Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 8

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at Bos (5/28-31); NYY (6/1-3)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers were sweepers and sweepees last week.

They spent a horrifying three days in Cleveland to start the week, where clutch hits were as plentiful as snowballs in July. Then it was off to Minnesota to get well---or at least better---at the Twins' expense. In Minnesota, the offense came alive and even featured the most clutch hit of all---a two-run homer in the ninth ining to turn a deficit into a victory.

The starting pitching was competent, but the defense and base running wasn't, for the most part. Even the three wins in Minny were tainted by suspect displays of both.

The bottom line? A three-game winning streak (first back-to-back wins since April 18) and maybe some stroked egos heading into Boston.

The week also featured newcomer Quentin Berry, who in just five games has taken the Tigers' fan base by storm with his hitting, speed and range in center field.

Hero of the Week
MMM likes the aforementioned Berry, who was called up from Toledo midweek because Austin Jackson's painful side remained painful. Ajax was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Berry's debut was met with great skepticism, as the Tigers were continuing to scuffle along. All we knew about him was that he was fast.

Berry is fast, or sure. But in replacing Jackson and also Don Kelly at the leadoff spot, Berry got on base with hits and walks, stole bases, and played a very impressive center field. His presence clearly sparked the Tigers in Minesota.

For someone who nobody had really heard of at the time of last week's MMM offering, Berry was a very pleasant surprise and already has folks wanting him to remain on the roster when Jackson is scheduled to return this Friday.

Sports talk radio was abuzz after Sunday's win, chatting up Berry and presenting scenarios by which he would stay on the 25-man roster when Jackson comes off the DL.

MMM was duly impressed as well; Berry started Sunday's game-winning rally with a base hit, then stole second base.

Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, for coming alive over the weekend. Cabby stroked the game-winning homer on Sunday---a monster shot to straightaway center that was vintage Cabrera. Fielder went 9-for-11 in Minnesota and quelled some of the negative talk about him.

Goat of the Week

MMM is going to indict the entire team this week, vis a vis the terrible defense that is being displayed on a daily basis.

The Tigers seem to lead MLB in the four-out inning, though MMM doesn't have any hard numbers on which to base that. Sometimes the Tigers toss in a five or even six-out inning on occasion.

The infield defense, especially, has been rotten of late. Seems the Tigers can't complete a double play to save their souls.

All this silliness is starting to come back and bite them in the you-know-where.

Wednesday night in Cleveland, Fielder turned what should have been an easy out at home plate into a badly thrown misadventure, allowing the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Reliever Brayan Villarreal played the stooge in Minnesota, botching a sure double play by throwing the baseball to neither the second baseman or shortstop after fielding a come-backer. He also threw wildly on a pickoff attempt.

Jhonny Peralta couldn't finish a DP on Sunday when he threw high to first base after being given a perfect throw from Rick Porcello.

And those are just a few examples.

MMM thinks the Tigers ought to clean up their defense before they entertain thoughts of catching the Indians and White Sox, much less thinking about playoffs and World Series. Yes, the hitting has been suspect (left the bases loaded twice on Wednesday), but the Tigers are giving away far too many outs on defense.

For all the hand-wringing over whether Cabrera can play third base, MMM thinks we should have been more concerned about Fielder at first base, where he's been below average.

Under the Microscope
MMM is placing a non-player UtM, and that would be GM Dave Dombrowski.

Why? Because DD has a decision to make when Jackson comes off the DL on Friday.

Who gets lopped off the 25-man?

If Berry continues to be a spark plug this week in Boston, the decision will be even more important---and scrutinized; hence, UtM.

MMM would like to see Ryan Raburn released, but that doesn't really solve everything, because to leave Ramon Santiago as the starting second baseman would be ill-advised.

It just seems that there ought to be room on the roster for Berry, especially if he keeps this up.

MMM, however, believes that the likely scenario is for Danny Worth to be sent down---again. MMM wonders how many options can possibly be left with Worth.

So UtM goes Dombrowski, because the chatter has already begun re: Quentin Berry and his amazing opening week.

Upcoming: Red Sox, Yankees

How about seven games with baseball's Hatfields and the McCoys this week?

It's off to Boston for four games, then a return home to face the Yankees after the 10-game road trip.

