Monday, October 26, 2009

Postseason Thoughts: LCS Wrapup and Mini-World Series Preview

When the postseason first began, I was hoping for a Yankees-Dodgers World Series (I realize I am totally playing into the media’s hands here, but I wanted it for different reasons than the media). I got the Yankees (and I mostly wanted them because I wasn’t that excited at the prospect of rooting for the Angels, and there was no way I was gonna root for the Twins or Red Sox), but damn it, I wanted the Dodgers in there. However, the team that led the National League in pitching (and had a decent enough offense) just never really looked like it against the Phillies. Just about everyone in what had been a very strong bullpen got touched up, and it seemed like every inning they were either walking a bunch of guys or giving up 3-run home runs. Vicente Padilla’s good run finally ran out at an inconvenient time for the Dodgers. Meanwhile, over in the ALCS, the Angels’ offense woke up for one game, but that’s it. Not even the hot-hitting Jeff Mathis could save them in game 6. But you have to wonder: How many times did the Yankees actually beat the Angels and how many times did the Angels, in fact, beat themselves? On a side note, I am shocked (but relieved) that CC Sabathia was declared MVP (Voted MVP? Who decides these things? No one seems to know) and not A-Rod.

And so now we have a Yankees-Phillies World Series matchup. And though I am quite literally the only Tigers fan doing this, I am rooting for the Yankees all the way because I don’t hate them and I can at least feel nostalgic. The Yankees are a better matchup against the Phillies than the Angels would have been, that is for sure. The starting pitching for both teams has been solid. Their bullpens have flip-flopped a little bit, though. The Yankees had the much stronger bullpen in the regular season, but in the postseason, they gave up a few runs to the Angels. The Phillies’ bullpen was virtually untouchable against the Dodgers (their relievers bent, but they didn’t break). Neither Mariano Rivera nor Brad Lidge has blown a save yet, which is significant given the fact that they are the only closers in the postseason not to have done so. The offense is a bit tricky to figure out. Of the eight postseason teams, only the Phillies have consistently hit with runners in scoring position (the ungodly numbers of three-run homers they’ve hit exemplify this). The Yankees, outside of a couple games, really haven’t. A lot of their offense has come from solo home runs and taking advantage of the numerous errors the Angels made (In fact, they went a stretch of over two games in the ALCS without getting a hit with a runner in scoring position). No one really talked about this because the Yankees won (though they did touch on Nick Swisher’s struggles by the end of the ALCS), but if these games against the Phillies feature both pitching staffs showing up, it may come back to haunt them. We will find out on Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Postseason Thoughts: October 20

I thought I’d check in with some thoughts and observations now that we're in the middle of the LCS games:

NLCS: Dodgers-Phillies

Man, oh, man did last night suck (especially since I had to get up at six in the morning). With the exception of Game 2 (the one game I did not see in this series), the Phillies just seem to own Dodger pitching. The Dodgers are supposed to be the ones with the good bullpen, and yet the Phillies are pummeling Dodger relievers while the Dodgers have hardly touched the guys in the Phillies’ ‘pen (Admittedly, it’s hard for a team to “get to” the other team’s bullpen when the starter is going seven or eight innings). It seemed like they’d gotten the problem solved last night. There was timely hitting, decent starting pitching, and effective (albeit sometimes scary) relief work. The Dodgers got to within one out of guaranteeing a trip back to Dodger Stadium. They had their hard-throwing closer Jonathan Broxton on the hill (Broxton throws his SLIDER at 93 mph. Most guys can’t even throw their fastball that hard). However, struggling closers have been a theme of this postseason (along with crappy umpiring). Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Franklin, Houston Street, and Brian Fuentes all have had issues and blown saves (extremely costly for the first three on that list). It was apparently Broxton’s turn (which leaves Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera as the only two closers who haven’t blown a save yet this postseason…perhaps not coincidentally, these guys pitch for the two teams who are in the best position to advance). He got Raul Ibañez easily enough for the first out. Then Matt Stairs came to pinch-hit. I remembered that he hit a crushing home run against the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS. I had forgotten that he hit it off of Broxton. Apparently Broxton hadn’t forgotten. He walked Stairs on four pitches. Then Carlos Ruiz (who is to the Dodgers what the combination of Nick Punto and Joe Crede are to the Tigers) got hit by a pitch. Now, I haven’t seen Broxton pitch a lot. I saw a fair few Dodgers games during the regular season, but I would usually fall asleep before they reached the ninth inning. At this point, it looked like a typical Fernando Rodney save. However, Rodney would’ve proceeded to get a double play ball and get out of it by a thread (you know he would have). Broxton is a great closer, but apparently he can’t duplicate Rodney’s ability to get out of jams. At least, he couldn’t last night. It looked like he was going to. He got Greg Dobbs to line out softly to third. But Jimmy Rollins ended all of that (though how Ruiz, a catcher, scored from first with the arms the Dodgers have in the outfield and the bandbox that is Citizen’s Bank Park is beyond me). And now the Dodgers are REALLY up against the wall. And the crazy thing is that they’re going to have to rely on Vicente Padilla to get this series back to Dodger Stadium (the crazier thing is that Padilla’s actually been their best starter so far in the postseason). At the same time, they’re going to have to find a way to get to Cole Hamels again. By the way, if you want to know more details about the “struggling closer” trend, Eric Stephen over at TrueBlueLA has a nice article on it.

ALCS: Yankees-Angels

With the NLCS going the way it’s going, there is now no doubt in my mind that I want the Yankees to win this series. I don’t want the Phillies to win the World Series (since it’s looking increasingly likely that they’ll get there), and I believe the Yankees have a better shot of beating them than the Angels do. Still, I want to get in as much baseball as possible before it all ends, so at the same time, I do want this series to go the full seven games (I also want the NLCS to go seven games, but that desire has been created out of necessity). This thought has also occurred to me: If the Tigers had made the postseason and they’d somehow been able to get past the Yankees, given how the Angels have played in this series, I honestly believe the Tigers would have had a really good chance at winning the ALCS (If the Angels were hitting the way they did in the regular season, I would not have been so confident in making that statement). The Yankees have displayed some very strong pitching from both the starters and the bullpen, but the Angels essentially gave the first two games to them through a combination of stranding runners and making a bunch of errors. Unlike in Denver, where hats with earflaps were in vogue, there was more of a mix of hats with earflaps and those silly hoods that will always make Tiger fans think of Polanco. Seriously, it took until last night’s game (in Anaheim) before I was able to see Robinson Cano’s face for the first time in this series. As I said, I didn’t particularly want to see the Yankees lose Game 3, but if it’s gonna go seven games like I want it to, they have to lose sometime. Plus, I like seeing Tim McCarver look like an idiot. He was adamant that Reggie Willits should pinch-run for Jeff Mathis in the tenth. He would not shut up about it (It turned out to be moot, since Mathis was erased on a force at home that would’ve erased any runner). As it turns out, Mathis delivered the game-winning hit (and maybe with the help of some over-managing on Joe Girardi’s part, from all the pitching changes to giving up the DH to get Johnny Damon out of the outfield, which meant he had to pinch-hit for Mariano Rivera in the bottom half of the inning). By the way, did Jerry Hairston, Jr. ever get up after crashing into the wall? The whole time the Angels were celebrating around home plate, he was lying on the warning track. One thing that should be noted is that the Yankees have not gotten a hit with a runner in scoring position since Derek Jeter’s RBI single in the sixth inning of Game 1. They were 0-for-8 in Game 2 with RISP, and they were 0-for-8 again yesterday (all their runs came via four solo home runs). Nobody’s talking about this right now because the Yankees still have the advantage, but if the Angels should win tonight or (and this is unlikely) pull ahead with a win in Game 5, it’ll get noticed. You heard it here first, folks.

