Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 9

Last week: 3-3
This week: MIN (5/30-6/1); at CWS (6/3-5)

So, What Happened?

MMM looks at last week's record, sees 3-3, and shakes his head, because it didn't "feel" like a .500 week. It felt much, much worse.

Let's start with losing three straight to the Red Sox over the weekend, which only accentuated why MMM doesn't believe our Motor City Kitties are ready for prime time.

Then there was the strange Scott Sizemore trade, and the demotion of Ryan Perry and the handing of the 2B job to Ryan Freaking Raburn.

All that, and yet the Tigers played .500 for the week. Go figure.

The week began with a pair of victories over hot Tampa Bay, if you can remember that far back, because everything described above happened after the Rays left town.

The Tigers also lost an opportunity to gain ground on the Indians, who have lost four of five.

Hero of the Week

MMM is tempted to give the honor to young lefty Andy Oliver, who pitched well in his 2011 debut on Sunday.

But it's tough to go against Justin Verlander after what he did on Sunday night in the DH nightcap.

The Tigers were semi-reeling, looking like they were about to go off on another of those long losing streaks (it was at three and looking ominous) and be swept in four games at home to Boston, when Verlander came to the rescue.

JV shut the Bosox down, throwing a career-high 132 pitches and allowing zero, zip, nada runs.

He did what he had to do, when he had to do it---especially given the Tigers' popgun offense.

Anyone else want to argue that Max Scherzer, not JV, is the Tigers' ace?

Goat of the Week

MMM can't understand, nor stomach, manager Jim Leyland's stubbornness.

Why he continues to bat the consistent Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila in the lower third of a batting order that is on life support is beyond MMM's comprehension.

MMM says top load the order with Austin Jackson, Peralta, Avila, Miggy Cabrera and Victor Martinez and see what happens.

Then Leyland declared that Raburn was his everyday second baseman on Friday night, and said the season for RR "starts tomorrow."

Well, on Opening Day, Raburn did his usual strikeout boogie, and ended Sunday's first game by being emasculated by Jonathan Papelbon on three pitches.

MMM is making Leyland the goat for his refusal to shake up a batting order that badly needs it.

MMM is tired of seeing the likes of Don Kelly and Andy Dirks (no offense, kid) in the two and three holes.

Under the Microscope

This week it's not a player, per se, who's UtM, but an entire position.

While you could make a case that that position ought to be 2B, MMM is putting 3B UtM.

This is because suddenly there's a pseudo platoon going on at the hot corner, with Brandon Inge and Kelly taking turns, against lefties and righties, respectively.

Inge told the media the other day, "I think (sitting out the last two games) was a way to get me fired up and to bear down."

After which Inge promptly went out and put on another couple of feeble offensive displays.

Neither Inge nor Kelly can hit. Kelly's RBI single late in Sunday's nightcap was just his THIRD ribbie of the season---and Don's been on the roster since Opening Day!!

Eyes should be trained on 2B, too, because there may be a trade a-comin'.

But for now, let's focus our attention on 3B and see what plays out there. Why? Because MMM is a masochist!

Upcoming: Twins and White Sox

The 17-34 Twins invade CoPa for three games. The Tigers must make sure the Twinkies leave town at least 18-36.

That's all MMM is going to say about that series. Nothing more needs to be said.

As for the White Sox, they've been showing some life lately, though they're still "scuffling," as Rod Allen would say.

The Tigers, for whatever reason, have owned the Chisox in a winning streak over the South Siders that goes back to last season. MMM has lost track of how many games in a row the Tigers have won between the two teams, but it's a lot.

Will the streak continue through the upcoming weekend?

You'll never get MMM to put a bet down where the Tigers are concerned. They're more unpredictable than a woman choosing a pair of shoes.

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


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Five Possible Replacements for Tigers Manager Jim Leyland

Folks who've been reading me lately know how frustrated I've been with Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who is in the last year of his contract. The frustration stems from the Tigers having a golden opportunity to seize a division while their arch enemy White Sox and Twins are struggling, yet they are giving games away (my opinion) with questionable lineups and personnel moves.

While the latter isn't Leyland's responsibility, the former is, and with the Marlboro Man not having been extended yet by owner Mike Ilitch, it begs the question: who should the Tigers look at as a possible replacement?

The team isn't likely to move on this during the season, unless the Tigers completely go into the tank. The Tigers have only made three in-season managerial moves since 1973 (1979,1998 and 2002).

But if they're looking for a new skipper, the Tigers might want to add the following five guys' names to their speed dial.

Tom Brookens, Tigers third base coach.

I'm a little squeamish about promoting from within, especially a guy who was hand-picked by Leyland to replace Andy Van Slyke as first base coach before the 2010 season.

But Brookens only has 212 games of Leyland's stench on him, and he was a great Tiger and a pretty good minor league manager. One of my first thoughts after I heard that the former third baseman was returning to the big club was that he might be Leyland's successor one day.

Could that day come next season? Tommy's a long shot, because typically first base coaches don't make the leap to manager, but Brookens has managed before, just not at the MLB level.

DeMarlo Hale, Red Sox bench coach.

Hale was promoted to bench coach for the Red Sox before the 2010 season by manager Terry Francona, after several years as third base coach.

Hale is an astute baseball man who was rumored to be among the finalists for the Blue Jays managerial job last winter.

Hale's managerial career began in 1993 in the Red Sox lower minor league system. He managed at the AAA level in 2000-01 while in the Texas Rangers system.

Hale's promotion speaks volumes, and his being in the running for the Toronto job tells me that he might be a hot commodity of the up-and-coming variety.

Hale will turn 50 in July, and he's a Chicago guy, so he knows the midwestern area and how passionate the baseball fans are around these parts.

Pete Mackanin, Phillies bench coach.

