Thursday, July 16, 2009

All-Star Wrapup and Midseason Review

Photo: AP

That game certainly moved along once they got the damn thing underway (which took, like, an hour). We got the result we wanted (apparently my gut feeling back in March did not take Carl Crawford into account), and I think the Tigers represented their team nicely. And it was especially exciting that a Tiger made a marked impact on the All-Star Game, which doesn’t seem to happen very often. Curtis Granderson tripled off of Heath Bell with one out in the eighth inning and scored what turned out to be the winning run on a sac fly by Adam Jones. Now, there was some dismay among Tiger fans when Carl Crawford was awarded MVP. Was Granderson more deserving? Maybe, but I’d certainly settle for Curtis hitting many more of those triples in the second half. Edwin Jackson looked good in his inning of work, even though he only threw four pitches (by the way, apparently Tim McCarver is from some strange alternate universe in which the Tampa Bay Rays play in the National League). Brandon Inge did not hit a big home run or make an incredible play, but he DID make it into the game, which is the important part (though with the way the game went, had Evan Longoria been able to start, I don’t think Brandon would’ve gotten in). Justin Verlander did not pitch in the game. I think we all knew that would be the case, and he knew it as well (barring extra innings), but it’s all good. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing since late April, one day he will start the All-Star Game. For now, he seemed to have a good time guarding the Gatorade coolers. By the way, I’d like to apologize for the specific video (not the song) that I used for Mood Music last night. I really didn’t like that the video had Andy Gibb and someone else (can’t remember the name) talking through the bridge, but YouTube didn’t give me much choice. The only other options I had were the TV intro (not the whole song) or a clip that had the whole song but was followed by a really stupid bit from a Seinfeld episode. I know a lot of you will disagree, but I’ll take Andy Gibb over Seinfeld any day of the week.

And now, let us assess the Tigers’ first half and what needs to happen on the other side of the All-Star Break. Back in April, I wrote in my
2009 season preview about the concept of ability, and that just about everyone on the team had either had success before or had the talent to succeed, and it was all a matter of tapping into that ability (If you haven’t done so, I recommend you read my season preview as well as my Spring Training preview just to get an idea where I’m coming from). I’d say that a lot of them have done quite a good deal of tapping. Justin Verlander has evolved back into the dominant pitcher I knew he could be. Edwin Jackson has seemingly realized his potential. Gerald Laird, while being kind of up-and-down at the plate, leads the league in caught stealing percentage. Brandon Inge has become one of the biggest comeback stories in baseball (and with Adrian Beltre having to miss time because of surgery, maybe, just maybe, Inge’ll get the Gold Glove he deserves). You do have some people on the opposite end of the scale, which is kind of the oddity of this season, because several of them are guys you really had no reason to worry about going into the season. Placido Polanco continues to play solid defense, but his average is about 30 or 40 points below his norm (though this really doesn’t get talked about as much as you think it would; perhaps Magglio’s struggles are causing it to be overshadowed). And with the exception of Miguel Cabrera, the Venezuelan contingent hasn’t really been able to tap into their abilities. Magglio’s struggles are well-documented and not very fun to watch (For what it’s worth, my Personal Baseball Guru maintains that it is merely a slump. A very lengthy slump, but a slump just the same. He firmly believes that we haven’t seen the end of Magglio OrdoƱez, and I hope he’s right). Carlos Guillen has been hurt most of the year, but wasn’t performing very well before he hit the DL. It seems I keep rehashing my thoughts on Armando Galarraga every time he pitches, so no need to repeat it here other than to say that I still don’t think last year was a fluke. Curtis Granderson is somewhere in between. His home run and stolen base numbers are sensational, but his batting average has taken a dip and with it so have the doubles and triples.

