Friday, September 30, 2011

Tigers-Yankees ALDS Game 1 (Postponed) Burning Questions

Burning Questions in the wake of the postponement of Game 1 of the ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees, rescheduled for 8:37 p.m. Saturday.

The game only lasted 1-1/2 innings before the rains set in, but did the Tigers look nervous to you?

I thought they had butterflies, yes. Austin Jackson struck out on three hittable pitches and Magglio Ordonez uncharacteristically chased a horrible pitch on his punch out.

Then, defensively, catcher Alex Avila appeared to nonchalant his throw to first base after Derek Jeter struck out, costing the Tigers a baserunner. Miguel Cabrera couldn't bring himself to throw to second base for a sure force out, and 3B Brandon Inge seemed to have a play at the plate on Jeter but threw to first base instead.

All that, plus Justin Verlander looked less than sharp, albeit in just one inning, and he never did give up a hit.

Who would have thought that Brandon Inge would be the starting third baseman for the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS after he was DFA'd in late-July?

Baseball is something, isn't it? I raised the question on "The Knee Jerks" in mid-August: what if the Tigers recall Inge before September 1 and he contributes and winds up on the playoff roster? There'd be howls.

Well, that's exactly what happened and Inge got rewarded for his faith and his commitment to the organization. Remember the rumors that the Florida Freaking Marlins were interested in him?

OK, so I gotta ask you: which team benefits more from the rainout? Or, more accurately, which team is hurt more?

I'm thinking the Tigers got the better end of this deal, though I didn't think so as the rain kept falling and it looked more and more like Justin Verlander's start would be washed out---or at the very least, he'd be done for the night even if the game was resumed.

Here's why I think the Yankees are hurt more. CC Sabathia was set to throw Game 4 on three days rest. That's out the window. Sabathia, like Verlander, will only throw one game in this series now, instead of two. But the Tigers have Doug Fister, and the Yankees don't. Fister gets two starts now.

I'm liking a Fister/Max Scherzer/Verlander opening trio, especially with JV pitching at home.

But other than the pitching rotation, I don't think either team is hurt/helped by the postponement more than the other.

Contrary to what some may believe, Game 1 will be resumed from where it left off. That is, even though there will be different pitchers, the lineups stay the same. Similar question as above: will this be a factor?

Here's where you could make the case that the Yankees have an advantage. They were going to face right-handers in Games 1 and 2, no matter what. The Tigers, on the other hand, went with a right-handed hitting lineup against the lefty Sabathia.

Now, the Tigers must keep that lineup in tact, though they'll be facing a right-hander in Ivan Nova. This means Inge where there would normally be Wilson Betemit, and Ordonez where there may have been Andy Dirks or even Don Kelly.

But this might be a moot point, as the Delmon Young-Miguel Cabrera-Victor Martinez heart of the order plays no matter what.

Does the rainout change your prediction?

Nope. Still got the Tigers in four. It just might happen in four straight days now, that's all.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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"Burning Questions" Return After Every Tigers Playoff Game

Come back to this space in the hours after every Tigers playoff game, as I will answer self-asked "Burning Questions" about each contest, similar to what I did during the 2006 World Series.

I'll ask myself the questions that YOU want answered. Either that, or questions you might find kinda interesting.

Regardless, come back here after every Tigers playoff game and enjoy my 1-on-1, hard-hitting interviews with myself!!

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 25

Last week: 3-3
This week: CLE (9/26-28); ALDS (9/30-10/1)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers clinched the AL Central on September 16 and have been on a win one/lose one see-saw ever since.

In the process they have fallen one game behind the Texas Rangers for home field advantage in the ALDS, with three games to play.

The good news? All the Tigers need to do is tie the Rangers, as the Detroiters hold the tiebreaker.

So somehow the Tigers need to finish with the same amount of wins as the Rangers by end of play on Wednesday.

The Rangers travel to the Angels, while the Tigers host the Indians. If the Rangers sweep, they clinch HFA. If they take two of three, the Tigers need to sweep. If the Rangers lose two of three, the Tigers just need to win two of three.

Confused yet?

Or, to make matters simpler: the Rangers' magic number to clinch HFA is 3 (combination of Texas wins and Tigers losses).

Hero of the Week

There are so many players on the Tigers roster about whom you could ask, "Where would they be without BLANK?"

Among the top among those is Victor Martinez.

Has there been a better off-season free agent signing in the past decade than the Tigers' signing of V-Mart last winter?

Martinez has been just what the doctor ordered, and then some, for the 2011 Tigers. A quick look at or Baseball Reference and then a peek at the lineups the Tigers were running out there in 2010 should show V-Mart's value immediately.

