Monday, May 20, 2013

The Astros' Bid for 120

The 2013 Houston Astros were widely regarded, before the season, as being potentially the worst team in baseball—ever. They were picked by Sports Illustrated to seriously challenge the 1962 Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Tigers (43-119) for ineptitude.
In this space every Monday, I will chart the Astros pace versus those of the ’62 Mets and ’03 Tigers after the same amount of games.
2013 Astros: 12-32
1962 Mets: 12-32
2003 Tigers: 9-35

Monday Morning Manager: Week 7

Last Week: 3-4
This Week:  at Cle (5/21-22); MIN (5/23-26)

So, What Happened?

Toto, I don't think the Tigers are playing Houston anymore.

The Tigers are 6-1 against the Astros, and 23-19 overall. MMM will save you the math. That's 17-18 against the rest of baseball.

Not ridiculous, but maybe a little troubling?

Last week was a microcosm of sorts. The Tigers went 2-1 against Houston, 1-3 against the rest of baseball. Correction---the best of baseball.

Gee, those Texas Rangers can hit, eh?

The Rangers looked at the Tigers' glorified starting rotation and gave a Texas-sized laugh.

The Rangers scored 29 runs against our boys last weekend, and that's numbing, considering Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister combined pitched about 11 innings in their starts.

That's impressive hitting.

Before the horrid weekend in Texas, the Tigers beat down the Astros twice more before finally losing to Houston on Wednesday afternoon, when the Stros managed two runs in the top of the ninth to win, 7-5.

Oh, and some guy named Cabrera hit three home runs on Sunday night, each more impressive than the previous one. The Tigers still lost in one of the most frustrating games MMM has ever watched.

To make matters worse, the Tigers fell out of first place. The (gulp) Cleveland Indians are in the catbird's seat, by two games.

Hero of the Week
MMM was struck by something FSD's Rod Allen said during a recent broadcast.

Allen said he was chatting with Tigers legend and Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Allen asked Kaline if he'd seen anyone like Cabrera---whether teammate or someone Kaline played against. Now, we're talking 60 years of MLB (Kaline debuted in 1953).

Kaline flatly told Rod that no, he's never seen anyone who can do the things with the bat that Cabrera can do.

MMM thinks that if someone like Al Kaline puts you in a class by yourself, then that's saying something.

MMM is making Miggy HotW largely for his three-homer effort on Sunday, but he had a good week other than that. Heck, Miggy always seems to have a good week, eh?

Cabrera went 12/28 (.429) with four homers, seven RBI and seven runs scored.

Just another week at the office.

Cabrera's performance on Sunday night was amazing.

The third homer, especially---a pitch that jammed him near his wrists, yet was driven over the CF wall---was jaw-dropping. The ESPN announcers, Orel Hershiser and John Kruk, were beside themselves.

"Aw, heck, he's just better than everyone else. Let's just go with that," Kruk said finally.

Miggy is, and he was again for the Tigers last week.

Honorable mentions: Don Kelly (for filling in admirably in CF and knocking a homer); rookie RHP Evan Kelly (two strong outings in Texas).

Goat of the Week
Where would you like MMM to start?

There was suspect fielding, bad pitching, and questionable decisions---and most of that happened in the seventh inning on Sunday night alone.

It wasn't the greatest of weeks.

MMM is going to name, as a trio, Verlander, Sanchez and Fister as co-Goats.

The Tigers' Big Three of Four (don't forget Mad Max Scherzer) simply didn't get it done against Texas. They didn't come close to slowing the Rangers down, and JV and Fister had leads with which to work and let their respective games slip away.

Ugly starts from those three guys.

The bullpen, as a result, got drained, and thank goodness for Monday's off day, to allow those arms to rest.

Look, the big boys have to be the big boys and they have to take the heat when they don't get the job done. Verlander, Sanchez and Fister let the Tigers down, big time, in a "measuring stick" series.

Under the Microscope
MMM is too lazy to pore over the archives, but this week may be a first.

Justin Verlander, meet the microscope.

Twitter and MLive's comments section are aflutter with worries about JV. Is his velocity down for a reason? Why have his last two starts been so bad? Is he going south?

