Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 22

Last week: 5-2
This week: KC (8/29-9/1); CWS (9/2-4)
Magic Number to clinch division: 25

So, What Happened?

For the second consecutive week, the Tigers extended their lead in the AL Central from the week before.

Two Mondays ago, the margin was 2.5 games. Last Monday, it was 4.5. This morning it's a full six games.

And there's a new second-place sheriff in town---the Chicago White Sox, who are a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians.

The week also saw Justin Verlander tally his 20th victory in a performance that was below JV's standards but still good enough to allow his teammates to score more than the other guys.

There was mini-controversy in the middle of the week when manager Jim Leyland "respectfully disagreed" with 3B Brandon Inge's decision to throw to second base for an inning-ending force out in Tampa. The play backfired and the Rays got a walk-off win. Leyland thought Inge should have thrown to first base or touch third, as the bases were juiced.

Leyland also had to explain himself regarding comments he made about pitchers being ineligible for MVP consideration. For the record, Leyland supports Verlander for MVP but at the same time doesn't feel pitchers should be considered. The Marlboro Man should go into politics.

Hero of the Week

Group hug! Group hug!

MMM is awarding the HotW to the Tigers pitching staff as a whole, thanks mostly to the job it did in Tampa during a four-game set in which the Bengals went 3-1.

The Rays, who went into the series on a five-game winning streak, scored just six runs in the four games.

Before the series, Leyland warned of the Rays' fine starting rotation and expressed concern that it could be a "long week."

But the Tigers starters went toe-to-toe with the Rays', and the bullpen did its thing when called upon.

So special kudos to Verlander, Brad Penny, Max Scherzer and Ricky Porcello!

MMM was tempted to go with Phil Coke for his heroic and gutsy two-inning effort on Tuesday, but instead he gets honorable mention.

Goat of the Week

In a 5-2 week (all on the road), it's tough to find a GotW.

But this space shall never be empty, so MMM is picking on Brandon Inge.

Pretty sure you know why.

Yes, this is because of the boneheaded play made in extras in Tampa on Wednesday.

MMM feels that Inge should have looked at second base and, seeing 2B Ramon Santiago was struggling to get to the bag, taken the almost sure out at first base, as batter Elliott Johnson is hardly a speedster.

As Leyland said, there's no guarantee the Tigers would have won the game, even if Inge had gotten his team into the next frame. But it was nonetheless a bad decision that directly led to the winning run scoring.

Sorry, Brandon. Even a 5-2 week means someone screwed up, somewhere.

Under the Microscope

The Tigers announced that top pitching prospect Jacob Turner will start Thursday afternoon's game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park.

Welcome to UtM, Jacob!

Frankly, the entire team could be UtM, as the Tigers are starting a homestand against a bad Royals team and the second-place White Sox.

But when Turner is scheduled to pitch his second career start, it's hard not to put the young man UtM.

All eyes will be on Turner as he looks to replicate his fine start of last month, when he went 5.1 innings against the Angels, surrendering just three hits and two earnies (the Tigers lost, however).

It will be interesting to see how brisk walk-up sales are for that game, an afternoon affair.

Upcoming: Royals, White Sox

If this was football, the media types would caution against the Tigers "looking past" the last-place Royals in anticipation of the arrival of the second-place White Sox.

MMM says fear not.

First, the series against the Royals is four games. You don't "look past" a team for four games.

Second, the Tigers appear as mentally locked in now as they've been all season.

The team is playing as if it's on a mission, which it is. The end is only 29 games away. The magic number to clinch the division is 25, which means it could be in the teens by the end of the week.

The Tigers aren't going to come out flat against the Royals, not after a 5-2 road trip and playing before four straight crowds of 30,000+. Not gonna happen.

As for the White Sox, they too are playing good baseball, some of their best of the season. But they're likely to be anywhere from 5-7 games out of first place when they come to town, almost mandating a sweep of the Tigers to climb back into the race.

Again, unlikely that the Chisox will be able to pull that off, especially with Verlander throwing on Friday, and on one extra day's rest.

MMM can smell the division flag, can't you?

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


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Avila's Toughness Surpassed Only By His Production

They say that Ray Fosse was never the same, after being run over by the freight train that was Pete Rose. It’s difficult to argue with that notion, because a look at Fosse’s numbers before and after the collision in the 1970 All-Star Game provides a stark comparison.

Fosse was a 23-year-old catcher for the Cleveland Indians when Rose of the hometown Cincinnati Reds motored home with the potential game-winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning, trying to score from second base on a single by the Cubs’ Jim Hickman.

Rose and the baseball thrown by Kansas City’s Amos Otis arrived at home plate at approximately the same time. This was the All-Star Game, not Game 7 of the World Series. Yet you couldn’t tell the difference, the way Rose drove into Fosse like a football lineman into a tackling sled.

Fosse was knocked practically into the first base dugout. His catcher’s mitt spun out of his hand like a Frisbee, the baseball bouncing harmlessly away.

And Rose scored the winning run, in front of his Cincinnati public.

Fosse writhed in pain, his shoulder on fire.

