Thursday, April 30, 2009

Now You've Gone and Embarrassed Yourself on ESPN Again

For as much as I complain about strange things happening on the west coast, it’s becoming apparent that the Yankees bring their own brand of weirdness to Comerica Park. I mean, back in ’07 they played a game that didn’t end until 3:30 in the morning, and now there’s this game. You had Nick Swisher hitting a home run on what would’ve been ball 4 (one of the few times that a walk would have been preferable), then Nick Swisher making diving plays all over right field, and then the fire alarms went off in the bottom of the eighth. Between the bat and the glove, I think Swisher kinda beat the Tigers singlehandedly. At any rate, Porcello just wasn’t throwing enough strikes, and they made him pay for it. Look, we knew he was going to get beat up at some point. It happens to every pitcher. Unfortunately, it happened at a rather inconvenient time, but there’s nothing you can do about it now. The important thing is for him to have the maturity and fortitude to bounce back in his next start. As far as the bullpen, well, outside of the home run that Clay Rapada gave up to Swisher and Ryan Perry’s two-out wildness in the eighth, the ‘pen wasn’t bad, given the number of innings they had to pitch. Zumaya looked really good in particular. Ryan Perry did have the three walks, which is not good, but given the opportunity to pitch himself out of it, he was able to do it, so maybe that’s a turning point of some sort.

Well, the offense was kinda sleepwalking through this game as well until the ninth inning (at least we weren’t being shut out). Joba Chamberlain was wild early, and then after Miguel Cabrera struck out with the bases loaded, it was like some sort of switch turned on, he became a strike-thrower, and the Tigers were too slow on the adjustment. As a result, his pitch count stayed low and there just wasn’t enough time to get to the Yankee bullpen. After the third inning, the only real threat the Tigers were able to mount against Chamberlain was in the seventh, when they put two men on with no out, but Swisher (“There’s that bear again”) ran down Brandon Inge’s attempt at a gap shot (by the way, Brandon totally smoked that ball). That would’ve scored at least one run, maybe two (given Laird’s ability to run well for a catcher). After that, the rally totally fizzled. Swisher also made a diving catch of a bullet that Granderson hit in the eighth. It wasn’t until the ninth that the Tigers finally figured out how to get the ball past Swisher, and by then it was too late cuz when you don’t rally until the ninth inning, you give the Yankees the luxury of bringing in Mariano Rivera, and then it just becomes unrealistic. Still, once he came trotting in from the bullpen I jokingly advised everyone on
Bless You Boys to channel their inner Jason Bay, only to almost look like a total genius. Apparently Granderson channeled HIS inner Jason Bay. That’s the second straight appearance in which Rivera’s given up a home run. I would think that does not happen very often. However, it was extraordinary enough that Grandy hit the three-run shot off him. You knew he wouldn’t give up two more runs with two outs. It just wasn’t gonna happen. Still, kudos to the Tigers for at least injecting a little bit of dignity into the loss.

Well, there’s an off-day today, and then comes a big two-week stretch of 13 games in a row against the division. Yikes. First up are the Cleveland Indians, who don’t exactly have the record the prognosticators thought they’d have, but with things being so bunched up in the Central Division, a three-game sweep would put them right back into it. So it’s important for the Tigers to not get swept (also important to take the series). To do that, the offense needs to wake up (hopefully the ninth inning last night did that). This is important because in a lot of the games against the Indians over the past two years, the Tigers’ offense was rarely shut down completely. There were a few games where they were stymied, but most of the time they’d manage at least four or five runs. The problem was that they normally just plain got outslugged, so it’d be nice for all the Tigers to pitch well for a change. The Indians’ offense is pretty hot right now, and their pitching has essentially upgraded itself from “awful” to “inconsistent.” Their starters have been up and down, but everyone in their rotation has gotten at least one good start under their belts. They do have Kerry Wood (and I knew he was a hard thrower, but I didn’t realize just how hard), and I have no idea how his ERA is over 6, because I believe he’s been perfect in save opportunities. They have had some bullpen problems outside of Wood, though. At any rate, step one is to subdue THEIR offense and keep it that way. Armando Galarraga gets the call for his sixth career start against Cleveland, which is the most against any team. The lone AL team that hasn’t seen him is the Yankees, but I’m not sure they’d be the best team for him to face anyways, both because of the sheer number of left-handed hitters and because a lot of his success lies in getting guys to swing at stuff out of the strike zone (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s the case for many a good pitcher), and the Yankees generally don’t do that (at the same time, though, given the fact that the first series after the All-Star Break is at Yankee Stadium, I’d be surprised if Galarraga didn’t get a start there). And since Galarraga had walked five in his previous outing, you can bet the Yankees would’ve taken every pitch they could. He has had success against the Indians: 3-0 in five starts with a respectable earned run average, but the Cleveland offense is pretty patient (or, at least, they can be when they want to), so he probably can’t afford to walk a bunch of guys again (that and the fact that the Indians generally hit a lot better than the Royals). He’ll catch a bit of a break since Travis Hafner is now on the DL (though I can’t recall if he even faced Hafner last year and if he did, it was an unhealthy Hafner at that), but Grady Sizemore had evidently figured him out by the end of last season, cuz he’s got, like, three or four home runs off him. The Tiger hitters need to get the bats going, though, and they’ll need to do it against Carl Pavano, who is the subject of probably the best “non-signing” in recent Tigers history. I’m a bit hazy on the details, and I’ve had to get help filling my dad’s friend on filling in the blanks, but apparently Pavano had a good career with Florida, the Tigers tried to sign him in 2004, but he had his heart set on the Yankees and promptly spent the next four years with injury after injury. That’s the story I’ve gotten, but given the vicious reaction that he got from Yankee fans at Yankee Stadium, I’m led to believe that there was more going on than just injuries. Anyone want to help me out here with some more details? Anyways, his ERA is not pretty right now, but I’m pretty sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that he only lasted one inning and gave up nine earned runs in his first start, so it’ll take a while to get it down. I know he struggled in his last start, though. Since he’s made so few AL starts, he’s never faced the Tigers before, and I don’t think there are many hitters who have even had an at-bat against him. Let’s see...only three current Tiger position players have played for a National League team prior to 2004 (Dane Sardinha saw a little bit of playing time with the Reds, but I don’t think that really counts), and those are Polanco, Everett, and Cabrera. Cabrera and Pavano were teammates, so that just leaves Everett and Polanco (as well and maybe one or two from a couple others through Interleague play). However, one thing that I’d like to see for a change is for the Tiger hitters to face a struggling pitcher (Pavano) and actually KEEP him struggling. This is now four games in a row where the other team’s starting pitcher has suddenly “found it” against our lineup (Amazingly, the Tigers are 2-2 in that stretch; and I know Phil Hughes was not struggling in Triple A, but he had in terms of his lack of Major League success). It’s a day early, but to get you ready, I’ve included the Mood Music. With the impending long stretch of interdivision games, I needed something dramatic. Something that suggested “big battle.” And I found it in the realm of classical music, specifically from a suite written by 20th century composer Gustav Holst called “The Planets.” I give you the first movement, “Mars: The Bringer of War.” Interesting side note: There is another movement in the suite that is subtitled “The Magician,” and given my last post about Galarraga, I flirted with the idea of using that instead, but the music itself is long and kinda goofy-sounding, and just really didn’t fit the motif.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And That Is Why You Can't Walk People and Make Errors

That was excruciating, from about the second inning on. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I do not like pitching duels. They are so incredibly stressful to watch because the game can hinge on one little mistake. And even though the final score is what it is, the same principle actually still applies to this one. Edwin Jackson was pretty good against a team that normally has his number, but Robinson Cano kinda singlehandedly cost him an inning (though given the fact that if the score had still been tied in the top of the eighth, which is quite likely, Perry still probably would’ve been first out of the ‘pen, and things probably would’ve proceeded in exactly the same way, so maybe in the long run that didn’t really have an impact). Now, let’s delve into the seventh inning. A lot is going to be made about Josh Anderson’s error (which is merited, cuz it IS a play he needs to make), but I really think it was the four-pitch walk to Melky Cabrera (who was trying to bunt the whole time) that kinda sealed Perry’s fate. If he’d’ve just let him bunt, there would be no runner at third base, and therefore, no sac fly opportunity in the first place. After that, there were just too many walks mixed in with everything else that was going on, and not enough strikes being thrown.

