Monday, July 29, 2013

Senior Tiger Santiago Still Has His Rare Moments

It wasn’t exactly Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, but on January 8, 2004, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowskipulled off a trade that was as lopsided as it gets. DD must have approached the Seattle Mariners with a gun and a mask.
On that day, Dombrowski traded infielder Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen.
You heard me.
Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen, straight up.
To add insult to injury, Dombrowski ended up with Santiago, too, a couple years later, when “Santy” signed with the Tigers as a free agent in January 2006.
Guillen, meanwhile, was arguably the heart and soul of a Tigers team that made the World Series in 2006 and contended pretty much every year after—and is still contending some two years after Guillen last played.
And Santiago?
The diminutive infielder can’t hit his way out of a paper bag these days. He’s a switch-hitter, but maybe it’s more bait and switch. Unless there’s an injury, Santiago gets on the field about as often as a starting pitcher. He’s been the 24th or 25th man in Detroit for years.
It wasn’t always that way.
There was a time when the Tigers trotted Santiago out on most days, counting on him as a daily player, which is kind of like running your car everyday on one of those tiny spare tires.
The year was 2003. Santiago appeared in 141 games, splitting time between second base and shortstop. He hit a robust .225.
That year, Santiago fit right in. The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. They were the 1962Metsredux.
It was that winter, following that nightmare season, when Dombrowski somehow convinced the Mariners to take Santiago off his hands for Guillen, even up. Guillen was a six-year veteran whose batting average improved for four straight years—.158 to .257 to .259 to .261 to .276. He was 28 years old, just entering his prime.
The Mariners bit. Guillen came to Detroit and batted .318, .320, .320 and .296 in his first four years as a Tiger. In 2007, Guillen had 102 RBI and was, at the time, one of the best shortstops in baseball.
And Santiago?
The term “utility player” can be deadly accurate or it can minimize the impact a player has on his team. It’s like “character actor” in Hollywood.
Santiago plays second, third and shortstop. He won’t hurt you at any of those positions, defensively. He won’t help you much with the bat, either. Since being reacquired by the Tigers in 2006, Santiago hasn’t had more than 320 at-bats in any given season. But he’s been like an old, comfortable shoe.
Santiago is also the most senior Tiger, gaining that status after Brandon Inge was cashiered last year.
Ramon Santiago made his big league debut on May 17, 2002 for a Tigers team that was so dysfunctional, it’s a wonder they never ended up on The Jerry Springer Show.
The manager was an overwhelmed Luis Pujols, who took over after Phil Garner and GM Randy Smith were fired by Dombrowski in the season’s first week.
Pujols was as respected as a substitute teacher. The Tigers were an out of control bunch, losing games and fighting amongst themselves. It was, without question, the low point of Dombrowski’s 12-year reign as team president.
So it turned out that the Tigers had no one better to man the middle of the infield in 2003 than Santiago, who was 24 and probably in over his head as an everyday player. But he gave it a shot, played his hardest, hit his .225 and kept his mouth shut, even when there was certainly a lot to talk about.
In Seattle, Santiago barely got off the bench. He played a grand total of 27 games in 2004-05. He went 8-for-47.
The Tigers, remembering Santiago for his professionalism in a dark era, came calling when they needed a backup infielder in 2006. Santiago signed as a free agent and has been a Tiger ever since, making this his 10th season as a Tiger out of his 12 in the big leagues.
Manager Jim Leyland has gone on record time and again, praising Santiago for his work ethic, his character and his quiet dignity.
Even in these days of widespread rancor on the Internet and on sports talk radio, where sentiment means jack squat, Santiago has mostly been able to escape the fans’ wrath. Having lightning rods around such as Inge, Jose Valverde, Phil Coke and RyanRaburn in the past few years have helped Santiago stay under the radar.
This year has been trying, however, for Ramon Santiago.
His batting average has been low even by Santiago standards. He literally has been hitting his weight—which is around 160, being generous.
Injuries have thrust “Santy” back into the spotlight.
First, it was second baseman Omar Infante, who went down before the All-Star break with a deep shin contusion after being upended on a controversial slide by Toronto’s Colby Rasmus.
Santiago stepped in, sharing time with minor league call-up Hernan Perez at second base. As usual, Santy didn’t hit much, but his glove was appreciated.
Then third baseman Miguel Cabrera was lost for most of this past week with a sore hipflexor. Santiago started at third base on Friday night instead of usual replacement Don Kelly, presumably so Leyland could have an extra right-handed bat against Phillieslefty Cole Hamels.
Santiago responded with a double in the fifth inning that was part of a two-run rally that enabled the Tigers to beat back the Phillies, 2-1. The interim third baseman made some defensive gems of plays as well.
Leyland, paid the big bucks to be oh-so-wise, gave a very unscientific explanation for his decision to use Santiago at third base on Friday night.
“I thought, ‘Why not give Santy a shot? Kelly has played quite a few games in a row,’”the manager told the scribes and the microphone thrusters after the game, per the Detroit Free Press.
Sometimes, managing is nothing more than playing a hunch.
Santiago, who’s normally about as quotable as a clam with lockjaw, spoke briefly Friday night about his 2013 struggles.
“It’s been tough on me mentally,” Santiago said, per, after his rare moment in the glare of TV lights,  “but I’m always a positive guy.”
“It’s good to be talking about Santiago after a game,” Leyland said after the tight win over Philly.
Talking about Santiago has never been a priority in Detroit, despite his being a Tiger for all but two years since 2002.
He’s not even really known for being the guy who was once traded for Carlos Guillen. Tigers fans should at least give him that.

