Monday, October 29, 2012

Burning Questions: World Series Game 4

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 4 of the World Series.

Where did you go? We all missed you after Game 3.
MMM thanks you for your concern. A busy Sunday, which included watching the Lions nip the Seahawks, took MMM off the grid. Apologies.

So it's over, just like that/ Did you ever in your wildest dreams (or nightmares) expect a Giants sweep?
Absolutely not. Funny, but MMM was rooting for the Giants; he didn't want to see the Cardinals again, because (how's this for irony) the Cards seemed to be the team sprinkled with postseason pixie dust lo these past several years. MMM clearly had no idea what he was asking for.

Getting swept in the championship round of any sport is humiliating. Will this have deep reverberations around the franchise?
It shouldn't. As bad as this World Series was, MMM still believes the Tigers should dominate the Central Division for years to come. Their best players are all in their prime. Yes, there are holes but doesn't every team have them? Plus, the Tigers get Victor Martinez back next year. There should be the usual tweaking and massaging of the roster, but this isn't a time to panic and make crazy trades.

We'll discuss potential offseason moves in a second. But back to the Series. The Giants won the old Dodgers way---with pitching and defense. Is that the new blueprint, making a comeback?
You mean like how the Pistons 2004 championship was supposed to change the way NBA teams won titles? Look, the Giants were the superior team, no question. They caught the ball (EVERY ball, it seemed), threw the ball and turned double plays like Trammell and Whitaker. They had timely hits, though not that many of them---just enough to win. MMM thinks you hit your way to the postseason and then pitch your way to the World Series. It's been that way for a long time, and will continue to be that way. It might seem like the Giants are a pitch/defense/no hit team, but they really aren't. They just played their best baseball after falling behind 3-1 in the NLCS, while the Tigers bats went into a deep freeze.

Was Jim Leyland outmanaged by Bruce Bochy?
MMM thinks if you lose a World Series, you're out-everythinged. That's why you lost. But Bochy didn't really have to do too much in-game managing, frankly; that's how good the Giants pitching and glove work were. If Leyland had a guy hit three homers in one game on his way to nearly setting a postseason record for base hits, then maybe this Series would have been different. MMM wasn't displeased, really, with Leyland in the Series, with the exception of hitting Quintin Berry second instead of, say, Andy Dirks. But then again, nobody hit, so maybe it wouldn't have mattered. But MMM knows one thing: Gene Lamont was out-third base-coached by Tim Flannery!

Let's play word association. Prince Fielder. Go!
A lost soul at the plate. MMM was shocked at how stunningly bad Prince looked. Totally clue-free, and overpowered by average fastballs. It got worse as the Series went on. But this happens sometimes, even to great players. Still, this postseason will follow Fielder, as it should. If the Tigers make it back to October (and they should, given their talent) in future years, Fielder needs to atone for what happened in 2012. Mike Ilitch didn't invest $214 million for that performance.

Speaking of Ilitch, many people were shocked at how frail he looked while receiving the American League championship trophy. Now another year goes by without a WS trophy for Mr. I. Thoughts?
MMM was taken aback, as well, at Mr. I's physical appearance. The last time MMM saw Ilitch was at the Prince Fielder press conference back in January. The owner didn't look great, but not as bad as he looked a couple weeks ago. MMM has heard through the grapevine that there might be an illness involved, but no speculating here about whether that's true or not.

As for Ilitch getting his WS trophy, it doesn't look good the older he gets. But 83 years old isn't a death sentence nowadays, especially when you can afford the best health care available. Keep the faith!

Pablo Sandoval was the WS MVP. A no-brainer?
Definitely. In a sweep, that award should always go to a position player, or a closer. Sandoval was lights out, offensively and defensively. Just a great World Series. MMM has no choice but to give the guy his props.

As promised, let's quickly discuss the offseason. Who is gone, in your eyes?
Delmon "I hold the Tigers postseason record for home runs" Young is gone, for sure. There's nowhere for him to play, with V-Mart's return next year and reclamation of the DH slot. You don't dare play Young as an everyday left fielder. That said, Delmon probably earned himself a nice contract elsewhere, based on his postseason.

Anibal Sanchez ought to be re-signed, if the Tigers can fit him into their budget. But he's another who picked the best time to pitch his best. We'll see if he wants too much money for the Tigers liking. Jhonny Peralta might be gone; the Tigers may want to upgrade at SS. Jose Valverde is definitely gone. And based on what happens with Sanchez, i.e. if he stays, don't be surprised if the Tigers package Ricky Porcello in a trade, maybe for a left-handed, second tier starter. Brennan Boesch's future is uncertain (or it should be), as is Quintin Berry's.

Wow. I thought you said don't do anything rash.

I also said the usual tweaking and massaging will occur. Every team has attrition. But the core will stay in place, as it should. MMM thinks the Tigers should win three more division titles over the next five years.

OK, here's a toughie. Describe the entire 2012 season, regular and postseason, in one word.
That's easy: that one word is "constipated."

That is, strangely...accurate!
That's why MMM is MMM and you're...not.

Thanks for spending time with MMM this year! See you in 2013!

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Burning Questions: World Series Game 2

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 2 of the World Series.

As David Bowie once sang, "Panic in Detroit." Correct?
Pretty much. Going down 0-2 takes your margin for error, which in the World Series is already narrow, and squeezes it. You can say whatever you want about the Giants merely holding serve at home, but the fact of the matter is the Tigers have to figure out a way to win a ballgame Saturday night. Period.

The Tigers haven't caught a break yet. Are the Giants the team of destiny?
MMM still believes in the power of change of venue, especially with the Tigers, who play much better at home. Maybe an off day, some travel, and chilly Detroit will cool off the Giants and turn the tide. But the bottom line is you are not going to win too many baseball games by managing two hits.

Well, you called it. You said Madison Bumgarner was going to eat the Tigers' lunch. Was his stuff that good?
No. MMM was appalled at the swings and misses that Mad-Bum got. Once again, a guy on a bad streak gets healthy against the Tigers. Has happened a lot this season. MMM almost would rather have seen Bumgarner's ERA being 1.12 in the postseason rather than 11.25. Bumgarner got an amazing number of swings and misses with his high fastball, which is hardly explosive. Brutal offensive performance by the Tigers.

Twitter almost blew up when third base coach Gene Lamont sent Prince Fielder home in the second inning, trying to score Prince from first base on Delmon Young's double. Prince made a bad slide, but how bad was the decision to send him?
MMM doesn't have enough breath to tell you how bad that was. MMM played Little League ball, and even at age 8 he was told, "Never make the first out of an inning at third base or home plate." That decision was rotten to the core. It wasn't like the Giants had to make extraordinary effort; just a simple relay. Had Lamont done the right thing, the Tigers would have had runners on second and third with nobody out. Jhonny Peralta didn't help matters by popping out on the first pitch after that play. So suddenly there were two outs and a man on second, just like that. Changed the inning dramatically. The Tigers could have gotten to Bumgarner very early in what was termed to be a bounce back start for him.

Playing Devil's Advocate here, was Lamont merely trying to get the Tigers on the board early?
If that was Austin Jackson or Quintin Berry, maybe you send the runner. But again, there was nobody out. Chances are you'd get that run home sometime during the course of the inning; no need to push the envelope there. All that play did was rob the Tigers of some early momentum and get the crowd back into it. So, so wrong. What a time to be betrayed by your coaches.