Pete Mackanin, the Phillies bench coach, has served as a big league manager twice in interim stints---with the Pirates in 2005 and with the Reds in 2007. He didn't overwhelm in either instance, but he was interim.

Mackanin has been the right hand man of Charlie Manuel since before the 2009 season. Mackanin's been a big league player, a scout, a coach, and an interim manager.

If the Tigers want to poach a bench coach of a successful organization from the National League (a la with Hale of the Red Sox), then they could do a lot worse than Mackanin.

Jerry Manuel, former White Sox and Mets manager.

Jerry Manuel is another who has ties to the Tigers organization, having made his big league playing debut with them in 1975.

He's also managed in the big leagues, and in the Tigers division---with the White Sox. He's also noted for being left twisting in the wind with the Mets as their skipper.

Manuel, nicknamed "The Sage," is a little longer in the tooth these days (he'll be 58 in December) but if you can handle managing in New York and survive with your dignity (and sanity!), then you would presumably be well-prepped to manage the Tigers.

Manuel was the AL Manager of the Year in 2000.

Bob Brenly, former Diamondbacks manager.

Bob Brenly, currently broadcasting for the Cubs, hasn't managed in the big leagues since 2004, and only has managed for 3+ seasons at the big league level, period.

But oh, how successful they were.

Brenly's first Arizona Diamondbacks team, in 2001, won the World Series, ending the Yankees stranglehold on the Fall Classic.

In 2002, Brenly's team again won the NL West with 98 wins, but flamed out in the NLDS, getting swept by the Cardinals.

In 2003, the D-Backs won 84 games but finished third. The following season, Brenly was relieved after a 29-50 start.

But he still wants to manage; Brenly has been applying and interviewing, but hasn't been able to find his way back into a dugout.

Brenly, a former big league catcher (those types seem to make good managers) is an Ohio native, which would suit him well managing for the Tigers.

And two who'd be great but who aren't coming: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays manager; and Kirk Gibson, Arizona D-Backs manager.

Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon, I think, would be terrific for the Tigers, and his effusive praise of some of the Tigers young players last week while the Rays were in town raised my eyebrows.

But Maddon is under contract with the Rays through the 2012 season, making it highly unlikely that he'd be hired by the Tigers.

Also under contract through 2012 is Arizona's Kirk Gibson, and I don't think I have to list why Kirk would be a good fit in Detroit, especially seeing the success he's having so far with the D-Backs.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Special: Tigers Can Still Win Central Despite Their Warts

Imagine going to a magic show and the beautiful girl gets turned into a witch with a mole on her nose.

That's what happened in Tigertown yesterday, when GM Dave Dombrowski managed to turn Placido Polanco into a journeyman left-handed reliever who's on his third team this season.


The Tigers' trade of 2B Scotty Sizemore to the Oakland A's for lefty David Purcey completes the magic trick. Dombrowski is quite the magician; he's also managed to make all the Tigers' positional player prospects vanish, too.

The Tigers let hitting machine Polanco walk after the 2009 season and then handed the 2B job to Sizemore, no questions asked. Even after Scotty snapped an ankle in Winter League ball, the Tigers were resolute: Sizemore would be the starting second baseman, gimpy ankle or not.

Mainly because the organization had no one else of note.

Sizemore limped around for two months last season before the Tigers wisely put him out of his misery and called up Will Rhymes, who did OK, batting .300 in about 200 AB. It looked like the Tigers might have, at the very least, some healthy competition at second base; at the worst, Sizemore would be the odd man out, given Rhymes' performance in 2010.

Rhymes won the job in spring training from Sizemore, who I got the feeling the Tigers weren't quite ready to believe in, for whatever reason.

You know what happened to Rhymes---he couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag, and became a bunting specialist. He became a National League pitcher at the plate, and batting second in the order, no less. So the Tigers called up Sizemore a few weeks ago.

This morning, the Tigers are on their fourth second baseman, and we're not even to Memorial Day yet.

Manager Jim Leyland---we'll get to him later---announced yesterday that Ryan Raburn will be the new second baseman until further notice.

Will Rhymes. Scott Sizemore. Danny Worth (don't forget him; he was recalled this week). And now Ryan Raburn?

Raburn, who strikes out a third of the time while hitting .200 and whose glove has to be welded together, not laced, is going to be the Tigers' everyday second baseman.

Unless this is all temporary until Dombrowski pulls off a blockbuster for a real second baseman, then you have my permission to curl up into the fetal position and sob.

Don't forget the Tigers' third baseman, Brandon Inge, who is playing on two bad knees, bats .200, also strikes out about a third of the time, and whose power has been disconnected as if he forgot to pay his DTE bill.

Dombrowski's MO has been to stockpile young power arms, which is fine, but position players have been an afterthought in his drafts and personnel development.

How else to explain the likes of borderline MLB players such as Raburn, Don Kelly, Rhymes, Sizemore, Worth and Clete Thomas---and I could go on and on---occupying spots on the 25-man roster in recent years?

Sometimes DD trades for or signs guys who can't hit; he doesn't always recall them from the minors.

Neifi Perez, Jacque Jones or Adam Everett, anyone?

Dombrowski has been the GM since early in the 2002 season. That's going on 10 full seasons now. You can count the number of stud prospects the Tigers have produced in that time frame---not including those who toe the rubber---on one hand.

Unless DD is trading them away, like Matt Joyce and Cody Ross.

Look at the hitters who are worth a damn in the Tigers lineup. Not one of them came through the system.

Miggy Cabrera. Magglio Ordonez (yes, he still remains in this category until further notice). Victor Martinez. Austin Jackson. Jhonny Peralta.

Don't come at me with Brennan Boesch. He's still very much an unknown entity. I have no idea if the kid is going to be good or not. I wouldn't wager on him with anything more than half a sawbuck, I'll tell you that.