Monday Morning Manager: Week 17

Last Week: 6-1
This Week:  WAS (7/30/31); CWS (8/2-4)

So, What Happened?

First, MMM would like to say that it's great to be back after a week off, and he appreciates the readers who are sticking around and who have stuck around for the past several years! Thank you all!

Now, on to this week's update...

In 1906 the Chicago White Sox were known affectionately as the "Hitless Wonders" because they managed to win a World Series without much of an offense.

MMM has a nickname for the 2013 White Sox: The Hitless Blunders.

The Tigers took 3 of 4 from the White Sox last week in Chicago, as the South Siders, who are themselves offensively challenged, played some pretty ugly baseball.

The three wins were by scores of 7-3, 6-2, 6-2, and while that looks like a tennis mismatch, it was indeed a baseball massacre. The Tigers handled the White Sox with such ease, it's hard to fathom that Chicago took two of three from the Bengals the week prior.

MMM is salivating at all the games still remaining with the Chisox.

Justin Verlander faltered in the finale on Thursday afternoon. MMM has noticed that this wasn't the first time this season that JV has had a chance to pitch the Tigers to a sweep and has failed mightily. The 10-8 Verlander is again making Tigers fans wring their hands, after a few starts where it looked like he was figuring things out.

Then came the Phillies, and MMM almost feels sorry for their fans. The Phils came to town riding a five-game losing streak and they left with that streak in tact, at eight games.

Sunday's sixth inning, when the Tigers scored eight unearned runs on just two hits, may have been the ugliest display of baseball by a big league team that MMM has ever seen---and he's old enough to remember some pretty bad Tigers teams (i.e. 1975, 1989, 1996 and 2001-03).

MMM doesn't know how Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't blow his brains out watching his team soil the field during that sixth inning, which included poor throws, bad decisions, dropped fly balls, wild pitches and a grand slam. The half inning took about 30 minutes to complete, and the Tigers were well on their way to a three-game sweep in which they outscored Philly, 25-4.

Miguel Cabrera, who missed four games last week with a sore hip flexor, was tossed out of Sunday's game in the third inning by a cranky Chad Fairchild, who leads all umpires in ejections this season with eight. The ejection, after Cabrera mumbled and grumbled after two questionable strikes with the bases loaded, stunned everyone, including MMM. Let's hope MLB takes a look at this incident (Fairchild has to submit a report, as all umpires do following ejections) and counsels Fairchild, because that ejection was off the charts.

Hero of the Week
Technically, Victor Martinez is MMM's Hero for the second straight week (no update last week).

V-Mart went 10/28 with eight RBI, lifting his BA to .270. Another .300 season is suddenly back in play, which would be incredible given Victor's slow-as-molasses start.

Martinez's hot July runs parallel to the team's. The Tigers are 16-8 in July, and it's no coincidence that this runs concurrent with Martinez catching fire. There is definitely a cause and effect here.

Now, with V-Mart patching the lineup, the Tigers can hurt you from 1-6 in the batting order (.300 hitter Jhonny Peralta typically hits behind Martinez). Notice how there hasn't been as much talk about the Tigers unable to put teams away offensively? Martinez is a big part of that non-discussion.

