Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 24

Last Week: 4-2
This Week:  SEA (9/16-19); CWS (9/20-22)

So, What Happened?

The week began with the sky falling, apparently, but ended with it being partly cloudy, as it turns out.

After Monday night's loss to the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale, the Tigers' lead in the AL Central had dipped to 4.5 games, where nine days ago it had been 8.5 games after two wins over the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians were (still are) charging, and the Tigers were lurching after a 16-2 win over the KC Royals on September 6 proved to be their only victory in six games.

The sky was falling!

MMM understands the uneasiness when an 8.5-game lead is cut in half in nine days, but with the Tigers starting pitching, it's difficult to fall apart.

Within 48 hours, the Tigers had beaten the White Sox twice, the Indians lost twice, and the lead was back to 6.5 games. It sits at five games this morning. The Indians swept the White Sox in four games in Chicago, and have now beaten the White Sox something like 44 consecutive times. And MMM is only slightly exaggerating.

Miguel Cabrera was kicked out of a game, mid-at-bat, in the first inning for the second time this season. He even holds records like that!

Max Scherzer is still stuck at 19 wins, as his run support has dried up. Alex Avila (gasp!) is heating up.

Hey, maybe the sky really IS falling!

No, that would only happen if Jim Leyland pinch runs for Prince Fielder, apparently. (BTW, MMM is OK with the decision not to pinch-run. Fielder wasn't in scoring position, and most players can score from first on a double with two outs, and Prince is one of them. The Royals just made a great play).

Hero of the Week
Hey, did someone tell Alex Avila that it's 2011?

MMM is thrilled to see the Tigers catcher perk up, and last week Avila did so to the tune of 6-for-17 (including 4-for-4 last Tuesday), with a pair of homers, both in Sunday's game, the latter of which was the game-winner in the eighth inning.

The strikeouts are still unsightly (100 in 297 at-bats) but the swing is getting back to that shorter, compact variety that helped AA produce an All-Star season two years ago.

A productive Avila makes the Tigers lineup all the more difficult to deal with, because Avila typically bats in the lower third, and if he's going good, suddenly the Tigers are ornery from one through nine.

MMM is still concerned that Avila may need to learn a new position in the next couple of years (LF?) because of all the physical abuse he takes behind the plate. But for now, it's lovely to see him look more like the hitter we all know he can be. Never before has a .222 BA been so good to see.

Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder (10 hits last week); Victor Martinez (nine hits); Rick Porcello (first career CG on Tuesday); and Doug Fister (7.2 scoreless innings but a loss on Saturday).

Goat of the Week
This may seem a bit punitive, but MMM is going with Drew Smyly.

Sorry, Drew, but in a 4-2 week it's hard to find a true Goat.

MMM selects Smyly because he let Scherzer's 20th win slip away on Sunday. A wild pitch enabled the Royals to score the tying run in the eighth inning. Yes, the Tigers won the game anyway, thanks to last week's Hero, Avila. That actually seems rather congruous to MMM.

Under the Microscope
Did you know that Miguel Cabrera hasn't had an RBI since September 7?

Just let that sink in for a bit.

MMM knows that Cabrera won't win his second straight Triple Crown, but the greater concern is, how is Miggy's health truly?

He seems to look a bit more nimble, but a 5-for-19, RBI-less week makes MMM wonder if Cabrera isn't still bothered by his hip and abdominal problems.

It might seem strange to put a player who is constantly in the spotlight Under the Microscope, but MMM has a feeling that lots of Tigers fans are with him on this one.

Upcoming: Mariners, White Sox
Question: what's the only thing better than seeing four home games with the Mariners on your schedule?

How about four home games with the Mariners in which Felix Hernandez pitches in none of them?

King Felix might be shut down the rest of the season due to an oblique strain, but there are also reports that he may be cleared to pitch Wednesday against the Tigers. So who knows?

Regardless, the Tigers should be licking their chops to play the Mariners, although any team can beat any other on any given night. But how about for four given nights? MMM will take the Tigers in three of those four nights.

The Mariners do present Raul Ibanez, who has a chance to hit more home runs in a season as a 41-year-old than anyone in history. Ibanez has 27 home runs this season. Ted Williams holds the record, with 29 in 1960.

Tigers starters: Porcello, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Fister.

If it seems like the Tigers play the White Sox on a weekly basis, it's almost true. A scheduling quirk has pitted the Tigers and Chisox against each other 16 times after the All-Star break.

So it's another week, another series against Chris Sale, Paul Konerko and company.

The White Sox have a shot at 100 losses, and haven't won a game since last Monday, when Sale beat Scherzer. That's six straight losses, and 91 for the season with 13 games to play. A 4-9 finish is certainly within the White Sox' grasp.

If things play out well for the Tigers, the weekend series with Chicago could feature the division-clinching game.

Tigers starters: Scherzer, Porcello, Sanchez.

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



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