Monday Morning Manager: Week 12
This Week: LAA (6/25-27); at TB (6/28-30)
So, What Happened?
The Tigers played two of the best and hottest teams in the American League and came away with a 4-3 record. MMM will take that and run. The Tigers hold a solid four-game lead in the AL Central over the getting-hot Cleveland Indians.
MMM was a little uneasy, however, when the week began with the Tigers dropping two of three to the Baltimore Orioles, including a 13-3 blowout in Wednesday's series finale. Maybe our Bengals aren't ready for prime time, after all, MMM wondered.
Those fears were quelled when the Tigers bounced back, big time, to swipe three of four games from the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, scoring 27 runs in the process after plating just 10 runners in the three Orioles games.
Papa Grande, aka Jose Valverde, got the much requested (by fans) DFA (designated for assignment) on Friday. This means that if Valverde isn't claimed off waivers by today, he either will accept a minor league assignment at Toledo, or he can request his release.
In the meanwhile, manager Jim Leyland kinda, sorta, named Joaquin Benoit as his new closer, if the stars and the moon align the right way that particular day.
Questions still surround the perplexing Justin Verlander, who turned in two "meh" performances last week.
And at least one Red Sox player knows what Calvin Johnson must feel like when it comes to "completing" a catch.
Hero of the Week
All hail Mad Max!
Pitcher Max Scherzer won two games last week in impressive (again) fashion, to run his season record to 11-0. Max became the first Tigers pitcher to start a season 11-0 since George Mullin did it in 1909---and one of those Mullin victories came in relief.
Scherzer's blossoming, combined with Verlander's struggles, has seemingly vaulted Max into the ace's role, albeit certainly without the actual title---so far. Right now, it's kind of being whispered, as if the fans don't want to tick off JV.
Scherzer took care of the Red Sox on Saturday night, pumping the strike zone and turning in another intimidating performance.
You need a ton of luck to be 11-0, and in Max's case, it starts with run support. For whatever reason, whenever Scherzer toes the rubber, the Tigers score a LOT. The team is averaging over seven runs per game in games started by Mad Max.
But the irony is that Scherzer doesn't really need all those runs. His ERA is a quiet 3.05, with a thin WHIP (walks + hits/per innings pitched) of 0.91. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is an incredible 122-to-24.
MMM thinks Scherzer should be the starter in the All-Star Game for the American League, even if the choice would be made by his own manager, Leyland, who is skippering the squad.
How can you argue with 11-0?
Of course, the ASG is several weeks away, and Scherzer's bubble could burst by then. But as of now, Max gets MMM's vote, for whatever that's worth.
Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder, for breaking out of a mini-slump in the clutch on Sunday; Victor Martinez, for a well-timed grand slam on Saturday and a whale of a defensive play on Sunday; and Austin Jackson, who continues to play great baseball after his lengthy absence due to his hamstring.
Goat of the Week
Guess what? No Valverde or Alex Avila in this space this week!
Valverde's implosion on Wednesday wasn't crucial---all it did was turn a 9-3 deficit into a 13-3 one. So that's not enough to make him last week's goat. And Avila was placed on the DL after being hit by a pitch a week ago Sunday.
So MMM turns his lonely eyes to pitcher Doug Fister, who didn't give the Tigers a chance at winning on Friday night with this line: 3.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R/ER, 0 strikeouts.
The poor outing raised Fister's ERA from 3.21 to 3.66, just like that.
Fister fooled no one on Friday, and even though that's a fine Red Sox lineup, Fister wasn't close to keeping the game in hand.
Under the Microscope
Even manager Jim Leyland is acknowledging that Justin Verlander is having command issues.
“It’s not a stuff issue or anything else," Leyland told the press on Sunday after Verlander's latest shaky outing (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R/ER). "It’s command issues. Today, none of the repertoire was really getting it where he wanted it to go.”
Verlander agreed with his manager's assessment.
“The command is definitely not there,” Verlander said. “Just trying to find it. It’s one of those things where you have to find it, and when it clicks, it clicks. Don’t try to press too much. Just go out there and continue to do the work that I know has made me the pitcher that I am.”
All of it adds up to Verlander being placed under MMM's scope for the second time in recent weeks.
How can Verlander not be under the scope? We're almost through June and JV's ERA is inching toward 4.00. He's not making hitters buckle with his devastating curve ball, nor does he have that same swagger, which was pointed out by FSD's Rod Allen during Sunday's broadcast.
Yet Verlander is still 8-5 and could still win close to 20 games if he returns to his old self soon.
But to watch Verlander labor through start after start---he seemed to have gotten it together two starts ago in Kansas City---makes MMM wince. This simply isn't the Justin Verlander we're used to seeing around these parts.
Here's hoping Verlander's second stay under the scope does the trick.
Upcoming: Angels, Rays
The Tigers owe the Los Angeles Angels.
The Halos swept the Tigers out west in April. This week, the Angels invade Detroit for a three-game set that starts on Tuesday.
It's OK, though, to feel a little sorry for the Angels. Starting with Albert Pujols and ending with C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton, the Angels have spent money like mad and have very little to show for it.
The Angels are 33-43 and Hamilton, specifically, is a big reason why the club is struggling.
Hamilton is being jeered by Angels fans, and with good reason. He is hitting .207 with 10 homers, 25 RBI, and 76 strikeouts in 275 at-bats. He is a shadow of his MVP-type self of just a few years ago. Hamilton's OPS is a very pedestrian (and shocking) .640.
Pujols isn't much better (.258/13/47/.777). He is another expensive free agent signee who is clearly on the back end of his career.
Mike Trout is still being Mike Trout, but the Angels simply are not a good baseball team right now.
Tigers starters: Rick Porcello, Jose Alvarez, Fister.
MMM gets nervous whenever the Tampa Bay Rays are the opponent.
The Rays roster never really bowls you over, but they always manage to stay in the hunt because of three things: pitching, Evan Longoria and skipper Joe Maddon.
The Rays are 39-37 and tied for last in the AL East, but they are only five games out of first place in that packed-like-sardines division.
Longoria (.304/17/47/.930) is having another fine year. The series in Tampa this weekend will give the Tigers their first look at much-ballyhooed rookie Will Myers, whose first MLB homer was a grand slam in Yankee Stadium off CC Sabathia last week.
Don't forget 1B James Loney, who came over as a free agent and is batting .304. Loney is a severe upgrade from last year's 1B production for Tampa---Carlos Pena and his .197 BA in 2012.
The big story last week in Tampa (other than Myers' grand slam) was the condition of starting pitcher Alex Cobb, who was felled by a line drive to the head a week ago Sunday and who was placed on the 7-day concussion DL.
Cobb (6-2, 3.01 ERA) texted teammates after the scary incident (hit in right ear by a line drive off the bat of KC's Eric Hosmer) that he was doing fine, other than a headache.
Maddon continues to be at the head of the class (or near the head) when it comes to active big league managers. He alone is a big reason why the Rays manage to stay in contention despite being in a tough division.
Tigers starters: Scherzer, Verlander, Porcello.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!
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