Honorable mentions: Doug Fister (shutdown start Friday); Max Scherzer (ditto on Monday and Saturday); Cabrera (if only for swatting a home run on his first swing on Saturday after missing four games).

Goat of the Week
MMM is tempted to name umpire Fairchild here, and so he will.

Look, it was a 6-1 week, so to find a goat would be nitpicking (not that MMM hasn't been known to do that!). So it's a great time to pounce on Fairchild and call him out for a ridiculous example of an umpire being power hungry.

Here's Fairchild's explanation of Cabrera's ejection, per the Detroit Free Press.

“I called strike one, and he began to argue balls and strikes,” Fairchild said. “I warned him to stop, but after the second pitch, he began to argue balls and strikes again — and was removed from the game. What exactly he said will be in our report."

Cabrera could be seen mouthing "That's horrible" on TV replays, which matches what the slugger told FSD after the game. Miggy said that the umpire took that to mean "You called me horrible," and tossed Cabrera out.

MMM has had the opportunity to talk to two big league umpires about ejections in the past (the late Durwood Merrill and Dave Pallone) and they both told MMM that you can have some wiggle room as long as you don't personalize things.

In other words, it should be OK to say "THAT's horrible," but if you say, "YOU'RE horrible," then you can hit the showers.

MMM is eager to see if there's any fallout from this incident.

Under the Microscope
MMM is a little nervous about Austin Jackson.

A-Jax is batting .271, which isn't "horrible" (ha ha), but MMM sees Jackson as a .300 hitter who is underachieving. Jackson was hot just after coming off the disabled list a few weeks ago, but has settled back into a .250-type hitter since the All-Star break.

This week's UtM is a soft one, granted. MMM isn't overly concerned about Jackson, but the center fielder goes under the scope just the same.

Upcoming: Nationals, White Sox
If you like good pitching matchups on paper, you'll love this mini two-game series with Washington at Comerica Park.

The Nats will send Stephen Strasburg (who the Tigers have never faced) and Gio Gonzalez to the mound on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The Tigers will counter with Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander.


The Nationals, as you probably know, are among baseball's biggest disappointments in 2013. They continue to muddle along below .500 and are fading from the NL playoff picture. They beat up on the Mets over the weekend, but Washington is still not where they thought they'd be at this point.

The issue has been a lack of consistent hitting.

Only one National is batting over .300 (Jayson Werth, .305). The starting pitching has been a strength (both Strasburg and Gonzalez have an ERA of below 3.00, and Jordan Zimmerman is at 3.19), and closer Rafael Soriano has been solid, despite an awful outing last week against the Pirates (0.1 IP, 2 H, 4 ER).

The Nationals have struggled at the plate, and they have wasted some good pitching performances. Sounds like the Tigers of May and June.

Tigers starters: Sanchez, Verlander.

After Washington's brief appearance (and a second day off in the week), those lovable White Sox return to Comerica Park.

What more can you say about the White Sox? They pretty much only score by hitting home runs. Their defense is leaky, when last year it was pretty damn good. The starting pitching after Chris Sale is suspect. They deserve to be in last place.

The Tigers need to keep beating up on these Hitless Blunders.

Tigers starters: Fister, Scherzer, Rick Porcello.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you in two weeks!

(note: as MMM was writing this, the Tigers acquired Houston Astros closer Jose Veras for minor league OF prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named)


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pirates' 20-Year Streak of Losing Seasons Started With Leyland

If I had myself a private audience with the Pope of the Tigers, Jim Leyland, I’d pretty much just have one question for him.

The question wouldn’t be about his team’s bullpen, or why his catcher can’t hit, or what the deal is with that 3-9 record in extra innings. I wouldn’t ask about Nick Castellanos’ potential or what we should expect from Bruce Rondon or why his catcher can’t hit.

The subject wouldn’t be his smoking or whether Miguel Cabrera is the best he’s ever seen or why his catcher can’t hit.

I’d have one question, and it would go like this.

“What was it like when the Pittsburgh Pirates were winners?”

Leyland ought to know. He remains the last Pirates manager to guide the Bucs to a winning record. It happened in 1992, before Bill Clinton was elected president—the first time.

The Pirates were three-time defending National League East division champs after the 1992 season. The World Series eluded them all three years, but they were a pretty decent group of ballplayers, led by none other than Barry “Before and After” Bonds.

