Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 21

Last Week: 4-2
This Week:  OAK (8/26-29); CLE (8/30-9/1)

So, What Happened?

MMM isn't sure who said it first, but it has been oft repeated.

"Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher."

Now, that shouldn't necessarily be taken literally. MMM takes it to mean that in baseball, what a team does the day before shouldn't be counted on as a predictor of what is to come today.

Certainly not series to series.

Take last week, for example.

The Tigers struggled at home against the stinky Twins, dropping two of three. The New York Mets, meanwhile, were winning two of three from the Twins (makeup game) and the Braves.

And then came the weekend series between the Tigers and the Mets.

The Tigers manhandled the Mets, for the most part. The team that went 1-2 earlier in the week slaughtered the team that went 2-1.

Here's another example of baseball's fickleness, also involving the Mets.

In late-May, the Mets beat the Yankees four straight games. Then the Mets went to Florida to play the God awful Marlins and got swept, three straight.

Joe Garagiola was right: baseball is a funny game.

The Tigers, led by Miggy Cabrera (who else?) stormed into New York and with apologies to Kevin James, became the Kings of Queens.

It was a clean sweep of the hapless Mets, who are once again looking at a crossroads with yet another manager. Terry Collins' contract expires at the end of the season.

Victor Martinez played catcher in two of the three games, and he performed admirably. MMM can't see a scenario by which the Tigers would keep V-Mart's bat out of the lineup in a National League ballpark should they make it to the World Series. So, expect Victor behind the plate in the Fall Classic if the Tigers are in it.

It should be noted that Alex Avila continues to have headaches related to his concussion. He was lifted out of a rehab game last week because of it.

In other news, Justin Verlander continues to vex us, Max Scherzer improved to 19-1 and showed some batting skills (RBI double) and those damn Indians won't go away.

Hero of the Week
It takes quite a week these days to knock Miguel Cabrera from the HotW perch.

Victor Martinez did it, though.

MMM could have, once again, gone with Miggy here, but V-Mart impressed by pulling catcher duties in New York while continuing to hit.

For the week, Martinez was 7-for-21 and while he netted just two RBI, MMM likes that he returned to catching like a duck to water. And in those two games in which he caught, Martinez got a couple of hits and was every bit the quarterback behind the plate. And, he handled all his fielding chances flawlessly.

Austin Jackson and Miggy may have had a more dazzling week stat-wise (and Cabrera's home run on Sunday was quite the bomb), but MMM is going with Martinez for once again showing what a great pro and teammate he is.

Honorable mentions: Cabrera (enough said); Austin Jackson (12-for-28, two homers on the heels of being named the Goat last week); Scherzer (a win and an RBI double).

Goat of the Week
Justin Verlander, MMM is sorry.

But the Goat label is worn by JV, who had yet another foul outing last week against the Twins.

Ten hits, six runs in seven innings. He didn't get the loss, but it doesn't matter. It was the rubber game of a series and JV didn't get it done.

Yes, Verlander's year, overall, is one that many starters would take. But JV isn't "many starters."

Verlander says he hasn't quite figured things out yet. Well it's late August so the question begs: WILL he find it this year?

That is a question that can't be answered now, but in the meantime, Verlander is GotW.

Under the Microscope
He's not activated currently, but MMM is concerned about Alex Avila, mainly because he isn't activated currently.

Avila continues to fight his concussion-related symptoms, even as he tries to rehab down in Toledo. Despite the surprisingly good year that backup Brayan Pena is having, MMM doesn't think it's a good thing when your starting catcher's physical well-being is up in the air as September approaches.

Does this uncertainty mean the Tigers should consider starting Martinez at catcher more often?

In a word, yes.

Meanwhile, keep a close eye on any reports of Avila's progress. They could have many implications come playoff time.

Upcoming: A's, Indians
It's a big home stand this week.

First, the Oakland A's come to town for a four-game set. Then, those pesky Indians visit over the weekend.

The Tigers' magic number to seal the deal in the Central is 27. A good week could whittle that number into the teens. When that starts to happen as September rolls around, you're in good shape.