But true to the catcher’s code of toughness, Fosse was back in the Indians’ lineup when they resumed play two nights later. And he continued to play, right through to the end of the season, maintaining his .300+ batting average.

It looked like Fosse would survive Rose’s Charlie Hustle play, after all.

But in 1971, Fosse hit .276. In 1972, he hit .241. In 1974, .196. In 1975, .140.

Fosse didn’t survive Rose, as it turned out.

Pete Rose has, maybe unfairly, been blamed for ruining Ray Fosse’s career, with a baseball play that would have made the Gashouse Gang Cardinals teams of the 1930s proud. That Rose made the play in a meaningless exhibition game has been a sore subject with some folks, including Fosse.

Home plate has been the scene of some of baseball’s most notorious wrecks.

There was the famous “snooze” by Cincinnati’s Ernie Lombardi, who was knocked senseless in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 1939 World Series by the Yankees’ King Kong Keller. As Lombardi fought unconsciousness, Joe DiMaggio scooted all the way around the bases, the baseball just a few feet away. The play was the key part of a three-run rally that gave the Yanks the World Series in four games.

Or how about the Cardinals’ Lou Brock trying to score without sliding in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series at Tiger Stadium? Willie Horton nailed Brock at the plate, when Lou tried to run over Bill Freehan with no success. The play turned the Series around for the Tigers.

Today’s players are bigger and stronger than ever before, and the collisions at home plate are becoming more and more horrific. The catchers usually come out on the losing end.

If spectacular crashes are what you seek in baseball, be it ever so humble—there’s no place like home.

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season after he was turned into a crash test dummy back in May, his ankle mangled gruesomely.

The Tigers have a catcher who has been collided with, foul tipped into and used as a human backboard on an almost daily basis.

Watching Alex Avila toil behind the plate for the Tigers this season has been Chuck Wepner vs. Muhammad Ali—and Avila is most certainly Wepner.

You look at Avila getting run into by base runners, you see him take one foul tip after the other—even in the neck last week—and you watch him flop around and butterfly like Dominik Hasek as he fights off errant pitches, and you ask, “How much can this guy take?”

Which is exactly what we all screamed at the TV the night Ali pounded Wepner for 15 rounds in 1975.

These are the so-called “dog days” of the baseball season: late-August—deep into the schedule but not close enough to the end of the season to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is the time of the year when the heat and humidity have been searing and steaming catchers for weeks like veggies in a boil-in bag on the stove.

Its the time when the catcher is supposed to be wearing down a little bit.

No less than Freehan, perhaps the greatest Tigers catcher of them all, used to point to this time of the year as when he’d start to feel his energy being “sapped.”

So what’s with this Alex Avila, whose perpetual 5:00 shadow makes him look like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons?

Avila recently started 18 straight games for the Tigers, a streak that ended on Thursday. No catcher starts 18 straight games anymore. No catcher starts eight straight—at least not as a rule.

Avila’s “mini me” impersonation of Lou Gehrig has been born out of necessity. Avila catches because no one else on the Tigers roster can, frankly.

Victor Martinez, the more-DH-than-he-is-catcher who the Tigers signed as a free agent last winter, has been anchored to the DH role lately because of a bad knee.

Don Kelly is listed as the team’s emergency catcher. If that sounds like a punch line, I understand.

Brandon Inge is back with the Tigers after his one-month exile to Toledo, giving manager Jim Leyland another option, but Inge hates catching and squatting repeatedly is probably not good for his surgically-repaired knees (yes, plural).

So that leaves Avila, and not only did he catch 18 straight games, he—get this—seems to be getting stronger as the dog days move along.

What Avila has done in August is strap on his gear—the “tools of ignorance” as the great Bill Dickey called it—everyday, and subject himself to more physical abuse than any Three Stooge not named Moe. All while smacking the baseball around at a .450-ish clip for the month.

This after a bad July that saw Avila register just one measly RBI. Ironically, the month included Avila’s first-ever All-Star Game appearance.

It was during July, when Avila’s batting average had sunk about 30 points from its .300+ level, that I thought the young man was hitting the proverbial “wall.” Avila is only 24 years old but catching can age you faster than being the President of the United States.

Then Leyland had no choice but to play Avila because Martinez’s knee went pop.

Leyland penciled Avila in for those 18 straight games and not only did Alex not tire, his bat became as scorching as the temperature.

Quite a turnaround from Opening Day in New York, when after just one game talk radio was filled with blowhards accusing the Tigers of nepotism, among other vitriol, because of Avila’s status as the son of assistant GM Al Avila.

The blowhards wanted to run Alex Avila out of town after one lousy game—admittedly not one of his best performances but still a typical Detroit sports fan overreaction.

I wonder, don’t you—how do they like him now?

Friday, August 26, 2011

With Division in the Bag, Tigers Need to Think Playoff Roster

If the Tigers do what I believe they will---win the division (and by 8-10 games, btw)---there will be some hard decisions to be made in the name of the roster.

The 25-man for the first round has to be set by midnight, August 31. There could be some tweaking between the ALDS and CS, if the Tigers make it that far, but mainly only due to injury.

Who stays and who goes?

