Monday, August 30, 2010

Cruising to a Split

Photo: Reuters

After only seeing every other game in this series, I’m glad I got to see a win. Rick Porcello pitched very, very well. Actually the pitching staff as a whole did a good job holding down the Blue Jays’ offense, with the exception of Alfredo Figaro. Even Jose Valverde didn’t pitch as badly as his final line indicated. Sure, he hung a splitter that got clobbered for a three-run homer, but the two hits that preceded it consisted of an Astroturf-aided infield single and a broken bat bloop (the hit that followed the home run was also a bloop). Sometimes the box score doesn’t tell the whole story (a lot of times, actually).

Runners in scoring position weren’t exactly a problem in this game. Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI double in the first inning and then they scored a bunch of runs late. Ryan Raburn led the way with two home runs and four RBIs. Casper Wells also had a big day with three RBIs including a big two-run double with the bases loaded to blow the game open a bit. Brandon Inge homered as well, which is what led to the strange-looking picture I posted for today.

The Tigers are off today, but tomorrow the road trip shifts to Minnesota, and the Twins have decided not to lose ever again. For the second year in a row, Justin Morneau has missed significant time with an injury and the Twins have defied logic and played better without him. At that rate, their whole team could go down with injury and their single A team would come up and win a hundred games. But if the Tigers want to make some noise, they have to win as many games as they can against them. That’s not going to be easy. All three games are going to be difficult, but the first will probably be the most challenging. Armando Galarraga has now had two very good starts in a row, but his struggles against the Twins are well-documented and he knows about it more than anyone. And I think that may be half his problem at this point. Because he’s aware of his bad history against Minnesota, I think he has a tendency to psych himself out before he even takes the mound. A lot of the Twins have good numbers against him (Joe Mauer’s got a whopping ten RBIs) and one of his big problems is not throwing strikes, because he’s given up quite a few walks to Twins hitters. Somehow, he has to figure out how to build on the confidence he’s gained from his last two starts and push the team he’s now facing out of his mind. Meanwhile, Brian Duensing is one of those pitchers I just can’t figure out. He doesn’t seem to have lights-out stuff (although his velocity is decent for a lefty), but his ERA is ridiculously low. I haven’t gotten a good scouting report from anyone telling me he has a wicked slider or changeup or anything like that. Pitch f/x suggests that his pitches have a lot of movement on them, so it could be that. My only other theory at this time is that like Galarraga, Duensing is very smart (and though I’ve pointed out the psychological weakness of smart pitchers, it doesn’t look as though Duensing’s done a lot of overthinking in his career).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Running Out of Outs

Yet another short post, since the film shoot went over schedule and I ended up being there until almost 6:00 (It was a fun time, but even though I was wearing plenty of sunscreen, my skin got absolutely cooked; also, I have a big bruise on my leg from running into a chair). Alfredo Figaro did about as well as I expected him to, which isn’t really saying a lot. The fact that he went five innings was a pleasant surprise, but I can’t exactly call them five good innings. The offense could not do much against Brandon Morrow. They did stage an uprising against the Blue Jays’ bullpen but came up one run short. One thing that stands out was some bad bunting from Santiago and even worse baserunning from both Santiago and Will Rhymes.

The series concludes with Rick Porcello on the mound. He’s coming off a very good start against the Royals. He took the tough luck loss against the Blue Jays back in July when he was outpitched by a score of 3-2. He hasn’t pitched at Rogers Centre since he made his major league debut last April. The Tigers will face lefty Marc Rzepzcynski (and that’s the last time I will say his name in this post). The Tigers have never faced him before except in spring training. Johnny Damon is 1-for-3 while Jhonny Peralta is 0-for-1. That is the extent of their regular season experience against him.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Extra Inning Attrition

This is going to be yet another short post, this time because I’m heading to Fifth Third Field shortly to watch the movie shoot there (It doesn’t sound like it’ll be a landmark cinematic achievement by any means, but it does star Dean Cain and it’s not often that they film movies in Toledo). Justin Verlander looked real good, even better than he had against the Indians, although he’s beating himself up for the Adam Lind home run (not so much the home run to Bautista). The bullpen gave a valiant effort, but the death blow to Phil Coke (who has been battling a dead arm) was the walk to the lefty Fred Lewis that preceded the game-winning hit. Meanwhile, analyzing the specifics of the sheer number of runners stranded would take a lot longer than I have time for right now. But here’s what I don’t get: Other than planned plays like a hit and run or a bunt, how is it more difficult to hit with runners in scoring position than it is to hit with the bases empty? No one has been able to tell me the answer to that question. Even The Psychology of Baseball never really touched on it. I just don’t understand why there’s such a big gap in the two batting averages.

Today begins two day games in a row (although I thought this was a night game until last night). Jeremy Bonderman was scheduled to start this game, but he’s been scratched with a ribcage injury. Alfredo Figaro will start in his place, and I’ve made my feelings about him clear on many occasions. In fairness, his stuff is pretty good, but I get the feeling he throws with no plan in mind and just hopes the pitch ends up where he wants it to. Plus, he threw 57 pitches two days ago, so I can’t imagine that he’ll be able to go more than four or five innings, and the bullpen got a lot of work last night. He’s never faced any of the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Jays start Brandon Morrow. His ERA is in the fours, and I can’t figure that out, because he’s got some of the filthiest stuff in the league. He lost a no-hitter against the Rays with two outs in the ninth a couple starts ago, but he struck out seventeen, and he’s coming off a twelve-strikeout performance against the Yankees in his last start. The Tigers haven’t seen much of him, and the bulk of what they have seen of him came while he was a reliever for the Mariners, but most of them have had little success. This will be a difficult game to win. I might not be able to watch a lot of it, because I’ll be at the film shoot.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mad Max Goes to Canada

Photo: Reuters

This is going to be another short post, because it was the eighth inning by the time I got home. It looks as though it was another good start for Max Scherzer. He went eight strong innings and only gave up one run (I did hear that the hits he gave up were all hit hard but the outs were not hit hard). Meanwhile, the offense took advantage of a defensive miscue from Edwin Encarnaction to pile up runs and knock around Ricky Romero. Most of the damage came via the long ball. Jhonny Peralta had a big night. He hit a three-run homer and ended the night with four RBIs. Gerald Laird also homered (there’s that hit that Leyland was sensing; his instincts were just premature).