MMM would like everyone to exhale, but still thinks Verlander should be scrutinized.


Well, the last two starts have been rough. Thursday's was downright ridiculous.

Plus, the storied fastball seems to have abandoned Verlander, mainly from a command standpoint.

MMM thinks that Verlander gets too amped up sometimes, and the much-ballyhooed match-up between JV and Texas' Yu Darvish on Thursday qualifies as one of those "big games" that sometimes gets Verlander to do too much.

He overthrows. He walks guys (walked in TWO on Thursday). He throws too many pitches. He gives up hits on 0-2 counts. And so on.

That's what happened on Thursday, and JV wasn't all that sharp against Cleveland the start before that.

His ERA jumped from 1.93 to 3.17 after the debacle in Texas. He is 4-4.

MMM doesn't think it's necessarily alarming, but still enough to place JV's start on Wednesday UtM.

Besides, MMM is curious to see how Verlander's countenance is in his first start after his Texas-sized meltdown.

Upcoming: Indians, Twins
Back to the AL Central salt mines this week.

Wait---are those the Cleveland Indians in first place? Do MMM's eyes deceive him?

Yes, the Tribe is hot. They are 17-4 in their past 21 games, and have surged from 8-13 and last place to 25-17 and first place.

But we've seen this before, haven't we?

The Indians have been a pretty good April to June team in recent years. But when the temps get hotter, the Tribe gets colder.

Their second half collapses are well-noted.

But for now, with some new players, the Indians are enjoying a great run. And they host the Tigers in a two-game mini-series this week.

MMM doesn't think Cleveland has the horses to stick around all summer, but who the heck knows?

Tigers starters: Scherzer, Verlander.

After the quick trip to Cleveland, it's back to the good side of Lake Erie for four games against the slumping Twins at CoPa.

The Twinkies have lost five straight and have sunk to the depths of the division at 18-22.

Joe Mauer's 15-game hitting streak was stopped Sunday against Boston.

The Twins were stopped several games prior to that.

For about 35 games, the Twins raised some eyebrows with their .500 play and their general nuisance they were causing in the division. Now, they are back to being the team most thought they were prior to the season.

Remember, this is a team that didn't even settle on who was in their five-man rotation until AFTER spring training, and didn't name an Opening Day starter until less than a week before the game.

But Mauer is back to the Mauer of old. He's batting .342 and he has 17 doubles. But he is striking out once every four at-bats, which is not like the Mauer of old. Still, .342 is .342.

The Twins' bugaboo is their starting pitching. No one in the rotation has an ERA lower than 4.66, and three of their starters have ERAs of 5.85-plus.

Tigers starters: Porcello, Sanchez, Fister, Scherzer.

The Tigers need a big week. Yes, it's May, but the team is wobbly now. They are 4-8 in their last 12 games, and the Indians are feeling good about themselves. As Mickey Redmond would say, time to "get 'er goin'."

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


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Astros' Bid for 120

The 2013 Houston Astros were widely regarded, before the season, as being potentially the worst team in baseball---ever. They were picked by Sports Illustrated to seriously challenge the 1962 Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Tigers (43-119) for ineptitude.

In this space every Monday, I will chart the Astros pace versus those of the '62 Mets and '03 Tigers after the same amount of games.
2013 Astros: 10-28
1962 Mets: 12-26
2003 Tigers: 9-29

Monday Morning Manager: Week 6

Last Week: 1-4
This Week:  HOU (5/13-15); at Tex (5/16-19; Sunday on ESPN)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers ran into two teams playing their best baseball of the year last week.

First it was the Washington Nationals, who are on a roll after a sluggish start. The Tigers dropped both games of a two-game series, though they certainly weren't outclassed by the Nats. Just couldn't get over the hump in the Nation's Capital.

Hey, Doug Fister got an RBI single! Alas, MMM thinks Fister could have gotten an RBI single off himself, with the way Fister's command was lacking on Thursday afternoon.

Losing two to the Nats didn't really bother MMM. What did get under MMM's skin was dropping two of three to the Cleveland Indians---another very hot team (15-5 in their last 20 games).