Neither team is happy where it's at right now; the Red Sox probably more so. Boston is 23-24, same as the Tigers, and the Red Sox dropped two of three to Tampa Bay at home over the weekend. They lost Sunday eerily similar to how the Twins lost to the Tigers: on a two-run home run in the top of the ninth that turned a one-run deficit into a lead and, ultimately, a victory.

The Red Sox had another lousy start this season, their second straight, and while they've played better as of late, they are nonetheless last in what is turning out to be a very interesting AL East race.

The Yankees are in third place, looking up at Baltimore (!) and Tampa.

It's always a big event when the Yanks come to town, and in recent years Comerica Park has proven to be a House of Horrors for the Bronx Bombers.

Derek Jeter, the only Yankee player that MMM likes, is playing like the Jeter of old, and that's good for baseball. The Kalamazoo product is a treasure, and it's nice to see him rebound from a couple of non-Jeter-like years.

Jeter is hitting .342 and running as good as he has in years. The rest of the team hasn't always followed his lead, but the Yankees are 26-21 and on a five-game winning streak.

MMM believes, though, that this week is less about the high-profile competition and more about the offense continuing to come alive and the infield defense getting tighter. The Tigers aren't playing the Red Sox and the Yankees this week so much as they are still playing themselves.

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


Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 7

Last Week: 3-4
This Week: at Cle (5/22-24); at Min (5/25-27)

So, What Happened?

Every time the Tigers get a "big win", you think it might be the win to trigger a winning streak. Yet it hasn;t happened in over a month.

The Tigers continue to be without consecutive wins since April 18, despite a stunning comeback in Chicago on Tuesday and Justin Verlander's near no-hitter on Friday.

In fact, they were swept in a two-game series at home by the pitiful Minnesota Twins.

The big story was Verlander, who pitched 8.1 no-hit innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though JV narrowly missed his third career no-hitter, manager Jim Leyland called Verlander's gem the best game he's seen pitched. Ever.

So the Tigers continue to wander around, alternating wins and losses everyday in a monotonous display of mediocrity that is bringing their fan base to a rolling boil.

Hero of the Week
Speaking of monotonous, MMM fears he may be heading that way if he dares to name Verlander  as the HotW yet again.

But while Verlander's mastery of the Pirates was the big story, MMM is going with Alex Avila in what many of you may say is either a surprise pick, or one that's just plain odd.

There's method to MMM's madness.

MMM is hoping that by picking Avila, it might kick start him a little bit---that and the big hit he had in Sunday's win. With runners on second and third in a tie game in the seventh inning, Avila, against a tough lefty reliever, fought off a couple good pitches before lacing a single through a drawn-in infield to put the Tigers ahead to stay, 4-2.

Avila needed that hit badly, as FSD's Rod Allen said on the air. The Tigers catcher is one of those "role" players whose part is being played by an understudy, or an impostor.

MMM is hoping that a little HotW love will help get Avila going. Plus, it truly was a big hit he had on Sunday!

Honorable mention: Max Scherzer, for his on-again, 15-strikeout performance on Sunday.

Goat of the Week

MMM is cranky with a few folks, so that makes choosing just one Goat rather difficult.

After careful consideration, MMM is pinning the rap on Don Kelly. 

This may seem unfair, but MMM has never claimed to be the hallmark of justice.

Kelly had a chance to give the Tigers a lift when he took over the center field and leadoff jobs from the injured Austin Jackson, but instead he took one collar after the other, giving the Tigers essentially two straight no. 9 hitters in their lineup.

Jackson's absence and Kelly's presence were felt many times over the weekend, as it seemed like several rallies were taking shape when Jackson's leadoff spot came up in the inning. But Jackson wasn't there---and Kelly wasn't, either, as he made out after out.

Kelly is fine defensively but has gone 1-for-17 since replacing Jackson as the starter in CF.

Under the Microscope
This is a group "effort" this week.

MMM saw over the weekend that when guys like Avila, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta (Brennan Boesch, too) produce, the Tigers are a MUCH better team. And that's why the team hasn't been able to put together a winning streak---those guys just aren't getting it done consistently, if at all.

Avila's big hit on Sunday cemented what had been brewing in MMM's sometimes-demented mind: if that kind of hit had been occurring more often from the aforementioned individuals, the Tigers would probably be in first place right now, instead of three games behind.

So MMM is placing the guys mentioned above, collectively, UtM.

