Monday, April 18, 2011

Moving Day!

As I announced a few days ago, I am now moving to Aerys Sports to become their Tiger blogger. Please update your bookmarks to this link (or if you want to directly link to the Aerys Sports page, use this link). This site will remain up in case I have use for it in the future, but for now, I'm excited for this move and I hope you will join me over there.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Banged Up and Confused

This is going to be a short post because I only saw the last two innings and nothing happened during them. Going into a four-game series on the road, your goal is to split, but the worst way of accomplishing that goal is to win the first two games and then lose the last two. Truth be told, I was prepared to lose this game on the pitching matchup alone, since expecting to win all four games is unrealistic (Before this trip started, my plan was for the first and third games to be wins, the fourth game to be a loss, and the second to be a tossup; having the A's hit five doubles off Verlander was not part of my plan). It's almost like Brad Penny is the antithesis of Brayan Villarreal in that while Villarreal continues to pique my interest, Penny continues to not impress me. I can't get into detail, since I didn't see his outing, but I will give him credit for being forthcoming when he doesn't pitch well. Brad Thomas, Al Alburquerque, and Daniel Schlereth all had uneventful outings, so there's no point in commenting on them further.

The offense couldn't do anything against Trevor Cahill, which, again, I expected. The lone bright spot was a home run from Casper Wells, but other than that, the Tigers didn't strand anyone in scoring position because they never had a runner in scoring position. I knew nothing about who would and would not be playing (other than I knew Magglio would be out of the lineup and I remembered Leyland saying something last night about giving Inge the day off), so when I got home from work and saw that Victor Martinez's name was not in the boxscore, I was puzzled but figured it was Leyland being stubborn about giving guys a break. I was in a feisty mood so I went over to Bless You Boys and made up a story about Martinez being injured, only to learn that he actually WAS injured (apparently he suffered a groin strain in his last at-bat last night). And then MLive had some throwaway line about Brandon Inge trying to play through a quad injury that no one else seems to know about.

The Tigers now head up to Seattle to take on the Mariners, who are off to a rough start this year (having gotten largely steamrolled by the Rangers, Indians, and Royals; it sounds wrong to mention two of those teams as having steamrolled anyone). The good news is that the Tigers will not have to face reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez (although he hasn't been pitching well so far) or very talented rookie Michael Pineda. Their first opponent is lefty Jason Vargas, whom I've actually seen in person (the Tigers scored a bunch of runs off him in that game; they didn't score nearly as many when they saw him in Seattle earlier that year). One thing to note is that Leyland has said that Victor Martinez will not be able to catch this game (he might DH, depending on the injury), so Alex Avila will be pressed into duty against the lefty. Meanwhile, it feels like it's been about two months since I last saw Max Scherzer. He's coming off a decent start against the Rangers where he was in trouble a lot, but managed to keep the damage to a minimum. He did some good work against the Mariners last year.

I Was Starting to Wonder Where the Weird Was

What, you thought they would be able to avoid the strangeness that the west coast inherently seems to have? Unfortunately, it seemed to rear its ugly head during Verlander's start. I don't feel I was given a satisfactory enough explanation for why he gave up five doubles (other than being "ambushed"). They were all focused on that weird play where he made what looked like a left-handed pickoff throw to first, except he was facing toward home (obviously) and he threw home. His explanation was that he was going to do a pickoff throw to first, but he stepped backwards and couldn't turn, so he threw home in order to avoid a balk. It ended up eventually being called a balk, mostly because the umpires didn't know what else to call it.

The offense obviously didn't do much. They scored the only two runs on an error and a fielder's choice. Dallas Braden threw a lot of changeups and the Tigers mostly either took them for strikes or took really funky swings at it. The bulk of the highlights were a single from Magglio OrdoƱez, a double from Miguel Cabrera, and a single and a double from Victor Martinez (although he couldn't come up with another hit late when he represented the tying run). Jim Leyland said that they failed to "recognize scoring opportunities" and that "This isn't slow-pitch softball." I have no idea what that last statement is supposed to mean.