Why can't the Tigers score runs for Doug Fister?
That's rhetorical, right? MMM has no clue. Fister just has had bad luck lately in that department. Unfortunately for him, the Tigers were facing a junkball lefty---the kind of pitcher who eats them alive.

Another key play and example of the breaks going the Giants way was the sacrifice bunt laid down by Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning with two men on and no outs. Catcher Gerald Laird elected to let the ball roll, and it stayed fair. Thoughts?
MMM was yelling for Laird to pounce on it and throw. It wasn't THAT close to rolling foul. Never leave your fate to chance like that, especially in a series where you are starving for breaks. Laird should have fielded the ball, gunned Blanco out, and move on. It was very fortuitous that the Giants only scored one run in that inning, not that it mattered. But while that was a break for the Giants, it was the result of poor decision-making by the Tigers.

Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, reared his head again, this time with the glove---robbing Miguel Cabrera of a double by spearing Miggy's laser in the fourth inning. Why won't he leave the Tigers alone?
How he made that catch is anyone's guess. You can't hit a ball any harder than Cabrera hit that line drive. Yet Sandoval, all 300 pounds of him, was able to flash some dexterity and make the catch. It was another head shaker, and MMM can only hope that those kinds of breaks stay with the home team in Detroit.

So here are at must win time; you said so yourself.

Thanks for the reminder. But it's true. No other way to put it.

Is this Series reminding you of 2006?
Not until Lamont's blunder. MMM wrote off Game 1 as just one of those bad nights that happen sometimes, even in the World Series. But after watching Lamont make love to the pooch on the send of Fielder, memories of all that bad baseball the Tigers played against the Cardinals in 2006 definitely came roaring back (no pun intended). In that Series, the Tigers were done in largely because their pitchers couldn't field their position. Lamont's blunder has put a new wrinkle on self-destruction.

Any final thoughts?
Last night's game was everything we crabbed about during the season, in a microcosm. Lamont (who is no favorite in Detroit); paralyzed hitting against a hittable pitcher; no run support for Fister; an offense that goes into hibernation on the road. It was all there last night, shining its light directly into the Tigers eyes.

Anibal Sanchez to the rescue in Game 3? He has to go up against Ryan Vogelsong, who's been very good in the postseason.
Wait---did you say the other team's pitcher has been very good? Great!! MMM likes those odds. If you had told him that Vogelsong was 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA, like Bumgarner, then MMM would have squirmed. Bring on the guys with the good numbers!!

I have one word for you: cynical.
I have two words for you. Wanna hear them?

Come back here Sunday for BQ after World Series Game 3!!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Burning Questions: World Series Game 1

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 1 of the World Series.

"Legends are Born in October" is how the tag line goes. Looks like we have our first one of this World Series in Pablo Sandoval, huh?
Anytime your company includes ONLY Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols, you're in rarified air. Sandoval's three-homer game in a World Series has now occurred in consecutive years, but prior to that it happened in 1926 and 1928 (Ruth) and 1977 (Jackson).  That's it. No one saw this one coming, from a dude who hit just 12 home runs all year. But Kung Fu Panda now has six homers in the postseason. Craziness.

How does Sandoval get on top of an 0-2 fastball from Justin Verlander and smack it 411 feet over the center field fence?
MMM hates to quote Fox's Tim McCarver, but he will. "I don't know," which is what McCarver said when Joe Buck asked the same question. The answer, MMM guesses, is "That's baseball." Until Sandoval's homer, Verlander had not given up a four-bagger on an 0-2 pitch all season. Again, craziness.

After just one game, who from the Giants has your shorts bunched in a knot?
Wow, such imagery. MMM already thinks Angel Pagan is annoying, and Marco Scutaro is giving MMM ghoulish nightmares of past pedestrian players like Brian Doyle (1978) and Gene Tenace (1972), who turned into World Series legends. Tim Lincecum looked like his old, Cy Young self. And what is that silly salute that Pagan and other Giants players do? That's got to go, too.

Game 1 was all Giants, obviously. Care to guess why?
Verlander was due for a postseason stinker, and he had it last night. An ominous sign was the Tigers leaving men on first and second in the first inning, when they got those runners there with only one out. But when Prince Fielder, perhaps too anxious, popped up on the first pitch, MMM squirmed.

Aside from that, the Giants had it all going: the breaks, their bats, the crowd, Sandoval's historic night. MMM doesn't buy into the "too much rest" theory. The Tigers just got beat like a drum, period. That happens sometimes, you know.

Speaking of Verlander, what happened? And his career World Series ERA is now 7.20 and his record 0-3.
He labored like he hasn't labored in weeks. Again, not a time factor; he pitched on just one more day's rest than normal. He just couldn't finish hitters, especially the "relentless" (another McCarver word) Scutaro. Verlander got two strikes on a lot of hitters, but to the Giants' credit, they fought off a lot of good pitches and elevated his pitch count. That's why Jim Leyland pinch hit for JV after just four innings (and 98 pitches) of work.

As for his WS numbers, they're only based on 15 innings. And two of those starts came when he was a 23-year-old rookie.

So the Tigers didn't look rusty to you?
Not really. They have typically struggled with lefty junkballers like Barry Zito, and last night was no exception. All everyone talked about was what Verlander was going to do to the poor Giants hitters. But nobody cared to mention that Zito is the kind of pitcher that typically gives the Tigers fits. We're talking about a team (Tigers) that routinely makes Bruce Chen look like Steve Carlton.

Anything positive you can give us?
MMM is hoping that the Giants blew their wad of superlative performances and lucky breaks (read: Pagan's double that caromed off the third base bag, which started a two-out, three-run rally in the third inning) in one game. MMM doesn't see Game 2 as being anything like Game 1. The Tigers have a game under their belts and should have a better showing tonight.

Must win tonight?
No. But Game 3 will be, obviously, if the Tigers go home down 0-2. Certainly a win in Game 2 will calm everyone's nerves and make Game 1 that much easier to forget, because last night's game was, indeed, forgettable if you're a Tigers fan. Sooner or later the Tigers will have to win a game on the Bay if they're to be world champs. MMM would like to see it come sooner than later, but let's not get into "must win" mode already. There's enough pressure here.

One last question: Game 2's Giants starter, Madison Bumgarner, has earned the first half of his surname in the postseason: 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA. What does this mean?
That Bumgarner will eat the Tigers' lunch. MMM is only partly kidding. Seems these kinds of dudes give the Tigers all sorts of problems. So many times bad numbers for the opposing pitcher have equaled masterful pitching performances against Detroit. And Bumgarner is another Chen-like guy. This won't be a picnic, but MMM foresees a Game 2 win by the Tigers and a 1-1 Series heading to Detroit.

A predicted win? This is going on the Internets, you know.
So doesn't that make it automatically true?

Come back here tomorrow for BQ after World Series Game 2!!

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 4

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 4 of the ALCS.

The Tigers have advanced to the World Series three times since the LCS were introduced in 1969, and in all three occasions they have swept their ALCS opponent. But did they win this too quickly, given what happened in 2006?
Not at all. There's something to be said for rest and recharging. You might call MMM nuts, because of how the Tigers played poorly in the 2006 World Series after having a week off. But manager Jim Leyland told TBS after last night's game that the Tigers have a plan this year for the break. He wouldn't divulge it, but he did say that the team won't be "sitting around doing nothing for a week" as it did in 2006.

Besides, it's not always a good thing to bounce right into another series. The Tigers have been playing "big games" for nearly two months now, as the division race took everything they had to pass Chicago in the final week. That wears on you. Taking a few days off to relax and gather yourself is not a bad thing right now.