If that group of guys gets it going, you'll start to see winning streaks again---guaranteed.

Upcoming: Indians, Twins

The Tigers travel to Cleveland to face the first-place Indians in late-May.

Sound familiar?

The Indians are doing it again---leading a weak division in the early stages of the season, just like in 2011.

But this time the Tigers are just three games back; last season, the Tigers were as many as seven games behind the Tribe before June.

Cleveland started last season 30-15 before things started to fall apart. This year, the Indians are 23-18.

It's  hard for MMM to say that a series in May is "big," but given the Tigers' current case of the blahs, performing well in Cleveland this week would go a long way toward making everyone feel good about the Bengals.

Plus, who wants to fall any further back in a race than they already are?

Verlander is set to pitch the series finale in Cleveland on Thursday, with one extra day's rest.

As for those pesky Twins, as MMM said last week, strange things sometimes happen when the Tigers play those guys from Minnesota, and those strange things seem to never work in the Tigers' favor.

The Twins did win four straight before being clobbered on Sunday. The first two of those wins came in Detroit last week.

But MMM loves that the Metrodome is gone!

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


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Billy Martin's 1972 Heroes a Forgotten Bunch

The Tigers came out of spring training in Lakeland confident of their hitting. Their lineup was rich with veteran bats and some young ones. The offense didn’t figure to be a problem.

But oh, what about that pitching!

The pitching caused some of the so-called experts to make a face that was consistent with biting into a lemon. There were a couple reliable arms but after that, you might have wanted to pray for rain, a la the old Boston Braves of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.

Then a funny thing happened. The offense was slow out of the gate, and the pitching—surprise, surprise—actually became the team’s saving grace.

Chalk another one up against the supposed wise baseball minds.

Sound familiar?

It should—if you’re over 45 years old.

If you thought I was speaking of this year’s Tigers, you’re forgiven. You should also be heartened.

This is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Tigers—who often are nothing more to people’s recollection than the team that came four years after the heroic 1968 Tigers.

But the ’72 Tigers came within a whisker—pun intended—of making the World Series. And the formula they used was the opposite of what was forecast for them.

The Tigers of 1971 were a power-laden team, filled with those same heroes from 1968.

Norm Cash, still raising the right field roof at age 36.

Jim Northrup, another dangerous left-handed bat.

Bill Freehan, still the league’s best catcher.

Willie Horton, always a big bopper.

Al Kaline, another 36-year-old veteran who made the All-Star team in 1971, as did Cash and Freehan.

Off the bench was Gates Brown, who, if he had been born five years later, might have been the greatest designated hitter in history, let alone just for the Tigers.

Then you had the role players, like Mickey Stanley, Aurelio Rodriguez, Tony Taylor and Dick McAuliffe, all of whom could reach the seats more than occasionally.

So it was understandable that the Tigers felt comfortable with their offense coming out of spring training in 1972; the 1971 team had won 91 games and finished a strong second to Baltimore.

On the mound, the Tigers rotation was anchored by veterans Mickey Lolich (lefty) and Joe Coleman (righty), but after that it was a crapshoot. Lolich and Coleman each won 20-plus games. Then you did a rain dance.

The offense bulled its way to the 91 wins—that and the magic of manager Billy Martin.

Martin was, in a way, the perfect manager at the perfect time for the Tigers in those days.

It’s the tenet of hiring and firing coaches and managers in sports that you replace the fired guy with his polar opposite.

If the fired guy is too nice and too much a “player’s manager (or coach),” then you get a tough guy to take his place.

If the fired guy is too strict, you bring in an old softy who the players can “relate to.”

If the fired guy is quiet, go get a loudmouth. If the fired guy has loose lips, hire a clam with lockjaw.
And so on.

The 1970 Tigers played uninspired baseball for manager Mayo Smith, a hands-off skipper whose laissez-faire ways worked in 1968, to the tune of a World Series championship.

But by 1970, the Tigers were cranky and filled with the distraction of Denny McLain, whose escapades often went unchecked by the passive Smith.

As the ’70 season closed, it was terribly apparent that the Tigers needed a swift kick between the back pockets.

Enter Martin, one of the most celebrated butt kickers of all time.