However, I beg of you a bit of perspective: This isn’t even the most runs that the Tigers have given up in a game this year. If you’d’ve just looked at the score itself without that “runs per inning” grid that usually accompanies it, you’d just think of it as your average, run-of-the-mill blowout. Hey, chances are on any given night, it’s going to happen to SOME team (you just hope it won’t be the Tigers again for a long, long time). Second, in a big inning such as that, once you’ve given up more than about six or seven runs, it usually means something weird has happened, unless you’ve walked more than six guys in the inning or given up more than two home runs. I’m talking about broken-bat singles or infield hits or what have you. At that point it kinda loses all sense of reality and should probably just get categorized into “really big inning” (say, more than 7 runs) as opposed to an actual number. Nate Robertson’s stint was odd because he gave up hits to all the lefties he faced and his only out came from the switch-hitter. Nate’s probably more suited to long relief and he’s not my first choice as a lefty specialist, but with Bobby Seay undoubtedly unavailable, I guess there was little choice. Still, I don’t think Robertson had good numbers against the Yankees coming in to last night. Anyways, I missed Damon’s single, but on the replays, it looked like kind of a funky swing, and I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine that the ball was hit hard with that kind of swing. Matsui hit a lined shot bullet that was precipitated both by the fact that Nate had fallen behind and by the fact that Matsui hits lefties well anyways. The final hit he gave up was a ground-ball single off the bat of Cano (I think), and I don’t have a good sense of how hard it was hit (though given how hot Cano is right now, there’s a good chance it was torched), but from the naked it, it looked like something that Cabrera could have snared without too much difficulty. Brandon Lyon is becoming a concern in the sense that he is currently pitching out of character. If you look at his numbers over the past couple years, you’ll see that he’s been a guy that throws strikes and keeps the ball in the ballpark. That hasn’t been the case this year, and I would like to know the underlying reason for that before making any further determinations. As for Juan Rincon, well, you knew Nick Swisher was going to hit a home run at some point in this series. Might as well get it over with.

As far as the offense is concerned, where’s Chien-Ming Wang when you need him? I know he’s tough when he healthy, but with the way he’d been pitching so far this year, the Yankees could still score 10 runs in the seventh and the Tigers might’ve still won. Now, I don’t like being on the losing end of blowouts and I don’t like pitching duels, but I really, REALLY hate being shut out. I had enough of that last year to last a lifetime. There are exceptions, but oftentimes I feel like I’d rather lose 13-2 than 1-0. This is the third starting pitcher in a row that the Tigers have faced who has totally defied his scouting report (Sidney Ponson went from command problems to not walking anybody, CC Sabathia went from throwing over 110 pitches in five innings to throwing 99 in eight, and Phil Hughes went from throwing a lot of breaking balls to throwing lots of fastballs). One somewhat disturbing trend over the past few games is that with the exception of the middle game in Kansas City, the Tigers haven’t exactly worked the starting pitchers. I know that Greinke and Sabathia (and to some extent, Hughes) are very good, but there are still ways to get the pitch count up faster (Case in point: Edwin Jackson was very good last night and the Yankees were still able to get him to 117 pitches in six innings). In any case, I spent the last three innings silently begging the offense to scratch out a run. Even just one run would be enough for a bit of a moral victory. It looked as though they just might get me that run in the bottom of the ninth. Alas, no dice, as Everett flied out to end the game. You know, I’ve often heard the talking point that attempts to justify an offense going dormant in a blowout by saying that the bad pitching “is discouraging to the hitters.” That might be true, but it’s still not a good excuse. I mean, you certainly wouldn’t condone the opposite situation (i.e. a pitcher not pitching well because he’s “discouraged” from a lack of run support). On a side note, we’re all breathing a sigh of relief that Miguel Cabrera seems to be okay after being hit in the wrist, and not just for the obvious reason. With Larish being sent down to Toledo and Thames on the DL, the Tigers don’t have another first baseman. A healthy Guillen could probably be serviceable in an emergency, but right now he’s pretty much confined to DH. I’m not sure what they would’ve done if Cabrera had to come out of the game.

Well, when it comes to a game like this, the last thing you want is for it to linger. If I were able to talk to the pitching staff, I would say this: Do NOT let it snowball any further (and throw strikes). At any rate, Rick Porcello probably gets his biggest test so far tonight. Logic dictates that he’ll have to get the changeup working to all those lefties and switch-hitters the Yankees’ll run out at you. I guess if there’s been one noticeable hiccup, it’s that Porcello’s developing the strange habit of giving up home runs to guys who don’t hit home runs (which means that Ramiro Peña is probably licking his chops right about now). As long as they’re solo shots and there aren’t many of them, I suppose that’s something that can be worked around. But either way, I guess it’s a good probability we’ll see what he’s made of. He’ll be up against Joba Chamberlain, who hasn’t given up many runs but he’s had quite a few baserunners in his starts. The Tigers have only seen him in relief before (and the first time they saw him, back in ’07 at Yankee Stadium, he blew 100 MPH fastballs by the middle of the Tigers order, and I’ll admit that was the single scariest inning I’ve ever witnessed in baseball, because it’s the only time where our big guys looked totally and convincingly overmatched and powerless, and I’d very much like to never see that again). No Mood Music for tonight, as I’ve got an exam in an hour and I still haven’t had lunch, so no time to go browsing around on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Knew You Still Had It, JV

Photo: AP

Finally, finally, FINALLY things started going Verlander’s way. He was totally amazing, and he was able to keep his wits about him when the Yankees got hits and also after the one mistake (Polanco being unable to turn a double play, but he made up for it later in the ninth). This was a lot like the one start he made against them in 2007, when he just dominated them. It’s starts like these that made me go nuts for him in the first place, and it was nice to see the results reflect the numbers (and the stuff) at last. By the way, I may have shortchanged Justin on a start against the Yankees. They mentioned on FSN last night that it was his fifth career start against New York. I know he made two starts in ’07 and one against them last year. So are they including his postseason start or did he pitch against them at Comerica Park sometime in ’06 and I just don’t remember? Bobby Seay did a nice job out of the ‘pen, though he caught a break when Mark Teixiera just missed hitting a three-run homer off him (however, since he’s pitched three days in a row, you’d think he’d be unavailable for tonight’s game). Rodney gave up runs for the third consecutive outing, but so far he’s not walking people (and I think the Yankees have caught onto that, which is why they came out swinging at the first pitch). He got some help from a double play ball to limit the damage.

Well, given how Verlander-Sabathia matchups usually end, this one surprised me by actually becoming a pitching duel. Sabathia, who had given up a ton of walks coming in, found his control, but luckily for us, he didn’t get any run support, and the offense was able to do just enough against him. For once, just about all the contribution came from the top of the order. Outside of Polanco’s two doubles and the Magglio home run (I was reminded of a very similar home run that Pudge hit early last year in that same area, although Maggs didn’t need help from the right fielder to get it over the gate), the offense seemed a little bit sluggish, but Sabathia IS a good pitcher.

Yesterday, it got up into the mid-80s around here, and I imagine the temperature was similar in Detroit. I know the game-time temp was 72 degrees, according to the box score. And yet, during his pre-game show interview, Armando Galarraga was wearing a freakin’ sweatshirt. I know he’s from Venezuela and it’s warmer down there, but that’s ridiculous. He’s also doing the Clark Kent thing again (I saw him in the dugout with the specs again). By the way, I am amazed that there was no in-game interview with Tom Izzo during the third or fourth inning. Usually, when someone of note throws out the first pitch, that happens, but I’m glad it didn’t, cuz I’m not a Michigan State fan, I don’t care for basketball (though I do enjoy filling out the brackets), and those interviews are usually really boring.

Tonight, it’s Edwin Jackson’s turn to take on the Yankees. Having come from the Rays, he’s seen a lot of the Bronx Bombers, and his numbers against them aren’t good, although he’s given up surprisingly few home runs, given the ERA over five. Unfortunately, the Yankees wised up and placed an incredibly ineffective Chien-Ming Wang on the DL before the Tigers could have a shot at him, so Phil Hughes is starting in his place. He hasn’t had much success in the big leagues (or against the Tigers, for that matter), but he’s one of the top pitching prospects for the Yankees and he’s been exceptional at Triple A this year, so you have to figure that sooner or later he’ll get it together against Major League teams. For the Tigers’ sake, I’m hoping it’s “later” rather than “sooner.” Like, next week or something.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Galarraga, El Prestidigitador

Photo: G. Newman Lowrance (Getty Images)

I know several people online have taken to calling Armando Galarraga “The Little Cat” (obviously in reference to Andres), but forget that. Given both his knack for card tricks and his ability to somehow Houdini his way out of jams (and look really good doing it), Armando’s nickname SHOULD be “The Magician” (or if you prefer the Spanish, as in the title, “El Prestidigitador,” although that’s a really hard word to say; you could also use “El Mago,” but that actually translates closer to “wizard” than “magician”). Whatever you want to call him, Galarraga did a fine job working around some control problems, and managed to get six innings in (which, you’d think with five walks and seven strikeouts, he’d’ve thrown more pitches than he actually did). Still, he needs to work out those control problems, because his next start is against Cleveland, and even though he’s never lost to them, the Indians typically have a much better offense than the Royals, and he probably won’t be able to get away with five walks again. Rodney gave up the home run to Mike Aviles in the ninth, which makes two straight appearances in which he’s given up runs, so that may be a little bit of a concern, but he looked okay after the home run.

When you think of pitchers that you have to manufacture runs against, you usually don’t think of Sidney Ponson. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Tigers WERE able to manufacture the critical run. Ponson totally defied his scouting report (which had him pegged as walking a lot of guys) and pretty much threw nothing but strikes. I’d complain about it more, but if he struck out Polanco, then maybe there was more at work than the Reyes Effect. Luckily, Brandon Inge was able to take advantage of pretty much the only mistake he made, and once again, there was some nice (and, as it turns out, important) small ball contribution from the bottom of the lineup (Anderson, Everett, and Sardinha).