Leyland was a young 47 in the 1992 baseball season. His voice wasn’t as gravelly. Sports talk radio wasn’t nipping at his heels. From 1990-92, Leyland’s baseball year would go like this: win the division, lose in the playoffs. That was pretty much it.

In 1993, the Bucs finished below .500, at 75-87. Pittsburgh baseball fans probably figured ’93 was a bump on the log; a blip on the screen; a good old fashioned fluke.

It turned out to be a 20-year bump/blip/fluke.

The Pirates became the Keystone Kops of baseball. They were the National League’s Washington Generals. Baseball’s version of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leyland was fired after the 1996 season, on the heels of four straight losing seasons. His successor was none other than Gene Lamont, Leyland’s coach on the Tigers for the past eight years. Lamont lasted four years as Pirates manager, and he gave way to Lloyd McClendon, who also has been on the Tigers’ coaching staff since 2006.

Cue the spooky music.

So will the Pirates only be losers for as long as Leyland, Lamont and McClendon are together with the Tigers? Is there some sort of curse? Because we all know that sports fans love a good curse.


If the Pirates are cursed, it’s been the curse of poor drafting, questionable trades and free agent busts.

The past 20 years of losing records have been deserved. You don’t play 162 games and call your end result an aberration. And you especially don’t lose for two decades and blame it on outside forces.

The Pirates have been losers since 1992 because they haven’t had very many good players. And they haven’t had very many good players because they haven’t done a good job of beating the bushes—in this country and elsewhere—in finding them.

The few so-called stars that the Pirates have had since 1992 have all eventually bolted Pittsburgh for greener pastures—which has been just about any team you care to name—or have been traded in lopsided deals.

So it’s been 20 years of win totals in the 60s or 70s—which is appropriate, because prior to Leyland’s arrival as Pirates skipper in 1986, the last time the Pirates enjoyed real success was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Pittsburgh has seen its share of bad baseball. The Pirates teams of the 1950s were mostly dreadful. Joe Garagiola, who played on some of those horrid Pirates teams in the fifties, used to wile away many minutes of dead air in his broadcasting career recalling those years, when Pittsburgh was home to the absolute worst that baseball could offer.

Then came the resurgence in the 1960s, starting with the 1960 World Series win over the mighty New York Yankees. The Pirates fielded pretty good teams throughout the decade, then continued winning in the 1970s, adding two more world championships to their total (1971 and 1979, both against Baltimore).

The well ran dry until Leyland took over and built the Pirates into a mini-dynasty from 1990-92. Actually, it was more of a National League East dynasty, but it was still pretty impressive.

The Pirates, in recent years, have teased their fans into thinking that the string of losing records may be ending.

In 2011, the Pirates were 54-49 on July 28. They trailed the first place Milwaukee Brewers by just 1.5 games in the NL Central (where the Bucs moved in the mid-1990s when baseball re-jiggered itself). August was nigh and the Pirates were in the thick of things!

You heard it all back then as giddy writers and fans had visions of the playoffs dancing in their heads. The ugly duckling was turning into a swan and all that rot.

A 10-game losing streak ensued, and just like that, the Pirates were the Pirates again. They were 54-59 and had sunk to fourth place, 10 games out. They finished 72-90, which was how they usually finished. The only difference was the 103-game tease that accompanied it.

In 2012, the Pirates did it to their faithful again.

July 28 once again was the team’s undoing.

In a spooky coincidence that only the Pittsburgh Pirates could pull off, the Bucs for the second consecutive year saw their high water mark come on July 28. For on that date in 2012, the Pirates were 58-42 and just two games behind the first place Cincinnati Reds. This was even better than 2011’s 54-49 on July 28.

Again Pirates fans had cause to believe that the streak of losing seasons, which at this point stood at 19 years, was about to end. The 2012 Pirates had some players, most notably star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was being mentioned in league MVP talk.

So naturally, the Pirates stumbled and bumbled their way to a 21-41 finish (9-22 after August 29), to end up at 79-83.

The streak of losing seasons reached an even 20.

Have you looked at the standings lately? Pirates fans sure have, and you can forgive them for being as doubting as Thomas.

As I write this, the Pirates are 56-38. Someone named Jason Grilli (remember him?) was just on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, for his closing exploits and for his role in leading a terrific bullpen that calls itself The Shark Tank.

July 28 is eight days away.