The Tigers starting pitchers have been off the charts in the postseason. Were you surprised at how they dominated the Yankees?
If you're asking if MMM was expecting an ERA from them of about 0.67 (27.1 IP, 2 ER), then yes, surprised. But not shocked, because the Yankees also expended a lot of energy to overtake the Orioles in both the division race and the ALDS, and the Yanks aren't exactly spring chickens. The Tigers exposed the Yankees as old, slow hitters who ran out of gas.

Any particular key moment in Game 4?
Might sound odd, but MMM thought the way Max Scherzer came out and struck out two of the first three hitters sent a message: New York, your pain on offense won't subside so easily, if at all. The worst thing for the Tigers would have been if the Yankees, who showed some tough at-bats in the ninth inning of Game 3,  tagged Max for a run or two in the first inning. But Scherzer came out dealing, and in fact didn't even give up a hit until the sixth inning.

And, of course, the Tigers' four-run fourth inning, which broke the game open and allowed Scherzer to relax a little. That kind of gave the game a feeling of fait accompli.

What has gotten into Jhonny Peralta, who hit two of the Tigers' four homers last night?
If Leyland and Peralta can't explain it (they have both gone on record as not being able to), then you expect MMM to explain it? But Peralta's sudden emergence with the bat and the glove in the postseason is what makes baseball, and especially playoff baseball, so great. And it's not just Peralta. Delmon Young was named series MVP. These are two of the most maligned Tigers, from an offensive standpoint, this season. Yet here they are, producing in the clutch at the most important time of the year. Simply amazing.

Speaking of maligned guys, how about Phil Coke?
MMM wouldn't have been heartbroken if Coke was left off the playoff roster---that's how much he'd fallen into disfavor with yours truly. But he's another whose game has been shifted into overdrive for the postseason. He's pitching with supreme confidence now, and it's all because Jose Valverde imploded in Game 1. If that doesn't happen, Coke doesn't get these high-profile chances.

What happens now to the Yankees?
The easy thing would be to say, "Who cares?" But clearly we all care, like it or not. The Yankees have made the postseason every year but one since 1995---MMM finds that terribly impressive. But theirs is a team that is old and petering out. The roster is filled with guys past the age of 36, and some with ball-and-chain contracts. They might be able to get by with a reload instead of a rebuild, because there's always free agency. MMM, however, is reminded of the adage, "You can't outrace the calendar." MMM thinks this may be the first time in almost 20 years that the Yankees are staring at a crossroads before them. One slight move either way could determine the direction of their franchise for years to come.

Did you know that this is the first time a team has eliminated the Yankees in the postseason two years in a row since the New York Giants in 1921 and 1922?
MMM heard that mentioned and it's quite amazing. That's 90 years coming. Another amazing stat: The Tigers are 10-3 against the Yankees in the postseason. How many teams (if any) can say that?

Gut question: Does Jose Valverde close in the World Series?
That IS the $64,000 question, isn't it? Papa Grande says he has it all figured out now---a mechanics issue that has been solved. And he was warming up in the ninth inning of Game 4, albeit with a seven-run lead. If Valverde's troubles were physical (i.e. an injury), then he wouldn't be on the postseason roster. If the Tigers add him to the World Series roster (which they presumably will do), it doesn't make sense to not use him. As good as Coke was in the closer's role in the ALCS, given the time off and the supposed fix in mechanics, MMM sees Papa Grande returned to his closer role. But his leash will be very short.

Are the Tigers the team to beat in the World Series, regardless of who emerges from the National League?
If the starting pitching continues to be lights out, the Tigers will run roughshod over their NL counterparts. But if the games require 5+ runs to win every night, then beware; the Tigers' offense can go dormant in a hurry.

You ready to take a few days off before the World Series?
MMM could use a break. The beer is running low, after all.

Come back here next Thursday for BQ after World Series Game 1!!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 3

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 3 of the ALCS.

Let's start with what happened before the game---namely, the Yankees lineup. No A-Rod, no Nick Swisher. Surprised?
Not really. If there's anything that MMM likes about Joe Girardi (and there are several things, actually), it's the manager's backbone. He doesn't bow to resumes and Hall of Fame credentials. He puts the guys in there who he feels gives his team the best chance of winning. MMM likes that. Now, the whole team is struggling, so you might wonder why Rodriguez and Swisher were singled out. Clearly, with A-Rod it's a matter of his 0-for-18 vs. right-handers in the postseason. With Swisher it was a chance to get Brett Gardner in the game, batting leadoff to replace the injured Derek Jeter.

For all the talk of the Yankees bats going silent, the Tigers aren't exactly hitting the cover off the ball, either. Concerned?
With a 3-0 series lead and Tigers starters putting zeroes up on the scoreboard like the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, World Series version, MMM isn't concerned so much as anxious. As long as you're winning, all is good. But it would have been nice for the Tigers to blow the game open in the sixth inning, when they had the bases loaded, one out, and Miguel Cabrera at the plate with a 2-0 lead. Even a sacrifice fly would have been nice. But the Triple Crown winner swung at the first pitch and grounded into a double play.

The good news is that the Yankees don't appear to be a team about to bust loose, so maybe you don't need a lot of runs to beat them.

Justin Verlander went 8.1 innings and threw a season-high 132 pitches, yet only struck out three hitters. Two-part question: was it right to pull him when Jim Leyland did; and what did you think of his outing?
First part first: yes, it was the right move. The Yankees had a flurry of lefty hitters coming up, plus switch-hitting Mark Teixeira. Leyland had southpaw Phil Coke, who is picking the right time to pitch the best he has all year, ready to go.  No reason to leave JV in at that point. MMM didn't like how Verlander hung that curve ball which no. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez (who had a great eight-pitch at-bat) clubbed over the left field wall in the ninth inning, which was another red flag that JV was on borrowed time. As for Verlander's outing, he may not have been as sharp as a tack, but he got people out, and that's all that counts.

As in Game 2, Leyland did not have closer Jose Valverde warming up in the eighth inning. It was Joaquin Benoit and Coke instead. Before the game Leyland said he would, basically, play it by ear and use his "managerial instincts" if the Tigers had a lead going into the ninth. Is Coke the new closer? He has saved the last two games.
It's looking like, at least for this series, that Valverde won't close anymore. But two things: Verlander was on the mound spinning a shutout; and Leyland must have liked the Coke vs. Yankees lefties matchup. And it paid off. Coke got Ichiro Suzuki with little drama. Then Teixeira and Robby Cano had great at-bats as Coke twice was within one strike of closing them out, but only a lefty could have made that nasty slider that Coke made on lefty-swinging Raul Ibanez to end the game.

With any luck, this series only has a game or two remaining and Leyland will have some time to determine whether to re-install Valverde as his closer for the (gulp) World Series.

The eventual game-winning hit was Cabrera's double over the head of centerfielder Curtis Granderson. Catchable?
Well, it wasn't like Jim Northrup's drive over Curt Flood's head in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series in terms of drama. It also differed from Northrup's hit in that Granderson got a bad jump, whereas Northrup's triple wasn't catchable, despite Flood's stumble. So yeah, MMM would call it catchable but it was also a very difficult play. Most centerfielders will tell you that the toughest play is the line drive hit right at you, which describes Cabrera's hit to a tee. Now, MMM isn't saying that Austin Jackson would have caught it; the play was extremely difficult. But a guy getting a good jump and taking the proper route might have snagged the ball; it wasn't uncatchable, as Northrup's hit was.