After being on the road for all but five games this month, it’s time for the boys to don the home whites for a while. However, this homestand figures to be anything but easy. They’ll eventually have to face 13 games in a row against division opponents, but first up is the New York Yankees and the media circus that comes with them. It’s well-documented by now that the Yankees have not pitched well so far this year, but they’re still at .500 (so they can definitely outslug you). Tonight, CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander oppose each other for what seems like the 500th time now, and it pretty much never lives up to its “Big Pitching Duel” billing. Usually what ends up happening is that one of them pitches reasonably well while the other gets clobbered, and the potential for that happening again is really high. Both pitchers have struggled, though Sabathia’s ERA is better and he’s been okay over his last few starts (with the exception being his last start against Oakland). He’s still thrown a lot of pitches in a short amount of time and he’s walked more than he’s struck out (then again, so had Sidney Ponson prior to yesterday). The Tigers last saw him in early April last year, when he was REALLY struggling, and they scored a ton of runs off him (that was the night Armando Galarraga got his first win). He’s not struggling quite THAT much right now. On the flipside, if you look at Verlander’s basic stats, the only bad numbers are his ERA and the fact that he throws too many pitches per inning. He isn’t walking a lot of guys, the opponent’s batting average against is pretty low, and he’s racked up quite a few strikeouts, so basically nothing makes sense about him right now. As a result, people have started delving into his more advanced stats, and this is where my amateur status comes into play because I don’t understand most of what that covers. For example, Billfer has an
in-depth article that explores whether the problem lies with something Justin is doing while in the stretch, but 90% of that article may as well be in Chinese because I have no clue what he’s referring to. I read an article before Verlander’s last start which suggested that at the present time, opponents are just bunching their hits together against him, which may be related to a problem pitching in the stretch. Leyland has said that Justin’s stuck in a mode right now where he goes out there “waiting for something bad to happen,” and there might be some truth to that. In just about all his starts this year, he has pitched well until he gives up a run or someone makes an error or there’s a bloop hit or something to that effect and then, well…I don’t want to say he gives up, but it’s like he gets frustrated and loses focus, which just opens the floodgates. Then there’s the old theory that he’s tipping his pitches, which hasn’t been explored that much recently, but it’s one that has kind of stuck ever since his rookie year, and it usually centers around Chicago and Cleveland (the two teams that have hit him the hardest, generally). If there is any bearing to the theory, it may have expanded beyond those two teams, because over the past four years, a lot of White Sox and Indians have moved on to other teams (for instance, Franklin Guitierrez was traded from the Indians to the Mariners), and with them go the scouting reports. Whatever the reason, I would dearly love Justin to win tonight, if for nothing else than to get people to stop saying mean things about him (There, I just showed my immature side). It will not be easy for him, since he’s got the Yankees tonight, and then the Indians and White Sox. He has faced the Yankees three times in his career (once in the postseason). In 2007, he had an okay start against them at Yankee Stadium (similar to his postseason start), followed by a brilliant start against them about ten days later at Comerica Park. He only made one start against them last year, and to say it was a disaster would be an understatement (By the way, did I mention that I did not see that game?). One thing that I’d be especially happy to see tonight is good defense, because so far this year, Justin’s been victimized by some awful defense in just about every outing. In all honesty, his ERA should actually be lower than it is right now (though still not great), but official scorers in Anaheim make really strange decisions. Your Mood Music for tonight: I know you’re not going to understand this, but I DON’T hate the Yankees. That probably stems from the fact that I went to New York when I was eleven and loved it. Regardless of the reason, I just don’t hate them. However, I realize that I am in the minority here and to just about everyone else, they are the Evil Empire. So I’ll just be tongue-in-cheek, and to that end, what better music than the Darth Vader Theme?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Big Ball is Back

Photo: AP

You’ll have to forgive my being a bit short on observational details concerning Zach Miner’s performance. Yesterday was my grandpa’s 93rd birthday, so my family was celebrating that, and my grandparents don’t have cable, so I was only able to catch bits of the first six innings on the radio. From what I can tell, he kind of bent, but he didn’t break, and had actually settled in pretty well in the fourth and fifth innings. And the game featured all the Tigers’ pitchers inducing lots of ground ball outs, which is very good. There were too many walks, though. And it was just great seeing Joel Zumaya lighting up the radar gun again, even if he needs to start throwing his breaking ball for strikes a bit better (By the way, one interesting thing is that if you were watching the game on Fox Sports Detroit, Zoom’s first pitch was at 100 MPH, but if you were watching on Fox Sports Kansas City, it was at 97 MPH).

Small ball is important, but you can’t win all the time by manufacturing runs, and to that end, it was nice to see the long ball again, especially with runners on base. Lots of extra-base hits, and Magglio FINALLY joined in on the fun. I could recognize the home-run swing as soon as I saw it, but it looked to me like he didn’t get all of it. It’s nice when that happens and it still goes out. By the way, I swear Trevor Thompson said on the pregame show that Brandon Inge tore a ligament in his thumb, but there has been no mention of this anywhere else. Miguel Cabrera has become somewhat of an injury concern, based on his mini-slump, the shot of him massaging his wrist in the dugout, and the fact that Kevin Rand took a lot at it during his final at-bat of the night. There has been a lot of talk, both on TV and on the radio, that Cabrera’s been jamming himself a lot during this stretch by swinging at balls that are off the plate inside. This begs the question: Is he getting jammed because his wrists are sore, or are his wrists sore because he’s getting jammed? Rod Allen seems to think it’s the latter, while a lot of bloggers think it’s the former.

Today marks the rubber game of this series, and the last game of the long road trip. Armando Galarraga hopes to rebound from a somewhat shaky outing against the Angels, and while he’s got good numbers against Kansas City, the Royals have a lot of lefties and switch-hitters in their lineup today. Meanwhile, Sidney Ponson is probably the weak spot in the Royals’ rotation, and the Tigers have beaten him up in the past (most recently in a game against the Yankees last September that I totally did not watch). However, the hitters have to be mindful not to let him go the way of Matt Palmer. Cabrera’s the DH today, with Larish at first base and Guillen getting the day off. Also, Dane Sardinha starts behind the plate today, as Matt Treanor has hit the DL with either a torn labrum in his hip or complications from the sports hernia (depending on which article you read), and he is expected to miss quite a bit of time (but the injury may explain his poor throws so far). Your Mood Music for today stems back to the second game against the Angels, when there was a shot (and brief discussion) of Armando Galarraga in the dugout wearing glasses instead of (presumably) his contact lenses. That kinda got me thinking: He wears glasses in the dugout, but not on the mound, and usually pitches very well, and since I had fun with Joel Zumaya last night, it’s only fitting that I have fun with Armando Galarraga today, which leads me to this…

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday Night Snoozefest

Well, that had to be the most boring game of the young season. At a little over a mere two hours long, I felt kind of cheated, especially after being unable to watch the second half of the last three games. Rick Porcello wasn’t bad, but he needs to stop giving up home runs to guys who don’t hit home runs. He also needs to not give up runs right after his team has just scored. It was probably a longshot against Greinke, though, who is hot right now, but I was at least hoping they’d make him work a bit more and not get themselves complete-gamed. At least they managed to do what no team had done before, and that’s get a run against him, even if it WAS unearned. This game also featured the reappearance of Nate Robertson after a nearly two week absence. Armando Galarraga must’ve given his glasses back.

Well, in some respects, Rick Porcello was kind of the sacrificial lamb last night. It’s time for guys to step up and give their all for tonight’s game. Kyle Davies hasn’t been easy, but unlike Zack Greinke, he at least HAS an earned run average, miniscule as it may be. The Tigers have beaten him a few times, although one was when he was with the Braves and they beat him 2-1. Zach Miner’s got an elevated ERA right now, but last year he made some very good starts against KC, especially at Kaufman Stadium. So there’s no reason why he can’t do it again. And…Joel Zumaya is back, and the irony of the locale is not lost on him, either, cuz it was at Kaufman Stadium almost two years ago that he ruptured the tendon in his finger, starting the long process of a lot of surgeries and basically being rebuilt. Which leads me to tonight’s Mood Music. I briefly thought of going with the obvious “Voodoo Chile,” but I decided to have a bit more fun with Joel. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, I present the opening credits to The Six Million Dollar Man. I think it’s quite fitting.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Can We Blame the Earthquake?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure tired of all these west coast games. I went to bed right after the top of the fifth, and while I decided against having the game up on my computer this time (I found that I ended up paying too much attention to the game and therefore not sleeping), but I still had the player up, complete with the live updating scores, so I noticed that the Angels had pulled ahead in the bottom of the fifth before nodding off (although it happened so quickly I thought Bobby Abreu was the one who hit the home run). I wasn’t as surprised by the final score as I was the first two games. As far as the earthquake is concerned, well, I had always wondered how, with so many sports teams in southern California, there has never really been an earthquake during a televised game (there was the 1989 San Francisco quake, but I believe that happened BEFORE the game started, and the World Series broadcasters ended up kind of guiding the coverage themselves). We finally got one last night, but I totally wouldn’t have known it if Mario & Rod hadn’t said something. Still, it happened in the midst of one of the bases-loaded walks that Edwin Jackson gave up, so you could at least make a reasonable argument that it DID influence the game in some fashion, but I’m not going to. By the way, in case you’re wondering, around these parts, we get an earthquake about once every 15 years or so, and only at about, like, 3 or 4 on the Richter scale (I think the last one we got was when I was in high school, and I didn’t even feel it). I can’t really comment on the errors (though it’s a shame that Cabrera made one, cuz he made a really nice play early in the game), or on Eddie Bonine cuz that all happened once I fell asleep, other than to ask: What else do you expect on the west coast?

