Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 24

Last Week: 4-2
This Week:  at CWS (9/17); OAK (9/18-20); MIN (9/21-23)

So, What Happened?

Last week, MMM crabbed about all the one-run losses the Tigers have suffered on the road in 2012.

Sunday's might have been the most insufferable of them all.

Three outs away from a sweep of the lowly Cleveland Indians, Jose Valverde imploded and the Tigers dropped a stunner, 7-6, on a day when it looked like Miguel Cabrera (who else?) had added to his MVP credentials with a three-run jack to erase a 5-3 deficit in the seventh inning.

Not so fast. And with the loss, the Tigers fell to two games behind Chicago, who swept the Twins in Minnesota.

MMM hates to write this, but the White Sox's magic number to clinch the division is a mere 16.

And don't get Wild Card happy. The Tigers are 4.5 games out of that race.

The good news? Two wins out of three in Chicago after dropping Monday night's series opener. Thursday's game was rained out and will be made up today.

But the goodwill in Chicago was partially erased by blowing Sunday's game. Poor defense again dogged the Tigers.

MMM would normally be satisfied with a 4-2 week, but the Tigers' early foibles have put them in a position where every game becomes "must win" in nature from here on out.

Twitter was abuzz over whether Don Kelly should have caught Carlos Santana's triple on Sunday that drove in the tying run (Jason Kipnis) from second base. Kelly crashed into the wall while the baseball bounced off the heel of his glove. Forget catching the ball; Twitter also exploded over whether Kelly should be on the team, let alone in the game.

MMM feels it's too late and unproductive to whine about personnel. Manager Jim Leyland isn't going to change. Which means his infatuation with players like Kelly won't cease.

It's not that Kelly is a bad defender, but despite the acrobatic nature of the play, the baseball was very catchable. MMM wonders if the more athletic Andy Dirks would have caught the ball. Dirks was playing left field, but maybe Kelly should have been in  left, because typically your better corner outfielder plays in right field due to the longer throws needed.

But again, spilled milk.

The only thing that matters now is the next game. And after that, the next game. And so on, until the mathematicians say you're out of it for real.

Hero of the Week
MMM wants you to go all the way back to last Tuesday.

The Tigers had dropped four straight games, all on the road. The fourth of those losses was in Chicago, dropping the Bengals to three games behind the White Sox. The wheels looked like they were coming off the Tigers' wagon, which appeared to be heading down a mountain.

Enter Doug Fister.

Fister worked seven innings, giving up just two runs (both on solo homers; no hits other than those) and at one point retired 12 in a row. His pitching enabled the Tigers offense to cobble enough runs together for a badly needed win.

Fister came up huge in a huge situation. A loss on Tuesday might have been the beginning of the end for the Tigers' playoff hopes.

MMM admires Fister. He might not be having as good of a year as he had in 2011, statistically, but Fister has battled through injuries to have a pretty darn good year. And games like Tuesday's show that he can still be called upon in the clutch.

Honorable mention: Cabrera, for his three-run homer on Sunday that should have been the game winner, and for jawing with the loudmouth Cleveland closer Chris Perez after that game. If you can lip-read, you know that Miggy had some choice words for Perez, who was no doubt talking trash.

Goat of the Week
MMM was sad to see Prince Fielder, of all people, shrink when the games are growing in importance.

The Prince was more of a Pauper last week, going 3-for-24 with five strikeouts, lowering his average from .315 to .303. Fielder has never batted .300 in a season (.299 is his career high), and suddenly his .300+ is in jeopardy.

Prince did have a three-run bomb in Chicago last week, but other than that he was quiet.

MMM isn't worried about Fielder, necessarily, and he's liable to have a big week to cancel last week's out, but 3-for-24 is 3-for-24.

MMM is confident in Prince's ability to bounce back, but that doesn't save Fielder from GotW status.

Under the Microscope
Yes, that was Quintin Berry in center field on Sunday, as Austin Jackson was a late scratch due to a bum left ankle, which he likely injured on Saturday, running into the wall trying to catch Carlos Santana's triple that broke up Anibal Sanchez's no-hit bid in the seventh inning.

Jackson might be able to play in Chicago, but nothing is for sure at all.

Clearly, despite his uneven second half, Jackson is too valuable to lose now. In fact, he was showing signs of snapping out of his most recent funk when the injury occurred.

MMM knows you know enough about baseball to understand why A-Jax is UtM this week.

Catcher Alex Avila is hurting, too---with a sprained jaw after running into the brick wall that is Prince Fielder in Sunday's game. Remember how Fielder stopped Mike Moustakas in his tracks in Kansas City in that collision at first base a couple weeks ago?

Thankfully, it looks like Jackson's ankle injury isn't severe, but it's enough to place him UtM, in MMM's eyes.

Upcoming: White Sox, A's, Twins
Is the Central race over if the Tigers lose Monday in Chicago? No. Crazy things can happen in pennant races. Remember 2009, for goodness sake!

But let's face it: the difference between being one game out and three games out, with two weeks to go, is significant.

Had the Tigers not blown Sunday's game, Monday's tilt would have given them a chance to regain a tie for first place. Now, the best the Tigers can do is stay within one game.

Oops---what did MMM say a few paragraphs above about spilled milk?

MMM is not only concerned about Monday, but about the end of the week, when the Twins come calling. The Tigers' inability to beat the stuffing out of the teams below them in the division might prove to be their undoing, and with 13 of their last 17 games against the Twins and Royals, the time is now to hold dominion over those bottom feeders.

In between the make-up game with Chicago and the weekend series with the Twins, the resurgent Oakland A's visit. In a scheduling oddity, the A's make their only appearance in Detroit in mid-September.

This isn't the same A's team the Tigers played in May, when the teams split four games in Oakland.

The A's win by out-pitching you; their .236 team BA is atrocious, but with their pitching, they don't need a lot of offense. Oakland has THREE rookies in its rotation (AJ Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone), which is absurd. But it's working for them.

Old friend Brandon Inge is on the disabled list after shoulder surgery and is out for the rest of the season.

It's been a magical season so far for Oakland, and the skull fracture suffered by pitcher Brandon McCarthy was yet another emotional moment for the A's.

Last year around this time, the Tigers clinched the Central with a win in Oakland. One year later, the A's can get a toehold on the Wild Card with a good series in Detroit.

What a difference a year makes, right?

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



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