If the Tigers lop off a pitcher and carry an 11-man staff, that creates space for one more position player. Clearly, there's no need for a five-man rotation in the playoffs, so why waste a roster spot for a guy who won't see any action?

The Tigers could keep a 12-man staff and shift Rick Porcello or Brad Penny to the bullpen for long relief, but all that does is overcrowd the pen, again at the expense of a more valuable position player.

Here's a look at my proposed 25-man for the ALDS:

C Alex Avila, Victor Martinez (hold on; more on this later!)
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Wilson Betemit, Brandon Inge
OF Austin Jackson; Brennan Boesch; Delmon Young; Magglio Ordonez; Andy Dirks
UT Don Kelly

SP Justin Verlander; Max Scherzer; Doug Fister; Brad Penny
RP Rick Porcello; David Pauley; Jose Valverde; Joaquin Benoit; Al Alburquerque; Phil Coke; Daniel Schlereth

Note the absence of Duane Below. It was a tough call, but I went with Schlereth because of his slight edge in big league experience. Plus, I want Alburquerque, despite his current recovery from his concussion.

The other tough call was Pauley over Ryan Perry, though I wouldn't put up much of an argument the other way; they're almost both the same guy, in my opinion.

So there you have it---the 25-man for the ALDS.

It's an 11-man staff with 14 position players.

I listed V-Mart as a catcher, but in truth Inge should be called upon in a pinch, should Avila go down (heaven forbid). I am hesitant to devote a spot to Omir Santos because of his total lack of big league experience and with, potentially, three other guys already on the roster who can catch (Martinez, Inge, Kelly). That, and I like Dirks.

I like the offense/defense platoon of Betemit/Inge at third base. How amazing to have both of them on the playoff roster, when Betemit was essentially Inge's replacement after the latter was DFA'd.

Even the Inge haters must be honest with themselves: who do you feel more comfortable with, defensively at third base, in a close playoff game in the late innings---Wilson Betemit or Brandon Inge (Wednesday's brain fart by Inge notwithstanding)?

By the way, as the Tigers stretch their lead in late-August, the Chicken Little folks are out, talking about 2009's collapse.

The 2009 Tigers and the 2011 version are nowhere near the same team.

In 2009, the Tigers had no V-Mart hitting behind Cabrera. Not even close. The 2009 team didn't have the production at SS that Jhonny Peralta is giving them now. Again, not even close.

The 2009 team didn't have a 2011 Alex Avila.

The 2009 team had Fernando Rodney, not Jose Valverde.

The 2009 team had no Doug Fister in the rotation. It didn't have a Cy Young-worthy Justin Verlander (though JV was pretty good). It didn't have Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation.

And the 2011 Tigers don't have a team anywhere near as good as the 2009 Twins chasing them.

True, the 2009 Tigers had Jim Leyland. You got me there.

But this 2011 team isn't going to collapse. The pitching is too good (though not great) and the lineup is too deep and well-rounded to go into any prolonged losing streaks. Plus there's Verlander to nip those in the bud.

Look, even if the Tigers finish a mediocre 15-17, that would still give them 86 wins. That means the Indians would have to finish 23-12, and the White Sox 23-11 just to force a playoff.

Not gonna happen.

Time to start thinking about playoff rosters. August 31 is right around the corner!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 21

Last week: 4-2
This week: at TB (8/22-25); at Min (8/26-28)

So, What Happened?

Last Monday, MMM said the Tigers had a do-over---another chance to create separation between themselves and the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, after failing to do so the week prior.

Mission accomplished---given the mulligan.

The week began with the Tigers nursing a 2.5 game lead over the Tribe, and it ended with that lead stretched to 4.5 games. The White Sox are five games behind.

The reason for all this increased separation, of course, was the fun weekend the Tigers had at the expense of the Indians at Comerica Park. The three-game sweep of the Indians began with two convincing victories followed by a nailbiter that should have been convincing but wasn't.

MMM is still replaying Awesome Jackson's game-ending rocket to home plate to seal the Tigers' victory on Sunday afternoon, which completed your garden variety 8-2 double play.

Hero of the Week

MMM thinks that, because of Justin Verlander's dominance, other players have been getting the short shrift when it comes to HotW.

Not this week.

MMM would like to honor catcher Alex Avila with the HotW designation.

This is overdue, and is largely because of Avila's catching streak, which by today's standards is Cal Ripken-like.

Avila has started 17 straight games at catcher for the Tigers, which is unheard of in the 21st century. Granted, none of them have been doubleheaders, but the streak---borne out of necessity thanks to Victor Martinez's trick knee---is nonetheless very impressive.

What's more, Al-Av has been pounding the ball throughout the month of August, and continues to grind out at-bats and see a lot of pitches every time he steps into the batter's box.

Avila has been almost indestructible behind the plate, turning into a human pin cushion what with all the foul tips and errant pitches he has to smother. Witness the aforementioned DP on Sunday, when Jackson's throw only works if Avila stands his ground and hangs onto the ball throughout the impending collision.

MMM believes the Tigers have found their backstop for the next 10 years.