Martin was still a raw manager in 1970, having guided the Minnesota Twins to the 1969 AL East pennant as a rookie skipper. Martin fought the umpires and his own players on his way to glory. A celebrated incident with pitcher Dave Boswell occurred in the alley behind the Lindell AC in Detroit. Martin gave the term “giving the pitcher the hook” a whole new meaning, as he KO’d Boswell after a night of drinking.

Minnesota fired Martin after one winning but notorious season in what would become a career trend for him.

After the 1970 season, the Tigers dismissed Smith, who on his way out of town claimed the baseball fans of Detroit couldn’t tell the difference between a ballplayer and a Japanese aviator. Smith’s words.

GM Jim Campbell brought in Martin, a manager Campbell admired from afar, and a former Tigers player (1958).

Campbell figured—rightly, really—that Martin was just what the coddled Tigers needed in order to awaken their talented roster.

Martin barged in and ruffled some feathers, but also coaxed 12 more wins out of the team in 1971, challenging the Orioles for much of the year.

All this was the back story as the Tigers opened the 1972 season, 40 years ago.

Well, you know what happened—the hitting went south (.237 team BA) and the pitching outperformed the expectations. And Martin’s veteran team managed to stay in the race all summer.

Campbell brought in some graybeards like lefty Woodie Fryman, who was the 1972 version of Doug Fister (2011) and Doyle Alexander (1987); catcher Duke Sims; and slugger Frank Howard.

The season’s final weekend pitted the Tigers against the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series in Detroit. Thanks to a spring training players strike that cut into the regular season, the Red Sox would end up playing one fewer game than the Tigers.

The Tigers took the first two games of the series, and thus clinched the division pennant. The Red Sox finished one-half game back—thanks in part to playing one fewer game.

The offensively-challenged Tigers, who drastically underperformed with the bats, used surprisingly good pitching and their two veteran starters (Lolich and Coleman—1972’s Justin Verlander and Fister), along with Fryman and some unexpectedly strong bullpen arms, to nip the pack at the finish line.

In the ALCS, Oakland beat the Tigers, 3-2 in a heartbreaking series.

A year later, Martin became too much for the Tigers to handle, so he was canned and replaced by his opposite—the more easygoing Ralph Houk.

The 1972 Tigers were the last Detroit playoff baseball team until the 1984 heroes.

Forty years ago. It hardly seems it—if you can remember it to begin with.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Morning Manager, Week 6

Last Week: 3-4
This Week: at CWS (5/14-15); MIN (5/16-17); PIT (5/18-20)

So, What Happened?

The mysteriously quiet bats of the Tigers lingered all week, a maddening, baffling subscript to a season of unexpected mediocrity.

The team even dipped below .500 briefly (16-17), after losing in Oakland on Saturday.

A 10-run outburst on Thursday was followed by three straight games of muted offense as the Tigers split a four-game set in Oakland after dropping two of three in Seattle---another series pocked with lazy, languid offense.

Not surprisingly, two of the Tigers' three wins came from Justin Verlander.

MMM is getting tired of typing "Brandon Inge," but he has to do it yet again, as the Tiger-turned-Athletic abused his old team with a grand slam on Thursday and a three-run homer on Friday.

The Tigers also saw the return to the rotation of Doug Fister, and although he didn't get a win in two starts last week, he pitched brilliantly.

Hero of the Week
Well, MMM certainly isn't going to give HotW to anyone wielding a bat.

So that leaves the arms, and while MMM was almost giddy over what Fister gave the Tigers in his return from injury, the bottom line is winning, and that pretty much leaves you-know-who.

Justin Verlander rode to the Tigers' rescue twice, with victories Tuesday and Sunday, both coming with his team under duress.

Tuesday's win followed a debacle on Monday, when the Tigers (namely, reliever Octavio Dotel) spoiled Fister's tremendous start by coughing up three runs in the bottom of the ninth in such an act of goodwill, the Tigers should have claimed it on their taxes as a charitable contribution.

Sunday, JV silenced the A's with seven innings of one-run, two-hit baseball after the Tigers had dropped two straight in Oakland. He's now 4-1 and hasn't lost a beat from his glorious 2011 season.

Honorable mention is Fister, who slid right into the no. 2 starter role seamlessly after having not pitched for the Tigers since the second game of the season.

Goat of the Week

MMM is going with Prince Fielder, who is earning his fat contract the same way Milli Vanilli earned their Grammy Award back in the day.

Cecil's kid is swinging a cold bat these days, and is in the midst of a 0-for-18 stretch.