The series continues tonight, and Justin Verlander is coming off a good start against the Indians. He’s beaten the Blue Jays earlier this year by a score of 4-2. He’s only pitched at Rogers Centre once before, and that was Opening Day last year, when he got knocked around pretty badly. Several Blue Jays have homered off Verlander in the past (John Buck has done it twice). The Jays will start Shaun Marcum, who beat the Tigers back on July 24th and who I got mixed up with Dustin McGowan in my scouting report back then (I gave you McGowan’s injury history; Marcum had Tommy John surgery, not shoulder surgery).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Battle of Dueling Hunches

This is going to be a short post, because I did not see a lot of this game. Actually, I’m surprised I saw any of the game, but my viewing was limited to the bottom of the eleventh and the entire twelfth inning. Everything else I got from Gameday and a tiny bit of radio. From what I gather, Armando Galarraga came out of the gate with some command issues (and curiously, he threw quite a few changeups and not many sliders in the early going), but he righted the ship and did a good job. Hopefully these last two games of his will give him a confidence boost (If the pitching rotation isn’t shuffled, he’ll need it. His next slated opponent is the Twins). He hit the wall quickly in the seventh inning (echoing something that Jim Leyland said about him in 2008: When he hits the wall, it happens suddenly and it’s hard for him to recover). After a dramatic at-bat, he got Jai Miller to go down swinging with runners at first and second and no one out. Phil Coke did the rest. As for the four-out save mess, well, I get the feeling that Leyland just doesn’t trust Ryan Perry all that much. Now, that may be reasonable. It might not. I’m just bringing up a theory. I do know that I don’t like having Alfredo Figaro on the mound. Most of the time he is one big flirtation with disaster, and that is what happened. Meanwhile, I can’t give you any insight on the offense shutdown, because I didn’t see any of that. And as for the dueling hunches, Ned Yost’s paid off while Leyland’s did not. All the Tiger fans were making fun of the fact that Willie Bloomquist was batting third and now they kind of look dumb for that (then again, the Royals fans were probably complaining about it and they look dumb too). Leyland elected to have Laird hit in the bottom of the eleventh instead of pinch-hitting Alex Avila because his instincts told him that Laird would come through (also that righties were hitting about a hundred points higher against Humber, whose name sounds like a Winnie the Pooh character). Laird hit into a double play. And Miguel Cabrera was stranded in the on-deck circle the following inning.

After a mostly successful homestand, the Tigers now embark on a very long ten-day road trip. First up is a four-game series in Toronto. We’ve already heard about the Blue Jays: In any other division they’d be right in the thick of things, they absolutely bomb the ball, and their pitching staff’s not too shabby. Oh, and they play on artificial surface, so our guys are gonna be sore by the time this series is over. Tonight, Max Scherzer takes the hill for the Tigers. He was good against the Indians, which I got to see firsthand. He’s never faced the Blue Jays before, though he’s seen a few of their hitters (all guys who have come over from the National League). Yunel Escobar is 6-for-13 with three doubles. The other three (Fred Lewis, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista) are all hitless against him. The Blue Jays will start lefty Ricky Romero. The Tigers beat him back in July (the last game before Maggs was injured). He’s 1-2 against Detroit but hasn’t pitched that badly against them (and overall, he hasn’t pitched that badly this year). He’s won the only start he made against them at Rogers Centre.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Night of Loyalty and Longevity

Photo: AP

The first bit of news from last night was that Johnny Damon has elected to stay and ride things out in Detroit, which, if you read my post from yesterday, you’ll know I approve of. By the way, that sound you heard was the collective heads of the national and Boston media circuits all exploding. They can’t fathom why anyone would want to stay in Detroit. Politics abound, so there’s no way to be sure of Damon’s actual motivating factors, but I’m still glad he’s staying. And I am also glad for Rick Porcello’s strong starting pitching. To hold the Royals to two hits is no easy feat, giving their high team batting average (granted, Scott Podsednik and Jose Guillen are no longer with the Royals, and David DeJesus is out for the season). He’s been good since coming back from Toledo. Hopefully he can keep it up. It’s a shame that the shutout bid was ruined by Kila Ka’aihue (I can say it; but spelling it is an issue), but 9-1 is nothing to sneeze at.

It was another really good night for the offense. This time, everyone in the starting lineup got at least one hit (Funny enough, Miguel Cabrera was the last one to join in on the fun). For that matter, every starter except Damon and Peralta had at least one RBI. However, Peralta led the hit parade with three. Will Rhymes and Brennan Boesch each had two RBIs, and Ryan Raburn homered again. After his 3 RBI performance on Monday, he was asked in a postgame interview why he was on such a hot streak and his response was “Well, my wife’s here. She’s got a lot of hits in her.” Needless to say, he phrased that really badly. Rod Allen cleaned it up a little bit last night by saying that Mrs. Raburn “brought a lot of hits WITH her,” (emphasis mine). However, the man of the hour was Brandon Inge, who only got one hit, but it was the 1000th of his career, and all those hits came with the Tigers (I happened to be in attendance for Carlos Guillen’s 1000th hit a couple years ago, but this is more special). And I hope he gets many more with the Tigers.

The Tigers wrap up the series and the homestand today with a day game (which I’m not happy about, since I have class). The Royals will start Sean O’Sullivan, whom they got from the Angels in the Alberto Callaspo trade. O’Sullivan has pitched in the big leagues for part of the past two years but none of the Tigers have ever seen him. He was really good in relief before the Angels moved him to the starting rotation just prior to his trade to Kansas City. He is 0-5 as a starter this year, but picked up the win in one of those extra inning games the Royals played over the weekend by pitching an inning of scoreless relief. Meanwhile, Armando Galarraga is coming off an absolutely brilliant performance against Cleveland. But there are some naysayers who are saying that he can only do it against the Indians. I’ve already gone over the stuff he needs to do to prove them wrong. He’s generally pitched well in his career against the Royals (although they didn’t have nearly the team batting average that they do now). He beat them twice in 2008 (one of which was the game where he was perfect for six innings). He also pitched well against them last year in three starts, earning a win and two no-decisions (the Tigers lost both those games; the latter of the two was a start he made a few days after he’d been sidelined by illness, and he was noticeably thinner). However, the last time he faced them was in a relief appearance in which things didn’t go so well. He only went a third of an inning and gave up a three-run homer to Josh Anderson, of all people (this was after he’d ‘fessed up that he had been hiding an elbow injury). I’m really hoping for a good pitching performance from him for all the obvious reasons, but also because I had a dream last night that he was claimed on waivers by the San Diego Padres (yes, it was that specific). I’m still depressed about it and it never even actually happened (although chances are something similar will happen one day; that’s the risk you take when you decide to passionately root for an underdog). On a positive note, the thought’s occurred to me that at the beginning of the season, no one (including him) could’ve guess that by the end of August, he’d become a trending topic on Twitter, be awarded a Corvette, make an appearance at the ESPYs, sign a book deal, and have a Little League team named after him. And I’ll be nervously following the action on Gameday during class today.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Can They Stop Walking Miguel Cabrera Already?

Photo: AP

This was a nice bounceback start for Jeremy Bonderman. Again (I felt like I’ve said this a lot recently), I don’t think he had his best stuff. He threw quite a few hanging sliders up there that fortunately the Royals didn’t do much with, but he managed to sidestep it (against a team with more power, he might not have been able to, and that’s something he should keep in mind with his next slated opponent, the Blue Jays). The Royals did pretty much what their scouting report said they did: Hit mostly singles, not walk much, and not score a lot of runs. The bullpen did a nice job, though Eddie Bonine got hit pretty hard but escaped with only giving up one run.