Honorable mentions: Verlander (natch), Phil Coke and Martinez, who were all clutch last week in their own ways. MMM would also like to give HM to GM Dave Dombrowski, for acquiring Twins OF Delmon Young for a bag of baseballs last Monday---a trade that wasn't on anyone's radar, and one that has the Indians fans beside themselves, according to some comments posted on, which is like MLive.

Goat of the Week

Ricky Porcello made two starts last week, and in neither was he impressive. Nor was he in the start before those.

Handed a 7-0 lead on Sunday, in a start in which he was cruising, Porcello gave up a seemingly harmless solo home run to Carlos Santana in the fourth inning. Then all hell broke loose.

Porcello promptly let the Tribe back into the game, surrendering four runs in the Indians' five-run frame.

Porcello fell behind batters, couldn't locate low and the result was some Cleveland batting practice before manager Jim Leyland brought the hook after 3.2 innings.

On Monday against the Twins, Porcello couldn't get his sinker ball to sink and the result was similar to Sunday's, except the Tigers lost.

After an undefeated July, Porcello has looked lost in August. And the Tigers need all hands (or, more appropriately, arms) on deck for the stretch run. MMM thinks that Porcello had better get his act together, and quick.

Here's where pitching coach Jeff Jones gets to show us why he's better than Rick Knapp.

Under the Microscope

MMM is tempted to place Porcello UtM because of the previous category, but then there would be no reason to work a Brandon Inge reference into this week's analysis.

He's baaaaaaack!

Yes, Inge, the much-maligned, DFA'd third baseman is back with the big club after about a month in Toledo. Hollywood producers would have been proud of what happened on Saturday night in Inge's first at-bat after being recalled.

SMACK! Inge hit his second homer of the year and he later delivered a run-scoring double to finish with three RBI in the Tigers' 10-1 win.

MMM is putting Inge UtM because Leyland says he'll use Inge against lefties. But how long before Inge slowly but surely works himself back into the role of full-time 3B?

Inge and Wilson Betemit---acquired from Kansas City in a trade that seemingly ended Inge's Tigers career---both on the same team? You gotta love baseball and its pockets of irony and romance.

Oh, by the way---last week's UtM player, Will Rhymes, was sent back to Toledo to make room for Delmon Young the very day that MMM appeared in this space last week.

But Inge has nothing to worry about in that area; he's not going anywhere---except toward the top of the depth chart, MMM thinks.

Upcoming: Rays, Twins

This could be a bad week.

MMM doesn't mean to ruin your week before it gets started, but just know that the Tampa Bay Rays are hot and still have wild card aspirations. And know that the Minnesota Twins would love nothing more than to spoil the Tigers' divisional lead in the Twins' own ballpark.

As Leyland said in his post-game comments on Sunday (broadcast by FSD), the Tigers are going to be facing one of the league's best starting rotations down in Tampa.

Of course, the Rays will see Verlander on Monday, which is no walk in the park, either.

The Tigers should be thrilled with a split in Tampa, especially considering the Indians will be simultaneously hosting the lowly Seattle Mariners for three games. Yet another reason to root for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush!

The Twins will be waiting this weekend, which makes this a real land mine week for the Tigers. If they can navigate through it while absorbing as little damage as possible, like their lead remaining no less than 2-3 games, then it's a successful week in MMM's book.

MMM also suggests the Tigers intentionally walk Jim Thome every time they face him this weekend.

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


Friday, August 19, 2011

Martinez Everything Tigers Thought He Would Be (And More and Less)

He can't run, he can't throw. He doesn't hit with any authoritative power (anymore).

All Victor Martinez does, is beat you.

Yes, I've shamelessly lifted from the old quote uttered by manager Leo Durocher, about the pesky second baseman Eddie Stanky, circa the 1950s.

To think there was a time when some in the Tigers fanbase wanted the team to sign slugger Adam Dunn instead of Martinez, back when both free agents were available for suitors.

It sounds ludicrous, but here we are approaching late-August and Tigers C/DH Martinez is literally hitting twice of what Dunn has managed for the White Sox.

Dunn continues to wallow in the .160s, while Martinez hovers in the .320s for the Tigers.

Martinez is as slow as molasses running uphill. He can't really catch now, thanks to his achy knee. And even when he could catch, his throwing arm left a lot to be desired.

He only has seven home runs, where some of us expected more like 15-20, at least.

But oh, that batting average. And that good batting eye. And the lack of propensity to strike out or to look foolish or to be impatient at the plate.

All Martinez does, is come through in the clutch, with men in scoring position. Time and time again.

It's why he's closing in on 70 RBI with those seven measly homers. Martinez can't run, so triples are out of the question---but doubles have been few and far between, too.

That's OK; Martinez just goes with the pitch and slaps base hits between the infielders and outfielders, taking whatever the pitcher gives him.

What a joy it's been to watch "V-Mart," as the cool people call him, play as a Tiger on an everyday basis.

You never really can get a good feel for a guy until you see him play day in, day out, for your team. As much as I saw Martinez when he was with the Indians, I wasn't able to appreciate him like I can now.

He's fit into that no. 5 slot, behind Miguel Cabrera, like a baseball glove.