By the way, it should be noted that the television broadcasters utilized by Fox and by TBS are awful. I KNOW there are some good baseball announcers out there somewhere, and that once upon a time, they were used in nationally televised games. Also, I apologize for the weird formatting. I had to use Firefox to post this (and the combination of Firefox and Blogger can get ornery), as Internet Explorer won’t even load.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Season Review Part Two: Looking Ahead

I suppose I should offer you a disclaimer up front: This part of the season review ventures into territory that I am, admittedly, not well-versed in, such as arbitration and contract negotiation. Still, I will try my best.

Last year, a bunch of writers were expecting/imploring the Tigers to sell everyone off and rebuild. I thought they had a chance to contend and advised waiting until the Trade Deadline to determine whether that particular course of action was appropriate. My viewpoint turned out to be the correct one. This time, it’s a little bit trickier. By no means do I think they should rebuild. They can still contend (This is, of course, assuming that our pitching holds up; i.e. Verlander doesn’t suffer any ill effects from his workload, that Jackson’s struggles were merely the result of him hitting a wall, that Porcello doesn’t have a sophomore slump, and that Bonderman/Galarraga/Robertson can remain healthy and effective; these are dangerous but necessary assumptions). However, my gut feeling is that it’ll be harder for them to contend next year than it was this year. At this stage, the White Sox are looking like the biggest threat. They are going to have a really tough starting rotation (Peavy, Buerhle, Danks, Floyd, and Garcia), and if they can get at least a slight bit of consistently out of their offense, defense, and bullpen, they are going to be very difficult to beat (Not impossible, though. Seattle had the best pitching in the league and they finished third in their division). The Twins are kind of an unknown quantity right now. They came on real strong at the end, but which is more representative of them: Their September run or what they did the rest of the season? A lot of guys on their offense had career years, but their pitching was not all that impressive for most of the year. The big question surrounding the Twins is, of course, how they’ll fare without being able to rely on Metrodome weirdness. Kansas City is not expected to do much, but they do have at least two really good pitchers in Greinke and Meche (if he can stay healthy), and possibly a third if Robinson Tejeda can overcome the control problems. If you end up playing them when they’re in that part of the rotation, wins won’t necessarily come easy. And all the experts (and virtually all the bloggers) are expecting a miserable, rebuilding season for the Cleveland Indians. However, something’s telling me that the Indians will be better than a lot of people expect them to be. Maybe they won’t contend, but with all the highly-touted prospects they’ve gotten in these trades, I don’t really expect them to roll over, either. The Tigers can contend, but they’ll have their work cut out for them.
The big hurdle, as most everyone knows, is the fact that most of the payroll is already tied up in existing contracts, and with a lot of key players eligible for arbitration, one of whom (Verlander) should be locked up long-term, there’s not going to be much left for going after free agents (or even keeping ours). There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that is that a lot of these overblown contracts will come off the books after 2010, and some are estimating that the Tigers will have $50-60 million in payroll freed up. However, for now, we’ve got to just ride through it.

The starting rotation looks to be low on the priority list as far as adding pieces go. As I already said, there are quite a few assumptions that must be made, but for now, the Tigers have a good 1-2-3 punch. Locking up Justin Verlander is very important, and should be one of the first things they cross off the list (negotiations with Verlander have been difficult in the past, however, making for an excellent example of why I don’t really like offseason dealings; more often than not, they make even the most highly thought-of players look despicable), although it’s probably not a good idea to go more than four years for a pitcher. As far as the fourth and fifth starters go, Dave Dombrowski believes Bonderman will be ready, and the last spot seems to be up for grabs, with Galarraga, Robertson, and Bonine the most likely candidates. Obviously stuff can happen and things can change. Injuries are a real good way of causing that. It always seems like when you “know” which five guys are going to be in the rotation at the beginning of spring training, something will happen and you’ll end up with someone you weren’t expecting. But for now, there are other needs to address.

The bullpen is expected to undergo an overhaul of sorts, which you’d expect when both your closer and your top setup guy are free agents. Payroll constraints will prevent the Tigers from being able to retain everyone, and they almost certainly won’t be able to keep both Rodney AND Lyon. If it were up to me (and I don’t like making these sorts of statements), I would make more of an effort to re-sign Lyon and make him the closer for next year (as strange as it would be seeing Rodney in another uniform). Lyon had a very successful year, however, so I don’t know how difficult that would be (They should definitely offer him arbitration, at the very least). The closer market isn’t as dynamic as it was last year. Probably the biggest name on the market this offseason will be Jose Valverde. At the same time, I admittedly don’t know all the teams that will be in need of a closer. Still, Dave Dombrowski has said that their preference is to sign a veteran to close, which is probably a wise move. We don’t know if Zumaya will remain healthy/effective, and I don’t think Ryan Perry is ready yet. As far as the rest of the bullpen goes, one or two of those arms we keep hearing about might be ready, but it looks likely that it’ll be largely the same group that we saw this year.

Before we move on, I’d like to take a moment to discuss Inge, Galarraga, and Zumaya. What do they have in common? They all struggled and they were all injured at some point in the season. I think it’s very likely that their struggles were caused by their respective injuries. I know there are some who disagree with me. But we must find out for sure. We have to see how these guys perform when we know they’re completely healthy (Inge during the season, the two pitchers during spring training at minimum). We must eliminate the injury variable. To do otherwise is just bad scientific form.

As far as the outfield goes, well, center and right are pretty much settled. Left field seemingly remains up in the air. There seems to be some disagreement among Tiger fans about whether to obtain a corner outfielder with a big bat through trade (none of the suggested names have met with much enthusiasm so far, though) or whether to give Ryan Raburn a shot as an everyday player (Marcus Thames is expected to be non-tendered). No one seems to want Guillen out there. They’d prefer that he DH (Guillen doesn’t want to DH, though). I caution that defense should still be a very high priority, but if we must sacrifice a little D for the sake of getting more offense, this is probably the position to do it. I’ve heard the names Milton Bradley, Scott Podsednik, and Brad Hawpe mentioned on
Bless You Boys, and as I said, no one seems to be wild about any of them (with the exception of about two or three people who very much want Milton Bradley and are very vocal about this desire). I considered Luke Scott around the trade deadline, but since then, I’ve kinda cooled off on him. He had a horrible second half, batting only .208 with only seven home runs (Yeah, I know that fits the description of certain Tigers, but as far as I know, Luke Scott wasn’t injured). I also thought of Jeremy Hermida, but once I looked up his numbers, I wasn’t wowed by him either (He only batted .259 for the season, though he did bat .312 in August before missing nearly all of September with an oblique injury). All these suggestions are just underwhelming. I can think of four guys in the NL West alone that I would rather have, though we don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell at getting any of them. At the same time, though, I feel it’s definitely possible to get more offense out of the guys we already have (just as I felt the same way about the pitching after 2008). I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but looking at our roster, I feel as if nearly all our guys are capable of more than what they did.