Fielder is doing nothing to help out Miggy Cabrera, and Prince's Arctic bat is dragging an already tenuous offense down even further.

At a time when the Tigers need their "big boys" in the worst way, Fielder, as one-half of them, has basically become a rotund stop sign in the Tigers' batting order.

While Cabrera can still drive in runs when he's not at the top of his game, Fielder is giving the Tigers nothing at the moment. He's not immune to slumps---MMM understands that---but his struggles have extended to beyond just last week.

Dishonorable mention is Dotel, whose implosion on Monday night in Seattle surely will go down as one of the quickest and ugliest meltdowns by any Tigers reliever in recent memory. The veteran turned a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 loss with a display of wildness (wild pitches, walks) that was both stunning and hair-pulling.

Under the Microscope
MMM figures that the one human being on the planet who is truly sorry to see Inge leave Detroit is Ryan Raburn. 

With Inge gone, Raburn's anemic batting average and continued reputation for taking half a season to heat up is now UtM.

Raburn now has no buffer with Tigers fans; no one to share his misery with.

MMM looks at Raburn's BA, which is not only not his weight but also not the weight of a growing adolescent, and shakes his head. Here we go again.

How much longer can the Tigers carry a player who doesn't get it going until after the All-Star break?

But the UtM designation is for the venom Raburn is sure to be getting in the immediate future on sports talk radio and in the blogosphere and around the water coolers for his utter lack of production thus far.

Upcoming: White Sox, Twins, Pirates

It's a rare three-team week on deck for the Bengals.

First it's off to Chicago in an attempt to end the nine-game road trip with a 5-4 record.

But that will take a two-game sweep, and the Tigers haven't won consecutive games since April 18, which was so long ago, the Pistons were still playing.

Tonight it's rookie sensation Drew Smyly against veteran lefty John Danks, to kick things off.

The Minnesota Twins and their MLB-worst record invade Comerica Park on Wednesday for a pair of midweek games. The Twins aren't flukey bad---they're just plain bad, and again injury-prone.

But things have a habit of taking a turn for the bizarre whenever the Tigers and Twins get together, so we'll see.

The weekend will see the first interleague play of the season, when the perpetually-under-.500 Pittsburgh Pirates visit.

Last week, MMM said he was a little wary of the mood he'd be in today, given all the issues facing the Tigers last week as they made their first West Coast trip. Sadly, those fears were mostly confirmed.

The Mariners were losing a lot before playing the Tigers--and are at it again now that our boys have left town. The A's, with newly-acquired Inge and a bunch of kids, are over .500 and showed the Tigers why.

This three-team tour of midwest MLB teams this week is another seven-game week and another opportunity for the Tigers to bust out of May's Malaise.

See what MMM did there?

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


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ramon Santiago: Tigers' Newest Elder Statesman

He is the most senior of Tigers, with the cashiering of Brandon Inge a couple weeks ago. He played for Luis Pujols and Alan Trammell. He experienced 43-119 as a starter and the World Series as a bench warmer.

He has, at times, enjoyed the same kind of popularity that the Lions’ backup quarterback has over the years—i.e. it’s sometimes better to be on the bench than in the game. You look more appealing to the fans that way.

He hits from both sides of the plate, as so many players like him do. But he doesn’t necessarily hit from either side terribly well, also keeping with his brethren.

He scores about 30 runs a year and drives in roughly the same amount. He hits a home run every full moon. Though he did once lead the league in…sacrifice hits.

He’s slick with the glove and let’s face it, that’s why he’s stayed in the big leagues every year since 2002.

Ramon Santiago is 32 years old—33 in August—and he’s your new elder statesman on the Tigers, now that Inge has found work in Oakland.

Going from Inge to Santiago in terms of Tigers seniority is like when ABC went from Howard Cosell to Fran Tarkenton in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth.

Everyone talked about Inge. Everyone had an opinion.

Ask a Tigers fan about Santiago and you’ll have your question answered with another question.

“Santiago? What about him?”

If Ramon Santiago were a country, he’d be Switzerland. If he were a jacket, he’d be a 40 regular. If he were a bandleader, he’d be Tommy Newsom.

