know what “The Giants Win the Pennant!” refers to.

Branca, by the way, is still alive, if anyone has cared to wonder.

He’s 84 and enjoying his retirement at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York.

What’s fascinating, to me, about the Branca/Thompson connection is that neither player was anything close to being a Hall of Famer. If they didn’t have the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” no one beyond their own families would know who they were after retirement.

Branca was 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA. He made three All-Star teams but he was no star, per se. Thomson had a career batting average of .270 and ended up becoming a journeyman, playing for five teams from 1946 to 1960. Thomson, too, made some All-Star teams but All-Star rosters throughout history are teeming with dogs who had their day.

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca were joined at the hip the moment that baseball soared into the seats at the Polo Grounds on 10/3/51.

Baseball’s Batman and Robin, forever.

Ironically, just months prior to his death, Thomson was finally showing signs of Branca fatigue.

For decades, Thomson had been haunted by accusations that sign-stealing engineered by Giants manager Leo Durocher enabled Durocher to somehow signal to Thomson what pitch was coming from Branca—specifically a fastball.

Thomson vehemently denied those charges.

In a Q&A with the New York Post’s Steve Serby published in May 2010, Thomson says those who accuse him of benefiting from sign-stealing are trying to take something away from him.

Among the accusers: Ralph Branca himself.

“Naturally I'm not happy about anyone who takes away from me the one thing that I've always thought, the one thing I can take credit for (that) I've earned in my baseball life,” Thomson told the Post.

So does Thomson have any hard feelings toward Branca re: the sign stealing accusations?

“I just got a little tired of having that home run taken away from me. I was glad to get down here in Savannah (GA) and get away from it. In the last four years, (Branca’s) called twice, I guess to do a card show. I'm all through with card shows, and I wasn't going to come to New York. I've had enough of Ralph, and I'm sure he's had enough of Thomson.”

Thomson also hit a homer off Branca in Game One of the playoff. Funny how no one has cried about stealing signs when it comes to THAT dinger.

But a word about Ralph Branca.

On the day Jackie Robinson made his big league debut in 1947, the number of folks against the idea of a black man taking a Major League Baseball field included many of Robinson’s own Dodgers teammates.

In fact, only one of them had the temerity, the courage, and the sense of decency to stand alongside Robinson during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the game. The others refused.

That man was Ralph Branca.

Indeed, the sign stealing thing aside, Thomson calls Branca “A very decent person.”

Baseball immortality strikes like lightning—it shows no preference based on skill, stardom, or reputation. And it comes with no warning whatsoever.

The Tigers had a light-hitting shortstop named Cesar Gutierrez, a career .235 hitter. Yet on June 21, 1970, Gutierrez went 7-for-7 in an extra-innings game in Cleveland. He came into the contest hitting a robust .218.

Ty Cobb never went 7-for-7. Nor did Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby or Tony Gwynn.

I love the suddenness of baseball fame and infamy. The sport has a propensity for it that makes it, in my mind, America’s greatest game.

“It's a funny thing with Ralph Branca and me ending up the way we did on the ballfield,” Thomson told the Post.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Clemens Must Take on Feds With No Bullpen Help

Roger Clemens is going have to work out of this jam all by himself.

He can't be pulled for a reliever. And he can't just rear back and let loose with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball and try to blow the Feds away.

It's going to take some finesse and nibbling around the corners. He needs to induce a harmless ground ball, that his lawyers can turn into an inning-ending double play.

Clemens is under Federal indictment. It's the one thing you don't want to be under, other than Refrigerator Perry.

The Feds say Clemens lied with his pants on fire back in 2008 when he testified before Congress, saying that he no way, no how, took performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) as a big league pitcher.

They have six counts against Clemens, the Feds do. They say that Clemens, no less than 15 times, made knowingly false statements while under oath on Capitol Hill.

A Federal indictment ought to make the one under indictment soil his or her briefs. It's a big deal, because lengthy prison time could be in the offing. And indictments aren't brought lightly; usually the Feds feel they have a pretty good case.

It's one thing to have a feeling that someone is lying to Congress. It's quite another for that feeling to become an actual indictment. The Federal government usually only indicts when it thinks it can win, and win convincingly.

Clemens is still sticking to his story. He maintains that it's not he who is lying, but rather his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who told Congress at the same time that Clemens was testifying that McNamee injected Clemens more than a dozen times with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) between 1998 and 2001.