Dombrowski's milieu seems to be the trade or the free agent signing---not so much player development. And even the former has had its cockeyed moments.

Again, Jacque Jones? Edgar Renteria?

But DD, I must admit, has brought some good folks into the organization from outside it. Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Rogers, to name a few. But see the trend? Aging guys. Ordonez was signed in his prime, but usually Dombrowski brings in guys whose better days are behind them, with the distinct exception of Cabrera.

Dombrowski let Johnny Damon go because he didn't feel that Johnny could play the outfield on a daily basis, which he really can't. But how would Damon look in the two hole right now, even if he plays a stilted left field? Johnny is having himself a fine year down in Tampa.

The trade of Sizemore---and you can argue that it was a quick trigger---and the subsequent shift of Raburn to 2B combine to form an indictment of the Tigers minor league system. It was the white flag of surrender: we have no second baseman.

Dombrowski said after the trade that the Tigers weren't in a "developmental situation" that would allow for Sizemore to work out the kinks in his MLB offensive game. DD said the Tigers didn't have that "luxury."

That's GM speak for, "I'd better win now, because my contract is expiring at the end of the year."

So is Leyland's, and I'm losing faith in him by the day.

Let's play a little game called "Which lineup looks better?"

See the below lineup:

CF Jackson
2B Raburn
LF/RF Boesch
1B Cabrera
DH Martinez
RF/LF Wells/Kelly
SS Peralta
C Avila
3B Inge

The above is a typical Leyland lineup, would you agree?

Now compare it to the following:

CF Jackson
SS Peralta
C Avila
1B Cabrera
DH Martinez
LF/RF Boesch
RF/LF Wells/Kelly
2B Raburn
3B Inge

Which one looks better to you?

Why Leyland insists on suppressing Peralta and Avila, two of the guys who can actually swing the bat, in the bottom third of the order is beyond me.

Can you imagine the increased quality of pitches Jhonny and Alex would see batting 2-3? Especially Avila, who would be protected by none other than Cabrera.

The 1-thru-5 slots in my proposed order---especially if Austin Jackson finally steps it up---certainly look better on paper, don't they?

I heard Dennis Fithian on 97.1 The Ticket yesterday say that moving Avila to #3 might be a risk because the kid may not be able to handle it. And, Fithian said that if you move Avila and Peralta, what do you do if they go into a slump after the switch?

Good grief.

The Tigers have a division to win, despite their warts. The Indians, I'm convinced, are not for real---not yet. The White Sox and the Twins are down, though the Chisox are playing better as of late.

This is the time for ACTION, not for babying anyone---not for worrying about slumps that may or not even happen.

The Tigers need a shakeup, badly.

The Frick and Frack tandem of Dombrowski and Leyland are beginning to make people in Detroit look at them cross-eyed, and for good reason.

This is a team constructed from a blend of AAAA players and veterans, but it could still win the division, which speaks more about the division than the Tigers.

The Tigers have no second baseman. They have no third baseman, either, really. Nor do they have two thirds of an outfield, as far as that goes. And they have a suspect bullpen.

But they can still win this thing, if the manager stops being stubborn and the GM gets off his duff and makes something happen. The owner isn't getting any younger, and neither are we.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leyland's Superiority Complex Baffling

Jim Leyland, in case you haven't heard, is a rocket scientist.

He presides over a job so sophisticated, so complicated, that it defies the understanding of those who aren't rocket scientists.

He stands above all in his knowledge of his very scientific vocation, and therefore has no use for those whose brains simply cannot wrap themselves around the mesmerizing theorems, laws and corollaries that one must know in order to manage a baseball team.

OOPS---did I say Jim was a rocket scientist?

I made an assumption, since that's how he treats his job, and those who dare question his logic.

Actually, in the World According to Leyland, it's perfectly OK for fans of the sport to second guess and question. He thinks that's great. It shows passion and proves that Detroit is a great baseball town.

But if the second guessing and questions come from those who wear announcers' headsets or who scribble on a notepad or bang away on a keyboard, then he has no use for those types.

Or, in Jim's words, "People who don't know s**t about baseball."

The Tigers manager is as transparent as an icicle on this one.

He's OK with the fans second guessing him, because he doesn't have to talk to the fans. The fans don't show up in his office before games or afterward, daring to ask why he did what he did that night.

If they were, Jim wouldn't be so gung-ho for the fans' right to bitch.

Leyland's latest escapade with patronizing the media came on Monday, before the Tigers started their series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The day before, Leyland's removal of Rick Porcello after eight shutout, one-hit innings with a pitch count at 84 raised some eyebrows. In his rant on Monday, Leyland seemed to take the eyebrow-raising in stride---because it was coming from the fans, i.e. those he doesn't have to face.

But when 97.1's Jeff Rieger asked the skipper if the second guessing bothered him, Leyland attacked the media, distinctly placing them in a different category from the fans in terms of their knowledge of the game.

I don't mind the fans, Leyland said, but I do mind people "who don't know s**t about baseball." process of elimination, who was Jim talking about?

Rieger himself? Perhaps. But likely, the slap was directed at others on the airwaves and in print who've dared to criticize the way he handles a ballclub.

In talking about Leyland's rant to retired Detroit and New York broadcaster Bob Page on "The Knee Jerks" two-year anniversary podcast, Page said, "I've been a baseball fan since 1959. I covered it for over 30 years as a reporter and broadcaster." Page went on to say that while those years don't necessarily make him a manager, they don't make him an idiot, either.

Besides, how complicated is baseball, anyway? Funny how it can be portrayed as very simple---even by guys like Leyland---but when the heat gets turned up, the game suddenly takes on quantum physics-like properties that only a manager can understand.

Page also astutely wondered out loud, "Can you imagine this guy managing in New York? For either the Mets OR the Yankees?"

I replied that the Marlboro Man wouldn't last much longer than a cigarette in a New York dugout.