Another part of the Royals’ scouting report came true: problematic pitching. Bruce Chen was too tentative and fell behind a lot of hitters. The bulk of the damage came against Jesse Chavez. Just about everyone had a good day at the plate. Meanwhile, according to Dan Dickerson, the last four times Miguel Cabrera has been walked intentionally (including this game), the guys behind him have come through. Every starter got at least one hit except Casper Wells and Austin Jackson. Ryan Raburn, Jhonny Peralta, and Brandon Inge all had three RBIs apiece. Of course, the big story surrounding the game was Johnny Damon. As of this writing, he had not yet decided whether to accept a deal to Boston or not (by the sounds of things, he’s all that stands in the way; the Tigers will not pull him back on their own). Granted, I am working so slowly on this thing that it’s very likely a decision will be announced before I am finished. When Damon signed, I approved of it, but I only saw him as a one-year stopgap. He hasn’t performed spectacularly in the Tigers, but he’s been decent, and his on-base percentage of .360 is definitely sound for the role he was intended for (table-setter, #2 hitter). I can’t quite figure out where he would fit in the picture for next year, but if the Tigers wanted to bring him back, I wouldn’t mind. But as far as this year is concerned, well, I just don’t get excited at the notion of letting the kids play it out. Plus, Miguel Cabrera’s still got an outside shot at the Triple Crown, and losing Damon (small of a protection as he may be) would make it all the harder for him. My personal feeling is that he should accept the deal if, and only if, the Tigers can pry away some hotshot super-prospect away from the Red Sox. A player to be named later or a middle reliever isn’t going to help much in the long run, and with all the money coming off the books next year, I doubt $1.8 million is going to be a deal breaker on any hypothetical free agent signing. In that case, I would much prefer to see Damon play out the season in a Tigers uniform. For what it’s worth, he is in tonight’s lineup.

Tonight’s matchup features Rick Porcello, who looked very good for five innings at Yankee Stadium and then fell apart in the sixth. He’s had his issues with the Royals in the past (though a large part of that was Mark Teahen, and he’s not with them anymore). He’s only faced the Royals once this year and got a no-decision in which he went six innings and gave up three runs, but ten hits (the Tigers eventually lost the game 7-3). The Tigers will face Kyle Davies, who has beaten them a couple times this year. It seems like every time they faced him, he either gets lit up or twirls a gem. There are some Tigers with some real good numbers against him. Cabrera, Peralta, Damon, and Raburn all hit over .300 against him, and Gerald Laird is not too far behind at .294 (though he is not in tonight’s lineup).

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Little Second Baseman Who Could

Photo: AP

Say what you will about sweeping a last place team, but isn’t that what you’re “supposed” to do? Justin Verlander was very, very good. I got the feeling that he wasn’t quite as sharp as his line may indicate, but it didn’t really matter. Also, I think the radar gun was a little slow all weekend. When I was there on Saturday, I didn’t see a reading above 92 MPH (granted, I didn’t look at every pitch), and Scherzer, Coke, and Valverde all throw a lot harder than that. Even on Friday, the TV radar gun was routinely clocking Armando Galarraga at 87/88 MPH, and he’s generally 90-91 with the fastball (Seriously, he wouldn’t have had such a good outing if his fastball was 87 and his slider was 86). That slow radar gun continued yesterday with Verlander on the mound. Slow radar or not, he went eight strong innings and looked impressive nonetheless.

After being victims to Jeanmar Gomez’s first major league win, the Tigers became the first team to truly victimize him. Granted, the offense got quite a bit of help from some bad play from the Indians’ defense (a lot of miscues went as base hits, but they could very easily have been errors), although Jayson Nix made two annoyingly spectacular catches (robbing Don Kelly both times). The star of the show was Will Rhymes. He had four hits and is quickly becoming a fan favorite, judging from the online reactions. I’d watched him quite a bit with the Mud Hens, and he’s doing pretty much what he’d been doing with them. He’s certainly got spunk (and there’s no way he’s 5’9”. I’ve stood close to him at Mud Hens games before. I am 5’8” and I am definitely taller than him). It was somewhat disappointing that they stopped scoring once the Indians’ bullpen took over, though.

With one sub-.500 team swept out of town, another sub-.500 team arrives in the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers haven’t seen them since early June, but those high hit totals the Royals put up against Detroit’s pitching staff is apparently no fluke. The Royals are still second in the league in hitting. However, they are only tenth in the league in slugging percentage and tenth in runs scored, which means that they hit a lot of singles. And they are the toughest team to strike out in the American League (granted, their offense is only 13th in walks drawn, so they truly do hit their way on). On the flipside, their pitching staff is dead last in team ERA, and the Tigers will not have to face Zack Greinke nor will they face Tiger-killer Brian Bannister, who is on the DL right now. Tonight, the Tigers will face lefty Bruce Chen, who beat the Tigers back in June. He’s been okay in most of his starts (with a few blowups mixed in there), but he usually only goes five innings, maybe six. Most of the Tigers haven’t seen much of him, and they haven’t done a lot in those limited meetings except Damon (10-for-19 with two home runs) and Cabrera (5-for-8 with two home runs). Jeremy Bonderman is coming off a rough start against the Yankees. He’s now had issues in three straight starts, and in his last two, he’s had a big problem keeping the ball in the ballpark (granted, those two starts were on the road in very home run-friendly parks). He’s only faced the Royals once this year, and gave up seven earned runs in 5.2 innings. The Royals who have given him the toughest time through the years are Yuniesky Betancourt (10-for-21 with two doubles) and Willie Bloomquist (5-for-9 with a triple). Also, Casper Wells is being called up, but there has not been an announcement yet of who he's replacing (word is that it is NOT trade-related).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Muy Bien

Photo: ME!

It looked as though there might not be a game at all, what with all the rain, but luckily the rain stopped shortly after the gates opened. The game even started on time and they were able to have Mexican dancers perform on the field beforehand. They also had that ceremony where they named off all the Latin players on the team and they stood in front of their respective country’s flag (It was alarming to see how thin the ranks of healthy Venezuelans has gotten; we’re down to Cabrera, Galarraga, and Gonzalez). They also showed a video montage of the more well-known Latinos to have played for the Tigers (along with all of the current Latin players), which means I got a brief cameo of Pudge (along with a crappy picture). Also, this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I spent almost the entire game thinking Johnny Damon had been traded, because it took longer than usual for the lineup to be posted, Cabrera was the DH on a night where the Indians had a right-hander on the mound, I couldn’t see Damon in the dugout, and there was someone else in the dugout I didn’t recognize (looked kind of like Danny Worth, though). Then Damon came out of the dugout to warm up Valverde in the ninth inning, so that put an end to that rumor (and I’ve since noticed he shows up in the background of a couple of my dugout pictures). And I came away from the game with a Miguel Cabrera hat, which was cool (my first major league giveaway promotion; the only other thing I’ve ever gotten was a lei at a Mud Hens game). Oh, and if you care to look, here are my photos of the game (They aren’t my best crop ever).