So what do the Tigers need to do? The most important thing is to somehow, someway avoid the dreaded second half slide that seems to haunt this team year after year. I talked about this back in April. I don’t know why, but for some reason, the Tigers usually suck in the second half. Something always seems to go wrong. Either the pitching hits the skids or the offense goes cold or someone gets injured and the team can’t recover (or all of the above). This was going on long before Jim Leyland or Dave Dombrowski arrived on the scene, so they’re not to blame. I don’t know how they’re gonna do it, but they need to not do that this year. They need to have a winning second half, and by a good margin. One thing they have going in their favor this year as opposed to previous years is that so far, they are playing extremely well at home. This is important because the majority of their games in the second half (41 to be exact) will take place in the friendly confines of Comerica Park. They have more home games left than do either the Twins or the White Sox (plus, they only have to go to the Metrodome and U.S. Cellular Field one more time, whereas both of those teams have two series remaining at Comerica Park). Now, they WILL still have to play better on the road (where they currently sit at five games below .500), and that won’t be easy. They’re still yet to see Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Tropicana Field (and the Rays have been playing a lot better lately, plus their home record is stellar), and they still have one more visit to Angel Stadium (where the Angels have been playing better of late). However, they only have to go to the west coast one more time and no road trip will last longer than six games (barring any rainouts that would lead to makeup games). Meanwhile, the Twins are done with the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox and are playing a lot of series against sub-.500 teams in the second half, but they also have two ten-game road trips (including one right out of the chute starting tomorrow that starts in Arlington before beginning a west coast swing), as well as two seven-game road trips (and at 17-24, Minnesota’s actually been worse on the road than the Tigers). The White Sox have already been to Tropicana Field, but they aren’t done with the Rays (though they will be by this time next week). They have not seen the Yankees OR Red Sox at all yet (and they have two series left against the Angels), so already their schedule is not as easy as Minnesota’s. They HAVE been a decent road team with a 23-22 record away from the Cell (though they will start the second half at home). However, late August/early September is going to suck for them (something the Tigers desperately need to take advantage of). They have an off-day on August 20th. They will not have another off-day until September 10th. That is a stretch of twenty straight games without a break, beginning with a three-game home series against the Orioles. It gets even better. Included in that stretch is an eleven-game road trip that begins with a four-game series at Fenway Park, IMMEDIATELY followed by a three-game series at Yankee Stadium (that’s a road trip from Hell in and of itself). That’s followed by a trip to the Metrodome and an Interleague makeup game at Wrigley Field. Then they come home to another four-game series against the Red Sox before wrapping up their marathon with a two-game set against the A’s. And what will they be doing on their off-day? Flying out to the west coast. So when you look at the sheer number of road games left for the Twins and the unbelievably grueling schedule for the White Sox, you can see that there are a couple of opportunities the Tigers need to capitalize on.

Other things:

Pitching: Obviously, they’ll need Verlander and Jackson to continue pitching like they have been (or even better, pitch like they did in May). In the past, Verlander’s tendency has been to have a rough late July/early August, pull it together and have a couple of good starts in late August/early September, falter again through September, and then win his final start. He probably won’t be able to afford to have lengthy struggles this time around. Jackson’s a bit of an unknown commodity, as he’s having the best year of his life, so any numbers he’s put up in the second half before are almost meaningless (If you’re still interested, according to, in the past two years he has generally pitched well in August but not September). They will also need either Armando Galarraga or Rick Porcello to step it up and win the majority of their games (if I could only choose one of the two to have a successful second half, I’d take Galarraga because he can give you more innings than Porcello), as well as consistent (i.e. around .500) starts from their four and five starters. As far as the bullpen goes, Rodney, Seay, and Lyon need to keep up the good work. Zumaya needs to pitch like he did when he first came off the DL. That means quit walking people and make better pitch selections. The pitching staff as a whole needs to throw more strikes. They started off the season real good in that regard, but starting in June the walks started piling up. That needs to stop.

Offense: Need some. While re-reading my season preview, I came across this statement that has turned out to be rather prescient:

“…I wanted to say that the offense, outside of a couple games, never really
wowed me during the spring, and maybe that’s a little bit cause for

At the bare minimum, the Tigers are probably going to need strong second halves from Cabrera, Inge, and Granderson, and they’ll need at least one, if not two, other guys to step up. Polanco probably needs to be one of them, and I’m really, really hoping that Maggs can break out of it. And I don’t think relying on Carlos Guillen to be your “Trade Deadline pickup” is such a wise move. If he comes back and hits the crap out of the ball, great. But he was only hitting, like, .200 with no home runs before he went on the DL. Now, that may have been due to the injury, but we don’t know. Not to mention the fact that he has not been able to stay healthy in three years. The Tigers will be monitoring the trade market for a bat, but it’s a crappy year for buyers because so many teams are still in contention. There’s been talk of the Tigers perhaps trying to acquire Aubrey Huff. I keep wondering what the price would be to get Luke Scott (he may be somewhat of a defensive liability, but he’s a left-handed power hitter who is hitting around .300 right now), but the folks over at
MLB Trade Rumors don’t seem real high on him, so maybe I’m missing something.

Defense: The position players just need to keep up the good work. The pitchers could field their position better, though.

Overall: I’ll repeat what I said back in April. The Tigers CAN do it. They have proven themselves capable of making the postseason thus far. WILL they? That’s up to them. It won’t be easy, but it’s far from impossible.

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