Girardi brought switch-hitting Swisher to the on-deck circle to hit for Russell Martin, had Ibanez kept the ninth inning rally going. No A-Rod against the lefty Coke?
Girardi explained afterward that had he pinch-hit Rodriguez, Leyland would have countered with the righty Benoit, and the Yankees manager is probably right. MMM guesses that Rodriguez must be dead to Girardi when a right-hander is on the mound.

A 3-0 series lead with Max Scherzer, who hasn't pitched since Game 4 of the ALDS, on the mound. Should we get out the brooms?
MMM told you to beware of the Yankees-Verlander match-up, and that proved to be false worry. Scherzer hasn't pitched in a week, but no worries about that; Max's arm could probably use the extra two days rest. MMM hates 3-0 series leads, as strange as that sounds. There just seems to be added pressure to get that fourth win ASAP. The ninth inning last night showed MMM that the Yankees are still twitching. Sadly, MMM thinks you'd better clear Thursday's schedule for Game 5.

Party pooper!
Re-read the first sentence of MMM's last answer. *wink*

Come back here Thursday for BQ after ALCS Game 4!!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 2

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 2 of the ALCS.

This is a nice question to ask about the other team for a change: Where are the Yankees bats?
It's not that they don't have bats---it's that those bats have as many holes in them as a whiffle ball. The number of swings and misses so far by the Bronx Bummers is staggering. Tigers pitchers are all but toying with the Yankees lineup, and MMM never figured he'd see that---at that cute little Yankee Stadium, no less. But the fences could have been 200 feet away; it really wouldn't have mattered.

Still, MMM doesn't trust that this offensive ineptitude is going to continue. Sooner or later the Yankees are going to bust loose. Maybe even against Justin Verlander in Game 3.

You're not serious. They might perk up against JV?
Why not? Baseball, as Joe Garagiola famously titled a book, is a funny game. Things don't always follow script, or precedent. All MMM is saying is, you never know what can happen. Maybe getting away from New York will help the Yanks. The played in a library over the weekend (with the exception of the ninth inning of Game 1). Comerica Park will be crazy, and that can help feed the visitors, too.

Maybe this is what you're talking about. Hiroki Kuroda was pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career, yet he was perfect through five innings yesterday. How did you see the duel between Kuroda and Anibal Sanchez?
Well, they were both terrific, obviously, but three days rest is still three days rest and eventually it will catch up to you if you're not used to it. No offense to Quintin Berry, but he's not usually a guy who drills balls over center fielders' heads, as he did to energize the rally in the seventh which produced the game's first run. MMM thinks Kuroda was beginning to lose some zip at that point, which wasn't very many pitches into his start, given how he cruised through the first six innings.

Once again the other team makes the defensive gaffe that everyone is talking about. This time it was Robby Cano, who dropped the ball on a sure-fire double play, scoring the first run from third base. Thoughts?
Stunning. Cano is Mr. Reliable, Mr. Smoothe, Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected. But for whatever reason, he chose to go overhand instead of sidearm, even though he had plenty of time to make his relay throw. The result was a case of butterfingers that proved huge. He makes that play and Kuroda wiggles out of a first-and-third, no outs jam. Devastating for the Yankees.

Speaking of defense, what has gotten into Ozzie Smith, er, Jhonny Peralta?
What did MMM say about baseball being a funny game and going against script? Sorry to answer your question with a question, but how else can you describe this? (Yes, that was another question. Sorry). Peralta has been nothing short of amazing in this series. He literally kept the Tigers in the game by himself in the early going of Game 1, and his bare-handed throw and cut down of Russell Martin in the sixth inning made Jhonny look like the most sure-handed shortstop in baseball.

MMM has been on Peralta's case at times this year, even about his defense. But Jhonny is quieting his critics, one by one.

OK, have to ask. The controversial play in which Omar Infante was called safe after over-running second base in the eighth inning, when replays clearly showed that he was out. Is Yankees manager Joe Girardi right---do we need replay in MLB for plays other than home runs?
You can take Girardi's bleatings with a grain of salt if you'd like, but he has a point. Why not try to get it right? MMM likes the NFL model of a limited number of challenges. Of course, which plays can be challenged would need to be determined. The trouble is, the nature of baseball is that, if a call gets reversed, it could create an additional set of problems, i.e. where to place other base runners, etc.

Clearly, umpire Jeff Nelson blew the call. He admitted it. Girardi made a good point when he said that, in the time it took for him to run onto the field, argue and get ejected, the umpires could have been looking at the play on video---and getting it right. MMM appreciates the "human element" of the game, but if it's good enough for the NFL, a multi-billion dollar corporation in of itself, then it's good enough for MLB.

Still, the Yankees never scored. So while it was a bad call, MMM has never seen a team win a game scoring less than one run.

Phil Coke got the final outs but don't call him the closer, according to Jim Leyland. Can closer-by-committee work, given Jose Valverde's demons?
MMM has a resounding answer for you: YES! MMM doesn't buy into the theory that games MUST be closed by ONE man, no matter what. In fact, MMM even favors the idea of having multiple pitchers in your bullpen who can be entrusted with the final few outs, as a general ideology. MMM would be thrilled if a big league team ever had the outside-the-box thinking to try that for a season. Granted, it might have to be a team that doesn't have a quote-unquote closer readily identified, but it would still be grand fun to see a team go against convention in this area.

So we don't see Papa Grande anymore in this postseason in a save situation?
MMM wouldn't be shocked, but he would be surprised. Jim Leyland's loyalty/stubbornness is why there wouldn't be a shock factor, but given the stakes here, surprised would definitely be the feeling if Valverde was summoned to close a tight ballgame.

Then when does he pitch?
MMM would blend him into the rotation of guys who normally pitch the sixth or seventh inning, but not necessarily in a close game. In other words, pick your spots with him carefully, and try to bring him in when there is some wiggle room for error.

Wiggle room? Sounds like a four-run lead in the ninth inning.
No one likes a smart aleck.

Verlander in Game 3. Yankees bats have gone AWOL. But it's not a lock for the Tigers?
There are no locks in the playoffs. No sure things. No mailing it in. That's what makes baseball a great game. But MMM wouldn't switch roles with the Yankees right now, that's for sure. They are Derek Jeter-less, and they looked like zombies without him. But again, no sure things.

Come back here Wednesday for BQ after ALCS Game 3!!

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burning Questions: ALCS Game 1

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 1 of the ALCS.

Funny question, I know, to open with after a win, but who is the most hated man in Detroit right now---Jose Valverde or Jim Leyland?
Not funny at all, that's the problem. MMM has an analogy for you. If a dog gets taken into a grocery store and urinates in the frozen food aisle, who do you reprimand---the dog or his owner?

Sorry for the visual there, but you get MMM's point, don't you? Valverde's meltdown in the ninth inning was stunning in that came on the heels of his meltdown in Game 4 of the ALDS. But after it became apparent, early in last night's appearance, that Papa Grande didn't have it, Leyland should have summoned Octavio Dotel, who was warming up furiously in the bullpen. The two-run homer by Ichiro Suzuki screamed for Dotel. Yet Leyland kept rolling the dice with Valverde, which were loaded cubes the manager was playing with. Hard to defend the decision to stick with Valverde, to say the least.