Which is ironic, because Martinez rarely wears one of those anymore.

The Tigers didn't sign him to catch, of course. They already have the young, seemingly indestructible Alex Avila for that. It was understood by both parties---the Tigers and Martinez---that the role would be that of mostly DH with some catching sprinkled in. That, and a smidgen of first base.

But now Martinez strictly bats, as his knee continues to give him trouble. Late in games, it won't be shocking to see him lifted for a pinch runner, especially in tight ballgames with the Tigers behind. It happened the other night against the Twins, which was a good call even though Martinez's spot in the order came up in the ninth inning and Victor wasn't there to man it.

Martinez strictly bats nowadays, which works out well, because he's pretty damn good at it.

There is a lot of talk about Justin Verlander being the team's MVP, and maybe even the MVP of the entire league. Understood. But where would the Tigers be without Martinez's .320+ batting average and plethora of clutch hits?

Victor Martinez has been everything the Tigers envisioned when they signed him last winter. Actually, he's been less, in a way; he can't catch at all now.

Even Avila would say, "Who cares?"

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 20

Last week: 3-3
This week: MIN (8/15-17); CLE (8/19-21)

So, What Happened?

It was a week where the Tigers could have put some significant space between themselves and the Cleveland Indians (and Chicago White Sox, for that matter), but it didn't really happen. In fact, the Tigers actually lost ground last week.

A "Justin Verlander to the rescue" win on Thursday night in Cleveland started a mini winning streak of three games, but the Bengals weren't able to sweep the woeful Baltimore Orioles, while the Indians had themselves a fine 4-1 week (with one rainout).

A week that began with a four-game lead in the AL Central has given way to this week, with the Tigers' lead sitting at 2.5 games over the Tribe and four games over the surging and streaky White Sox.

Hero of the Week

This is a tough call.

Should MMM, once again, go with Verlander, who again came to the Tigers' rescue on Thursday night in Cleveland?

Or how about set-up man Joaquin Benoit, or closer Jose Valverde, whose perfect season has been overshadowed by JV's?

Or maybe even Andy Dirks, the rookie outfielder who has been splendid in relief of the ailing Brennan Boesch?

Heck, how about the bullpen in general, which had a good week and had a good one before that?

This is getting old, but MMM is tabbing Verlander.

It's hard to argue against it, really; Verlander saved the Tigers' bacon with another solid performance in a game where the Indians could have closed to within one game.

Yes, JV nearly coughed up an early 4-0 lead, but the key word is almost. When the outs had to be gotten, Verlander got them. The Tigers' pen was weakened by Tuesday's 14-inning game.

Besides, MMM wouldn't have to keep naming JV as the HotW if he wasn't always pitching after a Tigers loss!

Honorable mentions: see above.

Goat of the Week

Doug Fister didn't give the Tigers a prayer on Sunday in Baltimore.

Fister, the righty acquired from Seattle last month, made his first start after his previous one was shortened to two innings due to rain in Cleveland.

But again, Fister was all wet, even under the mostly sunny skies in Maryland.

Surrendering one hit after another---several on 0-2 pitches or otherwise ahead in the count, Fister was rocked all over Camden Yards and left in the sixth inning with the Tigers behind, 8-1.

The Tigers took 2 of 3 in Baltimore, but a sweep would have been sweet. It would have meant a four-game winning streak and maybe, just maybe, the start of a much-needed hot streak to create separation in the divisional race.

Instead, Fister was throwing batting practice at the Orioles.

Dishonorable mention goes to FSD announcer Mario Impemba, who uttered, "The Tigers have been keeping Nick Markakis in check" just before Markakis slammed a two-run homer in the first inning.

Under the Microscope

The Tigers have a new second baseman---again.

Actually, it's an old one: Will Rhymes, who has been recalled from Toledo to replace the ever-injured Carlos Guillen, who is on the 15-day DL with a wrist ailment.

Needless to say, this puts Rhymes immediately UtM.

Not just because he's replacing the slumping Guillen, but because it's time to find out who the real Will Rhymes is.

Is he the guy who hit .300 in about 200 at-bats last season?

Or is he the guy who won the 2B job in spring training, only to defecate all over it once the bell rang for real in April?

We'll see---maybe.

Manager Jim Leyland didn't start Rhymes on Sunday, so it's anyone's guess how much playing time Rhymes will get before Guillen returns---IF Guillen returns.

Upcoming: Twins, Indians

The Tigers get a do-over this week.

Unable to create separation last week, the Tigers will get another crack at the Indians this weekend, in Detroit.

Before that, the Tigers host the free-falling Minnesota Twins, losers of 11 of their last 13. This will happen while the Indians are in Chicago to deal with the on-again, off-again White Sox. Right now the White Sox are on, 8-2 in their last 10.

Once again, a chance to make some hay in the division.

Something to consider: Verlander starts on Tuesday, but because of Thursday's off day, he will miss the Indians this weekend. Leyland said he wasn't going to start JV on Sunday, despite the fact that Verlander would have his requisite four days rest.

Smart move? We'll see.

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


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Once Again, Cabrera Shortchanging Tigers At Worst Time

I guess I'm going to have to write this again. And I'm sure I'll take heat for it---again.

