Friday, April 30, 2010

D-Train Gets It Done

Photo: Getty Images

I suppose there is something to be said for being the first team to win a series against the Twins. The Tigers did what teams like the Angels and Red Sox couldn’t do. Dontrelle Willis did a very nice job indeed. I mean, granted the Twins were missing Mauer and Morneau, but they still had some potent bats in there and Dontrelle was able to handle them, for the most part. It was somewhat reminiscent of his one-hitter against Texas last year, but that was a one-time thing. This year, he’s been fairly consistent, certainly more consistent than Tigers fans have ever seen him. Combine that with some good work by the ‘pen and you’ve got yourself a nice victory.

The Tigers didn’t exactly knock Carl Pavano around (that’s an understatement), but they did just enough. The scoring of runs, for the most part, involved Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon, Scott Sizemore, and Don Kelly. They weren’t with the Tigers last year (except for Don Kelly, and he wasn’t with them all that much), so maybe they didn’t get the memo about Pavano’s dominance. One encouraging sign: Austin Jackson didn’t strike out this entire series. And of course, the big milestone was Magglio’s 2000th hit, and he became the sixth Venezuelan to do so (three of the six are still active, which is interesting).

With the Twins gone, the Angels come to town. We just saw the Angels, which probably doesn’t bode well for the pitching staff. And first up is Rick Porcello, who had problems with the Angels the last time he saw them. Porcello’s one pitcher that has the numbers people and the scout-type people at odds. The stat geeks all say he’ll even out on his own because his peripheral stats are all good (more ground balls, more strikeouts, fewer home runs, fewer walks, etc). From an observational standpoint, it looks like he’s falling behind a lot of hitters and his sinker isn’t sinking. That sounds to me like a mechanical problem more than hitters adjusting to him. They’ve said he’s made some tweaks during his last side session, so we’ll see what happens. Joel Piñeiro will be starting for the Angels. He shut out the Tigers when they last met, but I thought the Tigers had a very good approach against him, just nothing to show for it. They should hold that same approach because it’s unlikely that something anomalous would happen again. However, it is a west coast team.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

We're Starting to Make a Habit of This

Photo: AP

Things sounded kinda sucky when I got my lone update while at work. Okay, they sounded really sucky. The Tigers were down 6-1 and Max Scherzer was in the process of being removed from the game. I can’t give you my take on him, obviously, because he was gone while I was still at work. He didn’t walk anybody, but the Twins must’ve gotten him figured out or something. I don’t know. At any rate, things were slightly better when I got home, and after that they really took off. Kudos goes to Brad Thomas, who shut the door on the Twins when Scherzer was knocked out, as well as the rest of the bullpen.

I didn’t see the beginning of the comeback (when I got home, the score was 6-5), but I saw the important part of it. Of course, the whole thing got spurred on by the Span dropped ball that might not have been. I kinda think the umpire blew the call, because it looked to me like he dropped the ball on the exchange. However, Span’s back was turned to the field so I have no idea how the ump would see this. And then the floodgates opened. First, a walk to Magglio to load the bases, followed by a Miguel Cabrera hit-by-pitch to tie the game, and then three straight doubles (and all three of them were absolute ropes). One interesting stat from Jason Beck: The Tigers are 9-5 in games where they don’t get a quality start from their starter, but only 3-5 in games where they do. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then again, neither does a lot about this team (and that’s both good and bad).

Okay, so this afternoon’s game is a very unlikely rubber match, but again, the Tigers’ bullpen is just about stretched to the limit. They need Dontrelle Willis to give them some innings. The Twins have drawn a lot of walks this season. Dontrelle has been known to walk people. Might not be such a good combination. In addition, he wasn’t very sharp in his last appearance, but there were two major confounding variables that make that hard to assess. First, he was sick. Second, he was pitching out of the bullpen, which is an unfamiliar situation. He’s only made one start against the Twins, which came last year and he lasted less than five innings (but didn’t give up that much in terms of runs) in a game which lasted 13 innings. Therefore, most of the Twins have at-bats against him, but not that many. Some former Rays and National League guys have a better sample. Other than Orlando Hudson having some success against him, nothing really stands out. He’s just gotta throw strikes. And then there’s Carl Pavano. No need to rehash what happened last year. If it’s any consolation, the Tigers finally figured him out in the final week of the season. Hopefully that carries over. Inge, Maggs, and Damon have all hit him well, for what it’s worth. And Magglio is one hit away from 2000 in his career, but he is being bothered by an abdominal strain. Still, he is in the lineup as of 12:20 PM.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At Least It Wasn't 8-6

And even though that same-score win/loss pattern has been broken, I still despise getting shut out. Justin Verlander did look better. He threw a lot of pitches, but they were pitches that looked quite good. He reached 3-ball counts on several batters, though the only walks he gave up were to Jim Thome (which I don’t really get; much has been made over the seven home runs he’s given up to him, but Thome doesn’t hit him for a really high average, and Justin knows this). He had completely mastery over Justin Morneau. Tigers’ pitching walked too many (Minnesota stranded a TON of baserunners in this game), but they held Mauer and Morneau hitless, something that’s hard to do and if you do it, you should win. However, they didn’t get a lot of help from their friends, as both Minnesota runs scored on errors. And it wasn’t even a matter of “speed kills.” Raburn just flat-out missed the ball, and Scott Sizemore rushed a throw on the slowest guy in the Twins’ lineup.

I still can’t comment about anything Francisco Liriano has done with any other lineup (though I hope he doesn’t get the Cy Young), because he was pretty much the same as I’ve always seen him against the Tigers. If there was any difference it was maybe that he was a little more efficient. And there were a ton of strikeouts looking. Either there was a favorable strike zone or Liriano was able to spot the slider on the outside corner with regularity. I don’t know, maybe his past success against them just gets into the Tigers’ heads? At any rate, in all irony of ironies, on a night where the Tigers had 12 strikeouts, Austin Jackson broke his strikeout streak.

As I said, I wasn’t expecting a lot of offense off of Liriano, so the Tigers will try again tonight. Scott Baker is a pitcher they can usually score runs off of. Not a lot, but usually enough (generally 3 to 4 runs). At least, that’s been the case recently. And a lot of the Tigers have good numbers against him. Brandon Inge is the only one in tonight’s lineup that doesn’t. Given that, I was surprised to see that he’s 3-1 at Comerica Park with a respectable earned run average. And I remember the one loss. It was a 1-0 game that the Tigers won on a Marcus Thames home run (a rare ESPN win for the Tigers). Perhaps all the offense I’m remembering happened at the Metrodome? He did pitch game 163 last year, and I have seen at least two articles this morning that mentioned what a “masterful” job he did in that game. Huh? I don’t remember seeing any mention of the sort last year. All the buzz was around Rick Porcello. At any rate, Max Scherzer will face the Twins for the first time in his career. As such, only two Twins have ever faced him. Orlando Hudson is 1-for-8 with a double, and JJ Hardy is 1-for-4 with a home run. You’re on your own for the beginning of this one, kids. I’ll be at work.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Neftali Feliz? No Problem

Photo: AP

I wanted a split, and a split is what I got. It sure took a power display and a roller-coaster ride to get there. For a while there it looked like Jeremy Bonderman was finally going to be the one to pitch some good innings, maybe even get into the eighth. Then something happened with two outs in the sixth and I don’t know what. He left after 5.2 innings with only 74 pitches thrown, but not being able to get that last hitter. Joel Zumaya finally bent, although it was through hits, not walks, and the runs scored when Phil Coke was on the mound. Coke ended up vulturing the win after pitching a scoreless bottom of the eighth, and Valverde got the save rather easily (though perhaps it’s good they’re leaving when they are; Josh Hamilton is showing signs of coming around).