Apparently the offense fell asleep before I did last night. Could it be we got ourselves our first Reyes Effect of the season? I suppose the jury’s still out until Matt Palmer has another start, but given the fact that he hasn’t been successful at the big league level and his Triple A ERA was around 11, the evidence is kinda pointing that way (He DID apparently lead the PCL in strikeouts last year, however). The Tigers got a lot of hits and two runs off him early, and then a whole lot of nothing until he finally ran out of steam, but their bullpen stopped the bleeding. Seems kind of a shame to snap the “eight-hits-in-every-game” streak in this type of game, though.

I may turn out to be wrong about this, but I’m starting to sense a pattern, and it relates to playing surface. The Tigers did not play well (pitching or defense) in Toronto (artificial surface). They played very well at Comerica Park and at Safeco Field (both natural grass). They then played badly at Angel Stadium (natural grass that is so short and hard that it plays like Astroturf). So far, the small sample size is suggesting that there are some issues with artificial surface, which is a bit of a concern when you think of all those games the Tigers have yet to play at the Metrodome this year (not to mention one series at Tropicana Field). I suppose this observation will be truly tested this weekend, as they will go back to playing on (normal) natural grass.

Well, it is time to leave the west coast and (hopefully) its weirdness behind. It’s time for the first trip into Kansas City, who are part of a three-way tie with the Tigers and White Sox for first place in the division right now (the last three days were also odd in that either all three teams won or all three teams lost on a given night). Obviously, one way or another, that won’t be the case on Sunday. The Royals have gotten some very good pitching from their starters and their closer. Zack Greinke’s been on a roll recently (I guess that’s an understatement), but he has to give up a run sometime and it might as well be now. That’s probably what Rick Porcello is hoping. Kansas City’s offense has not been particularly strong, so if you can get an early lead, you’ve got at least a reasonable shot at having it stick. I know Mike Jacobs is by far their biggest home run threat. There are also a couple of guys in their bullpen that have had some struggles. Kyle Farnsworth in particular seems to have picked up right where he left off last season in terms of giving up home runs. This’ll also be our first chance to see the newly re-vamped Kaufman Stadium, which I’ve heard looks almost completely different now. And hey, I might actually get to watch the whole game for a change. It’s on at a reasonable time and I don’t have to get up until 8 AM tomorrow (By the way, I probably won’t get tomorrow’s game post up until sometime in the early evening). A lot was said about how the Tigers might have some sleep-deprivation sluggishness tonight (except for Porcello, who was sent on ahead of the rest of the team), given that they weren’t expected to arrive in KC until 5 AM Central Time. The thought crossed my mind this morning that they were arriving just as I was waking up (6 AM Eastern Time). There’s something ironic about that. By the way, Joel Zumaya is expected to return sometime during this series (and there’s something ironic about THAT, too), but probably not tonight, by all accounts. If/when they do activate him, I’m hoping I get plenty of advance notice, cuz I have a good (albeit cheesy) idea for the Mood Music for that game.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Take 'Em Any Way You Can Get 'Em, Boys

Photo: AP

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what score I was expecting to see when I woke up this morning, but it sure wasn’t what I got. I guess maybe I was expecting the score to stay the same (It was 8-6 Angels when I fell asleep). But hey, any time you can pull out a win in that ballpark, it’s good, even if it wasn’t pretty. Verlander couldn’t stop the bleeding in any given inning, save for the fourth, though he consistently looked like he was on the verge of doing so. Once again, he didn’t get any help from the guys behind him, as Ryan Raburn horribly misplayed at least two fly balls in right field (when they say that the Angels put pressure on the defense, I don’t think that’s what they mean). They were both ruled doubles (the official scorer was extremely generous in giving out hits, for both teams), but the first miscue likely cost Verlander three runs and a lot of pitches (and whatever else you may say about Verlander, I’d like to point out that it IS unusual for him to give up a lead once he’s been given one, unless the start is against Chicago or Cleveland). And I know they say that as a pitcher, it’s your job to pick up your defenders when they make a mistake, but it’s gotta be hard when you’re forced into getting about five extra outs per game. I can’t comment much on the bullpen because I slept through that whole thing, but it looks as though Rodney now has an ERA (don’t know if the balls were hit hard, though I’m assuming the double was, but he didn’t walk anybody). However, we know Rodney is going to go through wild phases. The key for him is to limit them to one or two outings between long “good” phases. He was able to do that in 2006. And as I’ve said before, strange things happen on the west coast (hey, they had fans running around on the field last night…that certainly counts as strange).

I did watch the 5-run seventh inning this morning on the archives, so I’m up to speed on that. Basically, the Tigers got gifted the win, cuz very few balls were hit hard in that inning, but I suppose you have to give them credit for getting into the part of the Angels’ bullpen that has been struggling. Joe Saunders was not very sharp and kept falling behind hitters, so he only lasted five innings or thereabouts. Granderson seems to be picking things up a bit, but I missed the Inge home run so I can’t comment on that (Every time I saw him, he was hitting pop-ups). And I know people are getting antsy about Magglio and the lack of extra-base hits, but I’ll take the high average any day of the week. He’ll find the gap eventually. Guillen is also looking better at the plate, so that Achilles must not be hurting as much.

In keeping with our theme of strange things on the west coast, did anyone else notice Galarraga in the dugout last night wearing sport glasses? I suppose someone else did because Mario & Rod DID point it out on the air. I’ve never seen them before, though somehow I did know that he wore contacts. At any rate, I was taking part in the comment section at
Bless You Boys (which I don’t often do cuz I usually can’t abide all the whining and nonproductive criticism that goes on during games, regardless of the website), and I mentioned that I’d never seen Galarraga wearing glasses before. I loved the reply, courtesy of Ian Casselberry: “Nate Robertson’s fumbling around the bullpen, looking for his glasses.”

Well, if we’re gonna take this series, today brings as good a chance as any. Edwin Jackson has looked strong throughout the season so far, save for the first few innings of his start against Texas. However, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that his previous three starts have all been against teams that he has good career numbers against. That is not the case with the Angels, although he won his only start against them last year. The second thing is that the strategy of the Angels hitters seems to be to make the starter throw a lot of pitches early (hmmm…must be the influence of Bobby Abreu), and so far they have been successful against both Galarraga and Verlander. I don’t know how you combat that except for having good command and painting the corners, which is not automatic even for the best pitchers. Matt Palmer has been called up from the minors to make the start for the Halos. He’s had a little big-league time, but not much success, and he was struggling in Triple A but apparently he pitched well in Spring Training and the Angels supposedly think he’s pitching better than his numbers. Now, that could be a genuine assessment, or it could just be the normal BS-type stuff that they’ll say about any callup (However, I do remember when they called up Armando Galarraga last year, the ONLY talking point they had was “Well, he’s been the best pitcher for Toledo so far”). I work tonight, which isn’t an issue since it’s a late-night game, but with the early rise tomorrow, I’ll have to sleep off the late innings yet again. At least after tonight we’ll be done with the damn west coast for a while.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Not Every Game Can Be a Gem

The fact that currently thinks I reside somewhere in western Illinois means that I can watch Mario & Rod over the computer without being blacked out (for the time being). Since I have a computer in my room, I set it up with the intention of falling asleep at some point during the game. I ended up switching to Gameday Audio just so that I could be sure the (somewhat unreliable) wireless Internet connection hadn’t “blinked.” I’ve fallen asleep with games on the computer before, but never Tigers games so it was a bit harder than I thought it would be. Still, I must’ve drifted off sometime during the fourth inning, cuz I remember the Tigers going down in order during the top half, but I don’t recall anything about the bottom half. At any rate, with the way things were going and the sheer number of baserunners that both teams had, I was a bit surprised to wake up this morning and see that the score only ended up being 4-3. But given some of the eggs the Tigers have laid at Angel Stadium in recent years, it’s not a bad score. Now, I didn’t exactly “live through it,” so to speak, which means the only things I have to draw on are the beginning of the game, Gameday, box scores, some news articles, and the radio postgame show (which I listened to this morning), so bear with me, and if I’m totally off on something, let me know. As far as how Galarraga did…well, I guess you can’t have your “A” game every time out, but I imagine it must be absolutely terrifying to take the mound and realize that none of your pitches are working. Still, give him credit for battling for five innings (though a lot of the outs were hit hard) when it looked like he’d get knocked out in the second or third. Given the fact that he struck out the side in the fifth, it looks as though he finally got something to work, but by then he had thrown too many pitches to continue. I’m not gonna gripe about or question the use of Brandon Lyon in this game, because as someone who was signed as a possible closer (and someone who is a strike-thrower and has a track record of being a good setup man), he should be able to handle those sorts of situations, and if he’s faltering, then either there’s a mechanical problem or an injury of some sort.

It was nice to see the home run power come back. Curtis Granderson now officially owns Jered Weaver (4 home runs in 13 at-bats…not too shabby). However, it looks as though once I fell asleep, Weaver made an adjustment, hung around for seven innings, and the Tigers weren’t able to get into the part of the Angels’ bullpen that had been struggling. However, they just about manufactured their way to at least a tie, but the ninth inning demonstrates that there’s sometimes a price to pay for being aggressive on the bases, as exemplified by Josh Anderson getting picked off (them’s the breaks when you’re dealing with a left-handed closer). I’ve heard from blogs and from the radio that the home plate umpire made several crappy calls (apparently, Mike Scoscia thought so too when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes), and the called third strike on Santiago was one of them, but as I didn’t see it, I can’t comment on it.