Miguel Cabrera is the most talented player the Tigers have had since Al Kaline retired. Check that; Miggy is the most talented since Kaline was in his prime. We're talking some 45+ years.

Cabrera is a marvelous ballplayer, a mountain of a man whose bat speed and ability to drive the baseball to the opposite field is just plain stupid.

They should just pre-print lineup cards for the Tigers with Cabrera's name inked in at the cleanup position. It's easier to scratch his name out a handful of times a year than it is to write him in 155-160 times every season.

Cabrera, the fun-loving man child of a first baseman who has the skills to play the game on a plane above that of his peers on a nightly basis, is also the most maddening of the Tigers.

The most maddening is not Ryan Raburn, vilified for his limp noodle bat and iron glove.

The most maddening is not Brandon Inge, banished for now in Toledo.

The most maddening is not Austin Jackson, the strikeout prone leadoff man who is devoid of many leadoff man skills.

The most maddening is not even Jim Leyland, the irascible manager with a fetish for resting regulars, even in a pennant chase.

Raburn, Inge and Jackson cannot be the most maddening because they are mortal baseball players, men of either eroding or overrated skills, whose performances are often nothing other than what they are capable of producing on a consistent basis. They are what they are, I guess you could say.

But there can be no player more maddening than the gifted one, who ought to be doing so much more but for whatever reason, isn't.

I'm going to write this again, as I did two years ago.

It was a little later than this back in 2009, in September to be exact, when I crabbed that Cabrera was shortchanging his teammates as the Tigers' lead in the AL Central---which had ballooned to 7.5 games at one point in the month---shrunk almost daily.

Here I go again---because here Cabrera doesn't go again.

Baloney, I say, to those who would tell me that I expect too much from Miguel Cabrera.

Look at his numbers, they'll say. He grinds out an MVP-like season almost annually.

So how come Cabrera has never truly ever, in his four years as a Tiger, put the team on his back for any extended period of time?

Has he? Go ahead---I'll wait while you come up with some examples. Or one, even.

Cabrera is doing it again, his timing again impeccably bad.

He has pedestrian numbers, this season, for a man of his talents. He swings too much at the first pitch. He grounds out to shortstop more than I thought was humanly possible.

With Cabrera, you absolutely marvel (at the risk of sounding like Rod Allen just there) at what he is capable of doing to a pitched baseball. He's the first Tiger since Cecil Fielder of the early-1990s who makes you stop dead in your tracks, so you can watch his at-bat.

But he's capable of so much more.

This is the time of the year when the Tigers so desperately need their best player---and Cabrera is, without question, their best player---to be saddled up for the final 46 games of the season.

This is the time of the year when players of Cabrera's ilk are determined to pile as many teammates onto their back and carry them for a few weeks.

Miguel Cabrera doesn't possess that determination, or that drive. He has shown no inclination to carry his teammates. The game is so easy for him, and maybe it's too easy. He's wasting his talents. He's doing it again, with the Tigers doggedly trying to fend off the Indians and the White Sox.

An elite player like Cabrera, regardless of the many talented guys around him, rises to the top, like cream. Or at least, he should.

Cabrera doesn't rise---he just sort of bobs along.

Oh, he'll finish with his 30 homers and (barely) 100 RBI and a BA slightly north of .300.


Big numbers can look bigger at the end of the season than they really are.

Cabrera will finish with his 30/100/.300 line but it won't feel like it.

It won't feel like it because there hasn't been any extended time this season when Cabrera was doing damage while his teammates scuffled.

In fact, when Cabrera was in a funk back in early-May, the Tigers were winning because the team's catalyst, Jackson, began to swing the bat with authority.

I'm not arguing against myself here. I went on record in the off-season as declaring Jackson the most important player the Tigers employ, offensively. The way the offense struggled in April as Jackson battled his demons was proof of that.

Jackson might be the most important, but Cabrera can be the most influential. There's a difference.

Jackson's potential to be the Tigers catalyst is centered around consistency, which A-Jax still has yet to find as a big leaguer.

That's OK---I'm not looking for consistency from Miguel Cabrera so much as I'm looking for the "it" factor.

You'd think that to go 30/100/.300 screams consistency, and it does.

I don't even want Cabrera to improve upon those kinds of numbers, when the dust settles. I just want him to kick up more dust.

Cabrera ought to be able to go through periods of 10-14 days where he is virtually unstoppable. Periods when his Tigers teammates climb onto his back for a giddy piggyback ride.

That really hasn't happened since he's been in Detroit.

In fact, the opposite has been true. Cabrera became helpless to slow the Tigers' freefall in September 2009. Then, the way the season ended, clouded in shame following his final weekend drinking binge, was another reminder of what should have been, but wasn't.

There's still time in 2011. There's still time for Cabrera to be saddled up for the stretch drive. There's still time to put crabapple bloggers like me in their place with a sizable portion of "How do you like me now?"

Miguel Cabrera is, by far, the Tiger whose prowess could most affect this pennant chase on a day-to-day basis.

It's troubling that, up until now, he has no track record of catching fire and carrying the Tigers through patches of 10-15 games.