Offensively, this game started the way the previous game did: A lot of runs early and then nothing in the middle innings. Until Brandon Inge hit a massive 2-run homer, that is. His average had been steadily going down on this road trip, and I was beginning to wonder if he was pressing, since he hadn’t homered yet. Maybe he had been, because after that home run, he laced a double down to left that almost got out, and then homered again in his last at-bat. The big hero was Miguel Cabrera again, who homered off Neftali Feliz right before Inge did. For all the (probably deserved) hype about Feliz and how dominant he is, the Tigers don’t seem to have that big a problem with him (of course, Ramon Santiago gave all the Tigers a good long look at all the pitches Feliz throws).

And after a not-great-but-satisfactory road trip, it’s time to don the home whites for a little while. I saw so little of the last homestand that to me it’s almost like they’ve been on the road for this entire season. And while the Tigers got into Detroit sometime in the wee hours of this morning, the Twins arrived yesterday and are well-rested and ready to go. Right now they are on pace to win 110 games. That’s unsustainable, isn’t it? I was right that they wouldn’t miss Joe Nathan that much. They could’ve made Nick Punto the closer and he’d magically rack up 60 saves this year. I still can’t help but feel they are overachieving, particularly in terms of their starting pitching, but in the last few days they have been winning games the way I expected them to (outslugging their opponent as opposed to their pitchers spinning gems). With that in mind, however, their offense is plenty dangerous, and probably the best one the Tigers will have seen thus far (League-leading Kansas City be damned). Which is unfortunate, because Justin Verlander needs a good start to rest the bullpen (and while he’s had history on his side thus far and I believe in him all day every day, one more bad start might get more than a few people whispering). He did get sent home a day early, so he should be well-rested, but he said that he felt “out of whack” in his last side session, and the Twins have several hitters who have mashed against him (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span all hit him well over .300; Jim Thome’s only 10-for-41 but he’s hit seven homers off Verlander, so odds are he’ll be their DH tonight).  On the flipside, I don’t remember back when Francisco Liriano was an electrifying Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s apparently been pitching real well this year, but the Tigers have never done well against him, so it probably doesn’t matter if his ERA is 2 or 102. Maggs, Cabrera, and Raburn have hit him pretty well (each with at least one home run); the rest of the Tigers have not (Inge does have a homer off him, for what it’s worth). My special request is that the Tigers NOT lose 8-6. Your Mood Music for tonight: “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse. Because I’m sitting in a restaurant right now and that’s what they just played on the radio.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tables Turning

Suffice it to say, this road trip was been odd, which, admittedly, was expected. But think about it: The Tigers won 5-4 on Thursday, lost 5-4 on Friday, won 8-4 on Saturday, and lost 8-4 yesterday. While I wouldn’t mind this pattern continuing for one more game (since that would mean they’d win tonight), I don’t think it will. Rick Porcello sure is stumping the stat geeks, though (Ordinarily, I might find this slightly funny in a mischievous sort of way, but as this is a detriment to the Tigers, I won’t). Compared to this point last year, he’s getting more ground balls and more strikeouts and he’s giving up fewer walks, fewer home runs, and fewer line drives, and yet the results don’t seem to suggest that. They think things will correct themselves on their own, or maybe with a few adjustments. I think there have been some command issues, which stats like that don’t really tell you. He hasn’t walked many, but he is falling behind hitters a lot, and guys are going to get quite a few hits when you’re constantly pitching to them in 2-0, 2-1, and 3-1 counts. Granted, they probably shouldn’t be getting as many hits as they are getting, though. Also, his sinker hasn’t really been sinking (and so I don’t go for Rod Allen’s theory of other teams “laying off” the sinker, because I haven’t seen any evidence of that), which probably suggests a mechanical issue. He did look better in the third and fourth innings, for what it’s worth.

I don’t know what happened to the offense there. It looked like they were gonna tee off on Colby Lewis all day, and then suddenly he set down fifteen straight and went seven innings. It was a nice day for Austin Jackson as he hit his first big league home run, and Johnny Damon continued his hitting streak. That’s about it as far as offensive highlights. I did notice that the umpire was calling the outside strike against lefties far more often than he did against righties (Apparently this is a real phenomenon that happens all the time). I’m not really one of those screaming for robot umpires. I can deal with a weird strike zone as long as it’s consistent, but this strike zone seemed dramatically different depending on which side of the plate the guy was swinging from.

With the bullpen being so taxed as it is, it’s no surprise that there’s a ton of speculation that someone could get called up soon and that the Tigers will go with 13 pitchers for a while (though with Adam Everett on the shelf for a few days with this hamstring problem, I’m not sure that’s a good idea). I’m not sure who they would call up. Robbie Weinhardt’s ERA is really high right now, but he’s been pretty good recently. Armando Galarraga has pitched exceptionally well in Toledo so far, but I don’t want them to call him up unless they intend for him to start. Alfredo Figaro has been Toledo’s other good starter, but with Freddy Dolsi gone, Figaro’s now the pitcher that unnerves me too much. Jay Sborz is also a possibility. He’s been closing for Toledo, and he’s been doing a good job. I don’t know how anyone in Erie is doing, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for Double A speculation.

Of course, there’s another way to get the bullpen back in order, and that’s for Jeremy Bonderman to go a long ways into tonight’s game. He survived a rocky first inning to go six strong innings against the Angels last time out, and most of the Rangers that have seen him haven’t (for the most part) done particularly well against him. The only one that has is Michael Young (Ian Kinsler hits .600 against him, but as Kinsler is on the DL, that doesn’t matter). Vladimir Guerrero is 4-for-21 with 10 strikeouts. However, you have to remember that was a long time ago and he hasn’t gotten the velocity back quite yet. And he hasn’t pitched against the Rangers since April of 2008. The Rangers counter with lefty Matt Harrison, who missed most of last year with thoracic outlet syndrome, same as Bonderman. His last start was not very good, but given that his ERA is in the 4s after that start, he must’ve been pitching okay before then. His ERA against the Tigers is over 7 and I don’t know why because I don’t remember them hitting him particularly hard. No Tiger has more than six plate appearances against him, but Damon and Inge have had success (Inge is the only Tiger to have homered off him).  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Winning a Game You Thought You'd Lose

Photo: AP

Anyone else feel like they just watched a spring training game? I did not get home until the bottom of the third. I was able to listen to a few seconds here and there on the radio prior to that point. Whenever I turned the radio on, it seemed like one of the Rangers was hitting a scorching line drive somewhere and a run was scoring. The whole time, Dan & Jim never mentioned the name “Brad Thomas” and I thought they were teeing off on Dontrelle Willis. So it’s hard to have a negative emotional connection to something you didn’t see and thought was someone else. All I saw of Thomas was the bottom of the third, where he pitched reasonably well. The rest of the bullpen (Bonine, Zumaya, Valverde) was terrific.

The Tigers, for the second time on this road trip, poured all their runs on a starting pitcher and didn’t do anything against the opposing bullpen. Johnny Damon in particular seemed to be the catalyst for Scott Feldman’s downfall. He saw a lot of pitches, walked a couple times, and doubled in two runs. The tying and go-ahead runs scoring on a wild pitch/error combination was almost as weird as Alex Avila’s error the night before. The big boys (Maggs and Cabrera) also pitched in, and Brennan Boesch had his first big league RBI.