By the way, with the injury to Marcus Thames, Ryan Raburn has been called up from Toledo. Also, last night Joel Zumaya made a rehab appearance with the Mud Hens and retired all three batters he faced, which is impressive when you consider that every other Toledo pitcher (including Fu Te Ni and Scott Williamson) was absolutely bombed by the Indianapolis hitters (what started as a blowout ended up with Indianapolis edging out Toledo in a 13-10 slugfest as the Mud Hens made things more interesting late in the game with a grand slam from Mike Hessman and a three-run homer from Dusty Ryan, among others).

We’re set for game 2 tonight, and given what we’ve seen from Justin Verlander stuff-wise, he’s bound to get a win one of these nights. I believe the Angels and Blue Jays are the only two AL teams that he’s never defeated (which is surprising when you consider his struggles against the Indians and White Sox). He’ll be up against lefty Joe Saunders, who had a nice year last year and seems to be off to a good start this year. It’s a shame Marcus Thames ended up on the DL, because I still remember a game last year in which he hit two home runs off of Joe Saunders. Your Mood Music for tonight: I kind of wanted to save this for ‘80s Night, and we’re definitely not in dire straights right now despite the loss, but Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero” came up on my iPod this morning, and considering it’s Verlander pitching tonight, well, we’re all hoping he can ride to the rescue (so to speak) and right the ship before there is any cause for alarm. By the way, I’d never seen the music video for this song before looking it up on YouTube, and I must say it is bizarre, not to mention cheesy. When I hear this song, for some reason I think of motorcycles and some sort of post-apocalyptic city setting, not cowboys, a fluorescent Indiana Jones, and the Grand Canyon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Safeco Field: Still Weird, But No More Hell

Photo: Otto Greule, Jr. (Getty Images)

Considering that getting swept in this series was a very real possibility, given how well Seattle had been playing, taking two of three is certainly something I’ll take without any complaint whatsoever. As far as Porcello’s outing, I sensed a little bit of teetering on the brink, but he never got there, so that’s the important part (I guess you could contrast that with Verlander, who didn’t have any teetering whatsoever and still lost). The bullpen had maybe a few too many baserunners and they did give up a run, but it didn’t really matter at that point (the run-scoring single was not hit very hard, and it had been set up by an infield single). I think Porcello got pulled at the right time, cuz the Mariners were starting to hit some loud outs in the seventh inning (nice play by Inge, after basically being out-highlight-reeled by Adrian Beltre all weekend). And given that I certainly know what happens to rookies after they get their first Major League win, I was waiting for the inevitable towel full of shaving cream in Rick Porcello’s face. And sure enough, during his postgame interview, I noticed Justin Verlander in the background, walking just a little too casually toward the camera. Apparently they also poured beer on Porcello in the clubhouse.

I guess kudos goes to the team for demonstrating that they can win a series without hitting a home run (By the way, has anyone else realized that only five guys on the team have homered this year?). Outside of a few doubles, they mostly got it done with singles, bunts, stolen bases, hit-and-run, and taking advantage of errors. Unlike a lot of TV broadcasters, I don’t find “small ball” to be that exciting, but it’s still important to be able to manufacture runs when you have to, and the boys demonstrated an ability to do just that (However, I strongly discourage anyone from trying to turn the Tigers into the Twins or the Angels). Miguel Cabrera made a bid for a home run that probably would’ve made it out in most parks, but apparently the ball just doesn’t carry in Seattle. Once again, with the exception of Matt Treanor, there was a lot of production out of the bottom of the order. As far as the middle of the order goes, Maggs has been hitting the ball a lot harder over the past couple days, plus he’s taken a lot of walks. Guillen, who’s been the one really struggling, has had some long at-bats over the past couple days, and he was rewarded with two hits yesterday (granted, they were both hit-and-run singles, but it’s a start).

Today is another off-day, but starting tomorrow night, the Tigers will be down the coast in Anaheim, and if you thought strange things happened at Safeco Field, that’s usually nothing compared to Angel Stadium. The Angels are kind of in a tailspin right now. They just got swept by the Twins, their top three starters are on the DL, another pitcher was tragically killed by a drunk driver, Vladimir Guerrero is on the DL, and their bullpen is having serious issues, especially with walks. If ever there was an opportunity, now would be the time. However, they are still a good team capable of stepping up at any time, and the Tigers have not played well in Anaheim over the past couple years. Plus, they are going to be facing the Angels’ two best (healthy) pitchers. First up is Armando Galarraga against Jered Weaver. Galarraga has made three starts against the Angels in his career, two good, one bad (that was the one start he made when he was still with Texas). Jered Weaver has had several good starts and one very bad start against the Tigers. So it’s more late-night action, only this time I won’t be staying around for the whole game. I love ‘em to death, but when you gotta get up at 6 AM the next day, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Flu? What Flu?

Photo: Otto Greule, Jr. (Getty Images)

So apparently Leyland’s plan to keep Adam Everett away from everyone else didn’t quite work, cuz the flu spread, first to Marcus Thames, then it was revealed after the game last night that Edwin Jackson was “sick as a dog” (in the words of Jim Leyland). He sure didn’t look like it on the mound. Unlike Verlander, Jackson’s good career numbers against Seattle came through for him. These types of close, low-scoring games are downright exhausting to watch, cuz one mistake can totally change the outlook of the game, and as a result, I was wiped when this one was over. Rodney finally allowed a baserunner and probably wasn’t as sharp as he had been, but he was able to get Beltre and Sweeney to hit the ball right to people. The pitching staff also got some great defense from Polanco and Granderson, who threw out Jose Lopez at home in a critical spot.

Miguel Cabrera had a rare off-day, but against Erik Bedard, that’s not too disconcerting. He did come through in the sixth with the single that started the rally. It took all the Tigers had to get one run across. The second run came courtesy of Ichiro and his throwing error. Again, since it was against a very good pitcher, this isn’t cause for concern right now, though I’d like to see them put up more of a fight against the Seattle bullpen.

Well, today I finally get MY first look at Rick Porcello. He’s pitching on nine days rest, which is good to conserve his arm, but I’ve heard that it’s not good for sinkerballers to get extra rest because then they feel TOO strong and therefore their sinker doesn’t sink. Carlos Silva starts for the Mariners, another sinkerballer. The Tigers pounded him on three separate occasions last year, but prior to that, he had been really tough on them, and I’ve heard that he’s pitching much better so far this year (he did pitch quite well in the World Baseball Classic up until the semifinals). Guillen will DH today with Anderson in left field, and Treanor gets a start behind the plate.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Warned You About the West Coast

Man, first game on the west coast and ALREADY we’re in Twilight Zone Hell. What happened? Justin Verlander pitched the best game I’ve seen from him in a long time (better than the start against Texas), and he STILL gave up six runs. And for the most part, it was just that fifth inning (you can’t even call them fluke hits, because the balls were hit hard, moreso than any out he got). Peripherally, you got everything you would’ve wanted out of him: 7.1 innings, a low pitch count, lots of strikes, only one walk, eight strikeouts, and 99 miles per hour. Even Leyland can’t figure it out. There is only one parallel I can try to draw, and it actually isn’t one of Verlander’s games. It was in ’07 during Interleague play in a game against the Atlanta Braves. Kenny Rogers and John Smoltz were locked in a scoreless pitching duel. Both pitchers were totally on their game and pitching very, very well. Then all of a sudden in the sixth inning (with two outs), the Tigers strung a bunch of hits together and scored 5 runs against Smoltz. It’s somewhat reminiscent of last night’s game cuz that just came out of the blue as well. Of course, in Verlander’s case, he got victimized by his defense again. For some reason, the defense just hasn’t been there for him in his first three starts this season. All the other pitchers get spectacular plays, and he gets costly errors (mostly from Inge). The errors cost him an inning (and a win) against Texas, and last night it may have cost him the game. Had Inge been able to not make the error, Russell Branyan would’ve been a dead duck at the plate and there would’ve been two outs, meaning it would’ve been unlikely that Franklin Gutierrez would bunt. But it looks as though Seattle has evolved into the type of team that you can’t allow them opportunities to force the issue. Verlander said he’s going to have a séance to the baseball gods. He’s probably joking, but he’s certainly welcome to do so provided he doesn’t do anything stupid that’ll piss me off.

By the way, the Tigers DID outhit the Mariners, but all nine of their hits were singles. Granted, Miguel Cabrera probably could’ve had three doubles, but he hit the ball so hard each time that it got to the outfielder really quickly (apparently there are times when you can hit the ball TOO hard). And the only reason his first single was not a home run was that he didn’t get it up high enough. He’s really the only one who hit the ball hard in the second inning when the Tigers got their three runs. Guillen had an infield single that was really a double-play ball bobbled by Beltre (so both Gold Glove-caliber third basemen made miscues in this game, though Inge’s was more costly), and Inge hit a ground ball in the right spot. And I don’t know why Santiago was given a sacrifice while Gutierrez got credit for a bunt single.

By the way, I had a dream last night that Brandon Webb no-hit the Tigers. Does anyone else find this disturbing?