As for the game itself, Max Scherzer did a nice job. I got the feeling he was fighting it a little bit, but when you’re fighting it and still go seven innings while only giving up two runs, that’s pretty impressive. It was also my first time seeing Phil Coke in person, but my third time seeing Jose Valverde, who looked like he was on form in this game. Meanwhile, the offense did more against Josh Tomlin than any other team has so far this year. The offense was spread around, so there really isn’t anyone to highlight. Don Kelly homered, which was entertaining. The other RBIs belonged to Raburn, Inge, and Boesch. It was nice to see Boesch finally come through after an intentional walk to Cabrera (so much for my hope that sub-.500 teams would be more willing to pitch to him).

The series wraps up today with the afternoon game. Justin Verlander is coming off a loss to the Yankees in which he say he felt the worst he’s ever felt in his career. He hasn’t been particularly sharp against the Indians this year, although he hasn’t done badly except for that start back in April. The Indians will start Jeanmar Gomez, who had an ERA of over 5 in the minor leagues. Then he came up and beat the Tigers back in July, and has pitched well ever since. He has yet to give up more than two earned runs in a game.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Que Bueno

Photo: AP

This is one of those wins that leaves a good feeling all around. I said that Armando Galarraga was not going to throw another perfect game, and I was almost proven wrong. He actually got past the halfway point before allowing a hit, which Don Kelly came within inches of snatching, and the other two hits he gave up were both bloop singles. Needless to say, he was spectacular. They said he made some mechanical adjustments to his leg kick after watching video of his 2008 season. Something did look a little different about his delivery, but more than that, I sensed an air of calmness about him that I haven’t seen in quite a while. That frustration that had been building up in previous starts was nowhere to be found. His pitches didn’t move quite the same way in the sixth and seventh innings (as evidenced by the Indians having longer at-bats), but they were still plenty good enough. Galarraga has shown the ability to retire long stretches of consecutive batters when he’s on. Of course, there’s the perfect game, but he’s had quite a few games where he’s retired ten or eleven in a row and a lot of people have forgotten that back in 2008, he had a perfect game through six innings against the Royals before David DeJesus broke it up with a leadoff single in the seventh inning. At any rate, last night was a big step in the right direction, and I hope he can build off it (And I really should have used a picture of him for this post, since he was the star of the show, but the only picture available of him is one where he’s in mid-pitch and making a dumb face).

The offense came out lively against Justin Masterson. From the first inning, the hit parade was on. Leading the charge were Don Kelly (with four hits; have a night) and Brandon Inge, who ended up a home run shy of the cycle and made a great defensive play to preserve what at the time was a perfect game. Five different Tigers had multiple hits and everyone had at least one hit except Peralta and Damon.

Tonight is Fiesta Tigres (which would have been more appropriate last night, since they had a Latin starting pitcher). Max Scherzer pitched pretty well against the Yankees, although he was behind in the count quite a bit. He has not pitched particularly well against the Indians this year (and he hasn’t been good against the other teams in the Central, either). The Indians will start rookie Josh Tomlin, who is only 1-2 but has pitched well in his four starts. It’s possible that some of these call-ups from the Mud Hens have faced him in the minors, but I have no way of checking that (well, I probably do, but it would take more time than it’s worth). By the way, I am going to be at this game, so I’ll have my excellent record on the line here. Your Mood Music for tonight: It’s Fiesta Tigres, so I have to play something Latin. And I have no other reason for playing the song other than I like it and it’s in Spanish.

Friday, August 20, 2010

That Went Downhill Quickly

We’ve seen this before with Rick Porcello. Not very often, but it’s happened (usually against the White Sox). He’ll start out looking really, really good and then fall apart the second or third time through the order in a completely sudden and drastic turn of events. And it comes out of nowhere. It also seems like the Tigers don’t know what the issue is, whether it’s fatigue or a lack of adjustment or what. Unfortunately, the bullpen was even worse and could not put out the fire to save their lives. How bipolar was that game? The Yankees only had one hit in the innings in which they did not score, and they only scored in two innings. Meanwhile, it looks as though Miguel Cabrera might just be back on track. We’ll see how he does against the Indians, but he sure did like Yankees pitching (granted, some of those home runs would not have been out at Comerica Park). He doesn’t seem to care much for the Yankees themselves, however (according to the New York Daily News). The offense did have a bit of fight in them, scoring enough runs to be able to win were there not a complete pitching meltdown. Granted, if the score were closer, they would not be facing Sergio Mitre the whole time, but we’ve seen many occasions where the Tigers were being blown out and the offense got completely handcuffed by some middle reliever.

And so tonight, amidst waiver trade rumors and one roster move (Robbie Weinhardt has been replaced by Alfredo Figaro, and I can only pray he stays firmly in the bullpen). The Tigers are now home for their next six games, and first up is the Indians (payback for sweeping the Tigers out of the All-Star Break would be nice). They’ve played fairly well in the second half (only a game under .500), and their pitching’s improved recently, so they should not be taken lightly. They are starting Justin Masterson tonight (actually, they will have pitchers with names starting with “J” all weekend). He’s had a strange time of things recently. It’s like he either dominates or he gets lit up. His last start was one of the dominant ones. That came against Seattle. The start before that, he gave up seven runs to the Red Sox. He’s a sinkerball pitcher by trade. This’ll actually be the first time I’ve seen him. I’ve always been at work the other times he’s started against the Tigers. The Tigers haven’t seen much of him. Miguel Cabrera’s seen him the most. He’s 3-for-5 with one home run in seven plate appearances (I wonder if these non-contending sub-.500 teams will be more willing to pitch to him). Meanwhile, I can’t begin to guess what Armando Galarraga’s feeling right now. It’s his first start since the much-publicized skirmish in the dugout with the Tigers catchers (Laird’s catching him tonight, by the way). It’s also the first time he’s faced the Indians since the events of June 2nd. This could be good or bad. It could be a real confidence boost for him. After all, knowing that you (unofficially) didn’t allow a baserunner against this team would make you feel good in your abilities (although the Indians have gotten back some people that they didn’t have in June due to injuries). But he can’t try to repeat that accomplishment. It won’t happen, and he’ll only get himself in trouble. Yes, once he gives up the first hit of the game for the Indians, that other game will lose a little bit of its mystique and allure (the same thing happened when Justin Verlander faced the Milwaukee Brewers for the first time after he no-hit them), but it’s something that must happen. I just hope he pitches a good game. He had really good stuff in his last start, although his final line may not have indicated it. And he has to do the stuff I discussed the last time he started. Your Mood Music for tonight: I’ve spent the day belting out songs from “Wicked.” I’m in an Elphaba-mood today. And so I’ll play “Defying Gravity.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beanball Battle

This is going to be another short post (at least, as far as actual game analysis goes), because it was the seventh inning by the time I got home (Therefore, while 9-5 was the final score, it feels to me like the Yankees won 2-1 because that was the only scoring I experienced). I don’t know if the retaliation mindset threw off Jeremy Bonderman or not. I do know that he’s now given up quite a few home runs recently. And I get the feeling that this isn’t like his last start, where he got punished for every bad pitch he made but had several good pitches in-between. This time he just kept making bad pitches. Brad Thomas and Enrique Gonzalez also made bad pitches. Both teams had the long ball going. The Yankees have been more willing to pitch to Miguel Cabrera than the Rays or White Sox were, but they might not be so willing anymore now that Cabrera’s hit three home runs in the series (He has regained the RBI lead, but all his home runs have been solo shots). Don Kelly’s home run was definitely of the Yankee Stadium jetstream variety, but it still counts.