Today is not the rubber game of this series, because they play another game tomorrow, but a win would assure the Tigers of at least a split and a satisfactory road trip. Leyland is not pushing everyone back a day, so Rick Porcello will get the start. He needs to bounce back from two rough outings in a row and get some innings in, because I imagine the bullpen is near its limit. Leyland has also said that if Dontrelle Willis is feeling better, he will be available out of the ‘pen. Porcello never faced the Rangers last year. As such, the only Ranger who has a history against him is the red-hot Vladimir Guerrero (0-for-3). The Rangers counter with Colby Lewis, who apparently pitched very briefly for the Tigers in 2006 (I don’t remember him). He’s spent the last couple years in Japan, and he’s been a good pickup for the Rangers so far, pitching very well. The Tigers (at least the ones starting today) don’t have a lot of at-bats against him, so it’s hard telling how they’ll do. Maggs will get the day off, and Leyland has loaded his lineup with lefties (Damon, Avila, Santiago, Boesch, and Kelly are all in). And, as an aside, it’s my grandpa’s 94th birthday today.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Too Many Walks

I’ve been trying to think of some sort of introductory sentence, but I just can’t come up with one, so let’s just get with the recap. This was the first time I got to see a Max Scherzer Tigers start from the beginning. He seemed to do a good job with the exception of pitching to Vladimir Guerrero. Alex Avila helped out by throwing out a couple runners (he’s caught 3 runners now, and all three have been with Scherzer on the mound, which is kind of weird). He then took back one with a balk/error when he touched the ball with his mask (He said after the game that he lost his balance and used his mask to balance himself and the ball happened to roll into it, but if you look at the replay that’s clearly not what happened; he was definitely trying to scoop the ball into his glove with his mask). The bullpen walked too many people, though, and that proved to be their downfall. Unlike a lot of the other bloggers, I don’t have that much of a problem with keeping Ni in the game for the bottom of the ninth. He was pitching to the bottom of the order and the bullpen’s been taxed recently, so I’m sure Leyland wanted to make as few pitching changes as possible (The command issues in the previous inning were there, but the free pass to Guerrero looked to me like an unintentional intentional walk). Ni committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff man in the ninth, a rookie making his major league debut. The next two moves were dictated by that: A bunt and an IBB. No sense in bringing Perry in for that. I did wonder why they didn’t go after Garko, since Cruz is a better hitter, but Ryan Perry gave no indication that he would’ve thrown strikes to either of them. And when he got ahead to Elvis Andrus, he threw a terrible 0-2 pitch that Andrus was able to line into right for a game-winning hit. By the way, was Jim Leyland really pissed last night and didn’t talk to the media? I haven’t seen a single solitary quote from him in any of the news stories I’ve read. As another aside, the lefties in the ‘pen have all walked way too many this year. And don’t think that Daniel Schlereth will come to the rescue in that regard. He’s walked eight in 8.1 innings at Toledo (and the Mud Hens have their own problems right now).

Considering the Tigers’ bad numbers against Harden coming into the game, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t do much against him. They finally chased him in the fifth due to a lot of walks and Cabrera’s two-run single. Then they couldn’t do anything  against the bullpen until they got to Neftali Feliz, who is regarded as a superstar in the making. They had an excellent approach against him. Don Kelly struck out but it took seven pitches. Ramon Santiago also made an out but he had the key at-bat of the inning, battling Feliz for thirteen pitches and basically wearing him down, setting up the heroics of Jackson, Damon, and Magglio. None of them hit the ball especially hard, but it was good enough to briefly tie the game. Plus, the Tigers combined to make Feliz throw 31 pitches, which means he probably won’t be available tonight. Brennan Boesch had a successful debut at the plate, with two hits, but needs to work on the baserunning a bit. He didn’t tag up on a play he should have, and then got doubled off with the bases loaded in a key moment.

Tonight’s game will send Dontrelle Willis to the mound. He pitched the best he’s done all season on Monday but still got the loss. Texas is the only team he’s beaten as a Tiger. As a matter of fact, he had a really good start against them in that win, throwing a one-hitter. That was at Comerica Park, though. I’m not sure if being in Ranger Ballpark (much more home-run friendly) will make a difference. Most of the Rangers, obviously, don’t have much history against him. Ryan Garko’s gotten him pretty good in their brief meetings (3-for-6 with a home run, a triple, and 6 RBIs). Scott Feldman was supposed to start last night but he was sick. He didn’t do too well in his last start, which was against the Yankees, lasting only 2.1 innings. He was the Rangers’ best pitcher last year, winning seventeen games. His ERA against the Tigers is over eight, and when they saw him last year, they knocked him out pretty early. Most of that historical damage must have come from former Tigers because there’s nothing eye-popping about the current crop (I do remember Granderson hitting two home runs off him). There’s a couple guys with decent enough numbers. Cabrera’s 2-for-5 and Everett is 3-for-8. Everyone who’s faced him has at least one hit against him except Gerald Laird (but that’s 0-for-2, which is pretty meaningless). I’ll be at work until 9:00 tonight, which means I’ll miss the beginning of the game.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One Split Done and One Man Down

Photo: AP

You know, I used to be able to go four consecutive days on six hours’ sleep, but apparently I can’t do it anymore. At least, not if I want to be effective (you try taking an exam on glomerulopathies and Acute Kidney Injury when you’re sleep-deprived and you have a splitting headache). But at any rate, I got the split I wanted, but not without some more weirdness. And that weirdness is that the back end of the rotation did a much better job pitching against the Angels than the front end of the rotation. Verlander just had no command for the majority of his outing, especially with the offspeed stuff. And with the offspeed stuff not working, the Angels could just sit and wait for the fastball, and I think they shortened his night by about two innings with all the foul balls. It reminded me of the Red Sox. There was some more good work out of the bullpen, even though Phil Coke and Ryan Perry combined for an adventure in the eighth.

The offense, meanwhile, flipped the script: They scored a bunch of runs off the starter and didn’t do anything against the bullpen (and forgive me for not going into a lot of detail; I’m so tired that everything’s kind of a blur right now). A lot of the usual suspects (Maggs, Cabrera, Guillen) knocked in most of the runs. Laird and Everett combined to finally get the Tigers a run in the second inning of a game. Unfortunately they lost Guillen as he was trying to score the sixth run (which would have scored). It looked to me like he tripped over third base as he was rounding the bag. He says the hamstring injury happened because he fell down, not the other way around, and both Tom Gage and Jason Beck have reported that he was walking around the clubhouse fairly normally with a minimal amount of pain, so hopefully that remains the case and he only has to serve the minimum stay on the DL.

Thank God, the late start times are over with for a while. The Tigers are now in Texas, where the games start at a much more reasonable time of 8:05 Eastern. They got in at about 6 AM, so there’s gonna be a bunch of tired guys on the field tonight (The Rangers, meanwhile, are coming home from kind of a crappy road trip in which they got swept by the Yankees and lost three to the Red Sox before finally winning last night). Max Scherzer was sent there early, so he should have had a good night’s sleep (I always wonder how that works. Do they charter a flight specifically for him or does he take commercial airlines?). He was decent his last time out against the Mariners, acting as stopper and kind of righting the rotation again. He’s faced the Rangers once, in Interleague play last year, and it was a good start in which he got the win. However, that means that each Ranger has three at-bats against him at the most, and you can’t draw much from that. Michael Young has a triple against him, for what it’s worth (and he gets called Mike Young on baseball-reference). Scott Feldman was supposed to get the start for the Rangers, but he’s been scratched with illness so Rich Harden, who was supposed to start tomorrow night, will start tonight instead on regular rest. Harden is coming off a not-so-great start against the Yankees in which he walked six in 3.2 innings. He’s been tough on the Tigers, although they beat him last year when he was with the Cubs (or, I should say, they won the game he started; they would have beaten him had Joel Zumaya not given up the lead; Ryan Raburn hit a walk-off home run in that game). But the individual batting lines against Harden are not good. The best anyone’s hit him is .273 and that was Carlos Guillen. Oops. The next best mark is .250 (both Inge and Cabrera). Three Tigers have homered off him: Maggs, Cabrera, and Laird (who is not in the lineup tonight as that home run is the only hit he’s gotten in 8 at-bats off Harden to go along with 4 strikeouts). Harden is a lot tougher on righties, so it looks as though Leyland’s elected to go with every lefty available to him except Don Kelly. Brennan Boesch was called up from Toledo to replace Guillen, and he’s being slid right into the five-slot right behind Cabrera. I probably would’ve had Inge or Boesch batting third with Maggs fifth (since he’s the only other one close to Cabrera’s caliber of hitting, he’s the only one who might afford him some protection), even though that in and of itself is not ideal (though things are even less ideal for the Mud Hens right now; they’re so short-handed on the bench due to injuries and callups that they weren’t using the DH tonight and Ruddy Lugo took a line drive off the face from the very first batter of the game tonight and had to leave). And that also means there are a whopping four rookies in the lineup. Yikes.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Photo: AP

Why am I using this photo? Because it’s the only one Yahoo had of this game and I’m too lazy to took elsewhere. I’d prefer to use one of Cabrera, but Bonderman didn’t do too bad himself. He had some first inning difficulties (something that characterized him in 2007), but settled down nicely after that. He had a jam of his own creation in the sixth, but this time he didn’t let it fluster him. A lot of people have said he paid better attention to the runners this time. I don’t know about that, since he did give up two stolen bases and the Angels didn’t have that many other opportunities (which makes it hard to tell). The game also featured some more good work from the bullpen.

