Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Season So Far: Stuff You Didn't Expect

Photo: AP

Can I start by saying this is probably the best picture I have ever seen of Armando Galarraga? The guy has a lot of positive qualities, but there are very few good pictures of him. He’s not exactly photogenic, but he looks real good in that picture. Anyways, yes, at the start of spring training, I never thought I’d see Armando Galarraga on the ESPYs. Actually, I didn’t know about it until someone mentioned it on Twitter, and I only was able to turn on the TV in time to see his smiling face in the background while Jim Joyce (who I wasn’t looking at and didn’t recognize at the time) announced some award for the US soccer team. I had to watch the replay to see the whole thing. But I digress. And as much as some stat geeks would hate for me to say it, Galarraga kind of embodies this team so far: Hanging in there when the odds say they shouldn’t, and at the same time, deep down inside realizing they’ve always had it in them.

In my season preview, I wrote a little bit on my old 2009 theme of ability and execution. I always believed this team had the ability to make it to postseason, and I still believe that. I still have no idea if they’ll continue to execute, and they could still end up anywhere on the map. That’s not to say that there have been unexpected moments. When spring training started, I pretty much knew nothing about Brennan Boesch. I was told that Scott Sizemore would hit and that Austin Jackson would hit a wall. There’s still time for both of those to come true, but in Jackson’s case, it doesn’t erase the contributions he made in the first half, particularly on defense. And there’s still time for Scott Sizemore to make a contribution, although he is currently battling a hip injury down in Toledo. Max Scherzer has seemingly turned it around and is rounding into form as a good number 2 starter. Justin Verlander had a bad April but has eleven wins right now.

This season has already produced several moments to remember. Miguel Cabrera has shown a penchant for hitting home runs against closers, which have keyed some exciting comebacks. We just had one of those last Tuesday. He’s also had a three-homer game, although that came in a loss. Jose Valverde’s been one of the best closers in the league, and his antics have been entertaining from the beginning (well, at least, after he started racking up save after save). Magglio OrdoƱez is enjoying a bounceback year. I’ve personally had some great experiences at the ballpark for two different games, both of which were Tiger victories. But of course, I think the moment that everyone’s gonna remember is the blown call heard ‘round the world, and the incredible amount of sportsmanship and outpouring of love that followed.

But now it is time for the second half to start, which is a problem, because the Tigers haven’t done so well in the second half. As I’ve said before, that’s not a Jim Leyland thing, and it’s not a Dave Dombrowski thing. It’s been going on longer than those two have been around. Last year, they went 38-38, which is actually an improvement. A lot of things have to happen to nudge that record in the winning direction. Obviously, the big elephant in the room is that the Tigers have to play better on the road. I have no ideas for how to help them there. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have to continue to lead the charge. Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch have to avoid rookie slumps. Armando Galarraga has to be a stabilizing force in the rotation, perfect game or no. Either Rick Porcello or Andy Oliver (preferably both) have to get their issues figured out. And of course, the guys all have to stay healthy, particularly the pitching staff, because the high minors have been pretty much gutted in that respect.

The second half kicks off in Cleveland for four games, including a doubleheader. The Indians generally have a very good second half, although this did not happen last year. However, I’ve been noticing that their pitching’s been doing better recently, and it’s not like the Tigers are going to be facing a bunch of pushovers in this series. Jake Westbrook starts things off, and he’s a decent pitcher, and he has already beaten the Tigers once this year. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer last faced the Indians shortly before getting sent down to Toledo, and got knocked around pretty badly. However, he’s seemingly become a different pitcher since then.


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