Okay, I guess I have to address the beanball war that’s been going on. It all started with Brett Gardner’s takeout slide of Guillen that eventually landed him on the DL (say what you will about Guillen’s tendency to get injured, but just about every second baseman would’ve suffered the same fate on that play). A lot of fans online are saying it was a dirty slide. Guillen’s also saying it was a dirty slide. I really don’t know, because I don’t have THAT much experience watching dirty slides. Gardner’s a very fast runner, so it would not take him very long to get to the base, and late slides are generally allowed. Those same fans who are calling it a dirty slide also hate the Yankees with a passion, and are looking for any excuse to hate them even more. I don’t know what to make of their assessment unless I see their reaction to an identical play from a member of a team they are indifferent about (like, say, the Mariners or something). As far as Guillen goes, well, he does have a reputation as somewhat of a whiner (just look up some of the things he said early last season about his playing time and not wanting to DH). Still, I understand the team wanting to stand up for their injured comrade, and Bonderman’s known for not being afraid to retaliate. It got really screwy when the umpire issued warnings after Bonderman hit Gardner, but then proceeded to not eject anyone once the retaliation began in earnest (except for Leyland, and Leyland really had to work to get himself ejected). If there was any point to issuing the warnings, then Chad Gaudin probably should have gotten ejected for hitting Cabrera, and if Gaudin should have gotten ejected, then Enrique Gonzalez should also have been ejected for throwing behind Derek Jeter (I’m not sure if he was trying to hit the other guys he ended up walking, since a lot of pitches missed way inside, but if he was, he wasn’t very good at it).

The series and the road trip wraps up today (and there is no way that this game will be over by the time I have to go to work). Somewhat fittingly, Rick Porcello is starting for the Tigers (everyone remembers the brawl in Boston last year). He is coming off a very good start against the White Sox, a team he had had no success against previously. He has made two previous starts against the Yankees in his career, one good, one bad (the good one came earlier this year). Both those games were at Comerica Park. He’s never pitched at Yankee Stadium, and being from New Jersey, a lot of his family will be in attendance. And we also know that he’s not afraid to retaliate either. However, if I may say something, he’s free to retaliate if he feels the need to, but I would prefer that he wait until he’s close to the end of his outing, preferably in the seventh or eighth inning. Getting ejected in the second or third is not going to be very helpful. Yes, it was awesome that he took down Youkilis in Boston, but he also potentially cost his team a win in a season where one win made the difference. The Yankees will start Phil Hughes. I’m not sure what his take on retaliation is, but I do know that the Tigers have not done much against him since 2008. They got to him a bit the first two times they saw him (once in 2007, once in 2008), but they’ve done next to nothing since. In his last two starts against Detroit, he’s shut them out (there were also a couple relief appearances mixed in there in which he didn’t give up anything either).  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Battle of Command

Short post today, because I procrastinated too much and I have to go to work soon. Justin Verlander was quoted as saying that last night was the worst he ever felt on the mound in his entire career. Now, I’m sure the other four members of the rotation would all kill to feel the worst they’ve ever felt and still only give up three runs in five innings, but Verlander needed to give the Tigers more than that. I’m not sure if the command problems were something he could make an adjustment to or not (or if it had to do with him pitching on extra rest). I don’t think Yankee Stadium psyched him out, because he’s pitched there before with much more at stake, and he’s pitched reasonably well in those starts. Meanwhile, the Tigers got a little home run power going against CC Sabathia, but there were not a whole lot of scoring opportunities. Ramon Santiago and Johnny Damon both got robbed by Curtis Granderson on plays we’ve seen before many times. Miguel Cabrera chased a couple outfielders to the warning track, but that’s about it.

Jeremy Bonderman takes the hill tonight for the Tigers. He’s coming off a rough start against the White Sox in which he gave up a couple home runs. He hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium in quite a while, but he did pitch against them at Comerica Park earlier this year. He took the loss, but pitched reasonably well (the Tigers were shut out by Phil Hughes). The Yankees will start Dustin Moseley, who is filling in for Andy Pettitte. The Tigers have seen him before with the Angels, but not very much. Jhonny Peralta has faced him more than anyone else on the team. He’s 3-for-10 with a home run. The only active Tiger who has faced him and does not have a hit against him is Miguel Cabrera, but it’s an extremely small sample size (0-for-1 with a walk). With Guillen going back on the DL with a deep bruise (I really don’t think it’ll take 15 days to heal, but I’m guessing the Tigers figured it would take longer than they could afford to have a two-man bench, especially with Laird getting a little banged up last night), Will Rhymes is back with the Tigers and in the lineup for tonight.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fitting that Todd Jones was There

Photo: AP

If you’re still hyperventilating, think of it this way: The Tigers won’t get swept in this series. And they got a rather good pitching performance from Max Scherzer. I thought he fell behind in the count too many times, which got his pitch count up, but against the Yankees, it was a valiant effort. Still, it kind of taxed the bullpen. Phil Coke definitely won’t be available tonight, Ryan Perry probably won’t be available, and Jose Valverde is probably questionable. I can’t give any insight into what may be behind Valverde’s control problems, although in some of his other rocky outings he’s said that he’s been having problems gripping the ball. They did interview him in the postgame show last night, but he talks so fast that he’s extremely difficult to understand. However, I realize that most Tigers fans don’t know Valverde that well, since his entire career was spent in the National League, and there are some wondering whether he collapses in the second half or if this is the “real” Valverde, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Career-wise, his second half numbers are actually far better than his first half numbers. His ERA goes down by over a full run, the walks go down, the strikeouts go up, and the opponents’ batting average goes from .218 to .182, and the opponents’ on-base percentage and slugging percentage also go down (the only odd thing is that he has given up more triples in the second half, but that’s probably some wacky thing that doesn’t mean anything). Therefore, this year is unusual, but I couldn’t tell you the reason for it.