After a couple of nights that had some bad breaks, the Tigers figured out a way to keep the Angels defenders from catching the ball: Hit it out or bloop it into the outfield (Considering all the lineouts they’ve had in this series). Miguel Cabrera came through in a big way to make a game on this road trip finally worth the sleep deprivation. That thing was a bomb. We also were treated to our first non-Venezuelan home run of the season, although I’m pretty sure most Tigers fans weren’t predicting Don Kelly to be the one to hit it (Kelly later fell victim to the lineout plague). Inge would have been the most logical choice, but I had actually picked Santiago, just to be weird. Ramon didn’t homer, but he did deliver the go-ahead run with a bloop single (after Guillen got picked off but stayed in a rundown long enough for Laird to get to second, and Laird’s a good baserunner, much moreso than most Tiger fans give him credit for). At any rate, it’s finally good to see the Tigers rewarded for good approaches, which they’ve had this entire series with the exception of Scott Kazmir.

So even though this series started badly, there’s still a chance they could end up with a split, which is pretty much what I wanted in the first place. Justin Verlander is still after his first win (which should be old hat by now, since this has happened the last three years). He was decent in Seattle, but he can be better, and he knows that. JV’s 1-2 against the Angels in his career. The pitching matchup earlier stated that that’s his lowest win total against any AL team, but that’s inaccurate, as he’s yet to beat the Blue Jays. Still, the last time he pitched at Angel Stadium, it was one weird outing. It was the sixth inning, JV was cruising, and the Tigers had just scored a bunch of runs off Jered Weaver in the top half of the inning. All of a sudden, the Angels kept getting hit after hit, Verlander gave up four runs, got pulled from the game, and he and Laird got into a shouting match in the dugout. He got the win, but it was a wild finish, as the bullpen had its issues as well. Several Angels have hit him well. It would actually be more efficient to list those who haven’t: Mike Napoli (2-for-11, 1HR) and Juan Rivera (0-for-10 with a walk, but only one strikeout). The Angels counter with Joe Saunders, who was very good his last time out (seems like every Angels’ starting pitcher was good his last time out). His career ERA against the Tigers is over five, but they didn’t do much against him the last time they saw him (which was last August). Most of the Tigers have decent numbers against him with the exception of Inge and Raburn. Saunders has given up homers to Maggs, Laird, and Everett, and exactly one double to everyone except Inge and Guillen. But as I said, the Angels’ starting pitching has been on a roll. That might trump everything else.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Sure What to Call That

This series has been strange so far, but not your typical west coast strangeness. This has been more subtle, so subtle that it’s hard to pick up when you’re sleep-deprived and moody. Monday night featured a good approach from the offense but nothing to show for it. Last night didn’t have quite as good an approach against Kazmir, but decent against the bullpen and they were able to score five runs, which on most nights would give them a win. However, this time Rick Porcello just dug too deep a hole. Plain and simple. I can’t really analyze anything he did in comparison with anything else (though he says he didn’t think his command was that bad) because most of the articles were all about the offense. On the flipside, there was some nice work done out of the ‘pen.

I’m not sure what Scott Kazmir was doing with that 90 MPH fastball of his, but apparently something about it was enticing because he was getting a lot of swings and misses on it, especially ones that were way out of the strike zone. And he wasn’t just getting swings and misses from the high strikeout and bottom of the order guys. Maggs and Cabrera fanned on that pitch as well. Regardless, the whole low RISP thing may have been a little deceptive. They cashed in on their opportunities in the sixth and the seventh, and there was at least one instance of bad luck (Laird hit a bullet right at the third baseman with Ryan Raburn on third) and two instances of blown calls (both involving Johnny Damon). They still need to score earlier, but when you score five runs, you should win.

And so the sleep deprivation continues. I wanted to take a nap today, but I’m running out of time so I don’t think that will happen (I even drank the UT equivalent of a frappucino this morning and I hate coffee; it had chocolate cookies in it, so it wasn’t too bad, but I kept jealously staring at a guy’s strawberry banana smoothie the whole time). It’ll be up to Jeremy Bonderman to stop the skid. To say he had issues his last time is an understatement. He can’t get himself flustered over errors or walks or anything like that. And he’s been hit hard by the Angels before, Abreu, Matsui, Hunter, and Izturis all hit well over .400 against him. Jered Weaver gets the ball for the Angels, and he seems to be trying to claim that ace position, because he’s pitched really well for them all year. His numbers against the Tigers aren’t so pretty for him. He’s 2-2, but his ERA is over seven. However, the one who led the charge in pummeling him is gone now (that would be Granderson, who seemed to homer off him every single game), so I would expect those numbers to go down. That said, the three Venezuelans all still have good numbers against Weaver (Cabrera’s at .375 and is the only current Tiger to have homered off Weaver, Guillen’s at .571, and Maggs is at .600). None of the rest of the Tigers have good numbers against him. The lineup is already posted. Alex Avila is catching again (Probably because Laird is only 1-for-15 off Weaver, but as I said before, Bonderman’s not going to hold runners on anyways so why should Laird’s defensive numbers have to suffer because of that), and one interesting development is that Scott Sizemore is batting ninth. Your Mood Music for tonight: Boom-de-yada. Because it’s stuck in my head right now. And you’re getting the Discovery Channel commercial of it because it was the only one on Youtube that wasn’t a fourth grade choir recital or someone sitting in front of a webcam playing a guitar and singing.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Well, I’m tired and maybe a little frustrated but not as angry as the rest of the blogosphere. As much as I hate to admit it (and getting shut out is one of my least favorite ways to lose), you might have to give the opposing pitchers some credit. More on that later. I wonder when the last time was that Dontrelle Willis had a tough-luck loss. It certainly wasn’t as a Tiger. At any rate, he had himself a pretty damn good start. The strikeout total was a little low, but other than that, it’s a line I would take from any of our starting pitchers. He had some issues in the third (when the two runs scored) and in the fourth (when he got bailed out by a nice catch from Magglio), but looked really strong in the other innings. Hell, the Jeff Mathis double that started things for the Angels wasn’t that well-hit.

And then there’s the complaints about stranding baserunners. To be honest with you, though, I’m not sure how you would go about doing things differently. It looked to me like most of the guys had a good approach when there were runners in scoring position. They weren’t swinging wildly at pitches out of the strike zone or popping stuff up. They weren’t trying to do too much, just take the ball up the middle. The problem was that they couldn’t get it past the pitcher. And therein lay some bad luck. With runners on first and second and one out, Alex Avila hit a scorching line drive that Piñiero caught and turned into a double play. Then in the eighth, with runners at second and third and two outs, Carlos Guillen there were a few instances of guys hitting balls well but right at defenders. I just wish they hadn’t made it so easy for Rodney, after being so used to the adventures he used to put us through.

