Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 25

Last Week: 3-4
This Week:  KC (9/24-27); at Min (9/28-30)

So, What Happened?

Just another bob and weave ride on the choppy waters inside the Good Ship Tiger Pop.

That's what this team does to you: raises and lowers your hopes like a school flag.

The Tigers fell three games back on Monday after suspect (and MMM is being kind) defense doomed them in a makeup game in Chicago. That was followed by two straight wins over the surprising Oakland A's, which got people thinking that the Tigers weren't dead. But then the Tigers lost Thursday. Then Friday's game was rained out, then the Tigers drilled the Twins on Saturday. As the White Sox were being broomed by the Angels, the Tigers then dropped a day-night DH to the Twins on Sunday, the second loss of which was another bi-product of shoddy glove work.

Whew! MMM needs to catch his breath.

Such is the AL Central race that the White Sox can be on a five-game losing streak yet still lead the division by a game this morning. Chicago's last win was over the Tigers last Monday.

To bastardize the late Casey Stengel's words, "Can't anybody here win this thing?"

MMM still thinks the Tigers can pull this out. They finish the season with 10 games with the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. Even though both those teams have been doing a great job playing spoiler this month, MMM will take that competition for the final ten games.

Yet MMM isn't too naive to ignore the possibility that the Tigers' defense may ultimately be their undoing. The inability to make the routine plays has killed them this year, especially in September, a month in which the Tigers are 10-11 so far.

The double play ball this season causes every Tigers fan, MMM included, to hold his or her breath.

In the name of Trammell and Whitaker, what's the deal with being unable to turn a stinking double play?

Miguel Cabrera continued his assault on the Triple Crown, and in the process MMM hopes he is silencing those folks who would vote for Mike Trout as league MVP. For more on that race, read THIS.

Max Scherzer gave all of us a scare when he left Tuesday's game against the A's after two innings with a "dead shoulder." An MRI proved negative, and Max made his next start on Sunday, as scheduled.

Hero of the Week
MMM is thinking of changing this section to "Miggy of the Week."

It's getting ho-hum, but MMM is going with Cabrera yet again.

How can you not? Cabrera is playing like he's on a mission, like he wants to win the Triple Crown, the MVP, the Silver Slugger, the Player of the Year, and heck, maybe even the Cy Young for all we know.

MMM is kidding about that last one...sorta.

Cabrera's onslaught continued last week: 9-for-26, 4 2B, 9 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI.


It's getting ridiculous now, Cabrera's beastiology. The man is playing as if possessed, like he is single-handedly trying to will the team into the playoffs.

Cabrera is simply the best player in baseball. If he wins the Triple Crown (he's tied in HR and leads in BA and RBI) for the first time in 45 years, his place in the game must be in cement.

And in that cement will be the letters M-V-P.

Goat of the Week
When the Tigers traded for 2B Omar Infante in late-July, MMM was thrilled. The deal included starter Anibal Sanchez, and it looked like the Tigers had killed two birds with one trade. Infante was going to shore up second base, right?

Not so fast.

Infante's bizarre degradation in defense has been dogging the Tigers all month. One night after the other, it seems, Infante is booting a ball or making a bad throw or is unable to complete a double play. And it seems that every mistake he makes is magnified by runs scoring as a result.

You can't hide your second baseman, and when things are going bad defensively, the ball seems to find that struggling defender. The ball is finding Infante, who is ruling second base for the Tigers with an iron mitt.

MMM doesn't care to list all of Infante's foibles. Just suffice it to say that MMM could have made Infante the GotW a few other times but didn't. This week, Omar isn't getting a pass.

Under the Microscope
Usually, UtM is reserved for the negative. Whether it's an injury or a player's suspect performance, MMM doesn't really use this space for anything terribly positive.

Until this week.

With the season entering its final full week, MMM must put Miguel Cabrera UtM because of his run at the Triple Crown. This is like a pitcher going for a no-hitter; you keep an eye on his performance specifically, and simultaneously hope your team scores enough runs to win the game.

We should all hope the Tigers win enough games to capture the AL Central, while also rooting for Cabrera to capture the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston in 1967. And Yaz tied for the home run title that year; Cabrera could win all three legs of the Crown outright.