McNamee supposedly has syringes, vials, and other physical evidence---including even some of Clemens's DNA---to support his claims.

Clemens and McNamee have since sued each other for defamation, with Clemens's claims being essentially dismissed by federal courts. McNamee has a suit pending in federal court in New York.

Former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the top Republican on the House panel at the time of Clemens' testimony, called it "a self-inflicted wound."

"Clemens was not under subpoena. He came voluntarily," Davis said. "And I sat there in the office with [committee chairman] Henry Waxman and said, 'Whatever you do, don't lie.' "

Apparently, Clemens didn't take that advice to heart. Now he has the bases juiced (so to speak) and no one warming up in the bullpen.

I believe that Clemens lied. The indictment speaks volumes, and why would McNamee lie, knowing the repercussions if he was proven to be making up tall tales?

All that, plus the physical evidence that McNamee says he has---which he kept for some 10 years, for just such an occasion as this one.

For what it's worth, Clemens's old teammates are standing by him, including Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and steroid user extraordinaire Jose Canseco.

Current Yankee Lance Berkman, a teammates of Clemens's in Houston, said, "Whatever you want to say about the guy, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. In my opinion, legacy-wise, I guess that's up to---I mean, 200 years from now, who cares?

"But in the short term, I guess, he may have some things to address," Berkman conceded.

That's one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Clemens is back on the mound, staring in at a federal indictment that stands menacingly at the plate. And the Feds don't strike out that much when it comes to this kind of thing.

I have a feeling that Clemens is going to be taken deep.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at NYY (8/16-19); CLE (8/20-22)

So What Happened?

The Tigers began their new role as AL Central spoiler in grand style, taking two of three from the White Sox over the weekend, with both wins being of the come-from-behind variety.

There were also fireworks---and MMM doesn't mean the kind spewed from the U.S. Cellular Field scoreboard after White Sox home runs.

Tigers starter Armando "Nobody's Perfect" Galarraga got into a tussle with catchers Alex Avila and Gerald Laird in the dugout Sunday after the first inning.

The incident was captured by Chisox TV while Fox Sports Detroit chose to ignore it, which MMM finds troubling.

"Maybe this is the spark we need," Laird said afterward about the confrontation, which threatened to turn physical and ugly before peacemakers rushed in.

All parties brushed it off as a "misunderstanding", or some such rot. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "I kind of liked it."

The Tigers have won three of their last four after starting the week ominously with two losses to Tampa at Comerica Park.

Hero of the Week

MMM has two on its radar.

First, the runner up: Ryan Raburn.

As much as it pains MMM to type this, Raburn is...Raburn is....he's...ho....ho...HOT.


Raburn is on a bit of a tear, slugging home runs and slapping hits and driving in runs.

He's 8-for-17 with three homers and four RBI in his last four games. His BA is "up to" .238.

But for all that prowess, MMM is going with lefty reliever Phil Coke as its weekly hero.

Coke had to play the part of Jose Valverde in Chicago, recording the final out in both the Tigers' wins.

Valverde is nursing a sore abdomen.

Coke entered Saturday's game in the eighth inning, and was the pitcher of record as Avila slammed a stunning two-run homer in the ninth to grab the win.

On Sunday, Coke was set to close the game again, warming up with the Tigers protecting a 9-8 lead in the ninth. As it turned out, the Tigers scored four times, negating a save situation. But Coke pitched the ninth anyway, and after a slow start (a leadoff walk followed by a 3-1 count to the next hitter), he shut the Pale Hose down.

Maybe in some people's eyes, what Coke did wasn't as impressive as Raburn's hot streak. But with your All-Star closer out unexpectedly, it's nice to be able to turn to Coke, who's been outstanding this season in his usual role as utility man in the bullpen.

Goat of the Week

First, Jim Leyland nearly landed here.

His decision to pull Johnny Damon for defensive purposes almost came back to haunt him Sunday. Damon delivered a clutch two-out, two-run triple in the eighth inning, nudging the Tigers ahead 8-7. Then he was lifted for Don Kelly.

In the top of the ninth, with the White Sox within 9-8 and the bases loaded, Damon sat helpless on the bench while the light-hitting Kelly batted in his place.

But Kelly stroked a two-run single, giving the Tigers some breathing room.

MMM could almost hear the Tigers fan base screaming at the TV when Kelly came to the plate. Why you'd take a guy with over 2,500 hits out of the game in a slugfest is beyond MMM.