But Valverde struck out Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in between all the damage. Didn't that make Leyland think that Valverde would be OK?
Just because you strike someone out doesn't mean you have your best stuff. Instead you should look at the pitches that were hit---and hit hard. Russell Martin's single (he's the number nine hitter for a reason) wasn't cheap. Ichiro's homer was even more expensive. And walking Mark Teixeira after getting ahead, 0-2, when you know Mr. Early October, Raul Ibanez, is in the on deck circle representing the tying run, well, MMM doesn't think two strikeouts cancel all that out.

Valverde's velocity was down, his pitches had no movement, and the Yankees were teeing off---when they were making contact. The two strikeouts were nice, but more of a case of good hitters simply missing hittable pitches, when you see what others were doing to Valverde's offerings.

Did you think the game was lost after the Yankees ninth inning rally, even though it was merely tied?
MMM likes to think of himself as a glass is half filled guy, but a walk-off win by New York wouldn't have come as a surprise, let's put it that way.

OK, more about the bullpen dilemma later on. What say you about Doug Fister?
A rocky start, obviously (three walks in the first inning). But then, yet another terrific performance by a Tigers starter. That makes six in a row now in the postseason. When your starters give you a chance to win every game, you can't ask for anything more than that.

Fister pitched like an Opening Day or Game 1 starter. Because, frankly, that's what he would be on any team that didn't include Justin Verlander. He was great after the first inning.

And the defense? Specifically, Jhonny Peralta?
Amazing, isn't it? Seems that in the postseason, the other teams are making the defensive gaffes, not the Tigers. MMM finds that deliciously ironic. As for Peralta, his plays early in the game got lost in the shuffle, but if he doesn't make them (backhand grab of Alex Rodriguez's base hit bid in the first and the ricochet off Fister's right wrist off the bat of Robby Cano, both with the bases loaded), the Yankees score at least three runs. And don't forget Austin Jackson, who ran down Eric Chavez's long drive in the eighth inning that could have been the start of something for New York.

The Tigers keep winning without having gotten a huge game yet from Miguel Cabrera. This is a good thing, right?
You asked a similar question before, but MMM feels you. Cabrera has been rather tame, but you know that won't last forever, and if the Tigers keep getting contributions from the likes of Delmon Young, Avi Garcia et al, then that's the recipe for postseason success. How wonderful that would be, if the Tigers lower half of the batting order picks the postseason during which to finally come alive!

The Yankees lost Derek Jeter to a fractured ankle, as told to reporters by manager Joe Girardi. Alex Rodriguez is scuffling in the postseason---again. So are several other Yankees. Their offense has been "wait for Raul Ibanez to save the day." Is this team ripe for the picking?
Whoa! The series is just one game old. Each series is different from the last, just like during the regular season. Let's not get too cocky here. The Yankees, unlike the Oakland A's, didn't get to this point with smoke and mirrors. They are still a very formidable foe. While MMM loves the Tigers starting pitching, Fister was a magician in Game 1, getting out of trouble. The Yankees problem is their lack of hitting with RISP, but they are sometimes able to overcome that deficiency with home runs, especially in that bandbox of a ballpark they play in.

It's a long series. The Tigers have beaten the Yankees twice in the postseason since 2006, but both were in the LDS. This is their first meeting in a best-of-seven, "real" series.

As for Jeter, that's a huge blow for New York. Still, let's not crown the Tigers after one game.

Back to the bullpen, as promised. What does Jim Leyland do now, with Valverde going off the tracks? Because Joaquin Benoit doesn't seem to have exorcised his demons, either.
MMM would anoint veteran Octavio Dotel as the closer, pronto. That's number one. MMM would then give Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke the seventh inning, between them. As for Benoit, MMM is much more confident in him than in Valverde. Yes, Benoit has been shaky in recent outings, but he hasn't had two implosions in a row, like Valverde has. Some, like Detroit News beat writer Lynn Henning, think that shuffling the bullpen now is like playing loser's poker. MMM disagrees. Don't throw your hands up---come up with a solution, and fast. A World Series berth is there for the taking.

Come back here Monday for BQ after ALCS Game 2!!

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 5

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 5 of the ALDS.

In retrospect, did the A's have a chance last night?
Probably not. Yes, there were times this season when Justin Verlander got knocked around a little bit, but he won his last four starts of the regular season and is now locked in for the playoffs. We probably didn't need to be nervous at all yesterday, waiting for 9:37 p.m. to come. This was, in MMM's eyes, the best game Verlander has ever pitched. Yes, that's saying something about a guy who has tossed two no-hitters and has come close to a few others, but given the circumstances, the venue and the stakes, last night was the best.

As Dennis Eckersley said on MLB Network after the game, once the Tigers got ahead 2-0, you could sense that Oakland's magical season was beginning to crumble because Verlander was dealing as only Verlander can.

Silly question, but what made Verlander so good?
A seemingly endless supply of pitches, thrown at the right times, and in the right locations. It was as if a pitching god was upstairs ordering pitches, like we would order weather for a family picnic---you know, "I'd like a hard curve ball, 12 to 6, to freeze this hitter, please." And so on.

The A's are a strikeout-prone lineup to begin with, but JV would have racked up Ks against any team last night.

So what about that strategy you mentioned yesterday---the one about trying to drive Verlander's pitch count up?
MMM also said easier said than done. But the A's didn't really try that strategy, or at least it didn't appear that they did. In their defense, Verlander didn't fall behind too many hitters, so the A's were often down in the count, which makes it difficult to drive a pitch count up. JV threw a complete game and tossed just 116 pitches, which is 13 per inning, a delightful number that any pitching coach or manager would kill for from his starter.

What would have happened to Jim Leyland if he yanked Verlander after eight innings?
Not sure about Leyland, but MMM is quite sure that Twitter might have seen its Apocalypse.

How important was it for the Tigers to bust the game open in the seventh inning?
Of the utmost. As good as Verlander was, 2-0 made MMM uneasy, as it probably did hundreds of thousands of Tigers fans. You just didn't want the A's to feel like they were still in the game in the late innings, because they tend to do that thing where they win in the bottom of the ninth or beyond. And, if you recall, MMM said the Tigers needed to win the game 6-1 instead of in a squeaker.

Patting yourself on the back?
Who else is going to do it?

OK, getting back to the series as a whole: the Tigers won it without a monster performance from Miguel Cabrera. Good or bad?
How can it be bad? If you're implying that we should somehow be worried about Miggy in the post-season in general, fret not. He's a superstar. Remember Nelson Cruz? He had a God awful ALDS against Tampa Bay last year and torched the Tigers in the ALCS. And in case you hadn't noticed, Cabrera is better than Cruz. Post-season baseball is compartmentalized. Placido Polanco was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS and couldn't buy a hit in the World Series. Cabrera will be fine. He also didn't have too many at-bats with ducks on the pond in this series.

So yeah, it's good to win without your star slugger having gaudy numbers. Means other people are getting it done.

Now that the A's are done, any post-mortem you'd like to give on their season?
MMM thinks you should check Bob Melvin's office for mirrors and a smoke machine. How he got 94 wins with that team will go down as one of baseball's great mysteries. Yes, they have some nice young arms, but this is 2012---teams just don't win without being able to hit for a BA higher than .238. Yet the A's did. But don't get too excited; 2013 won't be filled with walk-off wins and some of those kid pitchers may experience a sophomore jinx or two. Still, they had a nice year. Can't take it away from them.