MMM is placing Cabrera UtM, knowing full well that Miggy doesn't shrink from the spotlight.

Upcoming: Royals, Twins
As MMM indicated above, the Royals and Twins have done a marvelous job of playing spoilers in the AL Central "race."

Both teams have beaten the snot out of the White Sox and Tigers in recent weeks, trying their darndest to help Chicago and Detroit in the process. The help has been sometimes accepted, but most time not.

Kansas City comes to CoPa for four games this week, then the Tigers visit the Twins for three.

At home, the Royals have swept the Tigers and White Sox over the past month.

MMM declares: 3-1 vs. the Royals is a must---nothing less will do in order to apply increasing pressure on the White Sox, who have the Indians (3 games) and Rays (4) this week.

No fancy-shmancy scouting reports here. Just go out and beat these teams, for goodness sake.

Pitchers this week, in order: (vs. KC) Justin Verlander; Anibal Sanchez; Rick Porcello; Doug Fister; (at Min) Max Scherzer; Verlander; Sanchez.

Enjoy the heat in this AL Central kitchen.

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


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sexiness of CF a Hurdle for Cabrera in AL MVP Race

It has been the location of baseball’s glamour profession, the real estate of Cobb and Speaker, annexed by DiMaggio. Hallowed ground fought over for supremacy by Mays, Mantle and Snider, who all played a subway ride away from each other.
Its vastness has both swallowed the slow and incompetent whole and enabled the fleet and light-footed to appear as gazelles with mitts. John Fogarty wrote a song about it.
There’s a mystique about baseball and centerfield. It ranks in sexiness with the football quarterback. You think of a centerfielder and a bunch of other s-words come to mind.
Sleek. Silk. Smooth. Slender.
The ace centerfielder stands six-foot or a tad taller, has the body fat of Jack Sprat and lopes. He is the robber of home runs, the snagger of triples. He covers more of the diamond than a tarp. He’s not only the centerfielder, he’s half a leftfielder and half a rightfielder, too.
It’s a position that is unforgiving to the butchers who would give it a go, because centerfield isn’t played, it’s conquered. Many an incompetent have dared wander into its jaws and were never seen again. Speaking of which, anyone see Ron LeFlore lately?
No position in baseball can rival centerfield when you’re talking style points.
The Tigers’ Austin Jackson is a conqueror. He’s the best centerfielder in Detroit since Cobb. And I’m not forgetting that Al Kaline played a couple seasons in center.
Jackson is a loper. He possesses that brilliance all the ace centerfielders have had since the dawning of the 20th century: the innate ability to break for the baseball at the crack of the bat, take the most efficient route and arrive just in time for the ball to settle into the glove.
Centerfield greatness is passed down, like an Italian family business.
It was early in the 2006 season when I cornered Tigers first base coach Andy Van Slyke in the glorified closet that passes as the coaches office at Comerica Park. The main topic of discussion was his then-new job as coach, but I had to bring up centerfield.
Van Slyke, in his prime years with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s and ‘90s, was widely renowned as one of the best centerfielders in baseball. He was a tall, galloping man who held dominion over the position.
I wanted to know how he learned to play centerfield so damned good.
“Well, I used to work with Bill Virdon a lot in Pittsburgh,” Van Slyke told me, and he needn’t have said anything else, though he did.
Virdon, with the Pirates in the 1950s and ‘60s, was one of the premier centerfielders of his day, though he was far overshadowed by the New York trio of Mays, Mantle and Snider. Virdon could go and get it, so when Van Slyke mentioned Virdon’s name as a tutor, I understood completely.
Van Slyke told me that Virdon worked with him for several years every spring training, imparting his wisdom about routes and jumps and footwork, about angles and awareness.
Virdon passed centerfield down to Van Slyke. I’d be beside myself to find out from who Virdon learned.
Third base, on the other hand, is a position that a century’s worth of players have spent making look easy, when it’s anything but.
Third base can’t match centerfield in sexiness, and part of that is because where the centerfielder can take, ahem, center stage for what seems like an eternity as the lofted baseball heads for the deepest part of the ballpark, the third baseman has a split second to make his move.
The third baseman has to have the reactions of a hockey goalie and the fearlessness of a fighter pilot. He can spend half a game on his stomach.
But a great third baseman makes it all look so easy. No matter how hard hit a ball, no matter if it’s skidding along the grass or bounding rapidly by, the great third baseman gloves the ball with seemingly routine effort and rifles a throw to first base to nip the runner by a quarter step. Every time.
It can be very impressive, but it’s rarely sexy. Centerfield is sexy.
That’s part of what Miguel Cabrera is up against, in his apparent two-man race for the AL MVP with the Boy Wonder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.
Trout plays centerfield, Cabrera third base, and I believe that’s a big reason why Cabrera isn’t considered a shoo-in for the award, despite being on the cusp of capturing baseball’s Triple Crown (leader in BA, HR and RBI) for the first time in 45 years.
Trout is a marvelous baseball player. He is, at 21 years of age, one of the very best players in the game, already. He hits for power, for average, and occupies another glamour position—that of lead-off hitter.
“Batting lead-off, and playing centerfield…”
There is still magic in those five words.
Cabrera is having a season that would be a runaway MVP year in just about any other, except for the kid Trout and his highlight reel play in centerfield, which has combined with the power and cunning batting eye to give Cabrera a run for his money.
Trout has dropped off, however, at the bat in recent weeks. He hit .284 in August and is at .257 in September. His team is still in the playoff hunt, as is Cabrera’s, so that’s mostly a wash.
It would be easy for MVP voters to become enamored of Trout’s position of glamour, to recall the feats of derring-do he’s accomplished in centerfield, look at his total offensive numbers (not just the ones since August), and award him not only the Rookie of the Year, but the big enchilada, too.
Those voters will try to justify their vote by pointing to Cabrera and his sometimes uneven play at third base, which isn’t as sexy as centerfield to begin with, and offer that up as a reason to go with Trout as MVP.
If a man can win the Triple Crown, or come so damn close to it that we’re still wondering if he can do it on September 22, his defense would have to be a combination of Dave Kingman and Dick Stuart’s to cancel it out enough to take him out of the MVP race.
Cabrera is no Brooks Robinson at third base, but he’s not a butcher, either.
If, as an MVP voter, you’re insane enough to wonder whether Cabrera’s glove has actually robbed the Tigers more than his bat has provided, then your vote should be revoked posthaste.
Mike Trout has had a brilliant year, maybe the best of any AL rookie in decades. He has Hall of Fame potential. And he plays centerfield.
Miguel Cabrera might win the Triple Crown. He plays third base. So sue him.
Just be sure to vote for him as MVP before you do.