Cabrera is what he is----the numbers at the end of the season say so.

Numbers can sometimes lie. It's time for Cabrera to make them as truthful as possible in these final seven weeks of the 2011 season.

The Tigers need him, and more than he's been giving them.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 19

Last week: 4-2
This week: at Cle (8/9-11); at Bal (8/12-14)

So, What Happened?

The mantra at this time of the year, when a division is there to be won, is "Just win two out of three, baby."

The Tigers did a good job of that last week.

They played a first place team and a last place team, and it didn't matter; the Tigers beat the Rangers and Royals 2-of-3 for a successful 4-2 week.

Even more impressive was that the Tigers finished their season series with the defending AL champs at 6-3, a point manager Jim Leyland stressed over the weekend in Kansas City.

Justin Verlander's march to 20 victories drew closer as he won no. 16 Saturday.

Hero of the Week

There have been three Brennan Boesches so far, and he's just in his second year in the big leagues.

There was the 1st Half Boesch of 2010, who lit up the league. There was the 2nd Half Boesch of 2010 who couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. And there's the 2011 Boesch, who has been mostly good and very consistent---an amalgam of last year's Jekyll and Hyde versions.

Boesch struck twice last week, a hero coming to the rescue---directly winning two games for the Tigers.

He hit a dramatic home run in the eighth inning on Tuesday night, through raindrops, lifting the Tigers into the lead over Texas. Jose Valverde cemented the victory in the ninth.

On Friday night in Kansas City, Boesch delivered a clutch single in the 10th inning, driving home pinch-runner Andy Dirks with the eventual gane-winning run.

Boesch is becoming a calming presence at the plate in tense situations, which can only help the Tigers down the stretch as each game takes on greater significance.

Honorable mention: Valverde, who had four saves last week, remaining perfect in 2011.

Goat of the Week

This is a tough call and some may say even unfair, but MMM is going to pick on Carlos Guillen and name him GotW.

Guillen struggled all week, his batting average sinking to the low .200s.

And his struggles came on the heels of last Sunday's tension-filled game with the Angels, in which Guillen clubbed a notorious home run off Jered Weaver, which led to quite a hub-bub.

It's probably coincidence, but MMM finds it odd that Guillen went into the tank, albeit temporarily, after the fireworks against Weaver.

Some in Tiger Nation have suggested that the Angels game pitting Weaver against Verlander, because of its high theater, might be looked back upon as the turning point of this season---for the good, a la the Stanley Cup-winning Red Wings of 1997, who kicked it into another gear after the famous brawls with the Colorado Avalanche late that season.

MMM guesses that Guillen hasn't gotten that memo yet.

Under the Microscope

MMM hopes this is much ado about nothing, but catcher/DH/1B Victor Martinez tweaked his knee on Saturday, trying to avoid a tag at the plate.

V-Mart was held out of Sunday's game, likely as a precaution. Leyland wasn't too concerned about Martinez's knee on Saturday night.

But knees, like backs and groins, can take a turn for the worse in a hurry.

Martinez is in line to be the first Tiger since George Kell in 1950 to drive in 100+ runs while hitting fewer than 10 home runs.

Martinez's arrival has made the 2011 Tigers a far better team than last year's.

Which is why he---specifically, his knee---is UtM.

Upcoming: Indians, Orioles

MMM thinks this could be the week that the Tigers break the backs of their contenders in the AL Central.

The staggering Indians, 26-41 since their 30-15 start, are ripe for the picking. The Tigers' lead over the second-place Tribe is currently four games.

Remember the mantra?

If the Tigers can win 2-of-3 in Cleveland, their lead will be five games, and guess who's next on the schedule?

That's right---the last-place Orioles of the AL East.

With August approaching its halfway mark, the Tigers could see their lead grow to six or more games, if they put together a good week against two slumping teams.

The Orioles are 44-67, but they're 27-30 in their home ballpark---and they took 2-of-3 from the Tigers way back in the season's opening week.

Verlander pitches Thursday, setting him up to go against the Indians again when they visit Detroit the weekend of August 19-21.

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


Friday, August 05, 2011

Tigers One Mini-Roll Away from Putting Division On Ice

Normally, a baseball division as wretched as the AL Central isn't won, it's just not lost.

I've seen these divisional "races" before, played out in other years, in other divisions, in other leagues. The season is full of slapstick and teams slipping on banana peels, falling all over themselves in their quest to be the last ball club standing after 162 games.

The Tigers won't win their division---but they won't lose it, either. So you can draw your own conclusions as to where they'll finish.

Yet the Tigers could still win the division, despite 111 games of evidence to the contrary thus far.

And it won't even take very much to do so.

Going into last night's games, the Tigers were the only team above .500 in the Central. The Indians had been 24-39 after their miraculous 30-15 start. The White Sox were working on a five-game losing streak, unable to provide a match for the Yankees at US Cellular Field this week.

And as for the Minnesota Twins, the Jason of baseball? They still look dead, but you never know with them. You turn your back and then before you know it, the Twins are off the ground and nowhere to be found---until it's too late.