It's the final game of the series today, and Brad Penny is going for the Tigers. His last start was decent (even if he lucked out by being in his home ballpark), and the Coliseum is also a pitcher's park (though the ball does carry better during the day than it does at night). He'll be up against Trevor Cahill, who won 18 games for the A's last year and recently signed an extension. He used to be pretty easy to beat up on, but that obviously changed last year. The Tigers haven't scored an earned run off any of the A's starters in the series so far, so it would be nice to take that little factoid off the board. Just try to avoid the weirdness today.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the Other Side: Oakland Athletics

Today's edition of From the Other Side is a bit different from the others because two A's bloggers volunteered, so this edition will be sort of a mini-roundtable discussion. Joining me today are Bee Hylinski, author of Contract Year, a coming of age love story set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball; and Jason Leary of Junk Ball, where he has blogged the A's since 2008. My thanks goes to both of them for helping me out on this project (One minor note: I conducted this Q&A last week, so keep that in mind).
1. What do the A's have to improve upon from last year in order to challenge for the AL West title?

Bee: Offense.

Jason: That's easy, the A's need to improve their hitting if they're going to have any chance to build on last season's .500 finish and make a run at the AL West title. Acquiring Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus was general manager Billy Beane's attempt to address the A's painfully impotent offense. The early results this season have been uninspiring and it's easy to see why Beane made such an aggressive, but ultimatelt futile, run at free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.  In my opinion the team's most dangerous hitter is Chris Carter but the young slugger is taking his hacks in Sacramento instead of Oakland as mangement stubbornly tries to convert the lumbering first baseman into an outfielder.

2. How much of a concern is Andrew Bailey's health and how good is their bullpen depth, should they need a fill-in closer for an extended period of time?

Bee: It’s a concern.  He was a big part of the A’s success last year and is a two-time All-Star.  Brian Fuentes hasn’t picked up the slack, though his last outing was good.

Jason: During spring training I didn't think the loss of Bailey would have a big impact since the A's had an impressively deep bullpen thanks to incumbent relievers Mike Wuertz and Craig Breslow and free agent additions Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. But Wuertz is now on the disabled list and Breslow is still rounding into form after nursing a hamstring injury in spring training. Fuentes should be able to adequately fill in as closer for short periods, but over the long haul of the season the A's are going to need Bailey to anchor the bullpen. Everything I have read indicates that Bailey is recovering at a steady pace and I expect him to spend most of the season handling the ninth inning. 

3. Both the A's and the Tigers finished 2010 with an 81-81 record. What offseason moves have both teams made that make them a better (or worse) team this year?

Bee: I can only speak for the A’s.  They strengthened their offense with the acquisition of DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui and they strengthened their bullpen with Fuentes, Balfour, and maybe Rich Harden if he can get (and stay) healthy.  They also added a solid 5th starter in Brandon McCarthy.

Jason: I think Oakland's addition of Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, Balfour, Fuentes, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden all make the team better. The offense should be marginally improved and the bullpen and bench should be deeper. As for the Tigers, adding Victor Martinez to an already strong offense can only help them in the AL Central. Aside from that I think they grossly overpaid for Joaquin Benoit and Brad Penny probably won't be a difference maker in their starting rotation.

4. There have been news stories off and on that the Athletics want to move to a new stadium in order to increase attendance. How likely is this and will it help draw more fans?

Bee: Not likely in the next 5 years as it will take that long to get the approvals and actually build the thing, and it all hinges on MLB’s decision from the study done by Bud Selig’s special commission investigating move possibilities.  As for drawing more fans, it will have that effect, at least initially.  If they have a lousy team in a new ballpark, the interest will wane.

Jason: Personally, I don't think a new ballpark will happen anywhere anytime soon for the A's.  San Jose is simply co-owner Lew Wolff's pipe dream until MLB commissioner gets off his butt and makes a call on whether the A's can move and infringe on the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights. Oakland is making a push for a ballpark near Jack London Square but that process is in the very early stages. California's budget crisis also threatens any effort to build a ballpark in San Jose or Oakland because each city wants to use redevelopment agency funds to help finance a park but Governor Jerry Brown wants to eliminate those agencies.  If the A's ever find a new place to call home they'll definitely get a big boost in attendance, at least in the first few years when droves of fans will probably come out to see the new ballpark.