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!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 23

Last Week: 1-5
This Week:  at CWS (9/10-13); at CLE (9/14-16)

So, What Happened?

If the Tigers have mastered anything this season, it's the one-run loss on the road. They are very good at it.

So good, in fact, that the Tigers haven't come away as one-run victors on the road since late-June.

The one-run loss was the bane of the Tigers in Kansas City (three-game sweep) a couple weeks ago, and it "jumped up and got them" again (as George Kell would say about the double play ball) over the weekend in Los Angeles (another three-game sweep).

Two one-run losses at home against the Indians combined with the Lost Weekend in LA to make the Tigers 1-5 last week---not exactly what you want to see in a so-called pennant race.

MMM was aghast when the Indians, losers of 29 of 35 games, limped into Detroit and came away with a series win.

MMM wasn't any happier with the sweep in LA, but at least the Angels are hotter than a firecracker, and they have something called good players.

The AL Central "race" is looking like a three-legged one you see at a company picnic. Both the White Sox and the Tigers are stumbling, getting back up, and falling down again. It is, frankly, sort of a joke.

Chicago's lead, now at two games, has been hovering between one and three games ever since the All-Star break, it seems.

The White Sox dropped two of three to those pesky Royals over the weekend in Chicago. If Kansas City (who swept Chicago in KC before doing the same to Detroit) played the rest of the league like it plays the White Sox and Tigers, the Royals would be in the playoffs.

MMM also winced as Mike Trout went head-to-head with Miguel Cabrera as arguably the top two MVP candidates and came out as the clear winner over the weekend, both at the bat and with the glove.