The infield is a place that might look significantly different in 2010. We’ll still have Inge and Cabrera anchoring the corners, of course (and hopefully, Inge’s knees will be 100% and Miguel will have gotten his off-the-field problems sorted out). However, it’s looking incredibly likely that we will not be able to keep Polanco, which is sad. But he will probably be the top draw second baseman on the free agent market, and the Tigers won’t be able to afford him if that’s the case. I’ll miss that large cranium of his (and if he signs with another AL Central team, I’ll be heartbroken). He does project to be a Type A free agent at this point, so it’s probably worth offering him arbitration. If he accepts, great. If he declines, we at least get two draft picks. Right now, it looks as though the Tigers are prepared to have Scott Sizemore as their starting second baseman next year. I am most definitely not an expert on prospects. I know Sizemore projects to hit for more power and has more speed than Polanco but won’t be nearly as good defensively. I did see him in person once at a Mud Hens game. Between Erie and Toledo, he hit .308, but like the rest of the Mud Hens, struck out a lot. Which leads me to another issue: With Polanco gone, we’re gonna need another #2 hitter (not an easy task when you consider Polanco is one of, if not THE best #2 hitter in baseball). Some Tigers fans have the idea of sticking Magglio in the 2-hole. Maggs does fulfill two of what I consider to be the three requirements for being a good #2 hitter (if, in fact, his August and September numbers do indeed reflect what he is still capable of). He can hit for average and he doesn’t strike out that often (though he does strike out more often than Polanco). However, he isn’t what I would call a “bat-handler” and I feel you would be doing him a disservice by trying to make him into one. Personally, I keep wondering what Sizemore would net us in the trade market (Perhaps a much more attractive option in the outfield than Brad Hawpe, should he be packaged properly? “He” meaning Sizemore). Shortstop is also an issue since Everett is a free agent. He would probably be fairly inexpensive to re-sign, and you could continue his platoon with Santiago. There are concerns about Cale Iorg, though. Last year, Dombrowski proclaimed that Iorg would be a “superstar” one day, but he had an awful year at Erie. 2010 will probably be “now-or-never” time for Iorg, and I’d be shocked if he made it to the big leagues next year. Catcher is kind of a bone of contention. Depending on whether you value more defense or more offense in your catcher, Gerald Laird was either a great find or a disappointing failure. Now, I did approve of the Laird trade when it happened, and though I expected more from him offensively (and I see no reason why he CAN’T match his career average of .250 next year), I think sheer number of runners he threw out and his ability to work with the pitching staff (which cannot be quantified mathematically) far outweighed his lack of contribution with the bat. My personal baseball guru put it another way: “Your catcher is there for defense. Anything you can get out of him with the bat is gravy.” I think, as Tiger fans, we have been spoiled in recently because we’ve had catchers like Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, and Pudge Rodriguez, all of them good hitters AND good defenders. I do NOT think Alex Avila is ready to be a starting catcher, but having putting him in an “apprenticeship” role might be advantageous, with the idea that you could slowly transition over to him by the end of the year, depending on how the season goes (Remember, at this point last year, a lot of fans thought Dusty Ryan would be our catcher of the future). I do say this with a bit of reservation, because the left-handed bat presents what may be an offensive liability when facing left-handed pitching, and because so often, it seems like the sole reason for having a left-handed hitting catcher is because he hits left-handed. I’m not gonna bother quantifying this, but it seems like the current crop of left-handed catchers in the big leagues are not particularly good throwers. AJ Pierzynski, Brian McCann, and John Baker immediately come to mind. Miguel Montero has gotten better, and Joe Mauer is okay, but they are still not at the level of the Molinas, Pudge, or Laird when it comes to throwing. Alex Avila is still sort of learning the position, and he did have a good success rate throwing out runners in Erie, so hopefully those skills will start to translate next year.

It’s also well within the realm of possibility that there will be some acquisition that most of us aren’t expecting. Dave Dombrowski does get quite creative at that. In the past, he’s traded for guys I have thought of as possibilities to fill needs (Renteria and Laird; hey, all I said was that they were names I thought of, not necessarily that they worked out, though in Laird’s case I’m happy with the result). At the same time, he’s gotten guys that I wasn’t expecting that have made huge impacts on the team (Cabrera and Jackson). So if you think you’ve got this offseason figured out, you probably don’t.

Like I said, at this point, there’s little more to do than speculate. I still don’t have a good impression of how next season will go. Hopefully I’ll get a better gut feeling as we get closer to spring training. In the meantime, feel free to hang around the site. I’ll be filling you in on my postseason thoughts, and whenever the Tigers DO make a move, I’ll weigh in on it as well. I’ve also got a feature planned where I’ll be comparing the 2010 schedules of the AL Central teams month-by-month. So stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 Season Review Part One: Looking Back

I meant to get this post up earlier, but with school and all, it just keeps getting pushed back. Still, here it is. I’m going to follow a similar format to what I did last year: I’ll present my review in two parts. Part one (today’s post) will look back at the just-completed season. Part two (which will hopefully be up in the near future) will take a look at what the Tigers should address as they prepare for 2010.

One thing you’ve probably figured out by now is that it’s very easy for me to think of things in cinematic (or fictional) terms. Last year, I compared the ’06, ’07, and ’08 seasons to the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, in that the first one was downright awesome, the second was okay, and the third…well, it had a few good moments, but ultimately left you feeling unsatisfied. I’ve run out of Pirates of the Caribbean movies to compare seasons to, so I’ve found a new metaphor. 2009 was The Sopranos: A great, great show that had a really abrupt and sucky ending. Seriously. You may as well have cut to a black, silent screen as Carlos Gomez was rounding third in the bottom of the 12th. It would’ve provided the same amount of closure. Which is, to say, not much. And then there’s the frustration of knowing that they quite literally came up one win short. And I’m not talking about game 163. Nor am I talking about the Saturday night “hangover” game. It probably should not have come to that, because there’s about 75 other games to choose from. They lost the first game of the season despite scoring five runs off Roy Halladay because Verlander hadn’t quite gotten back on track yet. There was a rash of games after the All-Star Break where they lost 2-1. They lost a game in Boston because of Rick Porcello plunking Kevin Youkilis and getting ejected (Everyone got mad at Cabrera after his story broke, but I seriously think I am the only one that feels that the whole Porcello thing was not a smart move. I enjoyed the Youkilis takedown, and I know there’s this whole subculture when it comes to hit batters and retaliation, but he’d already delivered the message to Victor Martinez and he put the pitching staff in a very shaky position because Edwin Jackson had only gone four innings the night before and Armando Galarraga, who was scheduled to start the following night, was sick as a dog, and Porcello knew all of this). There was that final series in Kansas City where the Tigers probably could’ve taken two of three (despite not scoring THAT many runs) if not for an ill-timed pitching meltdown. Yes, there are 77 games to second-guess. Pick one. One’s just as valid as another. But, as my old church pastor said, “if only” is not a healthy way to live. And that is where perspective comes into play.