The Tribe made the two-out hit their personal calling card all weekend. It was amazing how many of those the Indians rained on the Tigers. And that's why Cleveland left town in a first-place tie with our Motown Bengals.

Hero of the Week
Although MMM is getting a little sick of the graphic that Fox Sports Detroit (FSD) keeps putting on the screen extolling this week's Hero's abilities, the nod goes to 2B Omar Infante.

FSD likes to shove it down our throats how good of a No. 9 hitter Infante has been this season. OK, we get it! He's having a good year! And MMM is taking nothing away from Omar in complaining about that.

Last week---a week in which the Tigers won just one game---Infante was again magnificent.

Infante went 8-for-19 (.421), including two doubles and a triple, the latter drawing the Tigers closer against the Indians on Saturday night. Even though the Tigers lost that game, it was a big two-run triple at the time.

For the season, Infante is at .317 and strikes out just once every 10 at-bats. His play in the field has been mostly stellar.

Last week, Infante again did a good job in turning the batting order over from his ninth spot, which is integral in getting the top four at the plate one more time every game.

Honorable mention: Matt Tuiasosopo, who hit a pinch-hit, three-run jack in Washington, and who has been a nice addition to the bench; Jhonny Peralta, whose solid season continues to fly under the radar.

Goat of the Week
You would think that in a 1-4 week there would be Goat candidates galore.

But MMM doesn't think the Tigers played bad baseball, necessarily. The other guys just managed to do a little bit better all week.

Still, as MMM said last week, the GotW space shall never go unoccupied!

MMM could pick low hanging fruit and designate Jose Valverde the Goat for blowing Sunday's save in a game the Tigers eventually lost in 10 innings. But that's a little too trite for MMM's liking, and not esoteric enough.

So MMM is going with manager Jim Leyland. Some might say this is just more low hanging fruit.

MMM was listening to Sunday's game while walking the pooch, during the Tigers' half of the ninth inning, after the Indians had tied the score 3-3 in the top half (see Valverde reference above).

A lead-off single by Andy Dirks was cause for optimism. But then Leyland struck.

The manager put the bunt sign on for Torii Hunter, he of the .340+ average and an expert at hitting the ball to right field, as in during a hit-and-run try.

Hunter, by the radio accounts, looked awful in his first try at laying down the sacrifice, something Hunter is not known for in his career. Yet Leyland kept the bunt sign on, and again Hunter made a pathetic try.

By now, Hunter was down in the count 1-2 and couldn't be his usual, aggressive self. He had to be more defensive. As a result, Hunter tapped weakly to pitcher Joe Smith, who started a 1-6-3 double play.

Granted, Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera, one of the more underrated players of his time, had to make a fantastic play to twist the DP, given Smith's horrible throw. But that's not the point.

MMM didn't like the decision to bunt Hunter for a couple of reasons.

One, Hunter is a terrible bunter.

Two, even if Hunter had been successful, Indians manager Terry Francona would have walked Miggy Cabrera and taken his chances that Smith could induce a DP from Prince Fielder.

MMM says let Hunter hit in that situation and let the chips fall where they may! This way, even if Hunter makes an out, you still have two chances (presumably) to get perhaps a game-ending HR or double from either Cabrera or Fielder.

The double play, following two weak bunt attempts, let Smith get out of the inning with only having to retire Cabrera (not that that's easy), and not Fielder as well.

Under the Microscope
It's funny that Leyland is this week's goat, because the Marlboro Man was UtM last week.

But that's mostly coincidence, right?

The Tigers placed CF Austin Jackson on the 15-day DL with a tight hamstring, leaving (potentially) a gaping hole at the top of the lineup.

Normally Leyland puts Dirks at the leadoff spot when giving A-Jax the day off. It is presumed this is how it will go while Jackson is out of commission.

So naturally, this puts Andy Dirks Under the Microscope.

It's nothing personal, Andy---MMM just wants to pay close attention to how you do batting leadoff with all those great hitters following you.

The good news is that Dirks has been swinging a better stick as of late, after a less-than-magnificent start.

And, frankly, Jackson's BA has sunk into the .270s after a hot start.

Now, will Leyland keep Dirks in LF and put Don Kelly in CF?