But the goat is Brennan Boesch, who was 0-for-Chicago and who is simply hurting the team right now. MMM feels for the kid, but if Boesch was named Raburn or Kelly or Inge he'd be getting blown up by the fan base for his God awfulness.

Boesch is 13-for-107 after the All-Star break, which just might be one of the worst stretches of 100+ at-bats ever seen from a Tigers player since Ray Oyler circa 1968.

Yet he plays everyday because Leyland has no one else.

Upcoming: Yankees and Indians

MMM thinks the four days the Tigers will spend in the Big Apple this week will either be pleasantly surprising or a freaking nightmare---no in between.

The Yankees look strong in their bid to repeat as World Champs. They are holding off a good Tampa Rays team. They are as talented and as deep as ever. And they play very well at home.

This has four-game sweep written all over it; MMM gets that.

But baseball is a funny game, and it will be interesting to see if Sunday's dugout skirmish has any effect on the Tigers' countenance, and whether that translates to success on the diamond.

As for the Indians, what can you say?

The Tribe is who started the Tigers' freefall, sweeping four games from the Bengals in Cleveland coming out of the break. But they're still a bad team, made up of AAAA players. Kind of like the Tigers!

The Tigers usually beat the Indians at Detroit; it's one of the few scenarios where the Tigers are successful within their own division.

BTW, the Tigers optioned 1B-OF-DH Jeff Frazier to Toledo and recalled lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth.

That's all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!


Friday, August 13, 2010

It’s OK to Admit It: Granderson Trade a Good One for Tigers

It's been about eight months and 114 games now.

Raise your hand if you're over Curtis Granderson.

To those with arms unraised: what on Earth are you waiting for?

Curtis Granderson, the smiling cherub now with the evil New York Yankees, isn't coming back. So stop the pining.

But here's the good news for Grandy's jilted lovers: you wouldn't want him back anyway---not the way he's playing, and the Tigers have a better, more promising center fielder. So there.

Granderson is scuffling with the Yankees. Has been most of the season. His batting average struggles to reach the .240 level. His OBA is a paltry .312. He has but 28 extra base hits---for the season. He continues to strike out incessantly---about once every four at-bats. He still can't hit lefties.

Thank goodness for Granderson's replacement, the rookie Austin Jackson, because if it wasn't for the pleasantly surprising year A-Jax was authoring, we'd still be hearing about the trade that sent Granderson to the Yankees.

As it is, Jackson's .300 BA and stellar defense has been able to help erase memories around town.

Forget that the Tigers also netted Phil Coke from the Yanks in the trade---not to mention Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth in the three-team deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that also shipped pitcher Edwin Jackson out of Detroit.

Don't accuse me of being a 20/20 hindsighter, because I was on board with dealing Granderson before it was even on the Tigers' radar.

The trade is already a great one for the Tigers.

Austin Jackson is six years younger than Granderson and is every bit as good defensively. He doesn't have Grandy's power---not yet---but is OBA is a robust .352. Jackson also fans a lot, so that's a wash.

As I've written before, I have a sneaking suspicion that we've already seen the best of what Curtis Granderson can do. He's topped out, in my mind, as a big league ballplayer. Doesn't mean he's not a good one---just that I don't see him getting much better, if at all.

Austin Jackson, on the other hand, has a ceiling that far exceeds Granderson's.

If Granderson wasn't the nice, smiling guy that he is, this trade would already be lauded as being one of the best the Tigers have made in recent years. It's as if there's a grieving period that some people are still in---and that by praising the trade they're somehow defiling Granderson's legacy.

It's not dancing on Granderson's Tigers grave to acknowledge that GM Dave Dombrowski got one right in this instance.

DD turned Granderson and Edwin Jackson---who is no slouch, I will concede---into four big league players (Schlereth will be one permanently before long). Even the mathematically challenged can see that giving up two and getting back four is a good thing. Plus, the Tigers came out of things on the right side of the financial ledger---at least for now.

The time will come when the Tigers will have to pay A-Jax and Scherzer much more of Mike Ilitch's pizza dough than they're coughing up currently. But that's down the line.

A baseball axiom says that you can't really judge a trade until several years after it's made.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

The Tigers made a good trade in swapping the lovable Curtis Granderson out of Detroit. I'll never besmirch Granderson's good guy status or the great things he does for the community at large. I've talked with him on several occasions; he's impossible not to like personally.

But baseball is a business, and the goal is to put the best 25 men on your big league roster as you can muster.