Back when I did my season preview in March, I really made no actual predictions other than feeling like the Tigers would be better than they were in 2008. I said they had enough talent and potential to win between 85 and 90 games and contend for the AL Central title. They did just that. Most people did not give them that chance. A couple other bloggers did (Kurt over at Mack Avenue Tigers being one of them), but the media, the sabremetric computer simulations, and the “experts” all expected them to finish, at best, in third place (with a sub-.500 record in most cases), and most of them picked the Tigers to finish fourth or last (depending on how favorably they viewed the Royals). And yet, one thing you can say is that all season long, the Tigers defied both math and prognostication, for good or bad. All throughout the summer, the experts waited for the Twins or White Sox to pass them. That didn’t happen. Then in September, when all the pundits and columnists said the Tigers had this thing wrapped up and the computer simulations were giving them a 91% chance at the playoffs (meanwhile, I was pretty much the only one noticing that the Tigers still had seven games left against the Twins), the Tigers proved them wrong again. Or, should I say, the Twins proved them wrong? This is one reason why I don’t buy into sabremetrics. Sabremetrics assumes that everything is constant, that circumstances and players don’t change. But it’s not always like that. Baseball IS dynamic. Things DO change, and unexpected things happen all the time. It’s called the human element. The Tigers are not the ’07 Mets. They did not choke. The Twins were the ’07 Rockies, plain and simple. After the Tigers swept the Rays, we the fans were told that all the Tigers had to do was play .500 ball the rest of the way and they would easily win the Central. They pretty much did just that, ending up a game or two under .500 after that point, which is not great, but is not dismally bad either (They were just really streaky about it, which is what made it look worse than it actually was). The Twins, meanwhile, would have to play close to .800 ball, which is something they had not done at any point in the season (mostly because their pitching was too inconsistent; a lot of their hitters had career years). The best record they had had up to that point was 3 games above .500. Then a funny thing happened: They lost Justin Morneau to injury. Apparently he was holding them back, because, in one of the biggest examples of Baseball Often Does Not Make Sense, they went 17-4 over their last 21 games, including game 163 (three of those losses came to the Tigers, and the other one was to Zack Greinke). The Tigers did what they “needed” to do. The Twins did what they “could not possibly” do. And in the end, the Tigers became the Metrodome’s last victim.

Of course, things went wrong, mostly the offense. After being quite high-powered in 2007, they kind of went “all or nothing” in 2008, and the issues that they began to have last year kind of came to the forefront this year because the pitching wasn’t masking it anymore. And just like how a lot of guys had career years in ’07, many of those same guys had subpar years in ’09. Polanco and Magglio struggled through the early part of the season before turning it up near the end (Maggs was especially bipolar; he was hitting .225 at the end of May and then went on an absolute tear after the All-Star Break to finish the season at .310). Inge had an incredible first half before his knees betrayed him. Most of Cabrera’s numbers were right where you’d want them to be, but 103 RBIs is low for him (though you could easily make the argument that there weren’t that many guys on the bases for him to drive in). Granderson’s season was really weird, because he had a career high in home runs and had a decent year when it came to stolen bases, but his average and his ability to hit doubles and triples went down considerably, as did his average against left-handed pitching (which was somewhere around .250 last year, certainly an acceptable number).
Like they have in previous years, injuries certainly played a part. Jeremy Bonderman essentially had a lost season, as did Nate Robertson. Carlos Guillen missed a large part of the season with the shoulder problem. Jarrod Washburn’s knee injury never really allowed him to contribute. I suspect Armando Galarraga spent a good chunk of the season hiding an elbow injury that limited his effectiveness and control. The big blow was probably Brandon Inge and his knees, which was very sad to watch when you consider what a great first half he had. Some tried to argue that he was merely regressing to the norm, but the timing of the injury in relation to his struggles is too much of a coincidence to have any certainty in a statement like that. And then we have Joel Zumaya. We’re getting to the point where you might as well just copy and paste his name into the injury paragraph every year. And I know he struggled for about a month leading up to that disastrous outing at Yankee Stadium, but there is some evidence to suggest that he was trying to pitch through the sore shoulder. Oddly enough, though, outside of the struggles and losses that were his own doing, the team really didn’t miss a beat after Zoom went on the DL. Brandon Lyon stepped in and did a very good job in Zumaya’s stead.

What went right? Pitching and defense, which is what the focus turned to after last season. There were some bumps and lapses along the way (they had some horrible series defensively against the Angels and Yankees early in the season, and then there was that span in early summer where the pitching staff gave up a ton of bases-loaded walks), but overall, it’s what carried them all year. Justin Verlander found his dominating fastball again and went from leading the league in losses to tying for the league lead in wins and leading the majors in strikeouts. And it didn’t look good for him in April. The first Game Thread I ever visited on BYB was that April game he pitched against the Angels (the start right before he “found it”), and I was seriously the only one with a kind word to say about him. I never lost faith in him. And I was rewarded for that, and hopefully he’s got ten or fifteen years left of that dominance (wearing the Olde English D, of course). There were several people on the Tigers blogosphere that were not happy about the Edwin Jackson trade when it first happened. Those sentiments quickly faded, and it sure does look like that trade was a steal, with the Tigers coming out on top. I know he started to slide in late August/September, and hopefully he just hit a wall (after all, he pitched more innings than he had in his life), because he has gotten progressively better each year. I wasn’t sure what Rick Porcello would bring when the Tigers first decided to stick him in the rotation out of spring training. I felt that either he would impress mightily or that he would flame out and never reach his promise. Luckily, it was the former. Porcello probably deserves to win Rookie of the Year. I’m not sure he will, since the voters tend to prefer position players over pitchers, but he should at least finish in the top three or four. The back end of the bullpen also got better. Brandon Lyon had a terrible April, but after that, something clicked, and for the rest of the season, he was probably the most consistent reliever we had. And I don’t think anyone was sure what to expect when Leyland decided to make Rodney the closer at the beginning of the season. But hey, the guy only blew one save all year (and in that game, he really didn’t pitch all that badly). It was usually an adventure when he took the mound. He had a tendency to make things way too exciting. But he got the job done. And then there was the defense. Gerald Laird may not have contributed much with the bat, but with the number of runners he was throwing out, I could certainly live with that. Same with Everett/Santiago at short. Moving Inge back to third base made a big difference, even with the injury, and Cabrera’s starting to turn himself into a pretty decent defender at first base, though he’ll probably never get recognized for it. Inge and Laird certainly deserve the Gold Gloves for their positions, but with the offensive struggles (which shouldn’t be part of the equation but is), likely will not win (I’ll take a stab and say Mauer and either Evan Longoria or Michael Young). Polanco might win the one for second base, and he’d certainly deserve it.

Even though we came up short, you have to agree that this season sure was entertaining. There are so many moments that I am going to remember, from Galarraga’s gem/Cabrera’s grand slam in the home opener to Brandon Inge making the All-Star team to Clete Thomas hitting a walk-off home run on my birthday. Of course, my favorite moment is probably the 1-0 complete game that Verlander pitched in Cleveland, highlighted by Curtis Granderson’s amazing catch to rob Grady Sizemore of what would’ve been a crushing game-winning home run. And there are many more.

And that wraps up my look back at 2009. Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll take a look at what needs to be done for 2010.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Postseason Thoughts So Far

Since it’s taking longer than I anticipated for me to get my season review finished (work and school obligations have interfered with that), I’ll fill you in on my postseason thoughts in the meantime, now that all the divisional series have wrapped up (All photos from Getty Images).