It doesn’t get any easier for the Tiger hitters tonight as they’re up against Erik Bedard, who seems to have regained his form. I was taking a look at the press pass online, and to my surprise, most of the Tigers have had very few at-bats against Bedard (a lot of 0-for-2s or 1-for-4s or the like). The only one with a significant number is Laird, who has had 14, but not much success. Miguel Cabrera is only 1-for-6 off Bedard, but that one hit was a home run. Edwin Jackson has good career numbers against the Mariners, but so did Verlander. Please, no more Twilight Zone Hell. By the way, I have a small request that Gerald Laird switch to wearing long pants, not because of any Fashion Police issue, but because I keep getting him mixed up with Brandon Inge when he’s at the plate. They have, like, the exact same legs. Your Mood Music for tonight: Well, as most of you know, Safeco Field is apparently right next door to a train yard, cuz you can hear the trains throughout the whole game. In honor of that, I thought it would be most fitting to present Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Win One For the Bird

Photo: AP

What better way to honor the memory of Mark Fidrych than to beat the last team that he beat? Could it be that the Tigers have finally found someone who CAN beat the White Sox? Yeah, it’s a really small sample size (after all, even Verlander has two wins against them), but given how the White Sox seem to bomb the rest of the Tigers’ starting pitching, Armando Galarraga looked downright brilliant in comparison. They did have a couple threats against him, but he was always able to get out of it (which is consistent with what he did last year). He also got some defensive help from Inge, Laird, Polanco, and Cabrera. This game also featured strong outings from the ‘pen by Seay and Rodney. Ryan Perry was okay, but he definitely needed to throw more strikes.

It’s odd that what started out to be one of those frustrating pitching duels turned into such a blowout. During the first four innings, Jose Contreras looked like the pitcher I heard he was years back, but the Tigers finally broke through in the fifth (largely thanks to Contreras suddenly having control problems). Miguel Cabrera’s already up to four home runs, but then again, so are several other people in the league (jeez, I thought April was when pitching usually dominant, but so many teams’ offenses are hot right now that if these numbers project through the season, you could hit fifty home runs and STILL not win the home run title). Magglio, oddly enough, still doesn’t have an extra-base hit, but he has been drawing quite a few walks in recent games, so hopefully that’s a good sign. Granderson probably should’ve had three hits, but two of the balls that he hit that were absolutely smoked were hit right at Paul Konerko. One thing that kinda got lost once the high run total was put up was the fact that speed actually played a key role in the game. With the game still scoreless in the fifth, Granderson beat out what would’ve been an inning-ending double play for most, and Polanco hit the two-run double right after that. Josh Anderson had the stolen base in that inning, and he also had a bunt single that set up some add-on runs.

Well, hopefully the off-day left the Tigers well-rested and refreshed, cuz now it’s time to embark on a difficult three-city, west coast swing (+ KC). There will be challenges aplenty starting tonight in Seattle. This is definitely NOT going to be an easy series. For one thing, the Mariners have been playing very well to start the season (and that started BEFORE Ichiro came off the DL). For another thing, the Tigers will be up against their three best pitchers. First up, a whole lotta heat. The key for Justin Verlander (who either had major plastic surgery and recovered very quickly, or the cameraman during the last game simply got him mixed up with Rick Porcello) is to keep the freakin’ pitch count low. I’m willing to see him take baby steps. Last time out, he went five innings. How ‘bout six tonight? Felix Hernandez’s season has started out similar to Verlander’s, with one good start and one bad start (though his bad start was not as bad as Verlander’s, and he lasted longer in both games). He’s beaten the Tigers the last three times he has faced them, dating back to July of 2007. I don’t know what the ERA is in that span, but it may be deceptively high cuz there was one game in which he gave up a bunch of runs but came out on top in a slugfest. Hopefully Adam Everett is feeling better, and hopefully this flu does not spread to anyone else. And fortunately, I do NOT work tomorrow so I can stay up for the game without any reservations. I’ve got the caffeine all stocked up and ready to go, so why don’t you all join me for some Tigers late-night? Your Mood Music for tonight: Well, the boys are on the west coast, and strange things happen there, so what better choice than the opening to the Twilight Zone? Hopefully, it won’t be Twilight Zone Hell.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rainout Restart

It seems the steady rainfall we got all day yesterday in Toledo was also happening in Detroit (though I would’ve missed the beginning of the game anyways). I wouldn’t even bother posting about it, except the rainout has resulted in a shuffle of the rotations of both the Tigers and the White Sox and, as such, today’s game actually features both starting pitchers who were originally scheduled to pitch today. So instead of Rick Porcello and John Danks a day later, we’ve got Armando Galarraga against Jose Contreras. Technically, Galarraga HAS faced the White Sox before, but it was in that stupid makeup game they played after the season ended, when we were all so emotionally disconnected from the team that even though I listened to the thing on the radio, it seriously feels like it never happened (indeed, I may not be the only one who feels that way, because a lot of broadcasters, websites, and news stories frequently rattle off his pre-makeup game numbers). He faced one batter, walked him, threw two wild pitches (allowing the tying run to score), got lifted, and eventually took the loss when his runner came around to score after Gary Glover gave up a grand slam to somebody. So technically, he’s 0-1 with an ERA of infinity, but really, I don’t think one batter is a high enough sample size, so for all intents and purposes, the White Sox have never seen him. However, just like with Texas, he’s going to have to EARN this win. He’ll probably have to work very hard to do it. For one thing, Chicago’s offense is hot right now. Second, they seem to kill Tigers pitching no matter who it is. Third, even though Galarraga had that stellar batting average against, he DID give up a lot of home runs, especially to lefties, and that’s basically how the White Sox have dominated the past four years. It is supposed to be warmer today, so hopefully the weather won’t affect him like it did Zach Miner. Now, I assumed that John Danks would start for the White Sox, but apparently Ozzie Guillen has (wisely) decided that he’d be more useful against the Rays, who have more left-handed bats in their lineups, so we are getting Contreras after all. I actually like this, cuz I honestly think the Tigers have a better chance of beating Contreras than Danks. They’ve had success against him recently, and up until Floyd’s wild start on Monday, he had been their least effective starter (“least” being a relative term, as he still gave up only four runs). At the very least, the rainout guarantees that the Tigers will have a winning homestand. And it’d be nice if the guys worked quickly today, cuz I have to be at work at four, and it’s agonizing not knowing the score for five hours (wrong pharmacist is working tonight). By the way, today is the Jackie Robinson game, and it’ll be a little different this time around, as apparently EVERY player, coach, and manager will be wearing the #42. I guess they finally decided the disproportionate representation was starting to look a little awkward (Last year, you had teams like the Tigers who had several players wearing the 42, but you also had the Marlins, whose lone participant was their third base coach).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prophecy? Or Not?

Upon further thought, the White Sox (who, by the way, DID finish their series against Minnesota with a couple of semi-blowout games, so their offense was working before coming to Detroit) should not be your first choice when trying to gauge how the Tigers will fare against the AL Central, because for some reason, they’re always a problem (even in 2006, the Tigers couldn’t solve them). I mentioned that it was windy here in Toledo, but apparently it was just plain cold in Detroit. And after starting out in climate-controlled Toronto and then having fairly mild weather over the weekend, apparently the cold had a detrimental effect on both pitching staffs (though, admittedly, I do not know the weather conditions that the White Sox have been playing in, even though seems to think I live somewhere between Chicago and Milwaukee, because I’ve been getting blacked out of live games for both the Cubs and the Brewers). And it affected the two pitching staffs differently. I think I remember last year someone explaining the difference between “control” and “command.” I may have this backwards (and if I do, please let me know), but I believe “control” is the ability to throw strikes, whereas “command” is the ability to throw the ball where you want to throw it. If that’s the case, then you could say that Gavin Floyd had control problems, whereas Zach Miner had command problems. He did walk a few, but his big problem was not being able to keep the White Sox in the ballpark. Eddie Bonine also gave up two runs, but Miner had essentially put the Tigers in too big of a hole so I suppose it doesn’t much matter in the long run (and to his credit, his only walk was of the intentional variety). Juan Rincon actually turned in three decent scoreless innings. He gave up a couple of hits, and for some reason he couldn’t throw a strike to Brian Anderson (literally; I believe both his walks were on four pitches each), nor could he keep Anderson on first base, but no runs crossed the plate. Which is good, because otherwise it could’ve ended up like the Yankees-Rays game last night, in which Chien-Ming Wang got bombed for the second straight game and the Yankees had Nick Swisher pitching the bottom of the eighth.

While the White Sox were getting lots of hits, the Tigers were getting…lots of walks. Tons of ‘em. How Gavin Floyd was even able to go five innings (giving up six earned runs and SEVEN walks in the process) I have no idea. It seemed like the Tigers were perpetually one big hit away from turning the game into a proper slugfest, but that one big hit never came. Instead, it got caught on a diving play by Dewayne Wise, who separated his shoulder in the process (and had he not hurt himself, Carlos Guillen probably would’ve gotten doubled off). Besides the aforementioned robbery, Ramon Santiago had a three-run homer and a bunt single, making for a somewhat interesting line (and you know things are getting weird when Ramon Santiago has one home run and Guillen and Maggs still don’t have any, though perhaps the weirdness is just getting itself warmed up for the west coast roadtrip). Meanwhile, is it just me, or does Curtis Granderson seem to be hitting a lot of ground balls to second base recently? I mean, I did that a lot back when I played softball (VERY limited sample, though), but Granderson’s a much better hitter and I swing from the other side of the plate, so I know it’s not the same thing. By the way, your dugout entertainment for the day came courtesy of Armando Galarraga, who had hand warmers tucked into his cap to cover his ears. There was also a shot of him and Edwin Jackson kind of playing with bats, which prompted Rod Allen to state, “Those two know nothing about what they’re holding right now.”