Earlier in the season, Leyland made fun of those who very reasonably wondered why he didn't bunt Brennan Boesch in Cleveland during that extra innings affair that the Tigers lost, when the only goal at that point was to score a single run.

"That's Little League stuff!" Leyland said. "Oh, 'little Johnny can bunt the guy over,'" he said as those in the room laughed.

The Tigers lost, which I didn't find too funny.

Since when is bunting a runner over "Little League stuff"?

And since when is Boesch above bunting? The manager said that he would "never" bunt Brennan Boesch, who at the time was hitting well over .300.

Boesch has been a major leaguer for less than one full season, pretty much. He's not Miguel Cabrera.

And what about Leyland's decision to save Max Scherzer for the home opener, rather than pitch him on opening weekend in New York against the Yankees?

The manager pretty much got a free pass on that one from those mean old media people.

The sardonically funny irony here is that I look at Jim Leyland's resume and I wonder how he considers himself so smart, and so above everyone else. He's not Joe Torre or Tony LaRussa or Ron Gardenhire, in case you were still confused about that---because I know Jim can try awfully hard to make you think that he is.

Here's what Jim Leyland did before coming to Detroit: he f***ed up NLCS series with the Pittsburgh Pirates three years in a row.

Then he caught lightning in a bottle with the 1997 Florida Marlins, then stole a paycheck from the 1999 Colorado Rockies.

In Detroit, he nearly blew a playoff spot in 2006, bungled a great first half in 2007, didn't have his star-studded team ready to open the season in 2008, blew a three-game lead with four to play in 2009, and saw another team fade in 2010.

That's how smart he is.

Just because you've managed for a long time doesn't make you a good manager.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 8

Last week: 1-5
This week: TB (5/23-25); BOS (5/26-29)

So, What Happened?

MMM is getting dizzy riding this roller coaster our Bengals are putting us on.

The Motor City Kitties went 1-5 following a 5-0 week, which was part of a 10-1 stretch.

They manage to beat the high-profile teams and struggle against mediocrity.

Last week featured two games in Boston played in London fog that were about as miserable and frustrating as any you'll see---if you're a Tigers fan.

The Tigers put base runner after base runner on the paths, yet had the maddening inability to drive said runners home. The result was two one-run losses against the surging Red Sox.

At one point last week, MMM saw a graphic that said the Tigers were in a 2-for-31 funk with RISP. They should just take the "S" out of that acronym, for a performance like that!

Oh, and the Indians keep winning, which didn't help MMM's mindset.

Hero of the Week

Seems like MMM is presented with a quandary every week, in this up-and-down season.

Either there are too many heroes to pick just one, or there are too many goats to pick just one.

This week it's the latter, which means it's not easy finding a hero.

But MMM is going with Jhonny Peralta, the smiling shortstop.

Peralta has a little bit of clutch in him, and he's driving the baseball with power. Plus, he's playing a competent, if not spectacular shortstop.

Peralta slammed another jack in Pittsburgh on Sunday, and with the way Rick Porcello pitched (a close second in HotW, btw), the homer gave the Tigers an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

One could make a good case for Ricky as HotW, but MMM is sticking with Peralta as a reward for his consistency of late.

Goat of the Week

Ahh, quite a menu.

Could it be the Tigers hitters, who were allergic to a clutch RBI?

Could it be the bullpen, aka Gasoline Alley?

Could it be Mr. Popup/DP/K Brandon Inge?

No, it's none other than Ryan Raburn, who is making MMM think the young man doesn't belong on a big league roster. At least, MMM would prefer it if RR wasn't on the Tigers' payroll.

Raburn is having a horrific May, but what has MMM up in arms is that we seem to see little to no improvement in his hitting approach. His strikeout ratio makes Austin Jackson look like Felix Millan (look it up).

Raburn is a butcher in the field, so it's not like you can live with his atrocious bat, a la Inge.

Here's an honorable mention to batting coach Lloyd McClendon, while we're at it. MMM couldn't help but notice the strides Curtis Granderson has made against lefties under Yankees batting coach Kevin Long. The Tigers have been a poor RISP-hitting team ever since Lloyd has been here, pretty much.

Under the Microscope

See above.

There have been whispers lately, which are growing into murmurs. Soon to follow might be rumblings and then outrage.

Why? Because of McClendon.

What's a struggling team and a frustrated fanbase without a scapegoat?

McClendon is looking mighty bad in the wake of Grandy's mega-improvement under Yankees batting coach Kevin Long, which has lit up the switchboard at sports talk radio with folks beginning to look at McClendon sideways.

You know what? MMM thinks those are valid concerns.

The Tigers have never, really, been a good team with RISP. They're even worse with a runner on third base with less than two outs. MMM hasn't seen any significant improvement under Mr. McClendon. The natives are getting restless, as they see a division there for the taking, the Indians notwithstanding.

Which is why Lloyd McClendon is UtM.

Upcoming: Rays and Red Sox

Here we go again. The Tigers slumping, about to entertain a powerhouse team.

First the Texas Rangers, then the New York Yankees breezed into town and both times the Tigers were scuffling. Both times, the Tigers lost the opening game of the series. And both times, the Tigers won the remaining games of the series.

Now here come the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays, followed by the hot Red Sox. Same scenario: Tigers struggling, good teams invade Comerica Park.

In this season of ups and downs, don't be surprised if the Tigers get hot, inexplicably, this week.

MMM wants to call the Tigers the Six Flags Amusement Park of baseball: more roller coasters than you can shake a stick at!

BTW, the Rays series marks the return of one-year Tigers wonder Johnny Damon, who's having a good year down in Florida.

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


Friday, May 20, 2011

Tigers Ought to Pull Out All Stops and Win the AL Central

If there ever was a year where the AL Central was for the taking, it's this year.