Austin Jackson is better than Curtis Granderson---right now and probably forever. The former will only get better; the latter has plateaued.

It's OK to be happy about the trade. You'll always have your memories.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 2-5
This Week: TB (8/9-11); at CWS (8/13-15)

So What Happened?

The Tigers' freefall down the chute of the AL Central continued in earnest last week.

Last Monday, MMM said that if the Tigers were still in this race, there was no time like the present to make their case for such consideration.

Four games against the first-place Chicago White Sox, at home, provided the Tigers with a sort of mulligan, to partially retrieve some of their first half bluster.

But the Tigers took that mulligan and sliced it into the woods.

They lost three of four to the Chisox, then two of three to the previously-struggling LA Angels.

Good night, nurse.

The Tigers are now the spoilers in what should be a whale of a race between the White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The only drama around these parts is whether the Tigers can finish at or above .500.

At the All-Star Break, the Tigers were second place, a half-game out of first. They were some 15 games in front of the fourth-place Cleveland Indians.

This morning, they are nine games back, in third place, and just seven games ahead of Cleveland, to whom they've lost eight games of their lead in about three weeks.

Hero of the Week

Or, as it's been known lately---He Who's Screwed Up the Least.

But in keeping with the spirit of this designation, here's one for you: 3B Brandon Inge.

Inge returned last week, about two weeks after suffering a broken bone in his hand after being hit by a pitch. This was an injury that was supposed to knock him out for 4-6 weeks.

Typical Inge, who tends to heal quicker than most players.

Not only did he return, he had some hits and didn't look all that rusty. It was a feel-good story for a team and its fan base that desperately needed one.

Goat of the Week

GM Dave Dombrowski.

Watching the Tigers anymore these days is a painful exercise. Runs are scarce, success with RISP is even scarcer. One by one they traipse to the plate---minor leaguers who weren't supposed to be Tigers this season, if ever (*cough* Jeff Frazier *cough*). And one by one they head back to the dugout, having struck out or popped up.

It's hard not to think of Dombrowski when you watch the Detroit Mud Hens on the field.

How could Dombrowski have so badly mismanaged things that a couple of injuries could blow such a gaping hole into the Tigers' roster depth?

This has been a storm brewing for a while, but MMM indicts Dombrowski this week because the Tigers have not only dropped out of the divisional race, they aren't even competitive, and may be headed for 90 losses---something that was unthinkable three weeks ago.

All because they were stunningly thin in terms of big league depth on their 40-man roster.

Just because a guy gets hurt doesn't mean he should be automatically replaced with a AAAA player. That's not the case with other big league teams.

Upcoming: Rays and White Sox

The Tampa Rays are scuffling. The last time they were in good shape was when they four-game swept the Tigers two weeks ago.

Think they'll get well in Detroit this week?

The Rays have lost five in a row and are struggling to tread water in the AL East; they're 2-1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees.

Yesterday, the Rays came within one out of being no-hit yet again, which would have been the third no-no they've suffered in 2010. No big league team has been no-hit three times in one season.

The 1973 Tigers were no-hit twice---by Nolan Ryan and Steve Busby. They were the last team to suffer that fate until the 2010 Rays.

The Tigers then travel to Chicago for the weekend, to attempt to gum up the Central race as best they can.

Seems like every time you break down the Tigers against a Central opponent, the Detroiters come up short. There doesn't appear to be a team the Tigers match up well against; even the Indians beat them up, with a four-game sweep after the All-Star break.

The White Sox have given the Tigers fits for years, a la the Twins.

Some good news: the Tigers get 2B Carlos Guillen back from the disabled list. Will Rhymes was sent back to Toledo to make room.

That's all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!


Friday, August 06, 2010

Dombrowski, Leyland Sure to Go if Tigers Stumble in 2011

Mike Ilitch is 81 years old. He's an octogenerian owner who soon will be shying away from buying green bananas.

He's owned the Detroit Tigers for about 18 years. He's sunk a boatload of cash into the team. Correction: not a boatload---enough for a flotilla. He' s been through four GMs and seven managers.

And he has one (1) playoff appearance to show for all of it.

This isn't what he had in mind when he purchased the Tigers from fellow pizza magnate Tom Monaghan in 1992.

There will come a time---and I think it's sooner than you think---when Ilitch will look at all he's put into his baseball team, see what he's gotten back, and make a decision that will pain him.

He won't sell it. But he WILL clean its house.