The Tigers recalled Avisail Garcia to take Jackson's spot on the 25-man roster. Garcia isn't a CF by trade. Come to think of it, this whole situation should be UtM!

Upcoming: Astros, Rangers
It's Tigers vs. the state of Texas this week.

First the Astros come calling. Yes, those adorable 10-28 Astros that the Tigers swept in four games in Houston a week or so ago. But even the Astros won more games last week (two) than the Tigers managed to win.

Still, this is a team the Tigers should take two of three from, at least---and right the ship, because after that series (drum roll please), it's on to Texas for four games against the very good and very first place Rangers.

Seriously, no one is even making it interesting for the Rangers in the AL West. Texas is six games ahead of the second place Oakland A's. The Rangers (24-13) are the only team in the West playing above .500.

Clearly, the loss of former MVP Josh Hamilton and slugger Mike Napoli has had no effect on the Rangers, negatively.

That's because always tough out Ian Kinsler is batting .322, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre have combined for 17 home runs, and the pitching has been lights out.

The Rangers have the league's best team ERA (3.39) and four of their five starters have an ERA of 3.45 or less. Yu Darvish came one out away from a no-hitter in the second game of the season. OK, it was against the Astros, but still!

MMM sees this as an interesting week. Two series against teams that are on the opposite ends of the baseball spectrum in the AL. Should be a riot. Note: Sunday's game is on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Tigers starters (Astros): Anibal Sanchez, Fister, Max Scherzer.

Tigers starters (Rangers): Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Sanchez, Fister.

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


Monday, May 06, 2013

New weekly feature: The Astros' Bid for 120

The 2013 Houston Astros were widely regarded, before the season, as being potentially the worst team in baseball---ever. They were picked by Sports Illustrated to seriously challenge the 1962 Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Tigers (43-119) for ineptitude.

In this space every Monday, I will chart the Astros pace versus those of the '62 Mets and '03 Tigers after the same amount of games.

2013 Astros: 8-24
1962 Mets: 12-20
2003 Tigers: 7-25

Monday Morning Manager: Week 5

Last Week: 6-1
This Week:  at Wsh (5/7-8); CLE (5/10-12)

So, What Happened?

Thank God for the Houston Astros.

More accurately, thanks to the powers that be at MLB who made the decision to put the Astros in the American League.

The Tigers---and the rest of the league---are much obliged.

The Tigers gained their first four-game sweep on the road since victimizing Kansas City in 2006, when they destroyed the pathetic Astros, outscoring them 37-8 along the way. As if putting an exclamation mark on the weekend series, Justin Verlander flirted with another no-hitter, making it one out into the seventh before former Tiger (and a whole lot of others) Carlos Pena drilled a clean single to right, almost tomahawking it.

Before the Houston Massacre, the Tigers took two of three from the surprisingly-OK Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park.

The Bengals have won 9 of 11, 14 of 20, and the bats are booming. Mix in some excellent starting pitching, a calming down bullpen and some nifty defense, and it's no secret why the Tigers are on a roll.

Even scarier for the AL is that the few Tigers bats that were scuffling are starting to feel it now. The team is literally getting contributions from 1-9 in the batting order.

Hero of the Week
Was that Miguel Cabrera who MMM saw flashing some serious leather on Sunday, temporarily saving Verlander's no-no?

Absolutely. Take that, Miggy defense bashers!

Cabrera turned in a whale of a play in the fifth inning, when he dove to his left to snag a hard shot off the bat of Brandon Laird (Gerald's younger brother), and rolled to his left and threw the baseball while on his tushie. The ball skipped but made it to first baseman Prince Fielder in plenty of time.

It was a play that made you think a no-hitter might be in the offing.

“When I saw him dive for it, I was hoping he would be able to get up quickly and make a nice throw. But when I saw him roll over and throw it like a grenade, I’m like, I don’t know if that’s going to get there,” starting pitcher Justin Verlander said to laughter after the game.

MMM would have been tempted to name Miggy HotW for that play alone, but there is so much more to like about Cabrera's week.

How about 11-for-26 with three homers, eight runs scored and 10 RBI?

For the season, Cabrera's OPS (on-base plus slugging) is a ridiculous 1.080. He is batting .385. He has 36 RBI in 30 games. So far he's MMM's Hero of the Year.