I guess yesterday was just a bad day for baseball in general. First, Philles broadcaster Harry Kalas died only a couple hours before their game started. Somewhat embarrassingly, I first knew him as the guy who did the voiceovers for the Animal Planet “Puppy Bowl” specials every year (which, if you’ve never seen it, gets broadcast on Super Bowl Sunday and basically features a three-hour block of puppies playing in a pen that’s made to look like a football field; it’s not really that interesting, and yet it seems to get turned on at some point every year at my house). Then I watched part of a Phillies game last year, and recognized his voice. I got a hunch that he was in the Hall of Fame, which turned out to be right, so my sympathies go out to Phillies fans, cuz I imagine it would be like us losing Ernie Harwell. Then the evening news brought word of the death of Mark Fidrych in an apparent accident. Obviously, when he won Rookie of the Year, I had not been born yet, so I don’t really have memories to share or anything. They aired a game of his on MLB Network a while back, and I have it on the DVR, but I’ve only watched about two innings or so. I guess this is telling, though: Even my mom found him entertaining, and she hates baseball. It’s a shame that injuries kinda took a toll on him after his rookie season, especially since stuff like that probably would not go undiagnosed for very long (at the time, they thought he had shoulder tendinitis, when in actuality it was a torn rotator cuff). Nowadays, if you’re a pitcher and you so much as feel a slight twinge, it seems like you’re immediately sent off to get an MRI. In all fairness, though, even with a diagnosis, rotator cuff surgery is not as much of a sure thing as, say, Tommy John surgery, so getting him back to form would not have been a guarantee. But God bless him, and this is a tragic loss for Tiger fans.

On the day when the Tigers will undoubtedly honor the memory of Mark Fidrych in some manner before the game, it seems somewhat fitting that they’re sending another young pitcher to the mound in the person of Rick Porcello. Jason Beck has pointed out the tendency of the White Sox to hammer Tigers’ rookie pitchers in recent years (Verlander’s struggles against them are well-documented, but they’ve also beat up on former Tigers Andrew Miller and Virgil Vasquez; I was actually at one of those Andrew Miller games, where Juan Uribe hit a grand slam off him), so history isn’t exactly on his side. But if he can limit the home runs, I think that’ll go a long way. John Danks starts for the White Sox, and he’s been a very good pitcher for them over the past year and a half or so. The Tigers had some early success in their first two games against him back in ’07, but they really haven’t been able to touch him since (and his spot in the rotation almost always seemed to come up whenever the White Sox played the Tigers last year). He also notched the only win for the White Sox in the ALDS last year against the Rays. And it’s probably not a good idea to have to rely on hoping he has the same kind of control problems Gavin Floyd had yesterday, cuz that probably won’t happen. The weather in Detroit is supposed to be a bit warmer than yesterday, but it’s also supposed to rain (and according to the radar, it is raining there right now). Here in Toledo, it was not as windy this morning, but it was rainy and kinda dreary (and there were a bunch of worms on my driveway, which was gross). Your Mood Music for today comes courtesy of the band Survivor: “Burning Heart.” Yes, it’s originally from a Rocky movie, but given how these two teams have played for the past four years, it’s kind of fitting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quid Pro Quo

Sorry, no photo today

In Edwin Jackson’s first start of the year, the Tigers had the game stolen away from them. In this Edwin Jackson start, it was the Tigers who did the stealing. I suppose we’re square now. This time around, Jackson had trouble with giving up two-run homers and a bunch of extra-base hits, but give him credit for battling through it, limiting the damage, and keeping the Tigers in the game. And before you knew it, he had gone six innings. And I know it’s just one series and we’ve still got a long way to go in the season, but considering the powerful offense of the Texas Rangers, the bullpen was incredible this weekend. The defense was also a big part of that as well. Brandon Inge helped out Rodney in the ninth inning fielding Nelson Cruz’s bunt (I’d also like to congratulate Rodney for giving way to Inge, cuz he initially thought about fielding the bunt himself). Brandon Lyon helped himself out a couple of times, first by catching a popped-up bunt, then by snaring a line drive. And hey, Miguel Cabrera started a nifty double play when Jackson had two on and nobody out.

This marks the second consecutive Easter game in which the Tigers have staged a dramatic, late-inning, come-from-behind rally to win (last year doesn’t count because Easter 2008 was during Spring Training). Last time, the hero was Pudge, who hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning of a game in which the Royals were shutting out the Tigers 2-0. This time around, the hero was Brandon Inge, who briefly became tied for the league lead in home runs, until Evan Longoria hit a home run later in the day. They DID get lucky, because there were several bloop hits and seeing-eyed singles, not to mention an error, but they took advantage of it. By the way, if you’re a Rangers fan, I will tell you this: Ron Washington made absolutely the right strategic move by walking Cabrera intentionally, so don’t go after him for making that decision. Cabrera’s been absolutely bombing the ball, and Guillen’s off to a slow start (not to mention trying for the double play). I don’t often discuss managerial decisions (either agreeing or disagreeing), but if I were Ron Washington, I would have made the exact same move. Guillen is a good hitter in his own right, and he came through in the clutch for my guys (hopefully, the Achilles is all right). And as far as Warner Madrigal goes, well, not surprisingly, shaving his head didn’t make his pitching any better (and therein lies the reason why I’m usually tolerant of the team-wide Sock Rally, cuz THAT is usually the alternative, and I do NOT want to go there).

So what started out kinda rough turned out to be a pretty good first week for the Tigers, and now comes the real test: the AL Central. The White Sox come to town today. Obviously, it’s no secret that the Tigers have to be a LOT better against their own division, and one of the things that made it hard for me to gauge them at the start of the season was that they didn’t play any AL Central teams during Spring Training (not surprising, considering that Chicago, Cleveland, and KC all train in Arizona, and apparently Twins camp is just too far away from Lakeland). This does not project to be an easy series, either, because the White Sox have gotten very solid starting pitching in just about every game so far. Their record doesn’t really indicate that right now, cuz they were basically outpitched in the games they lost (even in the one loss to the Twins that looked like a blowout, most of the damage was done against Chicago’s bullpen, though Contreras DID take the loss in that game). First up is Tiger-killer Gavin Floyd, who, for the longest time, dominated Detroit but sucked against everyone else. He has since gotten over that particular hump and now beats other teams with regularity. On the flip side, Zach Miner is certainly capable of turning in a good start against the White Sox. I’ve seen him do it before. By the way, I don’t know about Detroit, but it sure is windy here in Toledo.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bringin' the Heat

Photo: Duane Burleson (AP)

This may be a shorter post than I intended, but I should’ve prepped this last night, and I didn’t and I just got back from church, so I gotta hurry. At any rate, yesterday’s game was certainly a nail-biter, but it turned out in favor of the Tigers, and that’s the important part. I still felt like Verlander was battling it a little bit (He did have four walks, after all), but he was throwing hard enough that he had the Rangers swinging at all those elevated fastballs. And I swear I saw 99 show up on the screen at one point. It’s a shame about the two errors from Inge and Everett, cuz Verlander probably could’ve gone one more inning had they not happened, but Nate Robertson and the rest of the bullpen stepped up big time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rodney get that pumped up after getting the final out. It was rather reminiscent of Zumaya.

On a day when Miguel Cabrera finally went hitless, we got a lot of production out of the bottom of the order. And it was nice to see Polanco start to perk up. Gerald Laird continues his good series against his old team, and he added a nice defensive play late in the game (VERY reminiscent of a play that Pudge made last year, and I know this cuz I’ve still got the picture of him holding the ball and smiling after making the catch). Granderson also provided some highlight-quality defense in the first inning (reminiscent of, well, himself).

Well, I don’t know where things are going to go from here, but considering that the Tigers didn’t get to .500 until late June last year and they’re at that mark right now, it’s a start (not to mention the fact that Cleveland is kind of going through the same thing the Tigers went through last year, although the Indians have still got a couple more losses to go). Today will be the first time I get to actually see Edwin Jackson pitching for the Tigers (although, oddly enough, I HAVE seen him in person; I went to a game against the Rays two years ago and Jackson was the starting pitcher for Tampa that night). He’ll be up against Kevin Millwood, who is a decent pitcher and who had a really good outing on Opening Day. I thought I read that Ramon Santiago was going to start at short today, but according to Jason Beck’s blog, Everett is in the lineup. Larish is the DH. By the way, I’d like to wish Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it, and to those who don’t, well, enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I'll Say He Earned It

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Well, Armando Galarraga sure seems determined to prove that last year was no fluke. He pitched even better than he did the first time against Texas. He didn’t give up many hard-hit balls, and the ones he did were usually hit right at people. The one run he gave up scored on three bloop singles. Meanwhile, in the first inning, Brandon Inge showed everyone why he’s playing third base this year. As far as the bullpen goes, it sounds like Leyland wants to try Ryan Perry in the 8th inning for now, but Perry’s gotta cut down on the walks and falling behind hitters if he wants to be effective in that role. Eddie Bonine gave up the long home run to Nelson Cruz, but I suppose if you’re going to do that, you may as well make sure they’re solo shots in games where your team is up by 14 runs.