The no. 5 hitters who hit behind Miguel Cabrera in 2010 included the likes of Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn and a faltering Brennan Boesch. But Martinez has fit into the five hole like a glove (no pun intended, as V-Mart rarely wears one of those!).

Martinez was at it again this week in the Tigers' victories. He had a walk-off hit on Friday night and clubbed a go-ahead three-run homer on Sunday, which led to another win.

Martinez is now over 100 RBI, joining Cabrera in that category.

Honorable mention: Cabrera.

Goat of the Week

This is likely to be construed as terribly unfair, but MMM is unhappy with Alex Avila for losing sight of an errant pitch in the ninth inning on Saturday night, which enabled the Orioles' game-winning run to advance from first base to third, setting up a successful squeeze play.

The Tigers had climbed back from yet another 5-0 hole (as they did on Thursday) to tie the game, 5-5. Momentum looked to be going their way. Then Avila, who's been terrific all year, turned into Mr. Magoo at the worst possible time.

Oh well.

Again, maybe unfair, but who said baseball is fair? Sometimes it's foul!

Under the Microscope

A few weeks ago Austin Jackson turned as hot as a firecracker and lifted his average to nearly .260 after a year in which he floundered well under .250.

Then, just as quickly, A-Jax cooled off---and when MMM says cooled off, he means like an icicle.

MMM is placing Jackson UtM, not because of his defense (which is still exemplary), but because of his mysterious bat.

If the Tigers want to do some damage in the playoffs, they need Jackson to get on base. His presence on the base paths usually means good things for the rest of the lineup. He is that first domino, if you get the idea.

Disturbingly, after his hot spell, Jackson has returned to the strikeout-prone, easy out that he's been for most of the season. And that's not good news for the Tigers' World Series hopes.

Upcoming: Indians, ALDS

The Cleveland Indians, back in mid-August, were no doubt looking at this week's final series as one that would actually mean something.

Well, it does---to the Tigers. And, frankly, to the Indians, who have one last chance to play spoilers.

As MMM detailed above, the Tigers need to beat up on the Tribe to keep their HFA hopes alive.

Doug Fister takes the hill on Monday, likely followed by Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner or Max Scherzer.

The ALDS starts Friday, and it's anyone's guess where Game 1 will be: Detroit or New York.

Regardless, it'll be Justin Verlander, of course, in Game 1, followed by Fister on Saturday. Monday's Game 3 starter will be Scherzer. Game 4's starter (if necessary) will either be Porcello or Brad Penny, pending the release of the Tigers' playoff roster.

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

(As the regular season draws to a close, MMM would like to thank everyone who has read the MMM ramblings every week since that opening weekend in Yankee Stadium. Thanks!!!!)


Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 24

Last week: 5-2
This week: at KC (9/20-21); BAL (9/22-25)
Division Clinched

So, What Happened?

Nothing too much----just the Tigers' first division title since 1987. Other than that, not much!

The team's surge to the crown---a purposeful, no-nonsense march that took no prisoners---culminated on Friday night in Oakland, capping a 13-1 run to get the job done.

The Tigers won their division as no MLB team in recent memory. They had a 12-game winning streak, all against teams within the AL Central. Then they went to Oakland , dropped a ballgame Thursday night that would have settled matters, before recovering to win 3-1 on Friday.

The heroes Friday were three players the Tigers were not counting on to be big contributors when the season began : Don Kelly(utility player); Wilson Betemit (acquired in July); and Doug Fister (also acquired in July).

Kelly slammed an insurance home run, Betemit tripled in the go-ahead run, and Fister pitched eight masterful innings.

So appropriate, for a team that uses all 25 of its pieces regularly.

Hero of the Week

How about some love for Papa Grande?

MMM is going with closer Jose Valverde as last week's Hero.

It's becoming increasingly difficult for MMM to name one Hero among all the Tigers, because rarely is any one guy carrying the team for any length of time.

So these weekly awards are turning into nods for what someone has done for the entire season.

Like Valverde, whose perfect 45-for-45 saves performance (as of Friday night's clincher) has almost spoiled the Tigers fan base.

What's exciting is that Valverde's saves lately have decreased in duress; he's getting more 1-2-3 ninths, and even if he doesn't he's not putting a lot of runners on base.

Friday, Valverde allowed a leadoff double to the pesky Coco Crisp, but then retired the next three A's with little incident.

Honorable mentions: Ramon Santiago, Victor Martinez, Fister and Justin Verlander.

Goat of the Week

Not. Applicable.

Let's move on, shall we?