Ilitch loathes firing people, even when it's justified. When he canned Red Wings coach Jacques Demers in 1990, both men had a good cry at Ilitch's home.

Ilitch leaves the rendering of the ziggy to his executives. Dave Dombrowski, while holding the singular title of team president for the Tigers, fired GM Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner early in the 2002 season. It was up to Red Wings GM Ken Holland to dump coach Dave Lewis after two seasons and two disappointing playoff exits.

Ilitch doesn't like to fire. He likes to hug and squeeze and shower his people with gifts. He's a man of stability, of loyalty. He doesn't like upheaval. He likes consistency, routine. The Red Wings and Tigers are owned by Mister Rogers.

But Ilitch is also a businessman. He doesn't get his mitts onto anything unless he thinks he can turn it into a buck.

His money poured into the Tigers has been mismanaged. He has a whopping payroll of well over $100 million and all it took was a couple of injuries to make his team look like the Toledo Mud Hens barnstorming with a few Tigers along for the ride.

The Tigers have lost 18 of 23, largely because they're fielding Toledo North on any given night. And that's not counting Brennan Boesch, who was so good in the first half that you thought of him as a seasoned big leaguer. Now Boesch looks like a Mud Hen himself.

The Tigers can't compete, not with what they're trotting out there currently. It's soooo hard for them to score runs now.

Ilitch is 81 and another baseball season has slipped away.

Ilitch is mostly a hands-off owner. In observing him since 1982, when he bought the Red Wings, I don't think there have been many occasions (they could probably be counted on one hand and you'd still have some fingers left over) where he's vetoed anything his upper management people wanted to do. He's usually erred on the side of spending.

In fact, when he does get involved, it's usually in a constructive manner, as opposed to disruptive.

Don't forget that it was Ilitch who called Dombrowski at home---a rarity in of itself---and told DD that Miguel Cabrera would look nifty in a Tigers uniform, so why don't you make it happen?

I'm not sure Cabrera becomes a Tiger if Ilitch hadn't placed that phone call to his GM.

Ilitch didn't imagine, when he bought the Tigers in '92, that he'd have one playoff appearance some 18 years later.

Had he, he wouldn't have bought the team. Period. He loves baseball and the Tigers, but not enough to make a bad deal to buy them.

Owning the Tigers has been a bad deal for Ilitch. His 18 years have been filled with losing. All he's gotten out of it was the addition of Comerica Park, and the subtraction of Sparky Anderson---both things he wanted very badly.

The owner is 81 and he can see the sunset. He wants a World Series title in the worst way. And he sees that possibiliy fading away.

That's why, I believe, Ilitch has Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland on a short tether. He won't like it, but I imagine he'll broom them both out when Leyland's contract expires after next year, barring an unforeseeable WS victory.

Dombrowski is more culpable than the manager. Leyland can only manage who he's provided with. You can make solid cases against Leyland regarding his managing skills, but Dombrowski is the one who mismanaged the funds and who put the team perilously close to disaster in terms of depth.

Even before the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez in 2004, the team was thin as onion skin at catcher throughout the organization. Six years later, that hasn't changed one bit. At the big league level, it's gotten far worse.

The Tigers have embarrassingly gotten a combined BA of around .200 from their catchers, with few homers and a sprinkling of RBI.

The Opening Day shortstop, Adam Everett, is out of baseball.

The Opening Day second baseman was rushed to the big leagues, when an All-Star could have been retained.

There is no corner outfield depth, and that's WITH Boesch's amazing start factored in.

No one else can play centerfield other than rookie Austin Jackson.

Dontrelle Willis was kept over Nate Robertson, who was released by the Florida Marlins on July 27, but who wouldn't have imploded like Willis (predictably) did. Robertson signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals a few days ago.

Leyland, of course, has made some curious decisions, as he always does. He has a maddening fetish of resting players who don't need rest, like the rookie Jackson. He sent a pinch-runner in for Cabrera---CABRERA!---in Boston last weekend. Also in Beantown, Leyland let his closer throw 60 pitches in what started as a non-save situation, rendering Jose Valverde useless for the next two games. He's had a silly man crush on Ryan Raburn that's bordering on obscene.

Leyland had a stacked team in 2008, and didn't have them properly prepared in spring training to rise to their hype, stumbling out of the gate 0-7 and never recovering.

The Tigers, during the Leyland Era (2006-present), have too often been a fragile bunch, shockingly vulnerable to being knocked out of synch by outside forces like injuries and expectations.