American League

ALDS: Yankees-Twins

I totally rooted for the Yankees in this series, both because I don’t hate them and even I am allowed to feel vindictive every once in a while. And a funny thing happened: the Twins started to have the same problem that the Tigers had during the regular season, which was squandering scoring opportunities. Game 2 in particular bore an uncanny resemblance to game 163. The Twins even got the Yankees to line into a double play in a tough spot, just as they had done to the Tigers (Minnesota sure is getting adept at inducing the line-drive double play). However, with the exception of the double play, this time just about everything went AGAINST Minnesota. I already mentioned the multitude of guys that the Twins left on base (17, to be exact). A-Rod hit the home run about two minutes after I said “Joe Nathan likes to blow saves at Yankee Stadium.” And, just like in game 163, there was a blown call that totally changed the outcome of the game. In our game, it was the Brandon Inge HBP that wasn’t called. In this game, it was a ball that Mauer hit that was ruled foul but was clearly fair (even my Personal Baseball Guru complained about that, and he’s a Yankees fan). Mauer did eventually single in that at-bat, but had the call been right, he would have had a double, and the Twins would have scored in that inning had everything else played out the way it did. As it stands, they loaded the bases with nobody out, did not score, and Teixiera ended the game with a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom half of the inning. That game was such a karmic smackdown that those of us on Bless You Boys that night jokingly decided that Miguel Cabrera used his powers as a high priest of Santería to curse the Twins. Then in Game 3, the Yankees were able to do what the Tigers couldn’t: Kill the Metrodome. For most of that game, we all watched as Carl Pavano was able to mow down a team other than the Tigers (and the resulting TBS mancrush was irritating, to say the least). Home run power finally gave the edge to the Yankees, and it helped that Minnesota’s bullpen allowed a couple add-on runs (I will add this: Ever since he threw that pitch behind Adam Everett, Jose Mijares was not nearly as effective). And yes, I am going to make the unpopular choice to root for the Yankees in the ALCS.

ALDS: Angels-Red Sox

I don’t particularly care for the Angels, but seeing as how I absolutely do not like the Red Sox, I rooted for the Angels in this series. I didn’t get to see a lot of these games, due to a combination of work and the late start time of the first two. But it looks as though the Angels finally figured out how to beat the Red Sox. They got good starting pitching in the first two games, and then in game 3, at Fenway, with two out and nobody on, they scored three runs off Papelbon to overcome a two-run deficit. I watched the replay of that just to see the Fenway faithful cry (call me sadistic). The interesting part is that Vladimir Guerrero (who is notorious for his struggles in the postseason, much like A-Rod) delivered the knockout blow. I think one of the things that is different for the Angels this year is that their offense is a lot better (and most of it has come from the same guys who were in the postseason last year and the year before). Their pitching wasn’t quite as good in the regular season as it had been the past two years, but it stepped up when it needed to. And now comes the scenario that my Personal Baseball Guru dreaded. He talked to me about it last Saturday. He was actually rooting for the Red Sox because he felt the Yankees were more likely to beat them in the ALCS. Apparently, the Angels usually have the Yankees’ number (kinda like how the Tigers have dominated the Texas Rangers recently). I honestly don’t know what to expect from this series. The starting pitching looks pretty even. If it comes down to it, the Yankees have a better bullpen, but the Angels’ starters have gotten pretty deep into games so far. Both teams have a ridiculous number of switch-hitters. The Angels have more speed while the Yankees have more power. Regardless, I’m still rooting for the Yankees because I just don’t have that much enthusiasm for the Angels.

National League

NLDS: Dodgers-Cardinals

With the Tigers gone, I pretty much decided to root for the Dodgers all throughout. I like most of the players on the team, and, like New York, they are located in a city that I’d like to visit (Plus, I hung out during a couple Game Threads at TrueBlueLA, and the Dodgers fans there are really nice). Not a lot of people were expecting the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals. I myself pointed out the apparent pitching mismatch the last time I posted (though I failed to point out that the Dodgers probably had the better bullpen; this was an unfortunate oversight). As it turns out, the Cardinals, like the Twins, were doomed by squandered scoring opportunities. Game 1 was a showcase in squanderage by both teams. The Dodgers and the Cardinals combined to leave THIRTY men on base. Game 2 saw Matt Holliday go from hero to goat. He hit a solo home run that accounted for one of the two Cardinal runs, and unlike Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright pitched extremely well. All that was negated with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, when Holliday lost a sinking liner in the towels, of all things. That opened the door, and the Dodgers jumped on the opportunity. In game 3, Vicente Padilla (whom the Tigers jumped on so many times when he was with Texas) pitched the game of his life and the Dodgers not only beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, they swept them (the fans at TrueBlueLA posted an ESPN graphic showing all their “experts” except one picking the Cardinals). Now, I don’t dislike the Cardinals. If they had won, it would not have been the end of the world. I just like the Dodgers more.

NLDS: Rockies-Phillies

Alas, I suppose they can’t all go the way I wanted them to. In three of the four division series, the team I rooted for won. This was the one that didn’t. When the series began, I had no strong feelings either way towards the Rockies (that all changed; details to come), but I just don’t like the Phillies. Unfortunately, the Phillies had the means to execute what I must admit was a brilliant strategy: Lots of left-handed pitching. For the last several years, we’ve heard that the Tigers are too right-handed. Well, if that’s the case, the Rockies are an example of a team that is too left-handed. And they paid the price for it. Plus, the big guys in their lineup didn’t really come through and as a team, they only hit two home runs. Meanwhile, Magglio must’ve broken Houston Street with that 3-run homer in the ALCS, cuz he struggled through the postseason. He got the save in game 2, but it was an adventure, and he took the loss in both game 3 and game 4 (As an aside, I’ll say that the umpiring has been crappy this entire postseason, including our game, and the team in each division series that was victimized by it failed to recover). Game 4 was especially painful (I can’t really tell you about the end of game 3 because I was already asleep when that happened). Street was one strike away from sending everyone back to Philadelphia, and then he ended up walking Chase Utley. Ryan Howard followed up with a 2-run double that tied the game, and then Jayson Werth followed with a bloop single that scored Howard and gave the Phillies the lead again after the Rockies had staged one very entertaining comeback in the bottom of the eighth (one of the most hilarious moments this year has to be Dexter Fowler completely jumping over Chase Utley). One significant byproduct of this series (on a personal level, at least), is that I have officially gone nuts over one of the Rockies: the 23-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (pictured above). Usually, when I decide I like someone (be it strictly platonic, as with Pudge, or, and this is exceptionally rare, there is a bit of aesthetic pleasure mixed in, as with Verlander; for the record, there are only 3 players that I have found “aesthetically pleasing”), either they kinda gradually grow on me (Brandon Inge did this) or it’s instant, spurred on by something they’ve done to which I react by thinking/saying “That is AWESOME” (with Pudge, it was the first time I saw him throw out a runner; with Verlander, it was the first time I saw him touch triple digits). All Carlos Gonzalez did was step into the batter’s box and I decided I liked him. I didn’t know why (and I still don’t), but I liked him (the only other time I’ve done this was with Kurt Suzuki of the Oakland Athletics, whom I also find “aesthetically pleasing”). This was actually in some game late in the season (and I can’t remember which one). I just forgot about it until the NLDS. Bear in mind I pretty much knew nothing about him before this series (And actually, he was with the A’s when they came to Detroit last year. He batted cleanup in the game I went to. I don’t remember him, though). He certainly gave me plenty of legitimate reasons to like him in the NLDS, though (As another aside, I came across an interview with him, and he speaks English very well; he bats left, throws left, and also has the same birthday as my dad). Gonzalez (nicknamed “CarGo,” according to the folks at Purple Row) was by far the Rockies’ hottest hitter. He had himself a series: 10 hits (including a home run), nine of which came against left-handed pitching. It got to the point where I was seriously considering what it would cost for the Tigers to get this guy. It’s probably WAY more than they’d be willing to give up (and I would totally agree with them, if that were the case), but it sure is tantalizing because it looks like he represents a whole lot of things the Tigers need. He’s a lefty who apparently can hit left-handed pitching. It looks as though he’ll hit for average and for power. He can run, so there’s a stolen base threat and good speed in the outfield. I have heard he’s a good defender, and I have seen firsthand that he has a GUN for a left arm. I’m not an expert on prospects (far from it), but this is a good-looking player (and I mean that in multiple senses of the phrase). Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite carry the rest of his team, which means no more Carlos Gonzalez in the postseason. Hopefully by the time I see him again I will have figured out why I decided to like him (right after I figure out why I like Kurt Suzuki). And so the Dodgers and the Phillies are set for a rematch in the NLCS. I’m not sure how this will go. The Phillies have the edge with starting pitching, but then again, so did the Cardinals. The Dodgers have the edge in the bullpen. The Phillies are heavily-laden with lefty power hitters. The Dodgers don’t have as much power, but their lineup is a bit more balanced in terms of lefty-righty. The Dodgers have home field advantage this time around, but the Phillies were one of the best road teams in baseball this year. So I don’t know how this’ll turn out. I’ll certainly be rooting for the Dodgers, though.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At the End of All Things