If I may indulge my own eccentricities for a moment, I watched last night’s Rockies-Nationals game while waiting for the Tigers to come on (I wasn’t sure who to root for in that game, since I like the Rockies as a team better than the Nationals, but my favorite player ever is with the Nats). And yes, I was pretty much only watching that game because I was able to see both Carlos Gonzalez and Pudge Rodriguez (and besides, my only other choice was a Blue Jays-Royals matchup). During the game, Pudge had pretty much the exact same dropped ball issue that Gerald Laird had in that game against Kansas City (So indeed it happens to the best of them, so you can stop harping on Laird). Later on he really flaked out when Carlos Gonzalez struck out on a pitch in the dirt and Pudge started frantically scrambling around looking for the ball (and he was looking all over the place), only to finally discover it had been in his glove the whole time. Considering how long it took him to realize that, I’m amazed he was able to throw to first in time, because CarGo can really run. And what would that have been ruled if he HAD made it to first? You can’t really call that a wild pitch or passed ball because it never got past the catcher. On the flipside of things, I knew Pudge had gotten off to a good start with the bat, but I didn’t realize he was leading the National League in hitting. And here I only drafted him for my fantasy team out of sentimentality. I’m not sure he’ll keep it up (after all, he IS a 38-year old catcher), but it’ll be fun while it lasts.

Next up on the late-night docket: Rick Porcello against Scott Kazmir. The Tigers have not seen Kazmir since before he got traded to the Angels (as a matter of fact, they might not have seen him at all last year). His career numbers against the Tigers aren’t all that great, but most of those numbers must’ve been put up by those who aren’t with the Tigers anymore cuz most of the current crop are probably dreading facing him right now. Magglio’s 1-for-11, while Guillen is 0-for-7. Miguel Cabrera is 3-for-11, with all three hits being for extra bases (a double, a triple, and a home run). The only Tiger who has hit him well is Ramon Santiago, who is 2-for-3 with two home runs (both of which came in the same game, I believe). Gerald Laird will likely be back in the lineup, as I don’t think Leyland would want to start Avila against a lefty (should’ve stuck with the switch-hitting there, Alex), but I’m not sure Leyland will be doing Laird a favor (1-for-12 with five strikeouts). Johnny Damon is also under .200 against Kazmir and Inge is just at .214 (though his three hits off Kazmir were two doubles and a triple). My personal observation of Kazmir in the past is that he’s allowed quite a few baserunners but not many runs. It always seemed like the first two would get on (via hit or walk), and then he’d strike out the side. He has struggled out of the gate for the Angels, though. Much has been made about his slider not working right now. For the Tigers, Rick Porcello faced the Angels once last year, at Comerica Park. It wasn’t a very auspicious start. He gave up two home runs in the first inning (one to Chone Figgins, the other to Juan Rivera), but it was a game the Tigers won. The most ABs any of the Angels have had against Porcello is three, which is not much to go on. Porcello’s gonna have to keep the speed demons off the bases, though. Dontrelle Willis was able to do that. Your Mood Music for tonight: After seeing Ichiro in the last series and Hideki Matsui in this series, I guess I’ve gotten into sort of a Japanese mood. I don’t really consider myself a fan of anime, but when I was in college I had a lot of friends who were into it so it was fairly inevitable that I would get into a couple shows. This is the first season opening theme to one of them. I actually found out there’s an English version of the song (by the same group, by the sounds of things), but I’m used to the Japanese version (oddly enough, since I prefer watching the show dubbed).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Miguel Cabrera: Defying Gravity

Photo: Otto Greule, Jr (Getty Images)

Wicked was awesome. This game was also awesome, except for the rash of uneven pantlegs that drive symmetry lovers crazy (On a related note from a different game yesterday, I learned definitively that alternate-color jerseys and white shoes offset quite a significant amount of boxiness. However, the underlying reason remains a mystery. But I digress). I finally got to see a little bit of Max Scherzer pitching as a Tiger. And he pitched decently, for the most part, as did the bullpen. Ryan Perry in particular got himself out of a big-time jam.

The offense had some issues with stranding runners, but every time that happens, I keep thinking of something Lou Pinella said when he was serving as a color analyst for the 2006 ALCS. And this is something I actually remember from watching the game in 2006. I did not get it from watching the archives later. He said that if you keep getting baserunners, eventually you will score them. I don’t know why, but that stuck with me ever since (of course, he was talking about the fact that Nate Robertson kept getting into a lot of jams against the Oakland A’s, but Pinella was wrong in that instance; Still, if that series had gone to Game 5, who knows? Besides, the Cardinals didn’t have any problem scoring runs in the World Series that year). At any rate, Miguel Cabrera hit a 3-run homer on his birthday. And it went a long way. Austin Jackson came up with a big RBI single late in the game to tack on an important insurance run. Of course, not all the stranding was really the fault of the Tigers. Both Guillen and Avila absolutely smoked balls right at Chone Figgins who, on both occasions, turned them into Web Gem-quality double plays. Speaking of Alex Avila, he finally looked like he had good swings for probably the first time all year. We’ll have to see if he keeps that up or not. On the flipside, Magglio went 0-for-5. It had to even out sometime.

Okay, this long and winding road trip has made its way to Anaheim for four games (yuck). Places don’t get much weirder than the Big A either. And the Angels are hot right now. They just swept the Blue Jays and they got some really good pitching in that series (Rodney is now the closer, by the way). They’ll lead things off with Joel Piñiero. He’s pitched well so far this year, and apparently he used to dominate the Tigers, but has lost his last four decisions to them. The only one I remember is the last one, when he was with the Cardinals last year (I don’t even remember him ever being in the American League). The Tigers scored four runs against him in the first inning but nothing after that (It was a game the Tigers won, though). No current Tiger has homered off him, but Maggs and Guillen both hit over .400 against him. We might see Alex Avila behind the plate again, only because Gerald Laird has not hit Piñiero well in the past (only 2-for-13), and I’m not sure what they’re gonna do about shortstop because neither Everett nor Santiago has a hit against him. Meanwhile, Dontrelle Willis will start for the Tigers, and I’m still not sure what’s gonna happen. He hasn’t really imploded yet, but he hasn’t exactly instilled confidence in the fanbase, either. Earlier today, Tom Gage pointed out on Twitter that Dontrelle is 0-3 in nine career road starts for the Tigers (He does not mention ERA, which I would imagine would be quite high). I’m not surprised by the fact that he’s winless. I’m more amazed that he’s somehow ended up with six no-decisions out of the nine starts. At any rate, he hasn’t faced the Angels since 2005, which was the year he almost won the Cy Young. Obviously, a lot’s changed since then. As a matter of fact, only three current Angels have ever faced Dontrelle: Bobby Abreu (who wasn’t even with the Angels in 2005), Juan Rivera, and Maicer Izturis. Get ready for a long night. Really. That’s not a knock on Dontrelle at all. The game starts at freakin’ 10:00 at night. I’m not getting to sleep before 1 AM likely. And I have to get up at 7:00. So yeah.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Deep But Not Enough

Short post, because I have to leave very quickly. Well, at least we finally had a starter go seven innings. I didn’t see as much of the beginning of this game as I wanted to because I was bouncing between it and another show. At any rate, Justin Verlander said that his fastball command was off but his offspeed stuff was working. Whatever it was, he recovered from a 28-pitch first inning to last seven. However, it still wasn’t enough. Justin only had one walk, but it was a leadoff walk to Milton Bradley that he couldn’t get away with. I’m not sure what all the hating on Gerald Laird was after this game. He gunned down Jack Wilson and made two more close (Seriously, Pudge couldn’t have done any better). I actually thought Milton Bradley was out (and the fact that it was close was impressive enough cuz Laird had to dig that ball out of the dirt), but Santiago was behind Bradley when he caught the ball and therefore the umpire was not gonna be able to see the tag. I was not surprised that the offense didn’t do much against Ryan Rowland-Smith, but I am wondering how Scott Sizemore did NOT beat out that double play ball. He’s not necessarily a burner, but he’s no Sean Casey either, and that play took a really long time to develop.