Oakland is in a dogfight with the Texas Rangers for AL West supremacy. The Tigers haven't seen the A's since April, but they are pretty much the same team: a flair for the dramatic, clutch hitting and strong bullpen arms.

USA Today recently touted Oakland's Josh Donaldson as MVP over Cabrera. MMM is not making this up.

Donaldson is batting .292 with 19 HR and 74 RBI.

USA Today uses something called an MVP tracker. It ranks players by what percentage their individual WAR is of their team’s total WAR. Then a point is deducted for each game the team trails in its division race and in the wild-card race.

Apparently the above metric places Donaldson (17.1) above Cabrera (15.8).

Talk amongst yourselves.

Tigers starters: Anibal Sanchez (quietly on Scherzer's tail for Cy Young honors), Verlander, Doug Fister, Scherzer.

MMM tips his hat to the Cleveland Indians, and especially manager Terry Francona.

After the Lake Erie Massacre a few weeks ago, when the Tigers took four straight from the Tribe in Cleveland, MMM was ready to write this season off as another second half collapse for the Indians.

But Tito got his team to regroup and the Indians are playing some pretty good baseball. They remain six games behind the Tigers, but they are far from collapsing.

MMM believes the Tigers starting pitching is the biggest separator between the two teams, but even though the Indians can't beat Detroit this season, they nonetheless have yet another shot at making noise in the division race, if they can sweep the Tigers.

Unlikely? Absolutely.

But, see MMM's Joe Garagiola reference.

Tigers starters: Rick Porcello (another Tigers pitcher with a base hit over the weekend), Sanchez, Verlander.

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


Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 20

Last Week: 4-4
This Week:  MIN (8/20-22); at NYM (8/23-25)

So, What Happened?

You don't see eight-game weeks very often, but that's exactly what the Tigers had last week.

Thanks to an earlier rainout, the Kansas City Royals came to town and a four-game series turned into a five-gamer. The Royals have been hot after the All-Star break, and the upstart team from Kansas City was looking to "make a statement" in their weekend visit to Detroit.

The Royals came to town 7.5 games out of first place, and after a doubleheader sweep of the Tigers on Friday, they had visions of leaving Detroit 4.5 games back.

But some guy named Miguel Cabrera had other ideas.

Miggy, simply the best hitter on the planet, socked a walk-off homer on Saturday night, then on his first swing on Sunday, smacked a two-run homer to stake the Tigers to a 2-0 lead as they went on to a 6-3 win.

The result? The Royals' fantasies of taking four of five turned into dust. The Tigers shoved the Royals 8.5 games back, and in the process distanced themselves from the second place Cleveland Indians to the tune of seven full games.

Race over?

MMM is hesitant to declare the AL Central to the Tigers, because this is baseball and crazy things can happen, but a prolonged slump/collapse seems unlikely by the Motor City Bengals.

This isn't 2009, when a flawed Tigers team blew a seven-game lead in September and lost a one-game playoff to the Minnesota Twins. The 2013 Tigers are a much more complete team, and loaded with starting pitching.

The Royals still have six games with the Tigers on the schedule, but MMM feels that they simply won't matter all that much. But again, we'll see.

The week began with a disappointing 1-2 record in Chicago against the Pale Hose, making the Tigers 2-4 since their 12-game winning streak. But the Royals series happened, and so did a 3-2 mark.

The week's games were tainted with the revelation that Prince Fielder filed for divorce from his wife Chantel in late May. Naturally, social media and talk radio blew up with amateur psychologists who theorized that Fielder's impending divorce has played a significant role in his struggles since, well, late May.

MMM admits that Fielder's nosedive in BA and power coincided with the filing date, but why can't this be just a coincidence? And if it's not, so what? Pro athletes aren't robots---no matter how much money they make.

Hero of the Week
MMM is considering changing this section to "Miggy's Heroics of the Week."

Seriously, what's going on here?

MMM has seen his share of clutch performers in Detroit. Baseball-wise, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris come to mind. But nobody comes close to what Miguel Cabrera is doing these days.