Santiago’s act has played in Detroit since 2002, with only a two-year hiatus in Seattle (2004-05) in which he had a grand total of 47 at-bats for the Mariners. Speaking of Seattle, the Tigers made a whale of a trade when they dealt Santiago to the Mariners; they got Carlos Guillen in return. Even Santiago would tell you that was a steal.

The Mariners released him after the 2005 season and the Tigers snatched him up—kind of like when you find that old pair of shoes in the closet that you could have sworn you had gotten rid of—the comfy ones that you’re glad to again have in your possession.

Santiago never showed flashes of brilliance with the bat as Inge did. In fact, Santiago doesn’t really show flashes of anything except attendance in the dugout. A typical Santiago year is to dress for almost all of the 162 games, play in about two-thirds of them and actually bat in half of those.

His role is that of defensive replacement, and with the Tigers infield in recent years, that can mean a whole lot of replacing.

Santiago will start maybe once a week and it won’t be memorable with the bat. But, he’ll catch just about everything and make a few nifty plays in the field and all he’ll get is a pat on the rump and be told to stand by until he's needed again.

Such is the life of the big league benchwarmer.

When Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Austin Jackson arrive at the ballpark, they don’t even bother to look at the lineup card that’s taped on a wall near the Tigers locker room. Not only do they know they’re playing, they know where they’re batting.

It’s like the 1920s Yankees, who invented numbers on the backs of uniforms by virtue of where their players batted in the order, hence Babe Ruth being No. 3, Lou Gehrig No. 4.

Jackson bats leadoff, Cabrera third and Fielder fourth—every game.

When Santiago shuffles into the clubhouse, he could make a mint if he took wagers from fans, ushers and equipment kids on his way inside, as to whether he’s playing that night. But the odds would always be 1:3.

The most at-bats Santiago had in any given season was 2003’s atrocity, when he got into 141 games for the 43-119 Tigers, most of them starts at shortstop, and he registered 444 ABs. He still only scored 41 runs and drove in his 29 RBI, even with all the extra appearances. But he did lead the league with 18 sacrifice bunts.

For the next four years combined (2004-07), Santiago had a grand total of 194 at-bats. And it took him 102 games to get those.

Yet the next disgruntled word Santiago utters will be his first. He has shown as much emotion as he’s had playing time. I don’t know if he cusses, but I bet if he does, it’s the Spanish version of “Oh, darn.”

It has taken Santiago 10 years and over 1,800 at-bats to slug as many homers as Cabrera is likely to have by the end of August (25). But when “Santy,” as his teammates call him, knocks one out of the park, it’s a moment as rich with pleasant surprise as seeing a man win a fight with his wife.

If you’re a pitcher who’s surrendered a Ramon Santiago home run, it’s like being an adult duped out of a cookie by a toddler. Like the hare losing to the tortoise.

But it cannot be disputed that Santiago is the Tiger with the most seniority now. He’s the accidental elder statesman.

His teammates love him. They’ve gone on record. They rave about Santiago’s professionalism, his preparedness and his gentle, subtle mentoring of the younger Latin American players on the team.

At times in recent years, Santiago’s insertion into the lineup on a more regular basis has been suggested by a fan base frustrated with second base ever since the Tigers inexplicably let Placido Polanco walk away into free agency after the 2009 season.

As the team has tried the likes of Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn and even Inge at second base, Santiago has been the backup and the fans have called for him—albeit in a “process of elimination” kind of way.

But the truth is that Ramon Santiago simply isn’t an everyday player. It wasn’t true when he was younger, and it certainly isn’t true as he approaches 33 years old. And there’s no crime in that.

This is Santiago’s 11th season in the big leagues and his ninth with the Tigers. He is the most senior baseball player in Detroit.

But I know what I’ll get if I ask you about No. 39.

“Santiago? What about him?”

Monday, May 07, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 5

Last Week: 3-2
This Week: at Sea (5/7-9); at Oak (5/10-13)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers won a game they should have lost, lost a game they should have won, and split a series they needed to sweep.


Well, all you need to know is that it was a 3-2 week for the Bengals (Monday's game was washed out), and considering how things had been going, 3-2 looks mighty fine.

At least, to MMM it does.

But the weekend series with the White Sox at Comerica Park was almost a microcosm of the Tigers season so far: an opportunity wasted, a surprise win and inconsistency highlighted in Max Scherzer and Jose Valverde.

The surprise win was Friday's walk-off one, thanks to Jhonny Peralta's two-run homer. The Tigers looked moribund after another sluggish performance by the bats.