Any final thoughts about the series, from a Tigers perspective?
They did just enough, obviously, to win it, and they had Justin Verlander and the other team didn't. The good news is that the Tigers will always have Verlander and the other team won't. But MMM still has some concerns about the "now you see it, now you don't" offense. It goes into hibernation too often. You can overcome that in a five-game series in which your ace pitches twice, but maybe not in a seven-game series. Although, if the schedule holds, Verlander is set to pitch Game 3 and...Game 7 (if there is one) of the ALCS.

MMM did like how some of the supporting players chipped in. Again, the analogy is getting scoring from your third or fourth lines in playoff hockey. So important. And the starting pitching was outstanding. In all five games, Tigers starters gave their team a legitimate chance to win.

Who do you want in the ALCS: Baltimore or New York?
Oh, there's a choice? Gee, MMM would have to say Baltimore. The Yankees have been playing good ball for a while, and the Tigers have beaten them twice in the post-season (2006, 2011), though those were in the LDS. MMM doesn't like trying to beat them again, especially two years in a row. The Orioles have had a great year, but MMM just likes the matchup better, and that bandbox ballpark in New York makes too many ordinary fly balls disappear into the seats.

Regardless, the next opponent will be in the Eastern time zone. MMM likes that. His old body has been racked from years of watching Red Wings playoff games being played in California that have ended at damn near two in the morning.

You're old?
MMM prefers wise.

Come back here Sunday for BQ after ALCS Game 1!!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 4

(note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 4 of the ALDS)

Again I ask, where was the Tigers offense?
Sensing a trend, too? Well, no one is getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera, which is why Miggy has zero, zilch, nada RBI after four games. Hits aren't being strung together. The big inning has gone AWOL. These things happen, of course, but they're happening at the worst time of the year.

So it's the offense, not Jose Valverde's ninth inning implosion, that's to blame?
Clearly Papa Grande isn't off the hook, but the Tigers have wasted two good starts in Oakland, both of which should have lifted the team into the ALCS. The Tigers went down too meekly for MMM's liking in the later innings. They did tack on an additional run in the eighth inning, but it still didn't feel like enough. Then Valverde entered the game and obviously three runs weren't enough.

Speaking of Valverde, none of the four hits he gave up were cheapies. When a closer gets hit that hard, what's up?
Closers are typically two-pitch guys. Sometimes they have a third, but for the most part they are fastball and pitch B guys. Valverde kept his pitches up. His split finger didn't split. There was little to no movement on his fastball. The A's teed off on them.

How did the A's win 94 games with a team BA of .238, in this day and age?
So glad you asked that question. Game 4 was case in point. They hang around, cobble together five or six hits, but several of them will be for extra bases. Then they steal the game in the late innings. It's a recipe that isn't likely to carry over into next season, however. The A's have walked off 15 times this season, which is crazy. You can't do that two years in a row. Baseball is a great game, but it's also humbling. In fact, and this may sound like sour grapes, but MMM doesn't think Oakland will even be a .500 team next year.

Is the Oakland defense a factor?
Well, they ARE filled with athletic guys who can catch the ball, aren't they? Coco Crisp's blunder in Game 2 aside, the A's have been going out and getting it. Stephen Drew has been annoying, gobbling up everything at shortstop, covering more of the infield than a tarp. They are crisp and together in the field. So yeah, it's a factor, in the sense that they aren't allowing runners on base who don't belong there. The base hit by Josh Reddick that started the A's rally was a ground ball that Omar Infante should have been able to get. MMM thinks Cliff Pennington would have made that play.

Should Jim Leyland have stuck with Al Alburquerque into the eighth inning after his quick disposal of the A's in the seventh?
Tough call. Al-Al hasn't really been a two-inning guy much this season, and Joaquin Benoit isn't used to coming into games in the middle of an inning. Had Alburquerque scuffled in the eighth, what would Leyland have done? Brought in Benoit anyway? MMM would have done what Leyland did---and not just because it ended up working out, as Benoit slithered out of the eighth with no damage.

Does Leyland dare use Valverde in Game 5 if a save situation presents itself? 
You bet he will. It will blow Twitter up, but you can bet the farm that Valverde gets the call. MMM feels everyone's pain, but you don't switch closers for the first time all season in Game 5 of the ALDS. If Valverde doesn't get it done two nights in a row, he's toast in Detroit anyway. People won't have to worry about him anymore.

Do the Tigers need Justin Verlander to pitch a complete game?
If the A's are smart, they will try to drive JV's pitch count up. Yes, easier said than done, but it is doable, if you have the patience. No way do the A's want to see JV on the mound in the ninth inning. That is likely a bad sign for them. But if Verlander's pitch count exceeds 130, you should get him out of there, unless the game is in the ninth inning. Then, you roll the dice with your horse.

So, feel good with JV on the hill?
Well, yeah, but it's not like the Tigers had chopped liver on the mound in Games 3 and 4, either. Max Scherzer was terrific last night. The A's had three hits after seven innings. But they won the game anyway. Verlander won't matter if the Tigers bats don't come alive. The Tigers need to win this Game 6-1, instead of trying to sneak out with a one or two-run victory. The A's have magic pixie dust sprinkled on them this season.

Come back here Friday for BQ after Game 5!!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 3

(note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses Game 3 of the ALDS)

Where was the Tigers offense?
Some of it got lost in the gloves of Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. Both outfielders made terrific plays robbing Prince Fielder, which is what happens to you when you're 1-for-12, as Prince is in the series.

Crisp's thievery of a home run in the second inning seemed to set the tone. If you're an A's fan, it was appropriate that that play be made by Crisp, who was one of the goats in Game 2 for dropping Miguel Cabrera's fly ball in the seventh inning.

But aside from those two plays, the Tigers once again seemed vexed by a lefty with good off-speed stuff and a slider down and in to the righties and away from the left swingers. It was like Bruce Chen was pitching for Oakland.

So is it just a matter of turning the page and forgetting about it? Is it that easy?
It ought to be that easy. There's quite enough before you in the playoffs, with each game magnified in importance, that thinking about the last game simply can't be tolerated. Tonight is a new game. Game 3 is over and done with.

Was this a typical Oakland A's victory?
Pretty much. They won't pound you for 10 or 12 hits. They'll scratch out a few, knock one or two out of the ballpark, and pitch. That's how the A's won 94 games with a .238 team batting average. Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez pitched well, but Brett Anderson and the A's bullpen was better.

Frankly, the A's starters have pitched every bit as good, just about, as the Tigers through three games.

Speaking of Fielder, any worries about him?
Not really. MMM is sure that Fielder had a lot of 1-for-12 stretches during the season, as does every player. You just notice it more now. Besides, two of those 12 were robberies, and he's just as likely to bust out tonight with a couple big hits. As long as he doesn't seem frustrated, MMM isn't worried.

More pressure on the Tigers than on Oakland tonight?
More on the Tigers than there was yesterday, but not more than Oakland. The pressure is always greater on the team facing elimination. It has to be.

Having said that, the Tigers obviously would love to end this series tonight, with Max Scherzer on the mound. They would much rather have Justin Verlander for Game 1 of a seven-game series (ALCS), giving him maybe three starts, than in Game 5 of the ALDS. Even if the Tigers win a Game 5, JV wouldn't be available, likely, until Game 3 of the ALCS.

Any more thoughts on Al Alburquerque and "kissing-gate"?
The A's have nothing to complain about after Sean Doolittle's over-the-top scream after striking out the side in the eighth inning last night.

So who wins tonight?
MMM likes Scherzer against a strikeout-prone A's lineup. Tigers advance.

Can I quote you?
No need to. It's all over the Internet now, isn't it?