MMM wants to pick a different HotW, but Cabrera just keeps doing heroic things.

He's playing hurt, number one. We all know that. Then he does something like win Saturday's game with a walk-off home run, and follows it with a homer on the first pitch he sees on Sunday, which got the Tigers rolling. So two pitches, two big home runs, at a time when the feisty Royals had visions of getting to within 4.5 games of first place.

Honorable mentions: Fielder, for a big home run in the first inning on Friday as the news of his impending divorce caused a stir on talk radio and the Internet; Max Scherzer (18-1); and backup catcher Brayan Pena (filling in very admirably for the concussed Alex Avila).

Goat of the Week
When you go 3-for-28 while you are supposed to be the catalyst, you earn GotW "honors."

Austin Jackson, you are MMM's Goat.

A-Jax was virtually invisible, getting two of his three hits on Sunday---his only two hits in the Royals series. His BA slipped to as low as .258 at one point.

The Tigers managed to win three of five from KC, but they lost two of three to Chicago and MMM can't help but wonder if Jackson's vanishing act last week kept the Tigers from another win or two.

Jackson's overall year has been disappointing. MMM had Jackson penciled in for .300 and 12-15 home runs and 20+ steals.

Not gonna happen. Good thing MMM used pencil!

Things are going pretty good at this point, what with a seven-game lead in the division and all, but MMM would like to see Jackson get on base more frequently. Certainly more than 3-for-28.

Under the Microscope
Is Matt Tuiasosopo this year's Quintin Berry?

MMM wonders if this is so. Berry, the speed demon who captured fans' hearts last year when he filled in for an injured Jackson starting in May, has returned to his previous status as a career minor leaguer.

Tuiasosopo had a great spring training, made the big club, and got off to a terrific start. His BA rose to over .330. But he has come crashing back to Earth, and it's doubly tough for him because he doesn't play everyday. MMM noted with interest that even with the lefty Bruce Chen starting on Sunday, Andy Dirks started in LF over the right-handed hitting Tuey.

With cries for the Tigers to call up prospect Nick Castellanos (who is being groomed as a corner outfielder), will they do so before August 31, thus making Castellanos playoff eligible? And what does this do to Tuey's status?

Hence Tuiasosopo being UtM.

Upcoming: Twins, Mets
Remember the Minnesota Twins?

The Tigers have been so busy playing the other teams in the Central, that the Twins have been put on the back burner in recent weeks.

Well, in case you need a quick refresher, the Twins still stink. They just got beaten three straight by the last place White Sox, to show you.

The Twinkies invade Comerica Park Tuesday-Thursday, though when it comes to the Twins, "invade" may be too strong a word. How about...daintily visit?

OK, OK. MMM shouldn't get too cocky.

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

The weekend has the Tigers back in New York, but to play the Mets.

The Mets stink, too.

But MMM is eager to see Saturday's game, which promises to match Scherzer with Mets pitching sensation Matt Harvey, who started the All-Star game for the NL.

The Mets still have David Wright, who is having another good season (.309/16/54). Wright's stint on the 15-day DL (hamstring) is due to expire today, so we'll see if he's back in the lineup when the Tigers visit CitiField.

Another interesting player is Marlon Byrd. The right fielder has 19 homers and is hitting a solid .286.

The Mets never really got going this year. They are 56-66 and playing out the string.

Tigers starters: Doug Fister, Scherzer, Porcello.

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


Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Morning Manager: Week 19

Last Week: 5-2
This Week:  at CWS (8/12-14); KC (8/15-18)

So, What Happened?

First, MMM would like to apologize for being AWOL last week. MMM celebrated a birthday (the big 5-0) and Mrs. MMM put together a picnic last Monday. Hence, no update last week.

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

In 1978, just after Labor Day, the New York Yankees invaded Fenway Park in Boston for a big four-game series with the Red Sox. The surging Yankees had whittled a huge Boston lead in the AL East (it was 14 games on July 17) down to four games.

The series became known as the Boston Massacre. The Yankees swept the four games, outscoring Boston 42-9 in the process. The race was tied, and you know the rest.