Something tells me that Pirates fans will be watching the remainder of this season with one eye closed. Also appropriate, given their logo is a pirate with an eye patch.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 15

Last Week: 4-3
This Week:  All-Star break; at KC (7/19-21)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers played win, lose, win, lose, to the tune of a 4-3 week, which was enough to remain in first place, though the streaky Cleveland Indians are hanging tough, just 1.5 games behind Detroit.

Max Scherzer (gasp!) actually lost a game, but Justin Verlander made up for that by flirting with his third career no-hitter, AGAIN. The Tigers signed a familiar name to a AAA contract (RHP Jeremy Bonderman), and their six-man All-Star contingent hopped a plane to New York following Sunday's game.

MMM wasn't thrilled with a series loss to the Chicago White Sox, but nothing compared to the anger exhibited by manager Jim Leyland, who went ballistic on Thursday afternoon after relief pitcher Luke Putkonen was ejected for throwing behind Chicago's Alexei Ramirez.

So the Tigers week looked like this: WLWLWLW. Not terribly thrilling, but MMM will always take a winning week.

Hero of the Week
MMM is getting that 2011 feeling. Specifically, when it comes to DH Victor Martinez.

V-Mart continued his torrid (lately) hitting with a 12-for-27 week, which included a homer and six RBI. He has raised his average, which has been in the tank all year, to .258.

In fact, Martinez smacked 10 hits in his first four games last week, truly making the Tigers 3-4-5 hitters something to fear, as was hoped back in spring training.

Martinez is back to spraying the ball to all fields and he appears locked in. MMM kind of wishes the All-Star break wasn't here, given V-Mart's hot bat as of late.

The performance is reminiscent of two years ago, when Martinez followed Miggy Cabrera in the batting order and racked up over 100 RBI.

Honorable mentions: Verlander (for his bounce back start on Sunday after falling apart late in Tuesday's outing); Cabrera (as usual); and Torii Hunter.

Goat of the Week
It was another non-productive week for Andy Dirks, who has had a lot of them this season.

Dirks was 1-for-11 and is not showing any signs of being able to lift his BA out of the .240s.

Dirks peaked at .251 briefly last week, but has sunk back to his more regular .243.

Meanwhile, Dirks' tag team partner in LF, Matt Tuiasosopo, continues to make the most of his playing time---which has been mainly against LHP. "Tui" delivered a big single with two outs on Sunday, on an 0-2 count, to drive in a run and give Verlander some breathing room. And, bonus: it came against a RHP.

MMM was glad to see Leyland refrain from lifting Tui for Dirks in that situation.

Dirks was supposed to have a breakout year and seize control of LF. Hasn't come close to happening this year. MMM placed Dirks Under the Microscope last week, and the 1-for-11 demoted Andy to Goat status this week.

Dishonorable mention: the umpiring crew on Thursday, which totally botched the Chris Sale-Fielder-Putkonen-Ramirez deal.

Under the Microscope
(with only three games this week, MMM will skip UtM in this update)

Upcoming: Royals
The Kansas City Royals did the Tigers no favors this past weekend, getting swept in Cleveland.

But as MMM has pointed out in the past, the Royals never seem to be a pushover for the Tigers, especially in Kansas City.

MMM looks at the first week or so of games after the All-Star break like he does an NBA game after halftime. In the NBA, whichever team controls the start of the third quarter often wins the game. In baseball's case, the team that comes out of the All-Star break slumping, usually dooms itself in the pennant chase.

The Indians have had issues post-All-Star break the past two years. The Tigers, under Jim Leyland, used to have a bad reputation for being second half scoundrels.

The Tigers could really use a 2-1 weekend (or better!) in Kansas City, when their pack of All-Stars reunite with their teammates.

Tigers starters: Anibal Sanchez, Verlander, Doug Fister.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you in two weeks!

(Note: there will be no MMM next Monday, since the Tigers are only playing three games this week)


Monday, July 08, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 14

Last Week: 5-2
This Week:  at Cle (7/8); CWS (7/9-11); TEX (7/12-14)

So, What Happened?

Remember just a week ago, when the Tigers' lead in the Central Division had evaporated, and the 11-game road trip had gotten off to a 1-3 start, and it looked like your world was collapsing around you?

That was SO last week.

Since then, the Tigers went on a five-game winning streak, assured themselves of a winning record on the road trip, and re-established their might in the division.

Not bad.