Take a look at the standings.

The Minnesota Twins, often the division's kings, are playing like court jesters. The Chicago White Sox, though showing signs of life, are still five games below .500. The Kansas City Royals are already fading after their surprising start.

And the Cleveland Indians? Still too early for me to buy what the Tribe is selling.

It's all there for the Tigers. They'll never find a storm as perfect as this one to seize their first divisional flag since 1987.

And that's what they ought to do.

It's wonderfully timed in that this opportunity coincides with the expiring contracts of GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland. Never again will these two men be in this situation---their fates undetermined while the division is up for grabs.

Owner Mike Ilitch, who isn't getting any younger, better be presented with proposed moves to sign off on, involving players outside of the organization. Because the Tigers, as they are now, cannot win the division simply by showing up and willing it to happen.

There are too many holes to stand pat, but they can be band-aided over.

Mortgage the future, I say. Go for it now. Never again will the chance be this good.

When else will the Twins and the White Sox be this down, in the same year? Those were the teams that the so-called experts---me included---figured would be the Tigers' main competition. Well, look at them now. And look at the Tigers.

The Tigers are 22-21, on a three-game losing streak in a maddening year of streakiness, good and bad. They tease us with clutch hitting and good pitching, then retreat back to remedial baseball---losing baseball.

Still, they are the best team in the division right now, if only for their supreme starting pitching. But that pitching needs help---both from the back end of the bullpen, re: the 8th inning set up man, and from the hitters.

The Tigers play with a third baseman who's hitting .200, a second baseman that still has question marks, and only one-third of an outfield that is somewhat reliable. Even the stud, Miguel Cabrera, is scuffling.

But it's all there, the division. The Tigers won't have a better chance to grab it than right now. It's their only pure chance of making the playoffs. The Wild Card is unlikely to come from the Central.

So they ought to go out and do it. The Tigers ought to do whatever it takes to win this thing. Trade Jacob Turner, trade Andy Oliver if you have to.

Just win the damn thing now, when you have this good of an opportunity.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 7

Last week: 5-0
This week: TOR (5/16-17); at Bos (5/18-19); at Pit (5/20-22)

So, What Happened?

An undefeated week makes MMM a happy camper, despite the rain that's been drenching the Motor City the last few days.

The Tigers took care of business against a bad Twins team and beat a Royals club twice that has given them fits over the years. They started the week with a win in Toronto, which completed a 3-1 series in Canada.

The current 10-1 tear has vaulted the Tigers four games over .500 and just 3-1/2 games behind the Indians for first place in the AL Central.

BTW, MMM is wondering if you noticed that since the Yankees beat the Tigers two weeks ago tonight, the Tigers have gone 10-1 and the Yankees have gone 3-9, a 7-1/2 game swing. The Yankees walked off the field two weeks ago with a 6-1/2 game lead on the Tigers (hey, never too early to talk Wild Card!!), and this morning the Bronx Bombers wake up a game behind the Bengals.

Hero of the Week

First, it's not Justin Verlander, even though JV came 3.1 innings away from matching Johnny Vander Meer's record of two straight no-hitters, when he denied the Royals a hit until two outs in the sixth inning on Friday night.

This week, MMM is throwing the bouquet to none other than free agent signee Victor Martinez, who has become an RBI machine of late.

Good timing, too, because the man he's hitting behind is scuffling a little bit (more on that later). Martinez returned from the disabled list during that Yankees series, and the Tigers are 9-1 since his return. It's been no coinkydink, because V-Mart has been raking.

Martinez, right now, is just what the Tigers expected when they signed him last winter. Maybe more. Here's manager Jim Leyland, spoken the other day.

"I never thought he'd hit like this," the skipper said. Not sure if he meant that he didn't think Victor would hit like this, period, or that he didn't expect him to hit like this fresh off the DL.

Goat of the Week

OK, how do you choose a goat from an undefeated week?

By going outside the box and, at the risk of personal harm, giving the nod to Mother Nature.

The last thing a team on a seven-game winning streak wants to do is not play! M-Nat washed out Sunday's series finale against the Royals. Let's hope the unplanned day off doesn't impact the Tigers' play.

Under the Microscope

MMM looks at the numbers of Miguel Cabrera and shakes his head a little bit.

Miggy seems to have been sitting on 7 HR and 27 RBI forever, even though he hasn't. He's batting .309. Those are good numbers---for mortals, which Miggy isn't.

Extrapolated (there's your $20 word for the week), Miggy is on pace for about 28 homers and 108 RBI. Umm, do those look like Cabrera-type numbers to you?

Cabrera hasn't gone yard since April 30, in Cleveland. That's over two weeks, folks.

Thankfully, Victor Martinez has picked up the slack while Miggy gets his house in order.

It's not panic time, because Cabrera's too damn good. There are whispers that he's fighting a little back issue and maybe another minor ailment. Regardless, MMM puts Miggy UtM because he's suddenly slipped to the realm of good when he should be GREAT.

Upcoming: Blue Jays, Red Sox and Pirates

M-Nat willing, the Tigers will squeeze a pair of games in early this week in Detroit against the same Blue Jays who they handled in Toronto a week ago. Jose Bautista clubbed three homers yesterday in Minnesota, so maybe he got the longball out of his system for awhile, eh?

Toronto is never an easy team to beat, despite what the Tigers did in Ontario.

Then it's off to Boston for two games to square off against the surging Red Sox, fresh off a three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York---just their third sweep in the Bronx since 1999. The Bosox are .500 for the first time all season, at 20-20, after a 2-10 start. Verlander is scheduled to start on Thursday.

The weekend sees inter-league play begin, and even though they're again under .500, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a better Pirates team than we've seen since, oh, 1992. They're still not good, but they can beat you, thanks to exciting players like CF Andrew McCutchen and 2B Neil Walker.