The Tigers’ offense made Javier Vazquez throw a lot of pitches and they got a lot of baserunners against him, but not much in the way of runs. The only blemish that Vazquez ended up with was Ryan Raburn’s 2-run homer. That ended up being enough (barely). There seemed to be a lot of stranding runners on called third strikes (I certainly couldn’t figure out the strikezone, that’s for sure). Johnny Damon got a very warm reception from the Yankee crowd (though that revamped mohawk was hideous; I’m guessing he did that deliberately just so he could show it off to his former fans and teammates). Meanwhile, the Yankee pitching staff didn’t pitch around Miguel Cabrera like a lot of teams have been. He did walk once, although Vazquez had such bad control I’m not sure if he was pitching around him or not. They may not be quite so aggressive in the rest of the series, since Cabrera homered in his last at-bat, but it’s something to watch out for. By the way, as expected, it looks as though all the guys involved in Sunday’s dugout brouhaha have made up and buried the hatchet (and if Rod Allen’s interpretations of events is the correct one, which I know is a dangerous assumption, it would be hypocritical of me to chastise Armando Galarraga for not taking the high road, because I can easily see myself doing the same thing were I in his position; when I mess something up, I don’t like being told that I messed up or what I was supposed to do, especially if I’m already frustrated). I did (inappropriately) find it funny that Galarraga inadvertently and in a really backwards way referred to himself and Avila (or Laird) as an old married couple (“It’s like your wife. Sometimes you disagree with your wife”).

This series continues tonight, and guess what? It’s another Verlander-Sabathia battle. This will be the fourth series in a row with the Yankees that those two have matched up against each other (plus, they opposed each other at least twice while Sabathia was with the Indians). Since Sabathia has become a Yankee, Verlander holds a 2-1 advantage, but that one loss came at Yankee Stadium (although it was a 2-1 loss for Verlander, so it’s not like he pitched badly). This year, Sabathia has more wins and a lower ERA overall, but his career numbers against the Tigers are around average (and he’s had a lot of decisions against them because of his days with the Indians). He’s 14-11 with a 4.65 ERA, and that’s in a whopping 29 starts. Miguel Cabrera’s pummeled him in his career (7-for-11 with a double and two home runs), and Gerald Laird also has very good numbers (7-for-15 with two doubles). On the opposite end of things, Brandon Inge is only 7-for-50 with fourteen strikeouts and only one RBI. Most of the Yankees don’t hit Verlander very well (Lance Berkman and Ramiro Peña are over .300 in very limited plate appearances). Nick Swisher has only hit .184 against him, but he does have three home runs off Verlander in his career.   

Monday, August 16, 2010

These Boys Still Have Fight (In More Ways Than One)

Photo: AP

Oh, dear. This sure was a complicated game, wasn’t it? I was able to watch it on the archives (with numerous technical difficulties along the way), but I already knew the final score. Watching it live must’ve been nerve-wracking. I thought Armando Galarraga was better than he had been in his two prior starts. From a pitching standpoint, it looked as though he overcame some (but not all) of those psychological hurdles I discussed (By the way, it looks as though I was right about what was going on, because the Free Press published an article within hours of my post that basically confirmed what I had speculated). He was a lot more aggressive with his pitches, and was good at throwing the first-pitch strikes, and the pitch f/x chart had his slider (velocity vs. spin angle) looking more like it did in June. At the same time, he said he thought his slider was moving a little too well because he was having trouble throwing it for strikes. It’s unfortunate that his outing had to end the way it did. Still, I think there was much more about this outing that was positive than negative. One of the negatives actually happened in the dugout, when Galarraga got into a heated argument with Alex Avila and later Gerald Laird (especially unfortunate because that probably got played over and over on ESPN). The timing of it was particularly odd because the bottom of the first had been scoreless and fairly uneventful. We’re never going to find out the whole story of what was said or what the disagreement was, but I will say it seemed really out of character for Galarraga (and Avila, for that matter). Galarraga is usually known as one of the more easygoing members of the team, but I guess even the most mild-mannered person can only take so much frustration before it boils over and you lash out at someone for something miniscule (and I can speak from experience on that as well; I’ve had occasions where frustration has gotten the better of me and I’ve said and done things I’m not proud of). Still, Verlander and Laird (both of whom seem more fiery than Galarraga or Avila) had a shouting match in the dugout last year and it blew over rather quickly. I expect this to do the same, especially since it was so out of character. I just hope it doesn’t damage his reputation.

The offense was finally not handcuffed by the opposing pitching staff. The Tigers put on a pretty good display of power for a team that had not hit many home runs recently. It’s hard to narrow down some of the highlights. All I got to listen to during my lunch break was the seventh inning and the very beginning of the eighth, and so the only highlight I was able to listen to was Miguel Cabrera’s home run (which was a welcome sound; he’d been on quite a power drought). But he wasn’t the only one to homer on the day. Ryan Raburn went opposite field, and Jhonny Peralta has his second two-homer game in a Tigers uniform. The big blow was actually Johnny Damon’s two-run triple that gave the Tigers the lead for good, however. It seems like everyone (or, at least, every spot in the lineup) contributed to the win.

And just like that, the Tigers have finally won a road series for the first time since May (and the first one of three or more games since the very first series of the year). Now it’s time to venture into that pressure cooker known as Yankee Stadium for what will probably be four very long games. Tonight’s starter for the Tigers is Max Scherzer, who got outdueled by Jeremy Hellickson. Jason Beck had previously mentioned that Verlander would start tonight, leading me to think that they might want Verlander to pitch on regular rest, but alas, that is not the case (I’m going to the game on Saturday, which means whoever pitches tonight will pitch then, and I have nothing against Scherzer, but I like Verlander better). This will be his first ever start against the Yankees, although he has faced several of their hitters before, albeit not for many at-bats (the one who has seen him the most is Lance Berkman, who is 1-for-7). The Yankees will start Javier Vazquez, who has had kind of an up-and-down year, but he pitched well in his only other start against the Tigers this season (he took a tough-luck loss since Rick Porcello tossed a shutout). Since I tortured you with some good numbers that Magglio had against other pitchers, I will mention that he’s only 7-for-39 against Vazquez. The guys who have hit him the best are Cabrera (10-for-26 with three home runs) and Damon (8-for-24 with two home runs). This might be kind of an awkward series. It’ll be Johnny Damon’s first visit to Yankee Stadium since he left the Yankees, and it’ll be the first time the Tigers have to face Curtis Granderson (remember, he was on the DL when the Yankees were at Comerica Park), although it might not be as awkward tonight, since Granderson and Scherzer were never teammates. Granderson has not really had the kind of year the Yankees probably thought he would have. He was actually benched for a couple games recently so that their hitting coach could do some major surgery on his batting stance (I really have not seen much of Granderson at all this year, but I hear from those who have that he had returned to his pre-2006 batting stance prior to this retooling). He has been slightly hotter since, although he has had mini-hot streaks at various points during the season, but they haven’t lasted long and his batting average has hovered around .240 for most of the year. Still, that’s something to watch out for, and that book I had been reading (The Psychology of Baseball) says there is statistical evidence to suggest that players actually do tend to do better against teams that traded them. Your Mood Music for tonight: Ozzy Osbourne.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Facing Your Demons

Photo: AP

Needless to say, last night was by far Rick Porcello’s best effort against the White Sox in his career. He seemed to be in mini-jams all evening, but the sinker was working and he managed to get out of it with plenty of ground ball outs. Leyland felt he left him in there a little too long, and I’m inclined to agree, but two runs in seven innings is not bad at all. Plus, Carlos Guillen turned an absolutely sweet double play that will make all the highlight reels. By the way, I wonder how long Jose Valverde has been dealing with that abdominal strain. Still, Phil Coke did a good job in his absence.