5. Is there anything that the Tigers can learn from the A's (or vice-versa) that can make them a better team?

Bee: Pitching and defense with decent hitting is the key, as is staying healthy.  Having a top-notch player development program is another strength for the A’s, especially as it pertains to pitchers.  Young pitchers tell me they are thrilled when they are signed or traded to the A’s.  They know they will get great training and stand a better chance of making it to the majors, either with the A’s or as trade bait for other teams.

Jason: To be perfectly honest, I don't follow the Tigers closely enough to be well-versed with their organizational philosophy.  The biggest difference between the A's and Tigers is money, a common theme when comparing the A's to most other organizations. The Tigers sign players to contracts the A's could never afford and the A's sign players the Tigers may never have to consider because a bigger budget means they can successfully bring in top-shelf talent. That makes it hard to level any constructive criticism at the Tigers or focus on something the A's could adopt and use to their advantage.

One additional note from Bee:
The A’s are off to a bit of a slow start, which may be due to reduced playing time at spring training, in an attempt to ward off the injury bug.  It’s early.  I think they’ll be fine.  At this point their Triple-A team is doing better than they are.  

Patience is a Virtue

And I don't mean patience like taking walks (although that's good too). I mean waiting until the end and getting rewarded for it. Rick Porcello was much better. He was pitching in traffic for much of his outing, but he got his sinker working and got outs when he needed to. He was also helped out a lot by his defense, especially Ramon Santiago, who snagged a line drive from Hideki Matsui early in the game and turned it into a double play. The game also featured the big league debut of Al Alburquerque, who looked like he could be a boost as long as he continues throwing strikes. And finally, it was the first major league win for Brayan Villarreal, who unfortunately combined with Joaquin Benoit to fall victim to the cliche of pitchers not being able to pitch with a big lead and his ERA took a hit as a result. Hopefully he'll fare better next time.

It looked for the longest time like Porcello would be stuck with the tough-luck loss, as the Tigers could do nothing with Brandon McCarthy. Brennan Boesch almost provided a lift in the eighth by crushing a ball to center field, but the ball doesn't carry at night at Oakland, and it just ended up being a long out. The odd thing was that the whole time I wanted to see Miguel Cabrera in the ninth. I guess I was remembering last year, when he hit a game-tying home run off Brian Fuentes in Anaheim. Well, history repeated itself, as the Oakland air proved no match for Cabrera's big bat. No ballpark can hold him. The floodgates opened in the tenth thanks to three Oakland errors, and what was once a nailbiting pitching duel turned into a blowout.

Tonight is game 3 of this series, and by now you must know that the matchup features two pitchers who have thrown no-hitters: Justin Verlander and Dallas Braden. Verlander is coming off a tough-luck loss to the Rangers. The last time he was in Oakland, he pitched a complete game and won, but he faced the A's again two starts later at Comerica Park and didn't fare so well. And they'll probably show the footage of Dallas Braden's perfect game last year about a billion times. He can be tough, but the Tigers get to him more often than not. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

I'll Spare the Obvious Pun...

Come on, you know what pun that is. Phil Coke threw seven shutout innings and looked good doing it. He didn't get a lot of strikeouts, but he was in control pretty much all night. It never really felt like the A's were going to mount a threat. The only real quirk (besides Coco Crisp's hair) was that he could not throw strikes to Daric Barton (who has the reputation for being a walk machine anyways). I'm not sure it was any particular pitch that worked for him, more like the mix of pitches. It looked like they had a good game plan. Joaquin Benoit bounced back from his bad outing the other day (It feels like I should have seen him more than I actually have), and Jose Valverde polished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth (that involved Victor Martinez taking a foul tip in a really bad spot).