On the mound, Charlie Morton (4-1, 3.13) and lefty Paul Maholm (1-5, but with a 3.60 ERA) lead the way. The Tigers are likely to see both of them over the weekend, as Morton's Thursday start was rained out after two innings, slating him to pitch Tuesday and then on Sunday this week.

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


Friday, May 13, 2011

Inge's Bat Toxic for Tigers; How Much Longer Can This Go On?

Leo Durocher would love Brandon Inge.

Leo the Lip would have seamlessly inserted Inge onto the 1946 New York Giants roster, had him play third base instead of the real starter, Billy Rigney, and Brandon would have been perfectly suited for that role, on that team.

For it was about the ‘46 Giants that Durocher uttered his famous, though widely misinterpreted line, “Nice guys finish last.”

Actually, Leo—managing the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time—told Red Barber that July day in 1946 of the Giants, “They’re a bunch of nice guys. But they’ll finish last. Nice guys; finish last.”

The inference was that the Giants were laden with nice gentlemen, like Mel Ott, but all that would get them would be a last place finish, which the Giants accomplished that year.

Brandon Inge is a nice guy who’s batting last, and there’s debate whether he should even be doing that.

Inge, the kewpie doll third baseman who so many of the female Tigers fans would love to just squeeze to death, delivered a game-winning triple in the ninth inning in Minnesota the other day. It was his first hit of any significance this season, and I couldn’t even tell you when the last one was prior to it.

I’ve been a Brandon Inge supporter, no question. It was without the benefit of controlled substances that I once wrote that a statue might be erected of him at Comerica Park someday, for Inge, I wrote, would forever be a Tiger and he lives here all year long and he kind of epitomizes the town in which he plays.

Sadly, you don’t write blogs with invisible ink.

Today I look at Inge and I see a guy who’s still above average defensively, but whose bat is positively toxic. Tigers rallies go to Inge’s bat to die.

There isn’t really anything to like about Inge’s offensive game. If this was basketball, he’d be Ben Wallace.

Inge brings nothing to the table with the bat. He doesn’t drive in runs from third base with less than two outs—something that the kid catcher, Alex Avila, has become a master at.

Inge doesn’t move the runner from second to third by guiding the ball to the right side. He doesn’t give you quality, lengthy at-bats. He has no power anymore, perhaps a result of the troubles he’s had with his knees. He strikes out too much. If he’s not doing that, he’s grounding into a double play or popping the ball into shallow left field.

He’s a .200 hitter with no home run threat any longer, which was something you could expect to get occasionally. No more. Inge has one home run this year, on pace to hit less than five.

So why is he still in the lineup, albeit batting ninth?

Well, there’s the defense, which is still pretty good. But is it good enough to cancel out the pathetic bat?

This is mid-May, which is not the best time to seek help from outside the organization—at least not without overpaying.

So if there’s help, it has to come from within.

Danny Worth, perhaps, from Toledo?

This is all moot, though. The Tigers aren’t going to do anything with Inge; they certainly won’t cut him. He’s a Tiger, and manager Jim Leyland loves him and you still see more Inge jerseys in the stands at CoPa than any other.

They might not do anything with Inge now, but if this limp noodle act at the plate continues for another month or so, a hard decision may have to be made. Leyland is trying to hide Inge at no. 9 in the order, and right now it’s working because the rest of the team’s bats are perking up.

I’ve written that with Inge, he is what he is. He’ s been a Tiger for over 10 years now and no one has been able to improve his offense all that much. He is, today, what he was back in the early-2000s: an undisciplined hacker who can occasionally grab a hold of one and drive it far.

But actually this season he’s even worse, because he has no power. It’s Gerald Laird and Adam Everett, redux.

Perhaps Inge isn’t as popular of a Tiger as Curtis Granderson was. But he’s still popular, though polarizing. It’s never easy to lop those types off your roster. But sooner or later, Inge has to produce. One would think, anyway.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 6

Last week: 5-2
This week: at Tor (5/9); at Min (5/10-11); KC (5/13-15)

So, What Happened?

MMM wonders if there was anything of note that happened involving the Tigers last week.

Besides, that is, the 5-2 record, taking three of four from the Yankees, and the Tigers pulling themselves out of the muck they had fallen into with their oh-fer the week before.

Oh yeah---that Justin Verlander guy did something pretty good, didn't he?

MMM was walking the dog and tuned into the radio on Saturday afternoon when Dan Dickerson said, "17 up, 17 down for Justin Verlander."

"Holy....cow," MMM said, "JV has a perfect game going!"

Well, he lost the perfecto in the eighth inning on a close 3-2 pitch, but he finished the no-no against the Blue Jays in Toronto, facing the minimum 27 hitters. It was Verlander's second no-hitter, which is so much cooler than just having one.

The Tigers are showing signs of life again---even that leadoff guy, Austin Jackson. But their streakiness makes MMM wary.

Hero of the Week

You have to ask?

Although, the 5-0 Max Scherzer gets an Honorable Mention.

Goat of the Week

Not too many to choose from this week, thank goodness. In fact, MMM was hard-pressed to label one person this time.

But they don't call MMM "Mr. Clutch" for nothing!

The GotW is the demoted second baseman, Will Rhymes. Why speak of the dead? Because if Rhymes won the 2B job fair and square in spring training over the favorite, Scott Sizemore, the least Will could have done was show why he won the job.

Instead, Rhymes turned into a glorified pitcher at the plate---good only for sacrifice bunts on most days---and was so bad that the Tigers couldn't help but recall Sizemore last Tuesday.

MMM figures Rhymes cost the Tigers the real winner at 2B, Sizemore (who hit the cover off the ball in Toledo), for the month of April while Will tried to get his act together, which he never did.

Maybe we'll see you in September, Will.