Of course, we’d be talking about a tough-luck loss if it weren’t for the heroics of Alex Avila. Contact was an issue for just about everyone against Edwin Jackson. Like Porcello, Jackson found himself in trouble occasionally, but where Porcello got ground balls and double plays, Jackson just kept striking guys out (although I think the gun at the ballpark was hot; there is no way he threw a pitch at 100 MPH). All the Tigers’ runs came via the home run ball, and once again, they did it without Cabrera (who has to pick up the pace; A-Rod has now passed him in the RBI race, so he’s not leading any Triple Crown category at the moment). With has hot as Ryan Raburn has been, I was kind of expecting him to be the one to homer off J.J. Putz (if anyone), but it happened one batter later. It probably would not have been a home run at Comerica Park, but it’s nice to have the bandbox that is U.S. Cellular Field work in the Tigers’ favor, for once.

This series concludes today with dueling Venezuelans (and former teammates again, if you want to be precise, albeit for less than a month). Freddy Garcia was beat up by the Twins in his last start, but he hasn’t given the Tigers a whole lot (Leyland seems to believe the Tigers take a bad approach when Garcia pitches). It would help matters if Miguel Cabrera could return to his previous ways of bombing the ball against his friend. He hasn’t done a whole lot recently against him. Meanwhile, Armando Galarraga is getting frustrated to the point where his emotions are starting to show on the mound, which is rather uncharacteristic. I tried checking his Pitch f/x charts from his last two starts and compared them with his perfect game (which I’ll take as his best pitching performance of the year). I did come up with a couple things. First of all, he hasn’t really thrown the four-seam fastball (which was abundant in the perfect game) in his recent starts. It’s been almost exclusively sinker, slider, and changeup. The other thing is that the depth on his slider is closer to his fastball than it was back in June (I’m not going to explore this further unless I have to, because it is not an area I’m well-versed in). But at this point I don’t think mechanics are the main problem. There’s a book I’m currently reading called The Psychology of Baseball, by Mike Stadler. It’s not as engrossing as I thought it would be, because it mostly focuses on the subconscious processes involved in hitting, pitching, and catching fly balls (“muscle memory,” if you will). However, it did discuss the two main psychological reasons for control problems, and I think Galarraga may be falling victim to both (I know I shouldn’t speculate like this, since there could be so much going on off the field that I don’t know about, but it beats having other people write him off). The first pitfall is the pitcher telling himself to “not” do something, which actually makes him more prone to doing it because it “primes” the part of the brain that controls it. It’s like that old cliché of telling someone not to think of an elephant. The example the book uses is of a pitcher telling himself to not throw a wild pitch, but I think it’s entirely plausible that when a big power hitter like Paul Konerko or Carlos Quentin steps into the batter’s box, Galarraga may be telling himself to not give up a home run (since that’s what he’s been frustrated about), which, according to this theory, makes him more likely to give one up. The other main psychological cause of control problems (and the more common one, according to the author) is thinking too much about your mechanics, and I believe there’s a lot this going on as well. When a pitcher starts thinking about his mechanics as he is pitching, he’s mentally overriding what is essentially an automated process, and there is no way the conscious mind can be as fluid and consistent with the delivery as the subconscious mind. I know this from my own personal experience. I was in the high school band, and I found that if I thought about the notes or the fingerings too much, I couldn’t play as well. I had to figure out a way to not think about it and just play. I have had the same issues with fencing. Thinking too much about the parry or the lunge slows me down too much. And this phenomenon fits in perfectly with Armando Galarraga’s tendency to overthink the situation when he gets in trouble. In this situation, he can’t think about not giving up home runs. Not in that ballpark. It’s extremely unlikely that he won’t give one up. Trying to prevent that will only make things worse. He has to focus on making his pitches and limiting the damage. And once he decides what pitch to throw, he needs to trust his subconscious and let his mechanics take care of themselves. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. I know that from experience as well. Also unfortunate is that I’ll be at work during this game, so I can’t even offer moral support.  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

For Want of a Shutdown Inning

This is one of the rare losses in this stretch that has more to do with ineffective pitching than with offensive shortcomings. It was a very strange outing for Jeremy Bonderman. His final line certainly didn’t look good, but before and in between the home runs he made some really good pitches. The offense got handcuffed by Mark Buehrle, but the Tigers definitely showed some fight in the later innings. They didn’t look overmatched, and the home run power finally showed up a bit (Ryan Raburn continues to have some good at-bats, and Brandon Inge finally homered for the first time since May). However, every time they scored, the White Sox would come right back in the bottom half of the inning and built their lead right back up to four, whether it was against Bonderman or Bonine. I would also like to briefly mention that Carlos Guillen hit the ball hard three times but only got one hit out of it, and Jhonny Peralta had some really good at-bats in the game but wasn’t rewarded for it (although he drew a key walk that set up Cabrera’s RBI single).

The series continues tonight with Rick Porcello and Edwin Jackson going up against each other. To say that Porcello has struggled against the White Sox is an understatement. They are his kryptonite. He has never made a good start against them (Even Armando Galarraga has managed to beat the Twins once). He can’t psych himself out. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson has already beaten the Tigers twice this year, and he pitched well against the Orioles in his last start. The Tigers will have Guillen in their lineup this time, whom they did not have last time they faced Jackson, and Guillen is batting .400 with two doubles against his former teammate.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Photo: AP

It was nice to finally see one of these close pitching duels go the Tigers’ way. Justin Verlander had some command problems early, but this time he managed to make the adjustment before it was too late. His pitch count got to him about an inning before you’d want it to, and he got bailed out right at the end by Brennan Boesch to get a double play (otherwise the Rays would have taken the lead), but the strikeout machine he turned into during the middle innings was very impressive.

The Tigers dispatched of any plans Matt Garza had to no-hit them again rather quickly with Miguel Cabrera’s double in the second inning. Unfortunately for Cabrera, that’s the only hit he would get on the day, but the other Tigers were able to step up, albeit just barely. The big blow came from Ryan Raburn (hence the title), and I’ve said that his at-bats have been better recently. Brandon Inge had the other big hit in the game, and he had quietly been struggling recently (but with so many of the hitters struggling, it’s hard to single anyone out there).