Last week, the Cleveland Indians, playing good baseball, welcomed the Tigers to Progressive Field for a four-game series. The Indians were a mere three games out of first place.

The Tribe got within three outs of  a victory on Monday night, which would have cut the Tigers' lead to two games. But then Alex Avila struck for a three-run dinger off closer Chris Perez, the Tigers won 4-2, and the lead was four games instead of two.

It all went downhill from there for Cleveland.

The Tigers swept the series, lifted their lead to seven games, and left the Indians staggering, like a punch drunk boxer.

The Tribe lost two more, to the Angels, before righting the ship on Sunday.

The Tigers left Cleveland and went to New York, and despite touching Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera for three shocking ninth inning homers on Friday and Sunday, lost two of three to the Yankees.

No matter. It was a fine 5-2 week, giving the Tigers a 17-5 record after the All-Star break.

Miguel Cabrera continues to be hampered by his hip/abdominal injuries, but he pulled a Kirk Gibson against Rivera, slugging two dramatic home runs despite featuring a noticeable limp.

Justin Verlander was slandered by now ex-radio host Jack Clark, who accused JV of using PEDs.

The person who DID use them, Jhonny Peralta, began his 50-game suspension last Monday.

Jeremy Bonderman (remember him?) returned to the Tigers after a three-year absence and was the bullpen hero in Wednesday's 14-inning win.

Alex Avila is on the 7-day concussion DL after being dinged by a foul tip on Thursday.


And that's not all of it!

Hero of the Week
MMM realizes he is not alone in being unable to describe the feats of Miguel Cabrera.

What does it say when Cabrera is dwarfing last season's Triple Crown numbers?

He is on his way to cruising to a third straight batting title, which for a right-handed hitter puts him in some rarefied air.

And now Miggy is just being ridiculous—creating legendary moments that is normally the stuff of fiction.

He blasted two monumental home runs against Rivera and the Yankees.

On Friday night, limping due to injury, with two strikes on him, two outs, and the Yankees ahead 3-1 with a Tiger on base in the ninth inning, Cabrera took a low fastball from the best closer in baseball history and lofted it over the center field wall, tying the game. And Cabrera did it in New York, a city that has seen more than its share of legendary baseball moments.

Not finished with Rivera, Cabrera again homered off the only man in the majors who wears no. 42, in the ninth inning on Sunday, drawing the Tigers to within 4-3. Moments later, Victor Martinez homered off Rivera as well, tying the game.

All this as Miggy battles a nagging hip/abdominal combo that allows him to hit, but which makes running and fielding dicey.

The homers, though both coming in eventual losing causes, were so dramatic and filled with hubris that MMM cannot let them go unnoticed. So Cabrera is HOTW. Period.

Honorable mentions: Alex Avila (huge homer off Perez on Monday); Max Scherzer (a win to go 17-1); Austin Jackson (big week with the bat); Martinez (ditto).

Goat of the Week
MMM is about to place Andy Dirks' mug on the side of a milk carton.

Even manager Jim Leyland is getting antsy over Dirks' year, which has been spent between .240 and .245 seemingly since Opening Day.

Dirks was again invisible last week, continuing a disappointing season where he chases balls out of the strike zone and has exhibited little of the flair he showed in 2012, when he hit .322 in 314 AB.

Dirks' 80-point drop in BA has been sort of hidden, as the Tigers are on this post-All-Star break roll. But it is plainly evident that the Tigers could still use Dirks' 2012 bat down the stretch and in the post-season.

MMM likes Dirks as a player, but this season has been confounding. And last week was another "meh" one for Andy. There have been too many of those.

Under the Microscope
MMM feels sorry for Alex Avila.

The catcher has had a tough year at the plate; everyone knows that. But AA1 (Al Alburquerque is AA2) perked up a little in July, driving in 19 runs and getting that BA near the Mendoza Line (if you're too young to know what that is, Google it).

Unfortunately, just as he was starting to show some life, Avila is on the 7-day concussion DL after getting dazed (again) with a foul tip on Thursday.