But MMM was more upset with the team losses than any individual stuff, and he's getting tired of being a soothsayer for bad things. The most recent? Last week's assertion that MMM was "scared to death of the Cleveland Indians."

The Tigers bats over the past couple of weeks have been more quiet than a bank on a Sunday. Things don't look good right now, even with four games in Chicago this week with which to make up ground.

Hero of the Week
After knocking on the Hero door for a couple weeks, MMM is opening it for Max Scherzer.

MMM has dubbed Scherzer "Maddening Max" for the right-hander's inconsistency, but since the All-Star break, Scherzer has been 1-A to Justin Verlander's 1 when it comes to Tigers aces.

Scherzer, who set a franchise record with the most consecutive starts with 8+ strikeouts, was brilliant Friday night in LA, but the Tigers could only send him to the showers with a 2-2 tie after eight innings. The Angels walked off with a win in the ninth.

No fault of Max's, who has been battling Verlander for the MLB strikeout lead in recent weeks.

Scherzer is dominating big league hitters these days, and his 15 wins lead the team. He has an outside shot at 20 victories, if the rotation holds true.

Honorable mention: Rick Porcello, another pitcher who isn't getting any run support.

Goat of the Week
MMM wants to know who the real Alex Avila is.

Is the catcher the 2011 guy who grinded out at-bats and flashed opposite field power and looked like one of the best backstops in the league? Or is he the 2012 version, who is constantly overpowered by mid-90s fastballs and who has seemingly regressed as a hitter?

MMM is so disgusted with Avila that he wants the Tigers to consider a replacement for 2013.

Not gonna happen, and frankly, it probably shouldn't. All players have down years, and young ones like Avila ought to have the chance to atone for his before they are discarded. Besides, Avila's trade value will probably never be as low as it is now, so this wouldn't be the best time to deal him.

But MMM gets so frustrated with Al-Av that he Tweeted a couple nights ago that he wants Avila "out of Detroit."

Last week was typical 2012 Avila: 3-for-14, five Ks. Meh.

What concerns MMM is how tardy Avila is on the fastball. That, combined with his confusion about the strike zone, makes him a very easy hitter to get out. Who would have thought that Alex's walk-off homer against Boston on opening weekend would be the lone highlight of his season?

Stats CAN lie, by the way. According to Baseball-Reference, Avila in 2012 is hitting .273 with two outs and RISP, and is at .295 in "late and close" games.

Doesn't seem like it, does it? Maybe because in the 105 at-bats that comprise the above situations, Avila has 33 strikeouts.

Dishonorable mention: Cabrera, for getting tossed out of Saturday's game in the fourth inning.

Under the Microscope
Let's see, with four games in Chicago this week, MMM should probably put the entire team UtM, eh?

But that would be cheating, and not as much fun, so slide Justin Verlander UtM.

Yep, JV.

Verlander's ERA is creeping closer to 3.00, which for pitchers who are human is pretty good. But for someone of JV's talents, it's almost reprehensible.

Fresh in the memory are recent starts in KC and LA which didn't turn out so good (to say the least).

Verlander has especially faltered on the road in the second half, and his next start is Thursday in Chicago.

Scherzer has 15 wins and is looking unhittable, but let's face it: if the Tigers are going to win the division, they need all hands on deck, and Verlander is still a pretty damn valuable hand.

So, yeah, UtM.

Upcoming: White Sox, Indians
Just as MMM said he was scared of the Indians, he's that much unafraid of the White Sox. That's how crazy and mixed up this season has been.

The Tigers are 10-4 against Chicago this year, for whatever reason. Actually, that reason is pitching; the Tigers pitch well against the White Sox, for the most part.

But the last six of those wins over the White Sox have come in Detroit, and the Tigers are 30-38 on the road.

Yet MMM says, "Bring on the White Sox!!" Hey, what the hell do the Tigers have to lose? Chicago is the only team they seem to be able to beat lately.

As for the Indians, MMM was amused at loudmouth closer Chris Perez's recent remarks criticizing ownership for not spending enough money. This is the same Perez who crowed after a sweep over the Tigers in May that the Indians were a better "team," while the Tigers were just individual stars.

So which is it, Chris?