Under the Microscope

The Tigers have nine games before the playoffs start, so that means it's time to wonder who is on and off the post-season roster.

Only two people determine that--manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski, placing both of them under the microscope.

The "bubble" players appear to be starter Brad Penny, outfielder Andy Dirks, reliever David Pauley and possibly 2B Carlos Guillen.

We'll see.

MMM is putting Leyland and DD UtM because folks will be trying to analyze their words, trying to get a hint as to what decisions have likely already been made.

Upcoming: Royals, Orioles

The Tigers make a short two-game trip to Kansas City Tuesday-Wednesday to cap their nine-game road trip.

Then it's back home to face the sad-sack Orioles---the Tigers' first home games as division champs.

Think they'll get a little ovation as they take the field Thursday night?

But there clearly is another race at hand---the one to clinch home-field advantage for the ALDS.

Today, the Tigers hold a one-game lead over the Texas Rangers.

The Tigers finish up with two against the Royals, four against the Orioles, and three against the Indians (the latter two series at home).

The Rangers go to Oakland for three, return home to host the Mariners for three, and finish up at the Angels for three games.

In terms of "easiness," the Tigers look to have the advantage, especially with the Rangers having to play the second-place Angels on the road.

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


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jim Leyland Deserves All the Crankiness He Can Muster

It was a bedraggled NFL coach, unnamed but whose words aren’t forgotten here, who once marveled at the power of the radio headset.

“I’m going to Radio Shack and buy me a pair of those headsets the guys on radio wear,” the coach said at a press conference.

Why, coach?

“Because as soon as you put them on, you become a genius!”

I dare say that the same could be said for the computer keyboard.

Don’t think for a moment that Tigers manager Jim Leyland, because of his curmudgeonly ways and supposed computer ignorance, is unaware of what has been written and said about him on the Internet and on the radio.

Perhaps he pays too much attention, frankly.

But there’s vindication for Leyland now.

The Tigers are champions of the AL Central and the skipper would like to tell a bunch of us where to stick the pine tar.

The second half collapse that the Tigers have been prone to endure under Leyland has been non-existent in 2011.

The Tigers have been no cheap tent post-All-Star Break. It took them a while to get rolling, but then they made mincemeat of their competition in the division.

A 12-game winning streak (which ended Thursday in Oakland) made the Tigers 38-19 in the second half.

That’s not a collapse, that’s a blitzkrieg.

This is Leyland’s sixth year in Detroit. The first five, save year one, have ended with no playoffs. Teams who may not have been better than the Tigers on paper have been constantly beating them out for a spot in the post-season.

The second halves of those seasons—including year one this time—have been rife with fading and shrinking as the spotlight has gotten brighter and hotter.

Leyland, it has been pointed out again and again by his harshest critics—and include me among the complainers—is the only real constant, the underlying thread to all the collapsing.

So it MUST be his fault.

The bloggers with the magical keyboards that make you a genius are having them shoved down their throats right now. Or someplace else due south.

Leyland, who’s never been shy to call out a reporter or a radio station, got cranky with an out-of-town writer this past week.

The poor scribe had the temerity to wonder—out loud so the manager could actually hear—whether the Tigers’ AL Central crown holds some tarnish, because of the state of the rest of the division. The Tigers are the only team playing north of .500; the White Sox, Indians, Royals and Twins all have losing records.

"I will not let anybody take anything away from what those guys in (the locker room) have done," Leyland barked, according to the account from MLive’s Chris Iott.

Turns out Leyland was just getting warmed up. Before long, he was hotter than a firecracker.

"Everyone was saying (the White Sox) were (bleeping) good," Leyland said. "Now, all of a sudden, because we've beaten them they're horse (bleep). That's not fair. That's unfair. If you think the Central is horse (bleep), then write that it's horse (bleep). But I'm not falling for that (bleep)."

Then, a telltale clue that Leyland knows what they’re saying about him.

“There's too much good going on. That stuff's negative. I haven't fallen for it all year, when they had our (butts) fired, when they had us all out of here, when we were a (expletive) team and everybody was ripping us. I wasn't falling for it then and I'm not falling for it now.”

It was a classic Leyland rant—one that has probably been brewing inside him for weeks, if not longer.

And he deserves it.

I was one of those geniuses with a keyboard who had Leyland’s butt fired, as recently as earlier this season. I was less than enthralled with his sometimes mind-boggling lineups, his stubbornness, and his dismissal of some of his critics.

Leyland, I wrote and said on podcasts, is damn lucky that he doesn’t manage in New York, if he thinks that the critics are harsh in Detroit. The media, I felt, has been very kind to Leyland.