Under the Microscope

He's maybe the most polarizing player the Tigers have had in the 21st century, and now MMM puts him UtM. He's 3B Brandon Inge, and he's UtM because once again, Brandon's BA is floating near .200 and now he doesn't even have the power to offset it.

Whispers have grown into shouts that Inge should be benched, traded, cut, what have you. Even trying to hide him in the No. 9 slot in the batting order hasn't called off the dogs.

We all know how great Inge is with the glove, and know manager Jim Leyland loves the guy---as do a lot of the female fans, especially---but when is it time to look elsewhere for a third baseman?

MMM thinks that Inge will be much talked about in the coming weeks. What's worse, Inge has only one home run this season. MMM still can't believe Inge represented the Tigers at the 2009 Home Run Derby.

Upcoming: Blue Jays, Twins and Royals

The Tigers defied the odds and won three straight from the Yankees after a seven-game losing streak. So it's hard for MMM to handicap this team right now.

One more game in Toronto is on tap (where Scherzer tries to go 6-0) before the Tigers make a quick two-game trip to Minnesota. If there ever was a time to play the Twins in their ballpark, it might be right now. The Twins are 12-20, but have only played 10 games at home, where they are 4-6. Gee, whiz---22 of your first 32 games on the road? Not that MMM is shedding any tears for the Twinkies.

Then the Royals come calling over the weekend, having fallen (kinda) back to Earth. KC is 18-16 and in second place. So the Tigers might be in a position to leap frog them this weekend, pending the results of the games earlier in the week.

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


Friday, May 06, 2011

Miguel Cabrera: We Hardly Know Ye

The best player the Tigers have ever had since Al Kaline is a no-name.

The most powerful slugger in Detroit since Cecil Fielder was clearing the left field roof off the defending World Series MVP is an outsider.

The man who even the great Hank Greenberg might not have anything on, isn't even the most popular player in his own infield, let alone on his team, and certainly not in the city.

I'm too young to remember Greenberg---yes, there are players that were even before this old goat's time---but I certainly recall Fielder, aka Big Daddy.

A Cecil Fielder at-bat was a time-stopping affair. It was as if God himself said, "Simon says FREEZE." For when Big Daddy strode to the plate, a grizzly bear of a man with Popeye biceps, Tigers fans at the ballpark and watching on TV---the true fans, anyway---stopped whatever they were doing to watch.

If you listened closely, you could hear all the "In a minute, honey"s by enraptured husbands as their wives dared to talk to them while Big Daddy went mano-a-mano with the opposing pitcher.

Fielder lost a lot of those battles---he struck out with Austin Jackson-like consistency---but when he won? Baseballs disappeared into the wild blue yonder, like when they flew over roofs.

I remember when Fielder took Oakland's Dave Stewart, who at the time was among the nastiest of right-handers, over the left field roof at Michigan and Trumbull, no minor feat. Plenty of guys drove the ball over the less imposing right field roof (I saw Kirk Gibson do that in person and I can still see the baseball as it made its trajectory), but to slam it the other way, for a right-handed hitter, was one of the most impressive things a hitter could do in baseball. You'd only need one hand to count the guys who did it.

We knew Cecil. We knew he had a pudgy son named Prince, who swung lefty. I remember Prince, who was in grade school at the time, strutting around in his Tigers jersey, with a paunch even back then.

There was a photo snapped of Fielder, not long after he took Stewart out of the ballpark, as he walked on the roof of Tiger Stadium at the approximate location where the baseball he slammed skimmed off, onto the street below. Big Daddy carried a bat in one hand and was smoking a cigar, fat like he was.

Fielder was on TV, he was in magazine and newspaper ads. He was winning RBI titles and hitting 50 home runs and he was by far the most exciting player to watch at the plate for the Tigers in those days---the early-1990s.

But we felt we knew him a little bit, too. He was interviewed, for one. His quotes made their way into the newspapers the next morning. The press could carry on a conversation with him, easily.

Then there's Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera is one of the very best players in all of baseball. You could make an argument that he's No. 1, but you couldn't make a credible one that he's not among the top three.

A Cabrera at-bat, at least for me, has the same time-stopping ability as those by Fielder. I have literally stopped in my tracks when I've peeked at the television while walking by, seeing Cabrera at the dish. I don't dare miss a pitch.

But Cabrera is unknown to the folks in Detroit. After the final pitch of every season, he vanishes---not to be seen again until the following February. He's not on TV, he's not quoted. We don't know much about his family, unless they somehow appear in a police blotter tracking his escapades.

He doesn't do appearances, not even for charity. He's as much of a Detroiter as we are Venezuelans.

Fielder, in his prime years here, owned Detroit. Cabrera, in his prime years now in Detroit, is just a guy who we cheer, or in some cases, revile.

I once wrote that we didn't know Lou Whitaker, either---and Sweet Lou played almost 20 years here. So the enigmatic athlete hardly begins in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera.

And Whitaker spoke perfectly good English.

Ahhh...NOW we're getting somewhere.

Call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me a racist moron. That's OK.

But I submit to you that until Miguel Cabrera gets a better handle on the English language, then he'll never be anything more in Detroit than an immensely talented man who might as well be playing in a plastic bubble.

He doesn't speak to us because he doesn't speak, period. English, that is.

He's misplaced in Detroit. Frankly, he's better suited for the fan base in Miami, from where he came. Cabrera is a hero in his own country but a total stranger in his own city.

In most cities, the star athlete on the team is the one the press goes to most often for a few words for the morning edition, or the late night game recaps on the Internet.

Not in Detroit, when it comes to baseball.

Cabrera is a rotten interview because he doesn't speak our language. His take on all things Tigers ought to be well-known and often analyzed. Folks ought to be at the water cooler, discussing Cabrera's latest thoughts.

That's what we did with Isiah Thomas. That's what we did with Steve Yzerman.

