Monday, August 06, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 18

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: NYY (8/6-9); at Tex (8/10-12)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers put the brakes on a skid that could have made it an ugly week, and turned it into a wonderful four-game winning streak---punctuated by perhaps the most thrilling victory in years.

First, MMM would like a moment of silence for the Cleveland Indians, who are now officially in "Wait till next year" mode. Oh, and a moment of silence for Tribe closer Chris Perez's big mouth.

Remember when Perez spouted off, back in May, that the Indians were a better "team" than the Tigers, despite Detroit's star power? He made those comments after Cleveland swept Detroit in late-May, not long after calling out the Indians fans for not coming out to the ballpark in droves.

MMM thinks Perez talks a lot for someone who hasn't won anything.

So who's the better "team" now, Chris?

As for the Tigers, the week began with the usual nonsense in Boston (two losses), which has become the Tigers' new House of Horrors now that the Twins have moved out of the Metrodome.

But they salvaged the third game of the series in Fenway Park, then victimized Perez's Indians with a three-game sweep that sent the Tribe packing with a nine-game losing streak (all on the road).

Sunday's win, a game in which the Tigers never led until the final pitch, and which was capped with a stunning five-run 10th off Perez, who's vexed the Boys seemingly forever, was a classic. Mark that one down, because the White Sox won, so the difference between being 1.5 and 2.5 games behind at this stage of the season is huge.

The sweep was all the more important considering the mighty Yankees are in town for four games.

The Tigers also designated Don Kelly for assignment, activated Andy Dirks from the disabled list, and then traded for utility man Jeff Baker from the Cubs. Ryan Raburn was (conveniently, MMM thinks) placed on the DL to make room for Baker.

Hero of the Week
This is a tough call.

When in doubt, go with one of the Big Boys.

So MMM tabs Miguel Cabrera, who keeps being ridiculous.

Miggy is playing like he's on a mission, and in the process is wresting the MVP lead from Texas's Josh Hamilton, IMMMHO. Sunday's walk-off homer was just the latest big hit by Cabrera, who had another strong week. He's a well-oiled RBI machine.

MMM watches Cabrera and feels like he's watching a Hall of Famer. There is no pitch he can't handle. There's no situation that dwarfs him. There's no pitcher he fears. There's no base runner he can't plate.

Last week, Cabrera went 8-for-24 with two homers and eight RBI. And there's this: in the Tigers' two losses, Miggy was 1-for-6; in their four wins, he was 7-for-18. Hence the MVP talk.

Honorable mention (by a hair): Prince Fielder, whose week was about as good as Cabrera's, and who continues to drive in key runs as well.

Goat of the Week
The tag line years ago used to be, "Have a Coke and a smile."

MMM hasn't been smiling very much when the Tigers' version of Coke, aka lefty Phil, has been on the mound as of late.

Coke was miserable in Boston last week, because what good is a situational lefty who can't get out...lefties?

Coke gave up two home runs in Boston, and one of them was to lefty-batting Carl Crawford, who had just two dingers prior to Coke's offering.

Coke nearly blew the game the Tigers actually won in Fenway, and by his own admission he isn't on his game right now. But admitting you stink doesn't mean MMM won't name you as GotW.

And that's what Coke is---the Goat for Week 18.

Whatever is the matter with Coke, MMM says get it fixed, pronto. All relievers go through tough stretches. MMM gets that. But if Coke cannot get left-handed batters out consistently down the stretch, then the Tigers are in trouble. Rookie Darin Downs cannot expect to be counted on to fill that role during a playoff race.

Under the Microscope
With the return of Dirks from the DL, the Tigers' outfield is suddenly very crowded.

Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young and Dirks are all corner outfielders who need playing time. Granted, Young is more of a DH nowadays, but that still leaves three guys battling for two positions in the field. Whittling it down even more, if you want to concede left field to Berry, manager Jim Leyland still has a quandary: Boesch or Dirks in right field?

MMM is putting right field UtM, and not just for this week. Keep this UtM in your back pocket for the rest of the season, because how Leyland handles it will be very interesting.

Example: Dirks came off the DL on Friday and had a couple of hits. The next night, he was on the bench in lieu of Boesch. Why? Because Leyland is desperately trying to get Boesch going, and he hopes that someone will take the baton and run with it among his three run-producing corner outfielders/DHs (Berry excluded from that group).

But it boils down to Dirks or Boesch in right field. Berry figures to be the LF against righties, with possibly newcomer Baker moving to left field against southpaws. Baker's track record against lefties is solid, which made him attractive to the Tigers, because the team is among the worst in BA against left-handed pitching.

But it's RF that will prove to be the skipper's biggest challenge, position player-wise. It is simply between Dirks and Boesch, two lefty-swinging cats. Dirks's BA is over .300 and Boesch's is hovering around .245, but Boesch is more explosive (potentially).

MMM says, look out to your right down the stretch.

Upcoming: Yankees, Rangers
Nothing like seven games against two first place teams to remind you that the imploding Indians have left town.

The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!

Actually, the Bronx Bombers have been coming for quite some time. They are running away with the AL East, thanks to an outstanding record since the beginning of May.

The Tigers have been pretty good against the Yankees in Detroit in recent years, though New York did take two of three here in May, when the Tigers were wobbly.

MMM is restlessly anxious, because this week could make or break the Tigers, ultimately.

A bad showing (read: 2-5 or, gulp, worse) could turn the current 1.5 game deficit against the White Sox into somewhere between the 4-5 game range. With mid-August approaching, that makes MMM's tummy queasy.

These teams aren't chopped liver, but neither have the Tigers been since the All-Star break (14-8).

The Yankees now have Ichiro Suzuki, of course, and even though the Seattle Mariners went 7-0 after the trade of Ichiro, there's no question his presence in an already slugging New York lineup makes that batting order look uncomfortably like that of an All-Star team.

Yes, MMM knows that Ichiro is having an off-year, batting around .261 with an OBA of well under .300. But don't you think that going from awful Seattle to great New York just might re-energize the 38-year-old RF?

As for the other first place team the Tigers play this week, the Texas Rangers are withstanding the hard-charging LA Angels and---wait for it, wait for it---Oakland A's, maintaining a rather comfortable five-game lead in the AL West.

The Rangers are not infallible, and that includes MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, who was even benched for a game last week because he was scuffling so badly. The fans haven't been kind to him, either.

Thumpers like Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz have also been in horrendous slumps in recent weeks. Still, the Rangers are damn good and they had an impressive come-from-behind win over the Angels last week that turned a possible two-game lead into four games, just like that.

The Tigers will have their paws completely full this week.

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



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