He's a bozo, but the Indians aren't when they play Detroit. The Tribe is 9-6 against the Tigers this season.

The Tigers have 16 of their final 23 games against the Indians, Royals and Twins. How Detroit fares in those 16 games will likely have a huge bearing on whether they win the division. If the 2012 track record holds true, don't waste any money on bottles of champagne.

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


Monday, September 03, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 22

Last Week: 3-3
This Week:  CLE (9/3-5); at LAA (9/7-9)

So, What Happened?

If last week was a football game, we would call the game "a story of two halves."

We would have said that the home team stunk out the joint in the first 30 minutes, then regrouped in the locker room, made some adjustments, and were a totally different team in the second half.

That pretty much described the week for the Tigers.

MMM played soothsayer once again last week, when it came to the Kansas City Royals. To wit: "The Royals are either feast or famine, it seems, when you play them. You either sweep them, or get swept. They laid a licking on the White Sox with a combo of good pitching and timely hitting. But then they can look so awful just one day later."

MMM, sadly, was dead-on accurate. The Royals swept the Tigers in an excruciating three-game series in which the Royals were opportunistic and held on by the skin of their teeth in all three games. Then KC promptly returned to looking like the Royals in getting mostly spanked by the Minnesota Twins, who followed the Tigers into Kaufman Stadium.

After the horrors in KC, the Tigers returned home and again swept the Chicago White Sox out of town, as they did in late-July. The result? A dead even race in the AL Central; both teams are 72-61.

The Tigers couldn't hit their way out of a paper bag in the final two games in KC, allowing two "meh" pitchers (Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie) eat their lunch.

But the Tigers turned around and used the trio of Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander to pitch their way past the Chisox, with some very timely hitting tossed in for good measure.

Chicago had themselves a 1-6 week, after going 1-3 in Baltimore but gaining a half-game over the swept Tigers.

But Kansas City is a distant memory. MMM is all about "What have you done for me lately?"

And lately, the Tigers are out of MMM's doghouse.

The week also saw the trade of utility man Jeff Baker to the Braves, and the calling up of outfielder Avisail Garcia, who looks like Ozzie to Miguel Cabrera's Jose Canseco. The physical similarity between Garcia and Cabrera is striking.

Garcia went 3-for-7 in his first two big league games, including a clutch RBI on Saturday.

September call-ups were announced: IF/OF Ryan Raburn (stop); IF/OF Don Kelly; IF Danny Worth (the human yo-yo); RHP Luis Marte; RHP Al Alburquerque; C Bryan Holaday.

Hero of the Week
It's time for MMM to give Delmon Young some love.

Whatever you think of Young, aka to MMM as "old 6-3," you have to give the dude his props.

On Friday night, Young cleared the loaded bases with a double in the seventh inning, breaking a 4-4 tie and leading the Tigers to victory.

On Sunday night on national TV, Young broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth with a three-run jack, again leading the Tigers to victory.

The homer on Sunday, off Chicago ace Chris Sale, was particularly impressive because it was obvious that Sale wasn't going to throw Young a fastball. Sale struck Young out twice with breaking stuff, and the at-bat in the sixth was no different.

The ESPN announcers wondered if Sale would throw a fastball to "freeze" Young.

"I don't think you can fool Delmon Young with a fastball," Terry Francona said in the booth.

Right on cue, Sale tried one more "slurve," and Young golfed it from his ankles and over the left field wall for a 4-1 Detroit lead.

Both hits were gargantuan, and in a week where runs were a little tough to come by, Young is MMM's choice for Hero.

Honorable mentions: Max Scherzer (for the second week in a row), for his dominating performance on Saturday, when he threw eight shutout innings and struck out nine, lowering his ERA to 3.93; and Cabrera, who went 11-for-24.

"He reminds me of Verlander in 2011," said White Sox radio announcer Ed Farmer of Scherzer.

Goat of the Week
MMM knows that some faithful readers would like Miguel Cabrera to be the goat, for his less-than-Pete Rose legging out of Thursday's game-ending double play.

MMM was frustrated, too. It didn't help that the play capped a three-game Royals sweep, which added to everyone's anger.

But MMM can't pick one play from a superstar's body of work and make him the goat based on it. Sorry.