I truly believe that Tigers fans would dearly love to get to know their superstar player. I think they'd like seeing him around town, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys, talking to kids at school, what have you.

This guy is the most dynamic player the Tigers have had in eons---on the field.

Off it, he's a perceived drunk and a potential menace to society.

We love the idea of Miguel Cabrera being on our team. But we don't love him. In fact, there's a bunch of us who may not even like him, because he's not that likeable of a guy, frankly.

Which is all such a shame, because we probably have him figured out all wrong. His teammates liken him to a big, cuddly bear. That may be the case---they ought to know, after all.

But we don't see that side because we don't see him. All we see is a big, talented man wearing a Tigers uniform. That may be enough for some, but it falls way short for most.

We don't know Miguel Cabrera because we never hear from him. This is his fourth season as a Tiger and the man is a blank canvas, save for some splotches that have been tossed onto it.

And this is the way it will stay, for as long as Miguel's English remains as rotten as last month's Easter eggs.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 5

Last week: 0-6
This week: NYY (5/2-5); at Tor (5/6-8)

So, What Happened?

You're going to make MMM go over it, aren't you?

You're going to make MMM rehash the worst week of the Tigers season thus far, right? A week in which they didn't win a game, lost three crushers in Cleveland, fell to 7.5 games out of first place (they were 1.5 games out this time last week) and saw their struggling hitters continue to struggle.

Oh, and their $16.5 million set-up man is even going sideways, and Magglio Ordonez looks finished.

What a difference a week makes, eh?

MMM is ending this portion of the weekly post right here, Jim Leyland-style: short and sour.

Hero of the Week

MMM's doctrine says that there are no such things as heroes during winless weeks, barring something extraordinary. But in the spirit of the "Andre Dawson once won an MVP for a last place team" mentality, MMM is choosing one anyway.

It's unheralded reliever Al Alburquerque, who absolutely blew away the Indians on Saturday night in the late innings, albeit in a (naturally) losing cause. Alburquerque, whose name MMM hates to spell, was a man among men Saturday, fanning six in three innings of work, giving him an astounding 16 Ks in 8.1 innings this season.

AA2 (last week's Hero, Alex Avila, is AA) silenced the Indians bats, giving his teammates several chances to push across the go-ahead run(s). Never happened, but if a late-inning reliver's role---especially one who's not the set-up man or the closer---is to either keep his team in a game or give it a chance to win, then AA2 did his job perfectly.

Goat of the Week

MMM is tempted to look at GotW this week like he does the menu at the all-you-can-eat restaurant Harbor House on Groesbeck: SO much to choose from!

But in the interest of brevity, and because each word typed about last week's gore makes MMM's blood pressure increase a tick, let's just give it to the $16.5 million man, Joaquin Benoit.

MMM has seen plenty of bad things in Cleveland, as has anyone who's been there, but Benoit's performances on Friday and Sunday were as smelly as last week's hard-boiled Easter eggs.

Benoit threw gas, alright---but he threw it on a raging fire.

He fell apart on Friday, eventually falling behind 3-1 to Carlos Santana (not the guitarist) with the game tied and the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Santana was sitting on a fastball like a big brother sitting on his hapless little bro, and Carlos lasered it into the right field stands for a walk-off granny.

Then on Sunday, Benoit entered in his more familiar situation: the eighth inning, his team nursing a one-run lead. These were the situations in which Benoit thrived in 2010 with Tampa, and it's why he landed the mother lode of contracts for a set-up man.

But just like that, the inning turned ugly. A lead-off single to Shin-Soo Choo started the rally. One out later, a hit batsman, another single, another single, and a sacrifice fly had delivered three runs to the Tribe's cause. Game, set, series to the Indians.

MMM has always been wary of the free agent pitching signee; those types seem to lose their mojo almost as soon as the ink dries on their signature. Benoit better get it together.

Under the Microscope

I know the players are the ones who lost six games last week, but MMM is putting manager Jim Leyland UtM this week.

Was that a "HOORAY" that MMM heard through his computer?

Leyland, as we all know, is in the last year of his contract. Which would seemingly make it very easy for him to get the ziggy (that Detroit word for getting fired), as owner Mike Ilitch wouldn't owe him a penny beyond the last pitch of 2011.

So a bad start is not the best way to ingratiate yourself, or to lobby for a contract extension. That's just sort of Business Negotiations 101, right?

The Tigers are 12-16, on a six-game losing streak, and are playing with little fire and pizzazz. The adage says it's easier to fire the manager than 25 players.

MMM isn't suggesting that Leyland be canned, but Leyland is UtM because he ought to be. This team looked a lot better on paper than they're playing right now. Granted, MMM didn't expect Austin Jackson, Will Rhymes and Magglio Ordonez---their 1-2-3 hitters---to combine for a batting average that would make a nice bowling score. And Benoit blowing up wasn't in the forecast, either.

But MMM isn't interested in justice---all the time.

Upcoming: Yankees and Blue Jays

Three weeks ago, MMM lamented the arrival of the 9-1 Texas Rangers to Detroit, when the Tigers were off to a 3-7 start. Yet the Tigers won two of three, both wins coming in walk-off fashion.

Today, MMM has much the same feeling about the high-flying Yankees invading Detroit with the Tigers slumping. Let's hope the results are the same as they were against the Rangers! But MMM would be thrilled with a split of the four-game set.

The series also marks the return of Curtis Granderson to Detroit as a Yankee. Grandy missed the Yankees game at Comerica Park last season due to injury. MMM is sure the greeting that awaits Curtis as he walks from the on-deck circle to the batter's box to start Monday night's game will be a goose bump-inducing one.

Then it's off to Toronto to face the Blue Jays, who feature slugging right fielder Jose Bautista, who leads the league in hitting and in home runs.

This has the makings of another scary week. And when will the Indians fall back to Earth, anyway?

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