But in a week where the Tigers went 6-1 and blasted base hits all over the diamond, Cabrera---as he often does---stood out among the rest.

Honorable mention: Prince Fielder, Verlander, Andy Dirks and Max Scherzer (MMM loved the way Mad Max put his foot on the Astros' necks and wouldn't let them breathe, despite all the run support he got on Saturday night).

Goat of the Week
Leave it to MMM to find a Goat in a 6-1 week.

Hey, this space shall never go blank. Never!

But MMM is gonna cheat a little and give the GotW to Houston's Carlos Corporan. This may be a first-ever: giving the Goat to a non-Tiger.

But did you see how Corporan hot dogged his home run on Saturday night? A home run that made the score 12-1? Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, Corporan laced an RBI single in the ninth (that made the score 17-2) and punctuated that with some swagger, too.

MMM is old enough to know that had Corporan tried such nonsense against guys like Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Stan Williams or Dick Radatz, Carlos would find his rump in the batter's box dirt his next time up.

On today's Tigers, maybe Verlander has the temperament to knock a guy on his keister after such a display.

MMM's message to Corporan: Dude, you're on a team that is 8-24 and may seriously challenge the 1962 Mets and the 2003 Tigers for ineptitude. Don't hot dog---especially in a game that your team lost by 15 runs.

Under the Microscope
Allow MMM to gloat a bit.

Two weeks ago, MMM put Victor Martinez under the scope, and V-Mart responded, big time.

Last week, here's what MMM wrote about Alex Avila's being placed UtM: BTW, Victor Martinez appeared in this space last week, and V-Mart "responded" with a solid week at the plate. Here's hoping!

Thank you, thank you!! MMM is on a roll with the scope!

Avila woke up, and blasted a game-winning, two-run homer in the top of the ninth on Friday night. He sprinkled in some other hits, too, before sitting out Sunday's game due to a stomach ailment.

So what will MMM do to complete his hat trick?

How about Jim Leyland?

The skipper has to do without a DH this week in the two games at Washington. That means no Martinez in the starting lineup. Leyland has hinted that V-Mart might see some action at first base (not as a starter), but dismissed the idea of catching V-Mart.

MMM is interested to see how Leyland uses his bench in the first inter-league road action of the year.

Upcoming: Nationals, Indians
Get ready to hear it. MMM guarantees you're going to get sick of it.

"This Nationals-Tigers series could be a preview of the World Series."

How many times will you read and hear that this week? Plenty.

The Nationals kind of stumbled out of the gate, but they are 6-4 in their last 10 games, and are 17-15 for the season, two games behind the first place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

The Nats' problem has been an offense that has taken a while to get going. Only young Bryce Harper is hitting .300. Our old pal Denard Span (nee the Twins) is having a solid year (.278, five SB).

Pitching-wise, the Nationals are strong, as usual.

An interesting match-up will be on Tuesday, when the Tigers' big bats meet Jordan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, a righty, has allowed just three hits and one walk in his past 17 innings. His ERA for the season is 1.64, with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of a measly 0.75.

Tigers starters: Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello (unless skipped due to two off days this week; then, Doug Fister).

After the Nats, it's Hello, Ryan Raburn!!

Our old pal is in a zone with the Indians.

Raburn is hitting .344 with 4 HR and 10 RBI (64 AB). He's still striking out a lot (18), but apparently a change of scenery has done him a world of good.

MMM doesn't begrudge Raburn his success. It was clearly time for Raburn to become an ex-Tiger. It just wasn't working out, and his relationship with the fans had become toxic. It was Brandon Inge, redux.

As for Raburn's new teammates, the Indians are on a roll of sorts. They have won six of their past seven games to climb to .500 (14-14). The Indians sport a new look, with veterans like Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds joining the offense. The starting pitching is still an adventure, as usual. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA of 7.13, and newcomer Brett Myers is even worse (8.02).

Don't forget that the Indians are now managed by Terry Francona, a darling of the Jim Leyland haters.

Tigers starters: Fister, Scherzer, Verlander (OR, Scherzer, Verlander and Sanchez if Porcello is skipped in Washington).

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