Come back here Thursday for BQ after Game 4!!

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Burning Questions: ALDS Games 1&2

(note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM's answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night's game. Today's BQ addresses both Games 1 and 2)

What do you make of the complaining the A's hitters have had about the strike zone, particularly after Game 1?
The strike zone did seem to be a tad generous in Game 1, but two things about that: 1) a pitcher of Justin Verlander's stature will get the benefit of some doubt, just like all great players do in every sport (you think LeBron James doesn't get some favorable whistles?); 2) generous strike zones, if they exist, don't just materialize in the later innings. Hitters should know by the third or fourth inning, tops, that the home plate umpire's zone might be a tad expanded. Whether they agree or not, maybe the A's hitters should have taken some swings, even if defensive in nature, at some of those pitches. Besides, MMM doesn't think that a few pitches out of 100+ decided the game. Verlander was terrific.

As for Game 2, MMM thought Doug Fister had his classic fastball working---the one with the late movement that catches the black. Catcher Gerald Laird did a wonderful job of receiving those pitches---not moving his glove, which was positioned in the strike zone. The baseball may have gone by the left-handed hitters inside, but Laird caught them in the strike zone. Great job.

What about Joaquin Benoit? He nearly gave up the game-tying home run in Game 1, and had a horrific eighth inning in Game 2 (wild pitch for a run, solo homer to put Oakland ahead).

Benoit is baffling. He went through that very tough stretch in August where he surrendered 10 homers in 15 innings (MMM still can't believe that, even as he's typing it), then he settled down for a while, leading us to believe that he got all that out of his system. Now he's back to being scary again. It happened late in the regular season and is continuing, so far, in the playoffs.

But don't get your hopes up that Jim Leyland will replace Benoit as the set-up man. Once the Marlboro Man sinks his teeth into a player, it's awfully hard for him to let go, sometimes to a fault (i.e. Ryan Raburn). MMM thinks that Benoit is the guy, at least through the ALDS.

Is Alex Avila back?

One can only hope. Al-Av had a clutch home run in Game 1 that gave the Tigers a little bit of insurance, but then was called out on strikes in a crucial at-bat in the eighth inning of Game 2. So you tell MMM---is Avila back or not? He says he's feeling great---much better than in 2011's post-season. We'll see.

MMM is excited that guys like Quintin Berry, Don Kelly and even Danny Worth (with the glove) are contributing. That's what you need for a long playoff run: bench guys chipping in. It's like getting scoring from your fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Will Coco Crisp's dropped fly ball in Game 2 turn out to be the signature play of this series?

Perhaps, but MMM was more impressed by Avisail Garcia's rifle throw that nailed Crisp at the plate in the sixth inning, keeping the Oakland lead to 2-1. If Crisp scores, the A's lead 3-1 and there is still only one out in the inning, with runners on second and third. Garcia's throw is being lost in the shuffle, not only because of Crisp's error but by everything that happened from the seventh inning on. But MMM still thinks Garcia's throw, which looked like it came from a 10-year veteran instead of someone not even in the big leagues until August 31, was the key play of Game 2.

How good of a hitter is Miguel Cabrera?

The best. The single he had in the ninth inning of Game 2 was classic for a great hitter. Cabrera was facing a very tough righty in Grant Balfour, and had two strikes against him. Balfour threw a breaking ball, and Cabrera didn't try to do to much---just shot it into center field for a base hit, sending Omar Infante to third base. Miggy didn't try to pull it and didn't overswing---two things that could have resulted in an inning-ending ground ball double play. That put a runner on third base with less than two outs.

So...Don Kelly?

Hey, give the guy some credit. MMM thinks Balfour figured he could overpower Kelly with some high cheese, except that Kelly seemed to be sitting on the fastball and timed it just right, driving the ball deep enough for the game-winning sacrifice fly. MMM wasn't worried about Kelly hitting into a double play; a strike out would have been the most likely scenario. But Worth was in the on-deck circle, and no offense, but if Kelly doesn't get the job done, Worth probably wouldn't have, either.

The A's were upset that Al Alburquerque kissed the baseball before tossing it to Prince Fielder to end the ninth inning. Much ado about nothing?

Sure---if you're the winning team. Losing teams, especially those down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, are looking for anything to rally around. Being indignant about Al-Al's peck is a way to try to manufacture some sort of cause. Al said he just got caught up in the moment. Unfortunately he did it right in front of the Oakland dugout. A's manager Bob Melvin said he didn't see it (or, saw it and it didn't bother him). Outfielder Josh Reddick called it "unprofessional."

MMM thinks it's kind of amusing that in this day and age of showboating in pro sports, what Alburquerque did is thought to be so atrocious. The A's have a closer who can get a little silly, too. All teams do things that are brazen and brash and abrasive. MMM's advice to the A's: get over it---you have bigger fish to fry, like winning a game or else your season is over.

So, IS the season over for Oakland?

MMM thinks so. The A's have to beat Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, without any margin for error, in order to advance. MMM thinks Oakland's .238 team BA in the regular season is finally about to catch up with them. But they had a great season and exceeded all expectations.

Come back here Wednesday morning for BQ after Game 3!!


Monday, October 01, 2012

Monday Morning Manager: Week 26

Last Week: 6-1
This Week:  at KC (10/1-3)

So, What Happened?

It took about 156 games, but the cream has finally risen to the top in the AL Central.

Everyone knew the Tigers were the best team in the division, as pocked as it is. Everyone knew they had more talent than the other teams. Everyone knew they had better starting pitching. Everyone knew they had the best player in the game and arguably the best pitcher, too.

That's why the Tigers were the unanimous choice of the major media prognosticators to win the Central, way back in February.

And it looks like everyone is going to be right.

It hasn't always been pretty. It's been an emotional roller coaster. The blabbermouths with cell phones who call in to sports talk radio have had the manager, hitting coach and GM fired many times over.  They ran Brandon Inge out of town and have worked on several others---unsuccessfully, thus far.

Yet here the Tigers sit, on the verge of doing something never before done by the franchise since divisional play began in 1969: win two straight division titles.

It's how you finish, right?

The Tigers swept four games from the Royals in Detroit, and took 2 of 3 from the Twins in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the White Sox continued to free fall against Cleveland and Tampa Bay as the scheduling gods helped the Tigers.

The magic number is 1. Just one more Tigers win or White Sox loss, and the Central goes to Detroit.

This is like Muhammad Ali needing a 15th round KO to beat Chuck Wepner. But, MMM will take it.

MMM will be glued to the TV tonight, hoping for champagne to flow in the locker room in Kansas City.

Hero of the Week
Normally, MMM reserves this award to someone who was invaluable to the cause during the previous week.

This week's recipient didn't even get the victory in his brilliant start, but that's irrelevant.

Doug Fister set a new American League record, and that's good enough for MMM to make him HotW.

Fister, as you all know, struck out nine straight Royals batters last Thursday, Sadly, he tired rapidly and a 4-0 lead became perilous. Eventually, KC tied the game in the ninth, and the Tigers walked off with a win in the next half inning. So Fister got one of the most obnoxious no decisions in history.

The nine straight Ks was one off the MLB mark set by Tom Seaver, who struck out 19 San Diego Padres in 1970. Seaver set down the final 10 Padres on strikes that day (April 22, 1970). The Padres were a second-year expansion team that year.

Fister's outing was classic Fister: late movement on the fastball, total command, working quickly, etc.

He may not have gotten the victory, but a performance like that is HotW material.