Instead, MMM is going with the entire team, for making two mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young in Kansas City. MMM does this to highlight that there were many, many goats in Kansas City during a maddening stretch in which the Tigers were shutout for 17 straight innings, leaving one base runner in scoring position after the other.

There were a lot of bad at-bats in the Royals series, and frankly, Cabby and Prince Fielder were the only guys getting on base, it seemed. Their teammates just couldn't drive them in.

Under the Microscope
Last week MMM put Cabrera UtM for his bad ankle, and Miggy seems to be handling the injury just fine.

This week, MMM wants you to keep an eye on Brennan Boesch. 

Boesch is UtM because of something said by the ESPN crew Sunday night.

After Boesch slammed a 420-foot home run off Sale (which followed a double off Francisco Liriano earlier in the series), either Kruk or Francona said, "If Boesch can hit like this, the Tigers' lineup looks a whole lot different."


With Young staying hot, MMM thinks Boesch could be key down the stretch---kind of like an X factor, because Boesch's 2012 season has been pocked with under-performing and inconsistency.

Keep your good eye on Boesch. If his weekend against the White Sox is a sign of things to come, the Tigers could be in really good shape.

Upcoming: Indians, Angels
MMM is scared to death of the Cleveland Indians.

Doesn't make sense, does it?

The Indians are playing the worst baseball of any team in MLB, and that's a league that includes the Houston Astros.

The Indians have dropped like a lead balloon since the All-Star break, and are 12-36 in their past 48 games.

Yet that's the kind of team that seems to give the Tigers fits.

Coming off such a high against the White Sox, MMM is worried of a letdown against the woeful Tribe.

Yes, the Tigers have handled the Indians pretty good in Detroit in recent years, but there's just something about a team playing as bad as the Indians that scares MMM.

Tigers pitchers: Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister.

After the Tribe leave town, the Tigers head west to play the Angels, for the first time on the road.

Detroit is 5-2 against the Halos at Comerica Park, and the most recent series featured Tigers pitching handling rookie sensation Mike Trout and 1B Mark Trumbo, keeping them off base and their damage to a minimum.

But the series in Detroit a couple weekends ago didn't include Albert Pujols, who missed the games with a leg injury.

Pujols is back, and the Angels still have Wild Card aspirations. The Tigers are an underwhelming 30-35 on the road, and 16 of their last 29 games are played away from Detroit. It's no secret that the Tigers need to step it up on the road, and that push starts this weekend in Los Angeles.

Also keep an eye on Trout and Cabrera, because the two are battling for the league batting title. Miggy has tightened that race, which has Trout leading, .333 to .331.

If Cabrera wins the batting title, could he win the Triple Crown?

Miggy is in a neck-and-neck race with Josh Hamilton in RBI, and is five homers behind Adam Dunn, who missed the last two games in Detroit with a strained side.

If you're scoreboard watching (and who isn't nowadays?), the White Sox open a 10-game home stand with three against the Twins and three against the Royals this week.

The last four games of that home stand are against the Tigers, but that's so next week.

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


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Tigers Proving That Winning Divisions Only Easy on Paper

It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.

As August turns to September in this sometimes God forsaken 2012 baseball season, this isn’t whatTigers fans had in mind for Labor Day weekend.

The worries were supposed to be the usual for this time of the year: getting the kids back to school; figuring out what to throw on the grill as the outdoor cooking season winds down; wondering what you have with the Lions—playoff contender or pretender?

And hey, can you really not wear white after the first Monday in September?

Maybe there’d be lawn work to consider or an oil change for the car or one more trip to the zoo to hastily plan.

The baseball fans in this town didn’t figure on worrying about the boys with the Old English D sewn on the front of their creamy white uniforms.

This was supposed to be a cake walk. There wasn’t a more sure bet since Ali over Wepner, or Nixon over McGovern. The Tigers were a lock to win the AL Central. The bookies in Vegas all but took the division off the board. You could have gotten more action on a playground at recess.

When those baseball preview magazines started hitting the shelves over the winter, the experts with “so-called” before their moniker all liked the Tigers—and I do mean all. The Tigers cruised to the division title in 2011 and no one saw any reason to feel that 2012 would be any different.