But he deserves this moment. He deserves the cigar he smoked in his office in Oakland, while his players whooped it up in the next room.

You see, there are two Jim Leylands.

There’s the crotchety Leyland—the nicotine-infused man who’s gone off on the likes of Jason Grilli and a host of reporters and who takes umbrage when it’s suggested that Brennan Boesch should have been bunting.

Then there’s the Jim Leyland who wept openly in his office Friday night, as he spoke to Fox Sports Detroit’s Mario Impemba about how he hopes the Tigers fans are proud of his team and why a winning baseball team can possibly raise the spirits of a fan base riddled with job loss and financial devastation.

Both Leylands deserve to tell the keyboard and radio headset geniuses to smooch him between the back pockets.

Leyland entered the 2011 season sans the safety net of a contract extension. Another disappointing season, the geniuses said, and old Jim would be out the door.

Don’t think he didn’t hear the talk.

Then came the extension, granted around mid-season to Leyland and President/GM Dave Dombrowski by owner Mike Ilitch. The geniuses said the timing was odd and, frankly, unacceptable.

How could a guy get extended when we’re just starting second half collapse season around these parts?

The Tigers looked wobbly until mid-August, when Dombrowski unexpectedly pried Delmon Young from the Twins. It was the most unforeseen trade since “Bewitched” switched Darrins.

But then Leyland made like McArthur and Patton and Schwarzkopf, all rolled into one. The way Leyland led the Tigers through the AL Central in these final weeks, you could almost imagine him in sunglasses, an Army hat and with a corn cob pipe.

Jim Leyland has delivered the Tigers’ first division title since 1987. His albatross of second half collapses has been torn from him. The Tigers are 39-20 after the All-Star Break.

He’s too classy to do it, but part of him, I’m sure, would like to give it to his critics, which you don’t hear from, anymore.

"I guarantee you one thing," Leyland said in the Iott article. "This you can print. It's not like everybody's lining up to play the Tigers. We are pretty good, too."

I’ll smoke a stogie to that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 23

Last week: 6-0
This week: at CWS (9/12-14); at Oak (9/15-18)
Magic Number to clinch division: 7

So, What Happened?

The Tigers are eating through the AL Central like a buzzsaw.

The magic number is being chopped daily, to the point where it's highly likely the division will be clinched this week.

The Tigers are on a nine-game winning streak, all against their Central colleagues. It's a purposeful, determined run that has turned a tight race into a joke.

Weren't we just looking warily at the second-place Cleveland Indians, who were a mere 1.5 games behind, and tied in the loss column?

We were, and the Indians are now a dot in the rearview mirror. The second place Chicago White Sox are about as small of a dot. A 10.5 and 11-game lead, respectively, over the White Sox and Indians seemed unfathomable a few weeks ago.

The most impressive part of the week was the way the Tigers totally dashed any hopes of an Indians return to the race, by sweeping the Tribe in Cleveland Monday thru Wednesday.

Hero of the Week

This may seem like a copout, but MMM is giving props to the entire offense this week.

Oh, the usual suspects like Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila et al could be chosen (again), but the primary reason the Tigers are on this 9-0 run is due to incessant two-out hitting, and that hitting has come from all different sources.

The Tigers seem to face no deficit that they can't handle, as their offense, 1-thru-9, is raking the ball.

The list of heroes lately pretty much encompasses the entire positional playing roster.

Even the Ramon Santiagos and Brandon Inges of the world have gotten their day in the sun since the Tigers stepped on the gas pedal three weeks ago.

It's almost unfair to single out one player in an undefeated week, so MMM isn't!!

Honorable mentions: Inge, for his walk-off homer on Saturday; and starting pitcher Doug Fister, who's settled the rotation down immensely.

Goat of the Week

Are you kidding?

You want MMM to pick on someone during a 9-0 run that has all but sealed the division?

OK, here goes: Brad Penny ought not to be in the Tigers' playoff rotation.

Penny is clearly the rotation's weak link right now, and he and first pitch strikes have not been on speaking terms in quite some time.

Though the Tigers have been able to pick Penny up (and he did recover from a four-run first inning on Friday), there's no question in MMM's mind that Penny should be the odd man out come October.

The Tigers won't need a five-man rotation in the playoffs, and they certainly don't need Penny's stressful starts.

Under the Microscope

The adage goes that you can never have too much pitching---starting or in the bullpen.

The Tigers will need all hands on deck (or is it all arms on deck?) come playoff time, and one of the most important weapons could be reliever Al Alburquerque.