The opportunity wasted was Saturday's, when Valverde surrendered a monster two-run homer to the rejeuvenated Adam Dunn in the ninth inning as the White Sox won, 3-2.

Valverde showed his inconsistency on Sunday, at times appearing to bounce back strong from Saturday's debacle while also seeming to be on the verge of another meltdown---from batter to batter.

The Chicago ninth on Sunday went single, stolen base, strikeout, walk, pop up, then 3-0 on Gordon Beckham before fanning him.

More thrills and chills than an amusement park ride!

Scherzer turned in a wonderful performance on Saturday, but as usual with Max, you're happy about it but also flummoxed by his inability to string more than one of these together in a row.

Earlier in the week, the Tigers split two games with the Royals, the offense again spotty after an outburst on Tuesday.

Oh, and Delmon Young returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving his seven-day suspension from MLB for his drunken stupor in New York.

Hero of the Week
The Tigers looked dead in the water on Friday night, sleepwalking through another home game, when Jhonny Peralta stunned the White Sox with a walk-off, opposite-field homer---a two-run shot to give the Tigers a 5-4 win.

Had the Tigers lost, they would have fallen below .500, lost to a divisional rival, and would have lost 10 of their last 13 games.

Peralta made sure none of that happened.

Just as last week's HotW, Drew Smyly, gave the Tigers a much-needed jolt with his outing in New York, Peralta earns HotW for his rescuing of a game Friday the Tigers had no business winning, nor did they look like winners through eight innings.

The homer was also Peralta's first of the year---and for a guy with 20 home run potential, it was long overdue. For that, MMM gives Jhonny Hreo of the Week (misspelling intended).

Honorable mention: Miguel Cabrera, who had a seemingly quiet week but it was productive with RBIs and competent play at third base.

Goat of the Week

As much as the Tigers stole Friday's game, they nonetheless led Saturday's contest, 2-1, going into the ninth inning.

Then Jose Valverde struck.

It's not fair, of course, for MMM to compare 2012 Valverde---or any year, for that matter---with 2011 Valverde. Last season's 49-for-49 Valverde was very special.

This year's Valverde is Todd Jones, redux. At least, so far.

Papa Grande blew Saturday's game with a pitch to Adam Dunn that was so fat, MMM was surprised the seams weren't bursting on the baseball as it was being delivered to the plate.

Dunn launched a rocket, well over 400 feet into the right field grandstands, and the two-run dinger rescued the White Sox, just as Peralta had rescued the Tigers the night before.

Valverde's hiccup pretty much undid Jhonny's work from Friday, and it robbed the Tigers of continued momentum, something they badly need.

Under the Microscope
As much as MMM would like to place Scherzer UtM now that he seems to be the only starting pitcher not performing consistently, it's impossible to dismiss the return of Doug Fister to the Tigers' rotation.

Fister will pitch Monday night in Seattle, for the first time since an injury to his side cut short his start on opening weekend.

If Fister, who says he is pain-free, can return to anything close to the form he showed after being acquired by the Tigers last summer, he will be, at this point, almost as impactful as he was as a new acquisition in 2011.

MMM is placing the tall, lanky right-hander squarely UtM, to see how he responds physically to being returned to the rotation.

Upcoming: Mariners, A's

Oh, good Lord, look who we have to talk about yet again.

But first, the Mariners.

The Tigers make their first west coast swing of the year this week.

It starts in Seattle as the Bengals try to repay the Ms for their three-game sweep in Detroit a couple weeks ago. The good news? Felix Hernandez will not be pitching against Detroit this week.

The bad news? The Tigers have a devil of a time with Seattle, it seems, and the Ms are back to their losing ways and thus might be due to start winning again.

OK, MMM wants you to take a deep breath and slowly release it.

Done? Good.

Brandon Inge.

Sorry---had to be said.

Inge awaits the Tigers as a member of the Oakland A's, who hosts our boys starting Thursday.

Guess who hit a homer and had four ribbies on Sunday for Oakland?

Yep---Mr. Inge.

But Inge aside, the Tigers face a crucial week. They are trying to put the Delmon Young thing behind them, they are getting Fister back, the offense is still trying to fine tune itself, and seven road games on the left coast face them.

MMM is a little scared of the mood he'll be in when he files his report next week.

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