Monday, July 01, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 13

Last Week: 1-5
This Week:  at Tor (7/1-4); at Cle (7/5-7)

So, What Happened?

Many years ago, when John McKay was wisecracking his way through the back end of his football coaching career, guiding the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he spoke of the difficulties his team was having in both away and home games.

"We will go at them next week at Tampa Stadium. We have now proven that we can't win on the road or at home. So we would like to play at a neutral site."

The same could be said of the Tigers. Last week they proved that not only do they have trouble on the road (17-21), they now can't play at home either, apparently (swept by the Angels).

So maybe our Tigers could use a neutral site?

Not gonna happen, as the 11-game road trip continues in full bore. It ain't gonna get any easier, folks.

Last week the Tigers got swept at home by the Angels, who despite being well under .500 are 6-0 against Detroit this season, with several blowout victories included. Then it was a 1-2 weekend in Tampa, which included some mini-fireworks when it comes to beanballs, in the matter of Miguel Cabrera being brush backed on Saturday by Tampa's Fernando Rodney and Ben Zobrist getting plunked in the first inning by Rick Porcello on Sunday.

It added up to a 1-5 week with a still leaky bullpen, an offense still scuffling (especially after the seventh inning) and a fan base wringing its hands over a 5.5-game lead that has totally dissipated thanks to the hot Cleveland Indians.

And seven road games this week against two sizzling teams.

Squirming in your seat yet?

Hero of the Week
Thank goodness for Max Scherzer.

If there were any questions as to who the Tigers new (albeit maybe temporary) ace is, they were answered last week, as Scherzer recorded the team's only win of the week and improved to 12-0.

It was good enough for MMM to name Max the Hero for the second week in a row.

Scherzer was strong once again in Tampa on Friday, although he did nearly fritter away a 4-0 lead. But he made the pitches when he needed to make them, struck out another bunch of hitters, and showed why he might be, at the moment, the best pitcher in baseball.

MMM wonders if the Tigers would have gone 0-6 had Scherzer not been one of the starters last week.

Honorable mentions: Miguel Cabrera, who hit two homers on Friday and another bomb on Sunday, giving him five roundtrippers for the week; and Brayan Pena, who continues to play solid baseball as the de facto #1 catcher in Alex Avila's absence.

Goat of the Week
There are some low hanging fruit that MMM could pick after a 1-5 week.

Phil Coke, for losing the extra innings game on Thursday afternoon. The defense, for a six-error atrocity in another of the games in the Angels series. Prince Fielder, who is not-so-quietly having an annoying season. Andy Dirks, who is regressing.

But MMM is going with the Tigers offense as a whole.

The team is among the bottom feeders when it comes to run production from the seventh inning and beyond. That kind of puzzling lack of success, combined with the tricky bullpen, is why the Tigers have lost 10 games this season in which they held the lead in the seventh inning or later. They're like the reverse 1968 Tigers in that regard.

It's not a recipe for success, if you consider yourself a World Series contender.

The Tigers will score 10 runs one game, and one the next. Or maybe they'll just score three or four runs several games in a row. Regardless, it's not an offense humming along right now. Here's another stat: the Tigers are averaging 4.3 runs per game on the road. That's not going to cut it, especially with such a hefty payroll. Owner Mike Ilitch didn't sign off on all those big checks to get this kind of piddly offense.

In fact, if you take away that big four-game offensive series in Houston, the Tigers are averaging about 3.5 runs per game on the road.

Last week the team couldn't get a clutch hit to save its soul, especially in the late innings. The Tigers, with Thursday's loss, fell to 2-9 in extra innings games, and that's not a phony, funky stat. They have earned that 2-9 record with a lack of clutch hitting from the seventh inning on, and a bullpen that often surrenders the go-ahead/winning runs in the 10th inning, not giving the offense a real chance to win the game.

Under the Microscope
MMM is annoyed with Prince Fielder.

The overall numbers for Prince look OK (13/62/.274/.840 OPS), but MMM can't help but think there should be more in the power department. Fielder is slugging .469, and that's pretty good. But he only has 12 home runs, which is a pace for about 25 or 26.

Didn't you expect 30+ homers from Prince this year?

MMM knows there is still an entire second half of the season to play. And, the overall numbers are solid. But the batting average is about 30 points lower than it was in 2012, so there is definitely something tangible to be concerned about.

MMM considered putting Andy Dirks under the scope, but Fielder's worth is much greater, so when he's off, it affects the team more.

Fielder should be lighting it up more in the home run department. And he's a better hitter than .274. The fact that the man behind him, Victor Martinez, isn't on fire shouldn't matter, because last year Martinez wasn't there at all. Guys like Delmon Young were hitting fifth last year.

Upcoming: Blue Jays, Indians
As MMM said earlier, the schedule isn't taking any pity on a Tigers team that has lost its way---and its division lead.

Seven games in Toronto and Cleveland are proof of that.

Both of the Tigers' opponents this week are hot.

The Jays recently had an 11-game winning streak, though they have cooled off slightly after that. The Indians have won 14 of 19.

And both teams will sure to be not so generous hosts, if they can help it.

The Tigers are coming to town---limping and licking their wounds.

The question MMM has for you is this: Will the Tigers still be in first place, or tied for it, when MMM prepares next week's update?

Despite their recent heat, the Jays remain in last place in a tightly bunched AL East. They got off to such a bad start, they are having difficulty digging themselves out. The 11-game winning streak only served to get Toronto above .500, albeit briefly (they are 40-41 now).

The big guns for Toronto, as usual, are 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (23/66/.270/.887 OPS) and RF Jose Bautista (19/49/.254/.852). Don't forget 1B Adam Lind, who's batting .327.

The Jays signed off on one of the most risky free agent signings last winter when they gave big money to veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. After a horrific start, Dickey has settled a little, but is still only 7-8 with a 4.72 ERA. However, in his last start at Tampa, Dickey threw a complete game, two-hit shutout.

But Dickey's 4.72 ERA is actually the lowest of the Jays' regular starting pitchers.

Tigers starters: Jose Alvarez, Doug Fister, Scherzer, Justin Verlander.

A "wrap-around" series is next, in Cleveland (Friday thru Monday).

The Indians must have this upcoming series circled on their calendar.

You don't win a division in July, but you sure can make a statement. MMM is well aware of the Tribe's propensity for second half swoons, but you can't count on that every year. Right now the Indians have righted themselves after a late-May nosedive.

Cleveland's Jason Kipnis is quietly turning in a fine year. The 2B is hitting .299 with 12 homers (same amount as Fielder!) and 51 RBI. Kipnis also has 19 stolen bases in 24 attempts. He strikes out a lot, but his .917 OPS is nothing to sneeze at.

Nick Swisher might be a nice addition for his veteran savvy and playoff experience, but the switch-hitting 1B/OF is just at 8/29/.235/.739 for the year.

Tigers starters: Porcello, Alvarez (unless Anibal Sanchez is cleared), Fister.

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



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