Avila went for an MRI, which was fine. He joined the team in New York and played on Saturday, but then felt nauseous after batting practice on Sunday. Hence the move to the DL.

Concussions are nothing to take lightly, if that is what Avila indeed is suffering from. Look no further than Jahvid Best of the Lions.

MMM is disturbed that Avila's nauseous feeling (which he felt on Thursday after the incident and was thus lifted from that game) returned after disappearing for a couple of days. This is the kind of thing that makes concussions (or concussion-like symptoms) so difficult to treat and monitor.

MMM hopes Avila is back soon, and that the layoff doesn't re-set his bat back to pre-July status.

Upcoming: White Sox, Royals
The Tigers have a rare eight-game week.

First up: the White Sox in Chicago, and MMM doesn't need to rehash the Chisox foibles.

Everyone in the AL Central (and the AL in general, actually) has been beating up the White Sox unmercifully, and this week it needs to be the Tigers' turn once again. There can be no let up, as the 10-game road trip winds down.

The three games in Chicago are doubly important because of what follows them.

Tigers starters: Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello.

 OK, MMM thinks the Kansas City Royals' push after the AS break is cute and all, but it needs to be over with.

The Royals' hot streak has matched the Tigers, and had Detroit played around .500, KC would be within three or four games by now. As it stands, the Royals are 7.5 games behind Detroit, and just one-half game behind the reeling Indians.

MMM noticed that after the Royals brought HOFer George Brett in to be the hitting coach in late May, the young KC hitters (notably Mike Moustakis and Eric Hosmer) surged. Now, whether that was coincidental or not, nobody knows for sure. But MMM finds it hard to believe that Brett had no influence.

Even after Brett resigned a few weeks ago, the Royals offense has remained in high gear. That had been the problem with KC: decent pitching but no bats. The offense has arisen, and look what is happening in the W/L columns.

The Royals visit for a five-game series: a makeup DH on Thursday, followed by single games over the weekend. Clearly, this is KC's last best chance to make up serious ground on the Tigers. But Detroit needs to really win only two of the five to keep the damage at a minimum. The Royals really need to go 4-1 to make up significant ground.

Tigers starters: Anibal Sanchez, TBA, Verlander, Fister, Scherzer.

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

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Dombrowski Again Shows Why He's One of MLB's Best GMs