Max Scherzer went to 13-0, Miggy Cabrera continues to be a hitting machine, and Torii Hunter flirted with a cycle. Justin Verlander might be back on track. Victor Martinez is hitting. Omar Infante is sitting.

SIX Tigers (there might be a seventh, if Joaquin Benoit wins the fan vote) made the All-Star team, which was announced over the weekend.

What a week it was!

Hero of the Week
Usually when a guy is going for the cycle, the last hit he needs is the hardest one---the triple.

But Torii Hunter needed only a single in Saturday's game to achieve the rare feat.

Hunter didn't get it---he grounded out in his final at-bat---but that doesn't change the week that he had, which was outstanding.

Maybe he got stoked by being hit by a pitch in Toronto, which really ticked him off. MMM doesn't ever remember Hunter getting that enraged on the field.

Regardless, Hunter went 12-for-27 for the week, scored five runs, smacked two homers and had 11 RBI.

That's a Cabrera-like week.

Hunter looked every bit the All-Star he was named, functioning as the perfect No. 2 hitter behind Austin Jackson and ahead of Miggy.

Cabrera had awesome numbers as well last week---frankly, maybe better ones than Hunter---but we all know what Miggy does for the Tigers. The team's success is more tied to the supporting players like Hunter. Cabrera can't win the division by himself.

Honorable mentions: Cabrera; Verlander, Martinez, Rick Porcello (fine outing Friday).

Goat of the Week
What is going on with Douglas Fister?

Fister seems to be the weak link in the Tigers' rotation of late.

For the second straight start, Fister allowed six runs, in Sunday's loss in Cleveland. Granted, the Tigers came back with a fury to tie the game 6-6 after falling behind 6-1, but still...

Fister admits that something is wrong.

"It’s obviously something that needs to be addressed,” Fister said. “I’ll sit down with Jeff (the pitching coach, Jeff Jones) and get his opinions. I’ll look at video.”

Fister needs to get it fixed, because with the Tigers' offense being consistently inconsistent, they need all hands on deck when it comes to their starting pitchers.

Under the Microscope
Will the 2012 Andy Dirks please stand up?

Dirks, the Tigers scuffling left fielder, continues to be mired in the .240s and showing no real signs of breaking out. He had an OK week last weekm closing 5-for-13 in Cleveland, but Dirks has just six homers, and MMM was expecting much more; Dirks should be a 15-20 home run guy.

MMM is placing Dirks UtM because the Tigers need more offense from their left fielder.

The situation bears observing because the trade deadline is about three weeks away. Might the Tigers deal for a veteran hitter to play LF?

It's not terribly likely, because Dirks is cheaper and he is still young. The Tigers certainly believe he can return to his 2012 form (.322 BA, .370 OBP). Currently he's at .249/.313.

Still, MMM is putting Dirks under the scope because it's not early anymore; Dirks has 265 at-bats this season.

Upcoming: Indians, White Sox, Rangers
The Tigers, even if they lose Monday in Cleveland, are assured of a winning road trip. They sit at 6-4 right now.

But to win Monday would be huge; it would give the Tigers a 3.5-game lead over the Tribe, as opposed to 1.5 if the Indians win.

Scherzer goes for 14-0, and what a way to get it, if he does---by ending a road trip with a 7-4 record and a 3.5-game lead in the division.

After the game in Cleveland, MMM would like to re-introduce you to that team that plays on the South Side of Chicago.

Yes, the White Sox really do exist. They're not a rumor.

It's easy to forget the Chisox. First, the Tigers have yet to play them this season in a weird scheduling quirk. Second, the Sox are buried in last place. They are on pace to lose well over 90 games.

But they really do exist. Which is more than MMM can say about their offense.

The White Sox struggle mightily to score runs. If they don't hit home runs, they usually don't score at all. It's a mess that might cost second-year manager Robin Ventura his job; stay tuned.

Tigers starters: Verlander, Porcello, Anibal Sanchez (who pitched well in his first start on Saturday, after spending time on the DL).

The Texas Rangers are in a dogfight in the AL West.

The Rangers are one-half game behind the first-place Oakland A's and playing solid baseball. The Rangers took three of four from the Tigers in Texas earlier this season.

As usual, the Rangers will come to town loaded with big bats, strong pitching---especially their bullpen---and exceptional defense. And they still carry the stigma in Detroit of being the team that ousted the Tigers from the playoffs in 2011.

Tigers starters: Fister, Scherzer, Verlander.

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


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!