The Tigers can still win the division, as opposed to not losing it, and they can do it in the next 15-20 games. That's all.

The way the rest of the teams in the Central are playing, if the Tigers go on a mini-roll and win, say, 10 of their next 15 games, that might be enough to open a gap that is insurmountable for their competition.

Heck, even a three or four-game winning streak could push the Tigers' lead to six or seven games, at this rate of return.

I believe that what is so frustrating for Tigers fans is their realization that their baseball team could have put this division on ice by now, but a .500, mediocre July prevented them from doing so.

Even one mini hot streak in July could have the Tigers sitting pretty right now.

But it didn't happen, as the Bengals have played a maddening game of win, lose, win since late June.

This isn't a second half collapse so much as a second half teeter.

The Tigers could win their division---they could do it in the next couple of weeks, if the spirit moves them.

But it appears that they're content to just not lose it.

Does that inspire?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 18

Last week: 3-4
This week: TEX (8/2-4); at KC (8/5-7)

So, What Happened?

There was a week's worth of drama on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park.

In a so-so week that saw the Tigers drop two of three to the White Sox in Chicago and split four games with the Angels in Detroit, the capper was an intense, nail-biting, angry pitching duel between the Angels' Jered Weaver and Detroit's Justin Verlander.

JV took yet another no-hit bid into the eighth inning before losing it with two outs on a clean base hit by Maicer Izturis.

But before that there were fireworks when Weaver got riled up after a homer by Carlos Guillen in the seventh inning and got ejected after throwing the next pitch at Alex Avila's noggin.

The Tigers won the game, 3-2, giving Verlander his 15th win by the end of July, putting him on pace for about 23 wins.

On Saturday, the Tigers acquired RHPs Doug Fister (starter) and David Pauley (reliever) from Seattle for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush and minor league 3B prospect Francisco Martinez.

Hero of the Week

How can MMM go with anyone other than Verlander?

The guy wins two games in the week, both containing drama-filled eighth innings.

In Chicago on Tuesday, JV survived giving up four runs and held onto a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning by striking out Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn to end the frame with runners on second and third. It was great theater.

On Sunday, Verlander lost his shutout and his no-hitter in the eighth inning and suddenly a 3-0 lead was down to 3-2 when he blew Torii Hunter away with the tying run in scoring position.

Again, great theater.

Honorable mention: Brennan Boesch, who had a big series against the Angels and who countered Izturis's first inning home run with one of his own on Friday night, a game the Tigers eventually won.

Goat of the Week

You want a Penny for MMM's thoughts?

Yes, Brad Penny is last week's Goat for not giving the Tigers a chance to win on Thursday afternoon, thus robbing his teammates of a chance to get off to a good start in the Angels series.

The right-hander was simply awful on Thursday, giving up nine hits and seven earned runs in 3.1 innings. The brief outing elevated Penny's ERA to 4.89.

Wednesday would be Penny's turn in the rotation, but reports indicate that newly-acquired Fister will take that spot, shoving Penny back to Friday, technically making the veteran the Tigers' new no. 5 starter---not Fister.

Under the Microscope

Nothing like welcoming a new guy to Detroit by placing him under MMM's microscope, eh?

Yet that's exactly where Fister finds himself this morning.

It's hard for MMM to resist, as the 6'8" Fister makes his Tigers debut on Wednesday. But Fister won't be UtM this week only---this is a player the fan base will be watching intently for the remainder of the season.

Shockingly, the Tigers have only gotten two wins from their no. 5 starters this season. Enter Fister with his 3.33 ERA and hideous 3-12 record with the offensively-challenged M's.

The last time the Tigers tried this---nabbing a starter from the Mariners at the trade deadline, in 2009---Jarrod Washburn came to Detroit and was an abortion, posting an ERA over 7.00. But Washburn was hurt, as it turned out. Fister is healthy and a repeat of the Washburn debacle is unlikely.

Fister is UtM because how he goes might significantly affect the Tigers' chances to win the division.

Welcome to Detroit, Doug!

Pauley will be watched, too, to see if he can help stabilize a bullpen that has all the consistency of an EKG readout.

Upcoming: Rangers, Royals

If you thought the Angels were hot coming into town (and they were), it doesn't get any easier this week at Comerica Park.

The Texas Rangers come calling on Tuesday for three games, and all they've done is zoom to a relatively comfortable lead in the AL West over the past several weeks, despite the Angels' hot streak.

Back in April, with the Tigers scuffling, the Rangers visited and the Tigers won two of three, with both wins coming in walk-off fashion. That series was also memorable for Brandon Inge's only home run this season, which won game two of that series.

The Tigers are 4-2 against the Rangers this season, taking two of three in Dallas, too.

If it seems like the Tigers were just in Kansas City, they were---for four games just before the All-Star break. They'll be there again this weekend, for three games.

The Royals helped the Tigers out by taking two of three from the Indians over the weekend in Cleveland.

Saturday's game marks Verlander's next start.

KC's Billy Butler went wild against the Indians and he has had pretty good success against the Tigers in recent years.

The Royals series marks the start of a nine-game road trip for the Tigers (Indians, Orioles).

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