Today, the Tigers will look to avoid getting swept at the hands of the Mariners. Max Scherzer will be up against Ian Snell. Snell struck out 17 Mud Hens in a game once last year. Scherzer only has numbers against Casey Kotchman, Jack Wilson, and Chone Figgins, and Wilson’s the only one with a hit off him, but that’s way too small a sample size to determine anything. I’d love to give more information, but I’m leaving to go see Wicked right now (literally). As such, I will miss the beginning of this game.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Welcome to the West Coast

Well, everyone on the blogosphere seems to be taking to this game by writing maybe one paragraph while holding their collective noses, and meanwhile providing no further insight beyond “everyone sucked.” Therefore, it falls to me to try to make sense out of it, although one thing to consider is that the west coast rarely makes sense. Bonderman was cruising pretty well for the first part of the game. He did give up a walk and stolen base to Chone Figgins in the first (and no matter what anyone else tells you, Laird had no shot at throwing out either Figgins or Ichiro later on), but got around that just fine. Then in the third, he gave up a two-out single to Ichiro, and I think everyone in the ballpark knew that Ichiro would be off and running, but Bonderman made a bad pickoff throw. For some reason, that got him flustered and he never seemed to recover from it. The error from Laird on the bunt in the following inning didn’t help matters, but with the way Bondo kept giving up hits, it probably only served to speed up the inevitable. And so we have the fourth game in a row where the opposition got a whole lot of hits, and that’s still a mystery that’s unsolved. I listened to a little bit on Gameday Audio, and Jim Price was spinning some conspiracy theory about the last series with Kansas City wherein someone was stealing signs and giving them to the Royals, because they got hits that were out-of-character (his specific example was the pull-hitter Yuniesky Betancourt flipping an outside pitch into right field). That sounds a little far-fetched, but so does the concept of every single starter giving up a ton of hits through an entire turn of the rotation.

There obviously wasn’t a lot on offense, but it’s hard to extrapolate anything from that since Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Rod Allen kept saying that Felix had been wild previously since he’d had seven walks on the season, but he neglected to mention that six of those were in his first start. Still, the Tigers only had one good inning that featured a Cabrera 2-run double that put the Tigers within one before the pitching fell apart. Laird had a double later in the game, and I’d like to mention that his average is now higher than Alex Avila’s. Just sayin’. But as I said, you can’t take a whole lot away from the offense in this game.

So needless to say, that last turn through the rotation was rather blah, and it began with a shaky Justin Verlander start against Cleveland. It’ll be up to Verlander to turn that ship around and get the rotation back on track. He didn’t have a lot of luck with the Mariners last year (the last time he was at Safeco Field, he had a perfect game through four innings with a ton of strikeouts before the Mariners scored five runs against him in the fifth) but his career numbers are good. Ichiro hits him well, as does Milton Bradley, but Chone Figgins is 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts. JV has given up a home run apiece to Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Casey Kotchman (try as I might, I don’t remember that one). He’ll be up against the Aussie Ryan Rowland-Smith. His ERA against the Tigers is 5.61 but I’m guessing most of that came as a reliever. His two starts (that I remember) against the Tigers didn’t result in a lot of offense. Also, most of the Tigers do not have good numbers against him at all. Ryan Raburn’s had the most success. He’s 3-for-5 with two home runs, and Gerald Laird is 2-for-4, but that’s about it as far as Tigers who have hit him well (and I believe one of Laird’s hits may have been a bunt single when he was still with the Texas Rangers). Brandon Inge is 1-for-5 (that one hit being a home run) and Miguel Cabrera is 1-for-6. All of the other Tigers who have faced him don’t have any hits. Kind of a scary proposition, if you ask me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You Can't Come Back Every Time

Well, I know I’m tired of being singled to death by the Royals (+ Jose Guillen homer). I only saw the tail end of the game (plus I listened to most of the seventh inning on the radio), so most of my analysis has to be based on Gameday. Rick Porcello really had to work through the first four innings or so. He managed to finally make an adjustment and go six innings, which surprised me. Things kinda fell apart once the bullpen came in, although everyone already knows about the go-ahead sacrifice fly that probably should have been an error on Gerald Laird. To me, it looked like he never caught it cleanly and never had that firm a grip on it. Therefore, even the slightest bit of contact was gonna jar the ball loose from his hands, and that’s exactly what happened. It’ll happen sometimes, and I know he’ll make the play next time the opportunity presents itself, so there’s no use in dwelling on it. Besides, Perry didn’t help matters by giving up a home run to Jose Guillen on an 0-2 pitch. Phil Coke also had his issues, and Eddie Bonine mostly just pitched into some bad luck.

It looked like the Tigers were going to make their comeback against Kyle Davies in the fifth, when he loaded the bases with nobody out. Miguel Cabrera did deliver the tying run, but he did it by grounding into a double play, which kinda killed that inning. Meanwhile, it seems like the only Kansas City reliever that they can’t touch is John Parrish (Huh?). Unfortunately, it seems Trey Hillman has figured this out. Granted, Joakim Soria is no pushover, and he’d be in along with Parrish if Cabrera hadn’t homered off him last week. There’s been some griping about Leyland using Don Kelly to pinch-hit for Everett, but when you think about it, none of the players on the bench were that attractive an option. Alex Avila hasn’t exactly been swinging a hot bat (plus you don’t want to burn a catcher if you don’t have to) and it’s not a situation you want to put Austin Jackson in. I suppose I would’ve preferred Ramon Santiago to Don Kelly, but that’s splitting hairs, as I can’t imagine any of those four having success against Soria. Hell, Soria made Magglio look really bad when he struck him out in the bottom of the ninth.

Around the blogosphere there’s been a lot of griping about the Tigers who aren’t hitting, particularly Damon and Laird. Obviously, Damon’s got a much better track record, but I still think nine games isn’t really a large enough sample size to know anything. As an attempt to put things into perspective, here’s a list of some other guys who are off to slow starts (averages are as of this morning, and I realize that some of them have played already today):
Milton Bradley (.133)
Mark Reynolds (.179)
Chipper Jones (.188)
Troy Tulowitzki (.212)
Yadier Molina (.200)
Carlos Lee (.097)
AJ Pierzynski (.226)
Adam Dunn (.136)
Michael Young (.156)
Victor Martinez (.229)
Mark Teixiera (.097)

Okay, so the Tigers got through their early stretch against the predicted bottom feeders 6-3, which is pretty good (the equivalent of taking two of three each series). Now they have an off-day, and then the sucky part of the schedule begins (seriously, I didn’t realize how crappy it was when I did my schedule feature cuz I separated it by month). They’ll be playing their next twenty games without an off-day, and something like their next thirty-four games against teams that finished above .500 last year (yeah, I’m being lazy today). At any rate, they start out this stretch on the west coast, beginning with a three-game set against the Mariners. The M’s, who were predicted by many to win the AL West, are off to a slow start this year, but I suspect they’ve got better bullpen pitching than Kansas City or Cleveland, so maybe we shouldn’t rely on comebacks in this series. Jeremy Bonderman will start things off for the Tigers. Prior to beating Cleveland on Saturday, his last win was in 2008, and it was against the Mariners. Ichiro (who was off to kind of a slow start himself) hits him well, as does Milton Bradley, but nothing stands out in his numbers against the rest of the Mariners. The starters need to get seven innings (at least) on a regular basis, though. And it’s a bit mystifying why their pitch counts get so high so fast. They are throwing strikes and they aren’t walking guys (the bullpen is walking too many, but that’s a different story). Even Dontrelle Willis has only walked five in his two starts combined (Granted, there have been a couple of untimely walks mixed in there, as Justin Verlander will attest to). To date, none of the starters have had a start where they threw less than 60% strikes. And yet they’re giving up a ton of hits and opponents are having very long at-bats against them by fouling off a lot of pitches. So how do you fix that? In the meantime, the offense has to find a way to rack up five runs or more against an opposing starter and get his pitch count up so that HE’S the one only going five innings. Unfortunately, they’re facing Felix Hernandez so that might be difficult. There are a couple Tigers with good numbers against him. Gerald Laird’s a decent .278 against him (though if Leyland sticks to his pattern, Alex Avila will be starting this game), but Miguel Cabrera bats .545 (6-for-11) and Johnny Damon is at .615 (8-for-13 with four doubles and a home run; he’s the only current Tiger to have homered off of King Felix). As for your Mood Music, well, we’re on the west coast, and that’s where weird things happen. So I’m gonna do the same thing I did last year and give you the Twilight Zone theme. Have fun with your week of sleep deprivation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Kansas City Bullpen Comes Through Yet Again