I don’t know where to start with this one (by the way, the game WAS still going on when I got home). I’ve been blogging the Tigers since 2007 (and a tiny bit of 2006), and only one other time have I had as hard a post to write as this one (and that dealt not with the end of a season, but with the loss of a certain beloved catcher). In 2006, we made it all the way to the World Series, but as that went on, you felt like it was not going to end well. 2007 was another “slow death” in that you had time to prepare for and accept what would happen. 2008 never really got off the ground, and since the Tigers spent nary a day in first place, the end felt more like a mercy killing than anything else (that and at the time I had temporarily become only a part-time blogger). This is different. This is not a “slow death.” This is more getting a phone call in the middle of the night saying “There’s been an accident.” This was having your season snatched from you. This was waking up this morning with the sudden realization that I’m not going to see these boys for five months, and some I may never see again, and with the way it ended, I never got to say good-bye or hasta luego.

I’m not going to have a whole lot of detail, because I missed most of the game (though I was able to follow part of it on a coworker’s cell phone). The first (and most positive) thing you can say was that Rick Porcello absolutely rose to the occasion and was very, very impressive. Shame about the throwing error. There was some question about Zach Miner coming in to pitch, but he’d actually been really good over his last several outings. Meanwhile, after all the controversy and bad press, I believe Miguel Cabrera redeemed himself with a double and a two-run homer and came oh-so-close to scoring the go-ahead run. And he played his heart out, I could tell that. They all played their hearts out. I guess another positive would be the way Magglio Ordoñez finished out the season. Back in May, most would not have figured he’d have a chance to reach .300, and he ended the season at .310. Let’s hope he’s got it figured out. And of course, we’ll be haunted by that non-call by the home plate umpire on the Inge at-bat in the 12th with the bases loaded. It sure looked to me like he got hit.

And another trivial frustration was that you could ultimately label this a “Metrodome victory.” The most obvious piece of evidence was Raburn losing a ball in the lights and playing a single into a triple, which turned out to be very costly (Raburn giveth, and Raburn taketh away). And both the game-tying and game-winning hits for Minnesota were two of the weakest ground ball singles you could imagine (Rodney pitched better than his line would indicate). I doubt those go through on grass. Even the Inge HBP that wasn’t called may have been Metrodome-induced. There was a lot of discussion this morning on how the umpires rely a lot on sound when a pitch brushes a player’s jersey. The Metrodome is very, very loud, and especially so last night. Thank God our boys never have to set foot in that building ever again. This time for real. But I’ll conclude this most melancholy of posts by saying that it was one of the most hard-fought games I have ever witnessed, and our boys didn’t go down meekly. Perhaps some Dylan Thomas is appropriate (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light”). Or perhaps thinking about using the Braveheart speech wasn’t the best idea (after all, things didn’t really end well for the Scots there). The Tigers fought valiantly until the end, but ultimately our season became one hell of a Shakespearean tragedy.

I do plan on watching the postseason, but I may skip the Twins-Yankees series (tonight’ll be no problem, cuz I work at the time that game is on). If you want me to weigh in on the teams, I’ll do so. Everyone expects the Yankees to steamroll the Twins, and that’ll probably be the case, because the Twins just don’t have the pitching. They might make things more interesting than people think just because their offense has been on a roll (and I’d like to point out that thus far, CC Sabathia actually hasn’t pitched particularly well in postseason). Over in the other ALDS, we’ve got two teams that at times, have both had pitching issues, but the Red Sox have generally been better than the Angels on the mound. Plus, the Angels just can’t seem to beat the Red Sox in the postseason. Still, they do have home field advantage. In the National League, the Dodgers’ issues with their starting rotation may lead to an earlier exit than anticipated, which I hope isn’t the case, but seriously, Randy Wolf against Chris Carpenter? Then there are the Rockies and the Phillies, which I can’t come up with anything for, because the Rockies are still kind of an unknown, while the Phillies have had massive problems with their bullpen. As for who I’m going to root for? Well, as I’ve said before, I DON’T hate the Yankees, and I certainly like them better than any of the other three AL teams in the postseason (which is one area where I allow myself to be vindictive). Ultimately, I’d like to root for the Dodgers, but as I said, they might not make it out of the NLDS. So here’s how things shake up for me, preference-wise:

National League:

American League:
Yankees>Angels>Twins>Red Sox

World Series:
Yankees=Cardinals (It’s a draw; I don’t care)
Dodgers/Cardinals/Rockies>Angels/Twins/Red Sox
Phillies>Twins/Red Sox

And sadly, I cannot conclude this post with an official next game preview. I can almost guarantee you that, barring injury, the next time we see the Tigers in action that counts, it’ll be Justin Verlander against Zack Greinke (and yes, they HAVE faced each other before; Justin got the upper hand, but this was way back in 2007; I am so totally getting ahead of myself). I’ll tell you one thing: I’m sure going to miss rushing home from school/work to catch the last two or three innings of games. I shall try to have the first part of my season review up within the next week (Hint: We didn’t really choke). I’ve also got part two (looking ahead to next season) planned, as well as an in-depth look at how each AL Central team’s schedules compare, month-by-month. And of course, there will undoubtedly be trades, negotiations, and free agents signings to cover. Hopefully I can keep myself busy for the next five months.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Miguel Cabrera's Major Problem

Oh, geez, this is some ugly business, but I suppose I must address it, must I? You’ve no doubt heard by now the real reason for the bruises and scratches on Miguel Cabrera’s face Saturday night. If you need more detail, I’ll send you over to Jason Beck’s article on it. And yes, Cabrera has apologized for his actions and I have heard at least one report that stated he did NOT drive home when he was drunk. Naturally, there has been a whole slew of different reactions by the fanbase. Several people (including most bloggers) are outraged and feel betrayed, advocating benching Cabrera for the one-game playoff/postseason/next season/indefinitely. I even saw one commenter who wanted Cabrera released or traded immediately. Others have been more forgiving and seem determined to stand by him. I tend to be rather level-headed, and I don’t have a final judgment yet, but here is my preliminary opinion:

Cabrera did an incredibly, INCREDIBLY stupid thing and picked a really bad time to do it (i.e. the night before a very important game). It’s embarrassing and disappointing, no doubt, and the Tigers have every right to be royally pissed off at him. But this is also a guy who, from what we’ve seen, has worked very hard and has carried this team, and without him, I’m not sure we would’ve even had a winning record. This is the first time we’ve heard of something like this happening, and he’s probably not the first one to do it. I have grown very fond of Miguel and his fun-loving, goofball personality, and I don’t want to have this one incident force me to do a complete 180 and hate him. At this point, I can’t bring myself to do it.