Honorable mentions: Miguel Cabrera, for continuing his assault on the Triple Crown and for his huge three-run homer in Saturday's game; Prince Fielder, who won Sunday's game with a two-run homer in the eighth inning; and Anibal Sanchez, who had two outstanding starts last week.

Goat of the Week
MMM is going outside the box and calling out the sabermetrics folks---particularly the ones who want to crap all over Cabrera's Triple Crown bid.

It's one thing to present why you think newer stats like OPS and WAR are other, viable ways to gauge a player's value. It's quite another to pooh-pooh the Triple Crown and be arrogant in doing so---giving the impression that we're all dunderheads and simpletons.

MMM was particularly incensed by an article written by's Brian Kenny, which was headlined "The Triple Crown is Nonsense." That alone should make your blood boil.

Kenny argued for the Angels' Mike Trout as league MVP, defecating on Cabrera's historic season. What he failed to mention was that Trout's numbers have gone south since August 1, while Cabrera is performing when the chips are down. That, and the Tigers are going to make the playoffs and the Angels likely aren't.

MMM's thing is, if you want to prop up different ways of analyzing numbers, go right ahead. But don't treat those of us who think the Triple Crown is pretty cool like we're a bunch of neanderthals.

Under the Microscope
What to do about Max Scherzer?

Scherzer, the flame-throwing righty whose pitch counts multiply faster than bunnies, has a dead arm. He is set to start on Wednesday (season finale), after his last start was skipped. Two starts prior to that, Max only lasted two innings.

MMM doesn't want Scherzer to start on Wednesday, even if (God forbid) the Tigers need to win the game to clinch the division. And MMM doesn't want Max on the ALDS roster, either. And maybe not even any post-season roster beyond that.

Why? Because MMM doesn't feel it's worth it to risk Scherzer's long-term health, especially when the rotation goes three-deep with Justin Verlander, Fister and Sanchez.

Regardless, Scherzer is UtM because he's a crucial piece to the puzzle, this year and beyond.

Upcoming: Royals
You know you're near the end of the season (or at the All-Star break) when only one team name appears in this section.

The Tigers achieved the rare four-game sweep last week, and to show you how rare it was, the Royals have been in existence since 1969 and that was the first time the Tigers have swept them in a four-game series.

The mission is quite simple. The White Sox literally have no margin for error. The Tigers could lose all three games in KC (as they did in late August) and still win the division. All it takes is one measly Chicago loss in Cleveland.

In 2006, the Tigers celebrated a post-season berth on Kauffman Stadium's infield grass. Will history repeat, six years later?

Tigers starters: Rick Porcello, Fister, Scherzer (or Drew Smyly).

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


Increasing Frequency of No-Hitters Lessens Their Mystique

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when a no-hitter in baseball was so infrequent that you could remember the names of the pitchers who tossed such gems over the past several years.
The moments were recalled on the yellowed newspaper clippings of your memory.
The no-hitters dotted recent history, delicious in their stubborn and insistent rarity of occurrence.
You were sometimes lucky to see one a year. The no-hitter was Armageddon-type headline stuff for the newspapers.
Part of the beauty, too, was how the no-hitter often plucked mediocre pitchers from virtual anonymity and shoved them under baseball’s spotlight, all because for one game, that guy with the losing record and the ERA of 4.86 put it all together.
It’s part of my fascination with baseball—how the game has a wonderful way of occasionally making heroes out of the Walter Mittys who play it.
The list of men who have tossed no-hitters is hardly a Who’s Who of pitching.
The no-hitter was, until recent years, baseball’s version of being struck by lightning.
Emphasis on was.
It was around 1990 when the no-hitter increased in frequency. In the 1980s, there were 13 no-hitters thrown, total—13 for the entire decade. Three years in the decade (1982, 1985, and 1989) were devoid of no-hitters altogether. In contrast, the 1990s hit 13 no-hitters by 1991, and a new day had dawned.
But now it’s getting ridiculous.
Check the water in the cooler in the dugout. Better yet, have the pitching arms tested for uranium—or Nolan Ryan.
You ready for this?
Since April 17, 2010, 16 no-hitters have been thrown. They’re getting to be as common as complete games, almost.
Friday night, Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds tossed the latest gem, at the Pirates in Pittsburgh—the same Pirates team that was two outs away from being victimized by Justin Verlander in May, which would have been Verlander’s third no-hitter before the age of 30.
Bailey’s no-hitter is the seventh this season alone, a year that has seen three perfect games.
Bailey fits the bill as baseball’s latest no-hit artist. He has a career ERA of 4.59, so naturally he threw a no-hitter.
But seriously—seven no hitters, in one season? And three perfect games?
Call it the Dead Ball Era, Part II. Or the return of the Hitless Wonders, with apologies to the 1906 Chicago White Sox.
But more power to the pitchers, I say. It’s rather amazing that the spate of no-hitters have come at a time in the game where strike zones are squeezed more than Charmin. There are a lot of umpires in the game today who make the pitcher pour the baseball over an area the size of a postage stamp.
Yet we are seeing dominant performances almost every night. It’s not just starting pitching that has become filled with Ryans and Koufaxes and Johnsons. Every team, it seems, has a reliever or two whose ERA looks like the price of a newspaper.
Fernando Rodney, our old friend from his Tigers days and the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, is having the year of his life.
Rodney, from 2007 thru 2011, never had an ERA of lower than 4.24. Tigers fans know all too well the trials and tribulations he had as the team’s closer.
This year, Rodney has converted 46 of 48 save opportunities and has an ERA of 0.62, or one-seventh of what he’s been churning out in recent years.
0.62 isn’t an ERA, it’s pocket change.
It’s a fascinating time to be watching baseball, because offenses are shrinking gradually, like that guy who loses weight but you don’t notice until you see photos of him from three years ago.
Number crunching time.
Every Major League Baseball season contains 2,430 games, or a few less if rainouts aren’t made up. Let’s take a look at total runs scored since 2006 (numbers from
2006: 23,599 (9.7 per game)
2007: 23,322 (9.6)
2008: 22,585 (9.3)
2009: 22,419 (9.2)
2010: 21,308 (8.8)
2011: 20,808 (8.6)
2012: 20,298 (thru earlier this week with a handful of games left per team)

Now, I’m no mathematician or sabermetrics guy, but that looks like a trend to me.
So why the degradation involving those guys swinging the bats?
Well, they’re growing pitchers bigger these days. You see the sizes of some of these hurlers? Put them in plaid and they’d pass for Paul Bunyan. Some of these guys are so tall it’s like being pitched to by a giraffe.
The pitchers are getting bigger and stronger, but the bats are the same size.
Another theory? Teams are promoting players earlier in their professional careers, as a rule. And the pitchers are ahead of the hitters in their development.
The stuff out there is nasty. Sliders dropping off tables like cue balls. Curves bending like bamboo. Fastballs exploding and being applied to the strike zone with a paint brush. Change ups twisting hitters into the dirt like a corkscrew.
The poor hitters just can’t keep up, as the above numbers indicate.
So is the no-hitter being ruined? Is it being rendered meaningless? Are we on the verge of greeting the news of the latest no-no with yawns?
Sixteen no-hitters since April 2010. That’s nearly one a month, on average. And there are a whole lot more that are flirted with—getting as far as the seventh or eighth inning in many instances.
Poor Homer Bailey. He threw his no-hitter and it’s like you want to react by saying, “Put it over there, with the others.”
What can you say? The guy was born 20 years too late to thrill us.