When your offense is in a bit of a mini-slide, there’s nothing better than bad Texas pitching (on the flip side, it really sucks when you run into the GOOD Texas pitching, which does exist on occasion). Miguel Cabrera’s start to the season is looking more like his second-half numbers last year than his first-half numbers. Hell, Magglio is at .300 right now and it doesn’t look like he’s exactly stinging the ball yet (but he’s started off slow the first couple weeks of the season every year since 2006, so I don’t think there’s cause for concern yet). Guillen was the only starter without a hit, and Brandon Inge was the only starter without an RBI. By the way, did anyone else notice how bundled up the Texas Rangers were? The temperature was, like, 50 degrees. I don’t want to know what they would’ve looked like had the game been on Monday.

As I predicted, the Detroit fans gave Maggs a hearty welcome, as opposed to all the booing he’s been getting everywhere else (then again, I suspect at least half of those fans don’t even know who Hugo Chavez is). Brandon Lyon got the most vocal reaction, and it wasn’t pretty. Now, I think the loud booing is uncalled for in this situation. You can’t boo him like that after just one outing. Guys like Jason Grilli and Kyle Farnsworth worked very hard to earn the venomous boos they received, and to just give it to someone after his first outing with the team just cheapens the accomplishment. Of course, the loudest ovation was reserved for Brandon Inge (and while I like Brandon very much, I have never understood the sheer massive amount of love he gets at the ballpark; he gets way more love than Maggs or Cabrera). Matt Treanor got the strangest response. Most of the crowd gave him the “polite” cheers and applause that you would give a bench player, but I could hear one guy booing his head off. I don’t quite understand that one.

Well, everything I said about Armando Galarraga yesterday is going to hold true for Justin Verlander today. He’s going to have to battle and earn his win against this high-powered offense. He definitely didn’t get the job done in Toronto, but he’s generally pitched well against Texas in his career (though, oddly enough, he has tended to pitch better in Arlington than at Comerica Park). And like Galarraga, it’d be wonderful to see Justin get through seven innings before reaching the 100-pitch mark.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Joe Rychnovsky Does Not Approve

I told you that good feelings didn’t always necessarily mean wins, and so I guess the good thing to take away from this series is that outside of Verlander, the starting pitching has been pretty decent (and even Verlander seemingly had his velocity back). That said, I can’t get a lot of insight into Porcello cuz he was gone by the time I got out of lab. From the bits I’ve read, he wasn’t exactly dominant, as he never had a 1-2-3 inning, and he eventually got bit by the long ball, but it’s hard to tell based on one start. I know that the sports guy for our local Fox station wasn't impressed (hence the title), and was actually quite harsh on him. I think Porcello next comes up against Chicago, which probably won't be easy. And the bullpen? Well, technically, they weren’t the ones to give up the lead, they were each victimized by one hitter they faced out of several, and they weren’t helped by a double play that wasn’t turned.

With that, the one visit to Toronto is over, we don’t see the Jays again until, like, August, and it’s time to get Comerica Park opened back up again. The Texas Rangers come to town, and they just got done sweeping the Indians (and, in the process, absolutely murdering the Cleveland pitching staff, which has to have a collective ERA of about 102 at this point). Needless to say, Texas has a VERY good offense, and they are coming into Detroit VERY hot. If Armando Galarraga wins today, he’ll have earned it. I do remember his one start against his old team last year. He was decent enough, although he gave up a three-run homer to Chris Davis (luckily, the Tigers scored, like, 9 runs in the top half of the following inning so he ended up with the win). This’ll be the first home opener I’ll ever have had the chance to see (school or work has interfered in past years). The last two home openers have resulted in extra innings losses. Hopefully the Tigers can get themselves a win this time ‘round.

By the way, the player has descended into full-of-bugs hell. And I’m not the only one have problems with it. Live games aren’t a problem, for the most part. But archived games seem to appear and disappear at will. And if you want to listen to the archived radio broadcasts, you can’t leave the room or anything cuz there are no controls in the audio player. No pausing, fast-forward, or anything else helpful. Your mood music for today is Styx’s “Rockin’ the Paradise.” I’ve wanted to make a Tigers music video to this song for about two years now, but I just haven’t gotten to it. Still, I think the lyrics are fitting.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Can Stop the 0-7 Talk Now

I don’t have a lot of insight into this game, as all I caught “live” was the top of the 8th on the radio and Ryan Perry warming up for the bottom of the eighth (hey, I wanted to watch, but I needed to take a shower cuz it’s just not worth being stinky at school). I finished just in time to see the postgame show. I had a general idea of what the score was when I left work because the pharmacist DID have the game up on his computer. I didn’t think he did, but about 8 o’clock he announced that Miguel Cabrera had two home runs and four RBIs. Surprisingly, when I got to work yesterday I didn’t have to talk him off the ledge as much as I thought I would (and the subject of Ryan Perry never came up). By the way, if you include this pharmacist and myself, our pharmacy consists of three Tigers fans, two Indians fans, one Reds fan, a Red Sox fan who hates the Tigers, a Yankees fan who hates the Indians, several people who haven’t revealed their allegiances (or don’t have any), a few who would rather discuss football year-round, and one technician who hates all sports with a passion. At any rate, last night/this morning, I tried to watch some of the game on, but they’ve got a new media player and it’s obvious to me that they’re still trying to work out the kinks, cuz I’ve encountered numerous problems with it already. It took them forever to get the game into the archive (whereas several others seemed to be available as soon as their games ended). I watched a little bit of the Toronto coverage, but the Detroit feed had its sound so badly out of sync that it was painful to watch.

At any rate, it looked as though Zach Miner got off to a really rocky start, but once he got help from his defense, he apparently settled down, and the bullpen got the job done the rest of the way. Ryan Perry had a 1-2-3 debut. If anything bad can be said about his performance, it’s that he needs to get ahead of hitters more than he was doing. Two of the outs were on full counts, and he three first-pitch balls to all the hitters he faced. They haven’t seen him before, so it’s okay for now, but once the scouting reports build up, he won’t be able to get away with it quite so much. I can’t comment on Rodney, since I didn’t see him, but I do know that the last out sent Granderson to the warning track. Hey, you might as well use the defense from time to time.

I suppose I should elaborate on some of the other quirks I’ve encountered using’s new player. Now, I should be blacked out from live Tigers, Indians, and Reds games because I am in the “viewing area” of all three of those teams (This is true, since my cable has Fox Sports Detroit, Sports Time Ohio, and Fox Sports Ohio). However, when I accidentally clicked on the link to the Rangers-Indians game on Opening Day, to my surprise, I was not blacked out (more on that particular game in a bit). I found out why last night. Apparently (and I don’t know why), thinks I am in either Illinois or Missouri, because I was blacked out of the Royals-White Sox game. I suppose later today I can figure out which state they think I’m in by trying to watch a Cubs or Cardinals game. Anyways, the Opening Day feeds for the Indians and Rangers had their own problems. No matter which feed I tried to watch (STO or FSN Southwest), I would get the Indians’ audio. Only the video changed (and STO’s audio was definitely not synced up to FS Southwest’s video). Then I tried to watch the Marlins game, but when I clicked on THEIR link, all I kept getting was the YES network and the Yankees game until about an hour after the Marlins game started. There have been other problems with the player itself. The player controls (pause, rewind, jump to certain inning, etc) are hidden unless you move the mouse over the video. The problem with that is sometimes the controls don’t show up. Other times they show up, but they’re invisible (the only way you know they’re there is that your mouse cursor turns into the pointing finger cursor, and even then you can’t be sure what button you’re pressing). There are, however, three advantages over the old player that I’ve discovered so far. I like the DVR features during live games (cuz I like flipping between games if the Tigers aren’t playing and I want to watch baseball), and you can pull up scores of other games as they are happening as well. My favorite thing is this, though: I usually watch games on my laptop, which has a wireless Internet connection, and can be somewhat unreliable (especially with a high bandwidth thing like streaming video). With the old player, whenever my Internet blinked, the video player would start “buffering” and even when I got my connection back (which would usually only take about a minute), it would not stop “buffering” so I’d have to restart the player (this was especially annoying when watching archived games). However, it seems that this new player doesn’t fall into the endless “buffering” trap. It’ll freeze when the Internet blinks, but it seems to continue playing once the Internet comes back. And I really like that.

Well, today we get Rick Porcello on the mound for the first time. He did not pitch in any of the televised Spring Training games (though he did start in some of the radio broadcasts), so I don’t have a good handle on what his pitching looks like. He’ll be pitching against a lefty, Ricky Romero, who is also making his Major League debut. According to Those Who Know, it’s the 19th time in Major League history that two starting pitchers are making their Major League debut against one another, but only the first time that the two starters are both first-round draft picks. Leyland is expected to give Laird and Polanco the afternoon off, so I guess that means we’ll be seeing Santiago and Treanor today. Once again, I’ll probably not see much of this game due to the fact that I have compounding lab today. So while Porcello is pitching (and hopefully winning), I’ll be making scabies cream and vaginal suppositories (sorry, guys). Wish me luck.