Monday, June 21, 2010

Homestand O'Plenty

Photo: Getty Images

So far, Interleague play has reaped huge rewards for the Tigers in terms of a hot streak. Max Scherzer started off the day by throwing a ton of pitches in the first few innings. Then after that, he found his groove, gave up only the one run, and somehow went seven innings (including striking out the side in order in the seventh). And then the bullpen came in and did nice work. And yes, there was a lot of talk about the war of words between Jose Valverde and Miguel Montero (who didn’t particularly like each other when they were teammates). Just watch the FS Arizona feed of the last couple innings. Darron Sutton and Mark Grace were almost fully expecting Valverde to plunk Montero in the ribs with a 97 MPH fastball and the benches to clear. But Valverde took the high road, made his pitches, and Montero uneventfully grounded out to first (yeah, Valverde did kind of make a show of bowing and tipping his hat to Cabrera on what was a very routine play, but that’s about it). And so that should be the end of that, since the Tigers and Diamondbacks don’t play each other anymore this year.

For the longest time, it looked as though Scherzer would be the tough-luck loser. It looked as though Ian Kennedy had a very effective mix of pitches working. And despite providing the heroics last Sunday, Miguel Cabrera doesn’t seem to have quite busted out yet (This time he’s going to have to do it on his own. I won’t be back to Comerica Park until July 3rd). After noticing that he struck out to end the game Saturday night on a changeup (though I’ve heard from just about every analyst that it was a very good changeup), I paid more attention to his at-bats yesterday. He got a lot of offspeed pitches. I’ll have to see if this trend continues. I took a look at some of his Pitch f/x charts, and the only thing that jumped out at me was that he has been swinging and missing at cut fastballs a lot more than he had last month (30.8% as opposed to 2.9%; he also has swung and missed at changeups about 20% of the time they get thrown to him, but that was consistent over the last month and a half). I’m not sure I have the time to analyze it beyond these few observations (school/exams/work), and hopefully he goes on a tear this week so I don’t have to. At any rate, he did single to lead off the seventh, which turned out to be key, because the next batter was Brennan Boesch, and he absolutely crushed a hanging slider into the right field seats. And Guillen followed him up with a solo shot of his own for good measure. And so like last Sunday, the Tigers provided some late-inning heroics via the long ball.

And now, after a very successful homestand, the Tigers hit the road again, and this road trip is a doozy. No more last-place NL teams to feast on. These next nine games are against three teams who are definite contenders and who play very well at home (and they’ll have to say goodbye to the DH for the next six games). And I’m not happy about the timing of yesterday’s announcement of Rick Porcello’s demotion, which happened about five minutes before yesterday’s post went up, but I didn’t bother to check Twitter beforehand. At any rate, the Tigers will need another starter Saturday at the latest, but the pitching matchup for this upcoming series with the Mets should remain unaltered barring something strange. At any rate, the Tigers will get their first look ever at Citi Field. And I don’t think most baseball people expected the Mets to be doing this well right now. They have been a really streaky team this season. They’ll rattle off eight wins in a row, then lose five in a row on the way to losing 10 of 12 or whatever, and then have another long winning streak. They just had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, and they lost yesterday, so hopefully that means they’re due for a low point. Their offense hasn’t put up numbers that’ll pop up at you (except for the fact that they lead the NL in stolen bases). Jose Reyes is hot right now, and David Wright is among the league leaders in RBIs. Their pitching has been pretty good, though, especially since they don’t have John Maine and Oliver Perez in their rotation right now. All their current starters have been pitching very well. The Tigers will not get Santana or Pelfrey, but the other three have been no picnic. The first one they’ll see is lefty Jon Niese (who I thought was a righty until I checked the game preview, so it’s a good thing I checked). He struggled in May but has had a very good June so far. In three starts this month he has only given up four runs in twenty-three innings. Two starts ago he threw a complete game one-hitter against San Diego. His last start was against Cleveland, where he gave up three runs in seven innings on his way to a win. Now, without really delving into numbers, I’d say that while the Tigers don’t have the most spectacular offense in the world, they are better than the Indians or Padres (Niese’s other win was against Florida where he gave up one run in seven innings; the Tigers have a better team batting average but the Marlins have scored more runs, so I’d say those two offenses are fairly comparable). Other than that, I’ve never seen Niese pitch, so I can’t tell you what he features or anything like that. He’s never faced the Tigers before, and none of the Tiger hitters have seen him before. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander had himself a really good game against the Nationals and got his strikeout groove back (He attributes it to finally throwing his curveball the way he wanted to). He’s never faced the Mets before but he has seen five of their hitters (who were previously with other teams) before. It’s a small sample, but Jeff Francoeur is 2-3 against him, while Jason Bay is 0-3 with a walk and three strikeouts. Now, I’m looking forward to seeing Justin Verlander pitch. I’m not really looking forward to the humiliation of watching him bat. He’s just so bad at it (It might help if he stopped looking like he’s trying not to laugh whenever he’s in the batter’s box). He insists he can hit, and some footage I’ve seen of him taking batting practice has shown me why he thinks that way. He hit a home run in this batting practice footage, and looked really good doing it (He also got a base hit in a spring training game this year). However, in the game, I’m just hoping he comes up in bunting situations and doesn’t hurt himself.

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