Photo: Leon Halip (Getty Images)

Score one for rally lab practicals. Just before I started my exam, the Tigers were down 5-0 and Carlos Guillen had just struck out to begin the bottom of the seventh. When I finished, it was the top of the ninth and the Tigers were up 6-5. It’s hard to guage Dontrelle Willis. He obviously didn’t do as well as he had in his first start, but there’s even disagreement on the Tigers blogosphere about what to make of that. Depending on who you ask, he’ll almost assuredly have a meltdown next time or the fact that he hasn’t melted down yet is encouraging. Were it any other pitcher, the numbers he’s putting up are acceptable for a fifth starter, and you probably shouldn’t ask for more than that, especially since a lot of our better pitchers have also failed to contain the Royals’ offense (and if you’re wondering, Nate Robertson gave up six runs in five innings to the Reds last night, with all the damage coming on two 3-run homers, though only three of the runs were earned). Of course, he could go seven or eight innings with just one walk and there’d be people who would fixate on the walk. I suppose we’ll find out in his next start, since it’ll be against the Angels and they’re generally regarded as a better team than the Royals. I can’t comment further than that, because I was only able to listen to the first six innings on Gameday Audio, so I have no insight on the bullpen.

Likewise, I can’t give a lot of commentary on the offense because the offense didn’t show up until after I was in lab. I don’t know what more they could have done against Brian Bannister. I did have Gameday up and it looked like he just kept painting the corners. It was good to see that Laird finally got in on the action, as the Tigers basically doubled the Royals to death. There may be kind of a power outage in terms of home runs (with five, I’m sure that’s gotta rank near the bottom of the AL; after all, there are some players who already have five home runs all by themselves), they’re really racking up the doubles.

Today marks the last home game before a really long road trip. Rick Porcello gets the start for the Tigers. He wasn’t at his sharpest on Opening Day, but he pitched well enough to win, and did so. Again, Leyland wants at least six innings out of him (since Zumaya will probably be unavailable today). Rick actually kinda struggled against the Royals last year, going 1-1 but with an ERA of 5.00. Looking at the individual matchups, I don’t see anything that really stands out, though. He’ll be opposed by Kyle Davies, who’s had kind of a mixed bag against the Tigers. His record and ERA aren’t good (1-6 and 5.61), but for some reason, the games that stand out to me are the ones he’s pitched well against them. Several of the Tigers have really good numbers against him, especially in the extra-base hit category. However, have I mentioned that I am sick of day games? While you all enjoy the game, I’ll be learning about drug-induced nephropathies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Well, That Sucked

Yeah, every team’s gonna have “those” games where the pitching, offense, and defense all fail. You just kinda wish they wouldn’t happen against teams in your own division, particularly the ones projected to be bottom feeders (though I’m still not convinced the Indians are that just yet; they easily could’ve won their last four games). At any rate, I still haven’t seen Max Scherzer pitch for the Tigers. He was gone before I got home. Somehow, the Royals developed the Red Sox-esque ability to foul off pitch after pitch, particularly Jose Guillen (although the Royals actually put up quite a few hits against the Red Sox over the weekend). Errors and late walks did not help matters. There was something else I noticed while following on Gameday. On Sunday, I know some of the Tigers fans online got concerned when Verlander’s velocity seemed to drop to the low 90s after his rocky first inning. I don’t know if it went back up at any point because I didn’t see much of the game, so I’ll have to take their word for it. However, Gameday had Scherzer’s velocity below normal yesterday. I think I saw 93 go by once, but for the rest of his time on the mound, his fastball was at 89-91. Maybe one of them is suffering from a loss in velocity, but not both of them. Something screwy’s going on.

Though the offense had some issues again with stranding runners, when you score five runs, you should probably win. They finally got to Luke Hochevar, but the problem was that suddenly they lost their ability to score against opposing bullpens. Other than that, there’s no new developments save for the Guillen home run.

I had a very bizarre dream the other night. I dreamt that Alex Avila was hosting Saturday Night Live. They were doing a sketch that was a spoof of Star Trek (original series) and Avila was playing Spock. Then I dreamt that I was some Zorro-like vigilante and one of the other Tigers (don’t remember who) was my sidekick. What the hell did I eat before going to bed?

Jim Leyland is right about one thing, though: The starters have to go deeper into games, especially since Bonine, Thomas, and Ni are probably all unavailable today. If you needed to turn to a guy to give you some innings, I’m not sure Dontrelle Willis would be your first choice, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. He put up a good outing against the Royals a week ago, but as Max Scherzer proved, seeing a team again in such a short time span is not easy. Plus, there’s that small issue that he could have a meltdown at any time. And on the flipside, you all know Brian Bannister and his numbers. He generally pitches well against the Tigers, he generally pitches well in day games, and his ERA at Comerica Park is 0.45. So why couldn’t this be a night game?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Now That's a Comeback

Photo: Leon Halip (Getty Images)

As it turns out, I did manage to get out of work a couple hours early (though I had a vague sense of what was going on when I left). Unfortunately, since the Red Wings were on FSD, the Tigers got shifted to FSD+, which is BCSN (a local sports channel) on my cable provider, and they decided to air the Toledo Walleye hockey game instead (You might be familiar with the Walleye as the ECHL affiliate of the Red Wings, which I read somewhere is the equivalent of Double A). As a result, I listened to the whole remainder of the game on the radio (though it occurred to me hours later that since my cable provider also carries Sports Time Ohio, I could have always watched the Indians broadcast). I have watched the archived game on, but I wasn’t paying attention 100% to it. At any rate, I’d like to get more of what Verlander did innings 2-5 than what happened in the first inning. He probably should have stayed in for one more batter, since Peralta’s done virtually nothing against him in his career, but maybe it was a question of pitch count. For what it’s worth, he doesn’t seem all that concerned.

For all the talk about stranding baserunners, the Tigers did score at least one run in each inning I was able to listen to. The RBIs are all kind of spread around so there’s not really one particular hitting hero, though Maggs continues to sting the ball. As for the ninth inning…do you realize that the last swing the Tigers took was Inge’s groundout to short? Santiago never took the bat off his shoulders. Same for Damon and Sizemore. They didn’t have to. And here’s your first broom of the season:

So now that we’ve sent Cleveland packing with their tails between their legs, it’s time to see the Royals again, only this time without Zack Greinke. This afternoon it’ll be Max Scherzer against Luke Hochevar. The last time they met, they got locked into an epic pitching duel. I’m not going to go over their numbers again because I just did that last week. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to tire of all these day games, mostly because I keep having to miss most of them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bondo Returns

Photo: Leon Halip (Getty Images)

Short post today, as I have to go to work soon and I have not seen a lot of this game. From what I can tell, Jeremy Bonderman gave an impressive performance. He had one inning which ran his pitch count too high to give him a shot at six, but he did get the win. And the bullpen performed admirably on a day they were short-handed. Meanwhile, the offense performed the opposite of how they had been. This time, they scored some runs off the starter and didn’t do anything against the bullpen (except walk). I managed to sneak off for a few minutes and listen to part of the bottom of the third. I heard them call Brandon Inge’s RBI single and Alex Avila’s walk. I didn’t know that that would be the last hit for the Tigers. Still, it was enough to win.