Ilitch, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to find that crack management/coaching team with the Tigers as he has with the Red Wings. The Dombrowski/Leyland tandem is without question the closest Ilitch has come with the Tigers, but it's not good enough.

And the Tigers haven't exactly been in a Rolls Royce division all these years, either.

The 2006 Tigers, in fact, are one of only two AL Central teams (2005 White Sox) to win the league pennant since joining the division in 1998.

Mike Ilitch is 81 and he made a bad deal in buying the Tigers some 18 years ago. He got rooked. Yet he can salvage his legacy as Tigers owner with a World Series title.

He may have no option but to part ways with both Dombrowski and Leyland in order to fulfill his dream, as much as he'd hate to do it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 1-6
This Week: CWS (8/3-5 [DH 8/3]); LAA (8/6-8)

So What Happened?

You can blame everything on MMM.

About two months ago, I buried the White Sox in this piece. I declared the AL Central to be a two-team race.

Well, I was right---sort of.

The Central IS a two-team race, but sadly, the Tigers aren't one of those teams.

Oh, how quickly everything has collapsed!

A pennant race can be like a house of cards for certain teams who are delicate and fragile.

A swift breeze of injuries and a certain rookie falling back to Earth blew in after the All-Star break, and the Tigers' cards are now scattered all over the floor.

Just a couple weeks ago, the Tigers were in the thick of things. But a 4-15 spate has put them, for all intents and purposes, out of the running.

It all happened so fast, and with such force.

Brennan Boesch's batting average continues to tumble. The bullpen is unraveling. The starting lineup anymore is looking like the Toledo Mud Hens with a few Tigers sprinkled in, when it's supposed to be the other way around.

Shall I go on?

Hero of the Week

You're kidding, right?

Well, actually, the Tigers' starting pitchers are throwing their little hearts out; they just can't get any support of the run variety.

The Tigers are wasting quality starts as if they grow on trees.

The starters are the only thing that have been promising this past week.

Oh, and Miguel Cabrera, as usual.

Miggy's shoulders are broad, but he's not Atlas.

And how about newly-acquired Jhonny Peralta, with his two homers in his first two Tigers at-bats?

MMM is sticking with the starting pitchers; their efforts have been in vain, but at least they're showing SOME promise for a team that's skidding.

Goat of the Week

Boesch, again. Jim Leyland. The bullpen. The baseball gods. And I'm just getting warmed up.

But if MMM has to pick one (the unofficial rules of this analysis say so), the winner (loser?) is the bullpen, which wasn't any help at all last week.

The Red Sox grabbed two walk-off wins over the weekend, and made a bid for a third. The Rays punished the 'pen down in Tampa earlier in the week.

The bullpen has been mostly a bright spot this season, but as with everything else with this team right now, it's sagging under the weight of all that befalls the Tigers.

The bullpen can be a saving grace when the starting pitching falters, and can be invaluable when a team is going good.

But when the bullpen is caving, the effect can be extremely demoralizing. And games get lost.

Upcoming: White Sox and Angels

This is it, folks.

If the reeling, banged up, rookie-ladened Tigers have a pulse, we'll find out this week.

That's because the Tigers get the White Sox for four games at Comerica Park.

Those are the first-place White Sox, behind whom the Tigers sit by seven games. You know---the team I buried at the end of May.

Make no mistake: if the Tigers don't at least split with the White Sox, they're done.

Or maybe I'm just trying to use the same reverse hex that seemed to work so well with the South Siders when I declared them out of the race.

No, it's the first thing.

If the White Sox take three of four, they'll spring nine games ahead of the Tigers. Then it'll be goodnight, nurse.

Later in the week, the Tigers entertain the wobbly Los Angeles Angels.

It wasn't supposed to be like this for the Angels. They weren't supposed to be hovering around .500 as August dawned, some eight games behind the Texas Rangers.

They were supposed to be in control in the AL West, as usual. They finished 10 games in front of the Rangers last season.

The Angels have been so used to winning, their current situation must be untenable to them.

They, too, look like a team that will be sitting home come October.

But baseball is funny. When your team is going bad, it seems like they'll never win another game all season. And when it's on fire, it seems indestructible.

So no matter how much a team they're playing is struggling right now, the Tigers have the look of a ballclub that couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

They look like a team that won't win another game all season.

Sorry to be so bleak; MMM just calls 'em as they're seen.

That's all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!