Then Victor Martinez, the switch-hitting RBI machine signed as a free agent prior to last season, wrecked his knee in January. For about two weeks, the Tigers’ place as cemented division champs became slightly wobbly.

Until the team signed Prince Fielder; after that, the bandwagon became overfilled again.

The question wasn’t whether the Tigers would win the AL Central—it was by how much. Baseball pundits from Bangor to Seattle—across the board—treated the Central as if the Tigers were the Harlem Globetrotters and everyone else was a version of the Washington Generals.

The lineup looked deep. Fielder was plopped into the middle of the batting order, behind Miguel Cabrera and ahead of Delmon Young. Fans saw the growth and maturity of catcher Alex Avila and pegged him for a breakout year in 2012. Brennan Boesch was penciled in for 20 homers and 80 RBI and a .275 batting average.

Jhonny Peralta may not know how to spell his first name, but he could hit and that’s all that mattered.
Avila and Peralta were All-Stars in 2011—so why not expect more of the same in 2012?

The pitching staff, from the starters to the bullpen components, appeared to be battle-tested and ready to go—a wonderful blend of youth and experience. To be safe, the Tigers signed nomadic reliever Octavio Dotel.

Last season, the division was in doubt in late-August, and then the Tigers pulled away with a 12-game winning streak.

But that kind of hot streak wouldn’t be needed in 2012, to hear everyone from award-winning journalists to your neighbor to YOU say it.

Back in April, when the Tigers got off to a 9-3 start, you can imagine what the images of Labor Day brought to the minds of Detroit baseball fans.

This was going to be a relaxing, care-free weekend.

The Tigers would be making mincemeat of the RoyalsTwinsIndians and White Sox. There would be no “race,” per se—only a wake for the other teams.

Labor Day would come along and it was going to mean just one measly more month before the excitement of playoff baseball would be returning to Motown.

No worries, no angst, no hand-wringing. A division sewn up, a playoff spot assured. You want drama? Look elsewhere for it.

It was going to be a fun, frolicking summer of baseball in Detroit. The Tigers were too deep, too powerful, too experienced to be challenged seriously. The “race” would be over by the All-Star break, tops.

There weren’t going to be any worries this Labor Day weekend. The sizzle of the brats and the hot dogs on the grill were going to match that of the baseball team in town.

1984 even came to mind—the year the Tigers ran away and hid from the pack, making a mockery of the AL East.

If they played baseball on paper, the Tigers would be leading the division by 10, 12 games.

Paper baseball assumes that the numbers put up by certain players would be replicated the following year.

Avila, Peralta, Young and Boesch haven’t produced anywhere near the performances turned in last season. All four, you could say, have regressed as hitters.

The White Sox, not the Tigers, lead the AL Central as the calendar flips to September. The White Sox, a team buried like Caesar before the season, is the squad getting big years from unexpected sources. They lead the Tigers by two games after Friday’s loss in Detroit—but they still lead, when most observers would have left them for dead by now.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have put their fans through a meat grinder this year.

There was that 9-3 start, highlighted by a three-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox on opening weekend, the third game of which featured a monstrous late-inning comeback and a walk-off homer by Avila.

It all appeared to be a grand omen and a division title seemed fait accompli.

But 9-3 suddenly turned into 10-10 and from there on, the Tigers have been a maddening, sometimes gut-wrenching team to follow.

Sports talk radio and the blogs have blown up with vitriol for this baseball team. The fans come off as having been duped—even betrayed. Sometimes they swear they are done investing their emotions into the Tigers, yet every night at Comerica Park, the joint is packed.

Baseball isn’t played on paper. The seasons are like snowflakes, to be frank—each one is different, no matter if the players are mostly the same.

If you’re a baseball fan, each season means 162 times you’re either giddy or snarling mad. Like the great broadcaster Red Barber once said about the Brooklyn Dodgers and their boosters: “When the Dodgers lost, a lot of suppers went cold and uneaten in the borough.”

This wasn’t supposed to be a summer of cold, uneaten suppers in Detroit. Everyone figured on eating just fine, thanks.

Especially on Labor Day weekend.

Baseball on paper, indeed!