Today wraps up this series against the Indians, and the Tigers will see Jake Westbrook for the first time since 2007 (at least, I don’t recall them meeting up against him in 2008). Westbrook’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, and his numbers during his career against the Tigers aren’t all that great (though I remember his very last start against Detroit he shut them out in an epic pitching duel between him and Nate Robertson). The other thing I remember about him is Rod Allen saying that he gets a lot of ground balls back to himself. Justin Verlander has actually put up the least impressive performance through one turn of the starting rotation, and I can’t imagine that sits well with his competitive nature. The Indians were a team that really gave him problems until last year, when he downright dominated them. Again, I’ll be at work during the game today, although there is a tiny chance I’ll be able to leave at 2:00.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Opening Day Win

Photo: Gregory Shamus (Getty Images)

Between radio and television, it turns out I actually got to listen to/watch most of this game. It wasn’t as exciting as last year’s home opener, but it didn’t have to be. Rick Porcello had some problems throwing strike one, but when that happens, two runs in five innings is a pretty good day’s work. The bullpen did a good job, outside of the two walks that Phil Coke had. And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the Tigers have turned about thirty double plays so far this season. Which is better than hitting into thirty double plays, I might add.

I saw David Huff pitch a game against the Rays last May. I don’t really remember how he did (that was that weird game where Joe Maddon had accidentally submitted two third basemen in his lineup when he meant for Evan Longoria to DH, which meant that the Rays’ pitcher had to hit third, though luckily for the Rays their best hitting pitcher was on the mound that day and he even managed an RBI double), but even then he had a look about him which suggested that he might be tough against the Tigers. As it turns out, I was right. Still, win any way you can, I suppose, and it took a massive defensive failure by the Indians for it to happen. The swings got better against the Indians’ ‘pen, though they still only got one run out of it. Maggs and Inge in particular continued their hot starts.

Today, like every game on this homestand, features a day game. The Indians are starting Mitch Talbot, who apparently spent last year in Triple A. The only big league time he’s had was with the Rays in 2008. He must’ve pitched against the Tigers, because a few of them have had one or two at-bats against him, which isn’t a lot to go on. Brandon Inge has a triple against him, though. Jeremy Bonderman makes his first start of the year for the Tigers. He keeps saying his velocity is gone so he’ll have to be a feel pitcher (Yeah, right, and I don’t understand how his velocity would go away permanently, because his surgery didn’t involve anything structural like a labrum or rotator cuff). It’s been so long since he’s pitched against the Tribe that only six current Indians have a history against him. Hafner’s hit three home runs off him, and Sizemore’s hit two. Shin-Soo Choo has also hit him well. Leyland’s said that Zumaya, Valverde, and Coke all have the day off today (if there is a save situation, Ryan Perry will be your closer today). Alex Avila is catching, which is what I would’ve recommended anyways, and it has nothing to do with offense. Bonderman’s terrible at holding runners on, and he gives up a lot of stolen bases, so why waste your better defender when you have Verlander (who is good at holding runners) going tomorrow? Besides, if Avila’s going to be the next Johnny Bench as the whole of Tigerdom has practically proclaimed him to be, it’s time he get thrown in the deep end. However, I won’t see any of this game, as I’ll be at work. My only hope is to somehow find an internet connection (so if you live in the Toledo area and you have a prescription for Accutane, please drop it off at my pharmacy at about 1:30).

Friday, April 9, 2010

What a Relief...For the Tigers

My take on Dontrelle Willis? Not all that bad, actually. He had to deal with quite a few baserunners, but call it luck or call it smarts, he was able to get double play balls each time. Strangely enough, he only had trouble in the odd-numbered innings. In the even-numbered innings, the Royals went 1-2-3. And he only walked two, although you can’t exactly say he was pounding the strike zone. However, very few of his pitches were of the “knock the catcher over” variety that became so common with him in the past couple years. He was definitely missing the strike zone a lot, but not as wildly. But if he can repeat that type of performance for most of his starts, I’ll be happy with that. Ryan Perry had some strike-throwing problems of his own, and it ended up costing him a run, but by then the Tigers had already taken the lead. And Jose Valverde finally had a non-adventurous outing.

The Tigers didn’t do much against Brian Bannister, which is not real surprising when you consider his track record against them. Magglio did homer off him, but that was pretty much it. And then the KC bullpen came in. The Tigers’ production against the starters versus the relievers is dramatically different. Miguel Cabrera took care of that 2-1 deficit with one swing of the bat. He’s off to a good start, as are the other two members of the Venezuelan contingent. I’d like to see some more walks out of Austin Jackson, but he’s doing fine with the batting average so far.

And now it is time for the 2010 Tigers to make their Comerica Park debut. The Cleveland Indians are in town for the home opener, and I’ve still got a feeling that they should not be underestimated. They just took two of three from the much more heavily-favored White Sox, and their pitching wasn’t bad in the two games they won. They’ll be starting lefty David Huff in this game. He was in the Indians’ rotation for most of last year, but somehow he did not face the Tigers. As such, none of our guys have a history against him (I thought Johnny Damon might, but apparently he never faced the Yankees, either). Rick Porcello gets the honor of starting the home opener for the Tigers. He probably had the best spring of all the Tigers’ starters. And he does have a history against the Indians, and it’s a pretty good one. Really the only Indians who have hit him well are Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner (who is the only Indian to have homered off him). Unfortunately, I’ll miss the beginning of this game (stupid exam). As a matter of fact, I’m going to miss a lot of this homestand, due to school and work. At any rate, your Mood Music for today: Well, you can’t get much more appropriate than “The Boys Are Back in Town.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

So Much for 162-0

Maybe it was because I had to start the night listening to the game on the radio, but that game was tense from the beginning and you had a feeling throughout the whole thing that it would end that way. I can’t say much about Scherzer but from the sounds of things, he pitched real well. Everyone seemed to have too many problems with Kendall, Betancourt, Getz, and Podsednik, though. Then Valverde came in and battled with Callaspo for a while, and of course the logical move would be to throw him a fastball in a 3-2 count because he’s not really a home run hitter (though I do remember him hitting one off Porcello last year). Valverde also didn’t get much help from his friends. Don’t get me wrong, the Callaspo home run and the Ankiel double were hit very hard, but the trouble was the Billy Butler infield single. Santiago dove for it, but had a hard time getting up and then kinda bobbled the ball and by then it was too late. Butler doesn’t run very fast, so if Santiago had been able to get up right away, I think he would’ve had him. The more obvious gaffe was Sizemore’s. Not only did he drop the relay throw, but he kinda took his sweet time getting to the ball. I don’t really get that last part.

The offense didn’t really do anything against Luke Hochevar, who apparently made some sort of adjustment in spring training according to Dan and Jim on the radio. Some of the mainstream media postgame soundbites indicated that a lot of the Tigers were caught off-guard by him, for some reason. I suppose his next start will tell the tale. The swings got better later in the game, but it seemed like whenever they had a runner in scoring position with two out, whoever was at the plate would hit the ball right at Podsednik. And lost in all the complaining about Valverde is that BOTH closers blew saves in this game (and Tiger fans generally have a positive impression about Joakim Soria). Miguel Cabrera had possibly the best at-bat of the night before finally homering off the foul pole. Of course, he did have the mental error of breaking too early on a double steal attempt, allowing Farnsworth to spin around and throw him out, but he keyed two other rallies, so whatever.

So today we come to the final game of this series and it’s time to see what Dontrelle Willis will do. A lot of the blogosphere thinks that Willis hoodwinked the Tigers by having a good ERA in spring, but I still say the Tigers would not have departed with Nate Robertson without having some sort of backup plan. Willis, not surprisingly, doesn’t have a lot of history against the Royals hitters, although Jason Kendall bats .400 against him. Meanwhile, the Tigers haven’t done much against Brian Bannister in their meetings with him, and only Guillen and Damon hit him well. Still, they haven’t seen him since very early 2008.