For those who claim that Cabrera simply decided to blow off Saturday’s game even though it was important, I’m pretty sure that’s not how he viewed it. I still maintain that Miguel Cabrera is a good person, but I have never tried to claim that he is humble. Everyone has character flaws. When you’re in his position and you’ve had as much success as he’s had, it’s easy to develop a sense of invincibility. Even if he wanted to get fall-down drunk, he may very well have (erroneously) figured that he could sober up before the game started. He’s a baseball player, not a medical expert. Which brings up a similar point: We don’t know for a fact that he intended to get shit-faced drunk that night. It’s just as plausible that he was planned on just having a beer or two with his White Sox buddies and once he got there, the fratboy mentality (that I am certain goes on when players party together) took over. And when you’re as drunk as he was, you don’t “know” your limits anymore. Someone else has to stop you. And I will say something else: It probably didn’t help matters that Miggy was (likely) brutally hungover, but the Tigers probably would’ve lost that game regardless, despite his excellent numbers against Garcia (whom many suspect was one of the “buddies” in this whole thing).

What happens from here on out will go a long way towards what my final assessment will be. If Miguel has a chronic drinking problem (and there are reports that may suggest that), he needs to man up and get help, and the fans need to support him in that. If this is a one-time incident, my hope would be that he learns from it, atones for it, and doesn’t let it happen again. If it becomes a frequent thing, that’s when I’ll probably start to get annoyed.

And as a fellow 26-year-old, I’ll let you in on something: We don’t always have the best judgment. In fact, a lot of times we have rather poor judgment. It’s easy for one of us fans to say, “Oh, he should have known better,” and yes, he should have, but it’s a lot harder in practice.

So, in conclusion, this was a major screw-up on Cabrera’s part, but for now, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now. And I hope he plays his heart out tomorrow. Kick some Twins’ asses, Miggy!

We're Not Dead Yet

Photo: AP

I know the timing of this post is kinda bad, considering the whole Cabrera thing has just exploded. I have a post on that forthcoming, but first I want to focus on yesterday’s game. The Tigers needed Justin Verlander to be at his most awesome, and he was nearly all of that. For seven innings, he cruised through the White Sox, and showed us why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. It looked like he ran out of steam in the eighth, giving up three runs and leaving the tying runs on the bases for Fernando Rodney. It was then that Curtis Granderson made the catch that probably saved the season, running a long way to make a diving snag on a shallow pop-up that Carlos Quentin hit.

And, hey, the offense got to John Danks, which is no easy feat usually. Raburn and Magglio led the charge, and Raburn didn’t even have good numbers against Danks coming into the game (Magglio already did, in case you were wondering). That all didn’t matter when Danks threw him a hanging changeup. Raburn later hit a second home run. He must love Chicago-style pitching. He had that 7-RBI game against the White Sox as well. Meanwhile, it was nice to see Maggs hit one out. And hey, after all the offensive struggles through the middle of the season, his average is up over .300. I’d say that’s an accomplishment, even if the vast majority of it is made up of singles.

Unfortunately, the Tigers got absolutely NO help from Kansas City (Damn you, Zack Greinke!!!), so they remain tied with the Twins (making you wonder why we played those 162 games in the first place). Which means that we’ve gotta go back to that godforsaken Metrodome after all. And I never did finish my slideshow cuz I figured we’d never see it again. And because of Brett Favre, they’re holding this makeup game tomorrow night instead of tonight. Damn it. I work tomorrow (4-9, which means I will not get to see one single solitary second of this game). I don’t work tonight. Our entire season is quite literally hanging in the balance, and I’ll be completely in the dark. And our entire season now lies in the right arm of Rick Porcello. He just faced the Twins last Tuesday and did a good job, coming away win a no-decision, but giving up just the one run. He has pitched significantly better against the Twins at Comerica Park than at the Metrodome. If there is something good about the numbers, it’s that he’s only given up two home runs to the Twins: One to Cuddyer, and one to Morneau (and we don’t have to worry about him). Delmon Young hits him well (over .400), but Jason Kubel absolutely KILLS him (.727). Both of them have been hot recently, to boot (Rod Allen blames Jeremy Bonderman for “waking up” Delmon Young). On the other hand, he’s controlled Joe Mauer pretty well. Mauer’s only 1-for-9 off him. The Twins are sending out Scott Baker (NOT on short rest, as some media outlets would have you believe). The Tigers had scored quite a few runs off him all season up until his last start, when they only managed one. I read one assessment of that game that the Tigers had the right approach: Work the count, see a lot of pitches, and get Baker’s pitch count up. They just didn’t get rewarded for it. Leyland has already said that Ryan Raburn will start in the game. The question is: Who is he gonna replace? (And to make things clear, I do NOT consider replacing Cabrera to be an option). It would have to be Guillen or Thames, but both of them have really good numbers against Baker (for the record, Raburn has never faced Baker). I do know this: Every time the Tigers have HAD to win, they’ve done it. Hopefully, that is the case tomorrow. My gut wants to go with the Twins, simply because it’s their home ballpark (which is bound to be the loudest place on Earth) and because they’ve been on fire for the past three weeks. But I hope I’m wrong about that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And Now Our Backs are REALLY Against the Wall

You wanted a war? You got one. As I said on Bless You Boys (which earned me Comment of the Night honors), this team is like an asthmatic running a marathon who has been in the lead with the finish line in sight but the bronchi are seriously tightening up. And now, we are down to our last few gasps of oxygen (27 gasps, to be exact). Leyland said Alfredo Figaro would have a short leash, and he kept his word on that, but it still wasn’t enough (I assure you, though, Rick Porcello would NOT have shut out the White Sox). But really, the Quentin home run was the only hard-hit ball that scored a run. The other runs scored on a fielder’s choice that should’ve been a double play, and three balls that Alex Rios hit off the end of the bat and dumped into shallow right field. It’s really hard to believe that Armando Galarraga ended up charged with two runs, cuz he looked better than that (I don’t think he should’ve started the fifth, though). The bullpen did the best they could, all told. The offense just didn’t do anything against Freddy Garcia. They looked like they might have something going in the eighth, with two on and a run in. But Magglio hit a scorching lineout to shortstop and Cabrera followed with an inning-ending double play. Miggy’s picked a bad time to go into a slump. He’s 0 for his last 11 and in this series, hasn’t hit the ball out of the infield. Plus, there’s a whole new subplot to this whole thing, because he had bruises or scratches on his face last night that weren’t there the night before. Personally, I didn’t even notice them. He claims his dog did it to him (and the revelation that players own pets is blowing my mind right now, for some reason, but that’s another post), but the lack of comments from Leyland or other players has the media skeptical (most of the commenters on BYB seem to be taking his word for it, though). The leading theory among the media seems to be that he got into a fight with one of his teammates, but if that were the case, why don’t any of the other Tigers have mysterious bruises or scratches? I find it hard to believe that Miggy could come out on the worse end of a fight. He’s so big and strong that he could do some serious damage if he wanted to. At any rate, he needs to start hitting again, bruises or no bruises.