Alburquerque is still trying to regain his mojo after missing time with a concussion. His strikeout ratio is through the roof. How valuable is that, especially in the playoffs? How great is it to call upon a guy when you need a strikeout (or two)?

MMM will be keeping a close eye on Al-Al in the closing two weeks; he can be invaluable during the post-season.

Upcoming: White Sox, A's

The White Sox will get their last three whacks at the Tigers this week in Chicago.

Even a ChiSox sweep won't impact the race at this point, but if the Tigers remain in buzzsaw mode, the magic number could be down to one when they leave the Windy City.

Regardless, after the White Sox it's on to Oakland, where the Tigers almost surely will clinch the division, as they play four games there.

Not much to say about these upcoming games, except that the Tigers just need to keep playing good baseball and continue to feel good about themselves.

Oh yeah---and clinch the division and have a champagne shower. That would be good, too.

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


Friday, September 09, 2011

It Took Longer Than Necessary, But Tigers Finally Take Command of Division

It took them 123 games, but the Tigers finally are showing that they are the class of the AL Central.

The big cats toyed with the Indians and the White Sox into the latter part of August, playing with them like a toy mouse.

It seemed like forever that the Tigers were 5-7 games above .500 and unable to create any separation between themselves and the (then) second-place Indians.

On Friday, August 19, the Tribe came to Detroit, just 1-1/2 games behind the Tigers and feeling good about themselves. The Tigers were muddling along, their customary seven games above .500 (65-58) after 123 games. They had just acquired OF Delmon Young. Maybe Young's addition could spur a hot streak.

Since then---only three weeks ago today---the Tigers are 16-4. The Indians are 8-13.

The Tigers are claiming their division the way champions should---by mowing down the closest competition in grand style.

Since August 19, the Tigers are a combined 9-0 against the Indians and the White Sox, the two teams who had any hope of catching them.

That's called putting a division away.

The wake up call must have been that first Indians series, three weeks ago. The three-game set ended on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with a fantastic and thrilling crash-boom-bang play at the plate. The fly out double play sealed a Tigers sweep. In less than 48 hours, the Tigers turned their 1-1/2 game lead into a 4-1/2 game spread.

The White Sox came calling last weekend and the Tigers used a mind-boggling comeback from an 8-1 deficit on Saturday to roll to a sweep of that series, too.

Off to Cleveland, and with three efficient wins the Tigers demoralized the teetering Indians, whose only goal now is to finish above .500 after winning just 69 games last season.

This isn't a race anymore, it's a wake.

Here lies the White Sox and Indians, who gave it a good go but whose rosters simply aren't on the same level as the Tigers'.

It took 123 games, but the Tigers show now why no team is close to them, from top to bottom, in terms of talent and performance in the clutch.

How many two-out hits have the Tigers gotten in this 16-4 run?

The failure to deliver the key hit was one of the culprits in the team's wobbly and maddening stay of 5-7 games above .500, when the division was so ripe for the picking.

The division is now picked and is in the Tigers' basket, waiting for consumption, to be washed down with champagne.

This is how a championship team responds when the heat is on and the games increase in importance. You ever hear of the Yankees stumbling to a division after trying not to win it?

Justin Verlander is 22-5---20-2 in his last 22 decisions. He's been solid as a rock all year. So too have been Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Jhonny Peralta, too.

Now others are contributing---some who've been vilified.Link

Ryan Raburn, for goodness sakes. Even Don Kelly. Ramon Santiago. Heck, Brandon Inge has looked a lot better since his exile to Toledo.

Young has been exceptional as a Tiger. Wilson Betemit, acquired from Kansas City, has muscled some key hits into the alley and over the wall.

No, I'm not leaving Miguel Cabrera out. I will address him now.

Several weeks ago I took some major heat for a piece I wrote, crabbing that the uber-talented Cabrera wasn't pulling all of his weight. I stand behind that, still.

But since I wrote that, Cabrera has made me look even more foolish than lots of folks believe me to be. That's fine. Glad I could help.

Cabrera has been brilliant in the 16-4 run. No question about that. He is, finally, tapping further into the potential for destruction that he possesses. I don't know that he could be any better than what he's been for the past three weeks.

Before that, I don't know. But now, Cabrera is at the top of his game, which is elite.

The Tigers are making mincemeat of their division. Now they are in a neck-and-neck battle with the Texas Rangers for home field in the short ALDS.

With four games against the A's, three against the Orioles, three against the Twins and six more against the White Sox and Indians, the Tigers schedule looks delectable.

The Tigers are playing as divisional champions should. It took 123 games, but the cream has zoomed to the top.