The offense probably should have scored more runs than they did, considering that the Athletics pitchers combined to give up ELEVEN walks, but the Tigers only had four hits the entire evening. Gio Gonzalez has good stuff, so I can see him getting into the "effectively wild" category, but six walks seems excessive, and the A's bullpen couldn't throw strikes either. Ryan Raburn finally got the Tigers on the board with an RBI double, and Ramon Santiago (who probably had the best swings of any of the Tigers last night) provided another with a sacrifice fly (another run scored on an error). Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were pretty quiet. Cabrera did have two walks (one intentional, one semi-intentional), but Martinez went 0-for-5, all on groundouts to the middle infielders. No one's really talking about it because the Tigers are winning right now, but his average is now right at the Mendoza line. And he seems to be having trouble getting the ball in the air, because it seems like he's hitting a lot of groundouts to the second baseman or shortstop (oddly enough, he's only grounded into one double play so far this year). Now, he's been a good hitter for a long time, so I'm not really worried about him long-term, but it'd be nice for him to start making opposing pitchers pay for walking Cabrera

It's gonna be another late night tonight. Rick Porcello tries to get his first win of the year. The other four starters have all turned in at least one decent outing (even Penny, although you can throw an asterisk onto that one if you want). Porcello got his sinker working for about three innings in his last start and then it went away again and he ended up giving up nine hits and five runs for the second straight start. He'll be up against Brandon McCarthy, who was once a big-time prospect for the White Sox before getting traded to Texas, where he never really panned out and got hurt a lot. Still, he's off to a good start this year. He hasn't faced the Tigers since 2009. It's Jackie Robinson Day, so everyone will be wearing the #42 on their jerseys (though hopefully the A's will wear something besides those blindingly bright yellow jerseys that they had last night).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Walk-Offs are Becoming a Habit

Anyone else think this was a strange game? The first four innings took forever, and yet, no runs scored. Usually pitching duels make for quick games, but not this time. I was stuck listening to the radio for most of the game (I only got to see the ninth inning on TV), but I'll do what I can. It was not an easy start for Max Scherzer. He was dealing with baserunners (usually multiple baserunners) just about all afternoon, but to his credit, he made the big pitch when he needed to before finally blinking in the sixth. He had seven strikeouts, so something was working. For the second straight game, Julio Borbon got picked off to end a threat (that's the second time I've seen the "fake to third, look to first" play work; the other time was actually a Rangers game against the A's, and that would have worked except the Rangers made an error). This game also featured too many wild pitches, but some more stellar work from Brayan Villarreal (and while there have been other pitchers credited with a hold without throwing a single pitch, Villarreal is apparently the first Venezuelan to have that distinction).

As bizarre as Scherzer's outing was, the lack of runs against Dave Bush was even more puzzling. It's not for lack of patience. The Tigers had some real grind-it-out plate appearances. I don't think I've ever seen that many nine or ten-pitch at-bats not produce anything. They finally broke through in the sixth inning to tie things up, starting with back-to-back doubles from Victor Martinez and Brennan Boesch. It was a big game for Brandon Inge, who tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and then won the game with his first home run of the year in the bottom of the ninth. 

And so now we turn from day games to sleep deprivation as the Tigers head out west (cue my monologue about how weird things happen on the west coast). The first stop is Oakland for four games. The Athletics have had some really good pitching to start out the year, but their offense has struggled, although it has started to pick up a bit in the last few days (they came back from being down three runs against the White Sox yesterday and ended up winning in extra innings). Tonight's game features Phil Coke against Gio Gonzalez. Coke struggled early in his start against the Royals, but then settled down and actually pitched really well. Gio Gonzalez has also been pitching really well. He's only given up one earned run so far, but he occasionally has a tendency to walk batters. Stock up on the caffeine (no excuses; I have an exam and a case study due tomorrow and I'm still watching). 

And finally, an announcement: This blog will be moving soon. I am joining Aerys Sports, a network of blogs for every major sports team, and all the blogs are run by women. You may recall that I did some guest-posting over there for Allison Hagen at No Run Support during spring training, and now, Tigers Amateur Analysis will become the new Tigers blog on the network. I can't give you an exact time, but the move will probably happen in the next few days, and hopefully it'll be a seamless transition.