They are riverboat gamblers dressed in Armani. They are playing with company money, corporate assets. Their cell phones burn hotter than a California brush fire.
Some are craftier than others. Some are more aggressive than others. Some go for the big payoff—risk takers supreme. Others are content to settle for the smaller, safer bet.
Here’s an example.
It’s around Valentine’s Day (ironically) in 1989. The Pistons’ wheeler and dealer has been burning up the phone lines. He has a mercurial, tempestuous, volatile player on his hands. The player cannot any longer get along with his coach. That comes from the player himself.
The riverboat gambler tries to broker a meeting between player and coach. The player rebuffs the efforts.
“I told Adrian, ‘Coach Daly will talk to you anytime you want.’ But Adrian didn’t want to talk.”
The speaker was Jack McCloskey. And he was recalling the circumstances surrounding his gutsiest trade ever. That’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.
McCloskey traded Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre, straight up. Dantley—asMcCloskey recounted to me via phone several years ago—was an unhappy camper in early 1989, despite the Pistons tearing up the league, seeking that elusive championship. And frankly, the Pistons weren’t too pleased with Adrian.
The Pistons made the Finals in 1988, but lost in seven hellacious games to the Lakers. They had come close—oh, so close—to winning their first title in franchise history.
There had been grumblings that Dantley, perhaps the best post-up small forward in league history, was a ball and chain around the Pistons’ offense. The term black hole was even used—as in when the basketball was delivered to Dantley, it was never to be seen by a teammate again.
The Pistons had some athletes who could get up and down the floor, led by the smiling assassin Isiah Thomas. But when Dantley got the ball—usually on the wing—the offense came to a screeching halt. After two-plus seasons of this, certain folks got annoyed. Certain folks in very high places.
So it was that even with the backdrop of a team playing .750 basketball, Dantley was frustrated. He felt the tension, and he (rightly) felt that it was directed toward him.
McCloskey pleaded with Dantley to talk to his coach, Chuck Daly. Dantley refused.
“I had no choice,” McCloskey told me that evening in 2009. “I had to trade Adrian.”
The trade deadline was coming up. And even if McCloskey—so aptly nicknamed “Trader Jack”—felt that he “had no choice” but to trade Dantley, I still say it was his gutsiest trade. Maybe the gutsiest in Detroit sports history.
The trade, for another player who had issues with his coach—Aguirre—could have had a negative affect on team chemistry. For despite Dantley’s foibles, the Pistons were used to them. And they knew the reputation that Aguirre had in Dallas and his Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin relationship with coach Dick Motta, who himself would never win Mr. Congeniality. With Dantley vs. Aguirre, it was kind of like the devil you know versus the one you don’t.
McCloskey made the trade. Dantley, who to this day thinks the deal was engineered by Thomas (Aguirre’s close friend), brooded. Aguirre was taken to dinner by a contingent of Pistons and the law was laid down. The Pistons won their championship four months later. But it could have gone oh so wrong.
Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ riverboat gambler of today, emerged after Tuesday night’s game, beaming. He headed for manager Jim Leyland’s office as the media in the clubhouse murmured. It was less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
Moments later, Dombrowski spoke to the press and revealed why he had the look of a man who had just beaten the house.
Sometime during Tuesday’s game, Dombrowski was burning up his phone line, talking trade with the Boston Red Sox fellow AL first place tenants.
The Tigers, concerned about the fate of shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s status (his connections with the Biogenesis lab may result in a 50-game suspension), decided that they had no viable options internally for Jhonny should MLB remove him via suspension.
So Dombrowski, wearing his Armani suit and pink tie, playing at the table with the boss’ assets—namely, minor league prospects—worked out a three-way deal with Boston and the Chicago White Sox.
Boston would get outfielder Avisial Garcia, who the Tigers are very high on, and sometimes big league reliever Brayan Villarreal. The Red Sox would then ship Garcia to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jake Peavy.
And the Tigers were getting shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston, whose glove has been compared to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel’s, no less.
Dombrowski was beaming because he not only patched up shortstop for this season, should Peralta be suspended, but he covered the position for years to come. Iglesias is 23 years old and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019, which to me still looks like a year out of an H.G. Wells novel.
Dombrowski is the ultimate poker player. Earlier that day, he solemnly told the press that, after his Monday trade for reliever Jose Veras, the Tigers were likely done trading. That Peralta’s status wasn’t dire enough to create urgency for another deal before 4:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
He said these things even after he had been in talks with the Red Sox that morning.
A good gambler never shows his cards until it’s time.
We have seen the best and worst of general managers in Detroit.
We have seen Russ Thomas, who was a tightwad and a curmudgeon straight out of a Dickens novel, holding onto Lions owner Bill Ford’s money like it was his own.
We have seen Ned Harkness, whose personal grudges and misplaced college attitude destroyed the Red Wings for a decade and a half.
We have seen Matt Millen, and that’s all that needs to be said here.
But we have also seen Jimmy Devellano, whose moves didn’t always work with the Red Wings, but no one could accuse Jimmy D of being passive or uncreative.
We have seen the aforementioned McCloskey, who took a 16-win team and in less than five years, had them competing seriously in the NBA playoffs, eventually winning two championships in a row in 1989-90.
We now see Kenny Holland, who proved that his hockey GM chops weren’t propped up by owner Mike Ilitch’s pocketbook. After the NHL instituted a hard salary cap in 2005, Holland continued to show why he is among the best in the business, even when not able to work with a blank check.
And the Tigers have Dombrowski, who is as good as they come in baseball. His moves don’t always work, either, but they do most of the time and he is another that no one can accuse of being passive. He knows the clock is ticking on his octogenarian owner, who wants a World Series title so badly he can taste it.
Did Dombrowski’s cat-who-swallowed-the-canary smile on Tuesday night say it all?
We’ll find out in about two-and-a-half months, won’t we?