And here we go with the last game of the season all tied up. And we’re forced to use Justin Verlander to save the season. The Tigers have won the games that they’ve absolutely needed to win, and now they must do it again. It’ll be anything but easy, though. Verlander will probably need to pitch a shutout, but this is a team that, prior to this year, gave him a lot of problems. A lot of the media seem to believe he’s going to revert to that. Meanwhile, scoring runs off John Danks is not an easy feat even for a good offense. The Tigers did beat him earlier this year, but it was by a score of 2-1. I took a look at the numbers last night. With the exception of Adam Everett (who hits .250 against Danks), every single Tiger is either really good (over .300) or really bad (under .200) against Danks. Carlos Guillen is in the lineup as the DH. This may have something to do with the fact that Marcus Thames is 1-for-14 with 7 strikeouts against Danks (Guillen is 4-for-9). But they HAVE to find a way to find that spark again, or it’s all over because let’s face it: The Twins are going to win today. They scored four runs against Greinke, for crying out loud. The only question is how big a blowout they’ll win by. I told you a long time ago that I was going to listen to my gut more this season, and right now it’s not feeling good things. Still, I have an eerie calmness about today. Your Mood Music: I figured we needed a motivational speech to prepare us for what may be our last stand. I was going to use the Braveheart speech, but by happy accident, I came across this. Go Tigers!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just Gettin' a Bit Closer to that Cliff

This is gonna be a short post today, as I have absolutely no insight on last night’s game whatsoever. It was already the ninth inning when I got home, and I only got to see the bottom half. Suffice it to say, it was not a good game for Edwin Jackson (who really isn’t doing much to dispel the rumors that he’s hit a wall) or for the Tigers offense. But let’s face it: We knew this game would probably be the hardest one to win. It just looks bad to have the score be 8-0. What this does is back us up against the wall, though.

Well, thanks to that damn rainout on Monday, we have Alfredo Figaro starting instead of Rick Porcello. Figaro really isn’t stretched out, so they’ll probably be lucky to get four innings out of him, but there wasn’t any other choice. Jeremy Bonderman is not stretched out at all, and Armando Galarraga still isn’t healthy enough to start. Figaro did pitched 2.2 solid innings in relief of Nate Robertson against the White Sox last week, but Zach Miner will be on high alert at the first sign of any trouble. They’ll be up against Freddy Garcia, whom they beat last Saturday, but still, the dude’s 15-6 against the Tigers. At least I don’t work this weekend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On Hold

And so, we must wait a little bit longer (whether that ends up being one day or another 22 years, I’m not gonna say). I don’t have a lot of insight on this game. I was only able to listen to the first two innings and the ninth inning (though I was able to sneak out of lab once to check the score). Hey, things were going good when I left for lab. The Tigers had just taken a 1-0 lead. How was I supposed to know that Nate Robertson was about to give up three in the following half-inning? I can’t really comment on Nate, but from what I’ve heard, he was not as good as he was at the Metrodome, but better than he was in Chicago. Casey Fien and Bobby Seay? Maybe not so good, especially with Bobby Seay. I don’t know if it was rust or if the pectoral strain is still bothering him (It also doesn’t help matters that Denard Span owns him anyways). This is nitpicky, but after the Orlando Cabrera bases-clearing double, WHY would you ever pitch to Joe Mauer with first base open and two out? I know they had a righty in the on-deck circle, but I’d take Gomez over Mauer any day. Then there were the hit batter fireworks and subsequent ejections. Apparently, Jose Mijares took matters into his own hands when he wasn’t supposed to, because Ron Gardenhire was none too pleased with what happened. None of the Twins seemed to blame Bonderman for retaliation. I don’t know why Laird got ejected. Still, if there’s a positive to be had, it’s that this game featured some strong pitching from Ryan Perry, Fu Te Ni, and Armando Galarraga (Talk about rusty; he hadn’t pitched since the last game of that Royals series; I certainly hope they’ve gotten the elbow problems cleared up). By the way, by now you’ve probably seen the circulating video of Joe Mauer tipping pitches to Jason Kubel against Verlander (and I’m amazed that that video is still up on YouTube). I actually thought it was fascinating to be guided through how teams do that. And it’s not something I have a problem with. I’m not happy that it was done against the Tigers, but it’s not cheating and every team does it. Our guys do it, too (I caught Pudge tipping off Sean Casey once a couple of years ago, and I’m sure the current Tigers steal signs as well).

And so this has come down to the final weekend, which means it’s time to beat the White Sox. Minnesota has the Royals at the Metrodome, and while they do face Greinke tomorrow, the other two pitching matchups heavily favor the Twins. Meanwhile, the Tigers have a tougher task against White Sox pitching. First up is Jake Peavy, who blanked the Tigers last week. Hopefully, the fact that they’ve seen him so recently will allow them to scratch out some runs against him, or at least get him out of the game in a reasonable amount of time to have a shot at the Sox bullpen. I took a closer look at the numbers, and they’re actually uglier than I thought, although it’s too small a sample size against most hitters. Polanco is the ONLY Tiger that hits Peavy well (8-for-13). Cabrera can’t touch him (2-for-19 with nine strikeouts). Inge is the only Tiger to have homered off of Peavy, and he and Everett are the only ones with RBIs off him. Like I said, there are several Tigers who are 0-for-3 or 1-for-3, which is pretty meaningless until they get more ABs against him. He has also never faced Gerald Laird, Ryan Raburn, Marcus Thames, or Clete Thomas. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson is coming off a loss to the White Sox last Sunday when they scored five off him (that seems like it was weeks ago). He’s going to have to be better than that if he wants to outduel Peavy. He actually got through most of the game with little trouble except for the sixth, when the White Sox bunched several extra base hits against him. And the fifth run was an inherited runner that scored because Fernando Rodney isn’t good in non-save situations. I’ll be at work tonight, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers shouldn’t win on my account.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You Can Almost Feel It

Photo: AP

This is gonna have to be a REALLY short post and I won’t be able to do it much justice, because I have to leave for school shortly and this is the only opportunity I’ll have to write it. I did not see a lot of this game. It was the seventh inning by the time I got home from work. From what I hear, Eddie Bonine had a VERY shaky first inning, but once he got a rocket of a double play ball off the bat of Jose Morales, he settled down and actually gave the Tigers five good innings. And the bullpen stood up in a big way. Miner, Lyon, Rodney were all stellar. Meanwhile, the Twins dipped into the Carl Pavano well one too many times. The Tigers FINALLY figured him out, thanks to some big hits from Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, and Maggs.

And now it all comes down to this. Win today, and the Central is ours. Can they do it? Nate Robertson is coming off a bad start against the White Sox in which none of his pitches were working, but he did throw five good innings against the Twins back at the Metrodome to salvage a win in that series. Meanwhile, the Twins send Scott Baker to the mound. I heard him described by someone as the “anti-Pavano,” in that he’s been good against the rest of the league, but the Tigers have scored quite a few runs off him this year. I hope that continues. And it goes without saying that I have never NOT wanted to go to lab so much in my entire life (And it’s wet lab, too, which means I’m not getting out before 4:00, if not later). Your Mood Music for today: It’s a bilingual one today (Hey, we have about an even mix of English and Spanish-speakers on this team). I’m dipping back into Broadway and choosing “This is the Moment.” The English version is from a recording of the original cast of Jekyll & Hyde and features Robert Cuccioli. The Spanish version is from what looks like a Spanish version of American Idol (Spanish Idol? I do know it is from Spain, not from Latin America). The singer’s name is Paco Arrojo, and he does one of the best renditions of this song, no matter which language. Interesting side note: How did they wind up with Hagrid from Harry Potter as a judge? By the way, I’d post a Chinese version of it if I could find one.