After an off-day, it’s time to make what may be a last-ditch effort to get back in the race (then again, we’ve heard that before) and take on the White Sox. They just lost two of three to the Twins. Anyways, Jeremy Bonderman was the only pitcher to beat them last time they faced off. He had some control problems in his last start, which came on short rest. He’ll be up against Mark Buehrle, who beat the Tigers when last he saw them, but lost to the Orioles in his last start (Holy crap, the Orioles are playing well all of a sudden). And it’s going to be an uphill battle for Miguel Cabrera if he wants to break out of his slump. After going hitless back in their last matchup, he is now 0-for-15 against Buehrle.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

That Was Downright 2008-esque

This is going to be a short post, because I have some errands to run before today’s game starts. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that I haven’t had to use the “too many walks” meme since the 2008 season, but that’s not the case in last night’s came. There were WAY too many walks. Max Scherzer pitched well enough to win, but the fact that he was mysteriously unable to throw a strike to Dan Johnson came back to haunt him. The ninth inning was just plain ugly, because neither Robbie Weinhardt nor Enrique Gonzalez could throw strikes (all of the runs ended up on Weinhardt’s ledger, though). Meanwhile, the papers and the other bloggers have finally figured out what I knew several days ago: Miguel Cabrera is in a slump. And he didn’t show any signs of breaking out of it last night. He was at the plate during the Tigers’ only real scoring opportunity. Even the pitcher Jeremy Hellickson admitted that all he did was through a fastball down the middle, and all Cabrera could do with it was hit into an inning-ending double play.

The Tigers wrap up the season series with the Rays today, and with Justin Verlander on the mound, it’s their best chance of winning (mostly because he’s the starter most capable of throwing a shutout). He lost his last time out after wobbling early but finishing strong. He just didn’t make the adjustment fast enough. He pitched a complete game loss against the Rays a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Tigers have an opportunity to exact revenge against the guy who no-hit them, Matt Garza. Again, the strange thing about that game was that he threw about 85% fastballs. That’s not how you’re supposed to no-hit a team. Still, his career ERA against the Tigers is not all that good, and Jhonny Peralta (who hadn’t been traded to the team yet when that happened) has the best numbers of any Tiger against Garza (9-for-19 with a double). Unfortunately for Miguel Cabrera, he’s only 1-for-9 against him (that one hit was a home run, though).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's All in Your Head

I wish I knew more about psychology and that sort of thing, because then I might be able to give a little more insight into how to fix Armando Galarraga’s confidence problems (I am currently reading a book called The Psychology of Baseball, but so far it mostly deals with the unconscious processes that allow a player to hit, pitch, or catch a ball). At the very least, I wish I had a way to give him some words of encouragement or knock some sense into him. I talked yesterday about how he hated the fact that he keeps giving up home runs, and I think that played into what happened last night. He was generally around the strike zone and making his pitches up until the Matt Joyce home run. I think that got him all out of whack and he had control problems for almost the rest of the evening (though his pitches looked a bit better in the fifth, different sleeves or not). He’s generally a person who is not very emotional on the mound, and yet last night there were a couple of instances where he looked very frustrated, yelling a bit and punching his glove, which is uncharacteristic. I think he let his frustration get the better of him and he’s got to figure out a way to get that under control, because sooner or later he’s going to run out of chances, and I don’t want that to happen. Leyland didn’t sound too pleased with him. He also didn’t sound too pleased with Ryan Perry, who allowed two add-on runs right after the offense had cut the deficit to one run. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the good work done by Brad Thomas and Phil Coke, however. By the way, I did see the new Dr. Rahmani commercial featuring Armando Galarraga. I didn’t realize what it was at first, and when I did, it made me laugh probably more than it should have (It could have been worse. My mom saw the commercial and thought that he was one of Dr. Rahmani’s associates).

The Tiger hitters actually had a good approach against David Price, who had his own issues with throwing strikes. The difference with Price is that he has the luxury of being able to reach back and blow 98 MPH fastballs by people. After some hopeful signs on Sunday, Miguel Cabrera remained firmly stuck in his slump. And Jhonny Peralta seems to have inherited the curse of hitting the ball hard right at people. Still, Ryan Raburn has quietly been having some good at-bats recently (give credit where credit is due). Gerald Laird was 2-for-2 with a walk (same here). And Brennan Boesch is giving little signs of maybe breaking out of it a little bit, this time with an opposite field home run.

After feeling like something bad was going to happen last night (and it did), I don’t really get any strong senses about tonight’s game. Max Scherzer pitches against the Rays since his no-hit bid was so rudely interrupted by Matt Joyce’s grand slam. He did a nice job against the White Sox but came away with a no-decision. Meanwhile, the Rays were supposed to start the somewhat struggling Wade Davis, but he returned to St. Petersburg to have his shoulder examined, so the Rays are calling up Jeremy Hellickson to make the spot start. Personally, I would rather they take their chances with Davis, because Hellickson was very impressive against the Twins. Being a rookie, obviously none of the Tigers have seen him.    

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rick Porcello to the Rescue

Photo: AP

After so many close games, followed by Saturday’s ugliness, it was nice to have a relatively laidback win. Rick Porcello did a very good job. It looked like he had a very good slider yesterday. His outing was a nice bounceback from being lit up by the White Sox (and by the way, they are his next scheduled opponent). Meanwhile, it was nice to see the offense score a bunch of runs for a change (By the way, Trevor Bell is the grandson of the original Bozo the Clown. How much did he get teased about that?). There still wasn’t a whole lot of extra-base power, but they managed to string together enough singles together to make it not matter. They also manage to work around a couple of bad baserunning mistakes (Avila getting picked off, Kelly trying to take second on an airmailed throw, etc). It was a big day for Alex Avila and Johnny Damon in particular.

It’s now time to face the Rays again. They are currently on a five game losing streak that has seen their pitching staff give up eight home runs on Saturday and striking out seventeen times while coming to within an out of getting no-hit again yesterday. Still, I don’t really have a good feeling about tonight’s game. I really like Armando Galarraga, but I know full well that he can’t outpitch David Price, and therefore he should not try to (Granted, I get really paranoid that every start that Galarraga makes will be his last start, so perhaps this is clouding my judgment). My baseball guru actually gave me a little bit of a catcher’s insight on Galarraga the other night. He likes the movement on Galarraga’s pitches, but says that he’s seemed distracted in his last couple starts (he phrased it as “not quite there”). His theory was that Galarraga was still upset about having been sent to Toledo last month, but I don’t really think that’s the case. I told him my theory about Galarraga’s primary weakness (He’s a very smart person, and smart people have a tendency to overthink things when they’re in trouble; the subsequent advice was that his catcher needs to get him back on track and make him throw whatever sign gets put down). Another thing is that from the quotes I’ve read from him in recent starts, Galarraga is getting increasingly frustrated at giving up home runs. The thing is, he’s always been prone to giving up home runs (which I don’t have a problem with so long as they are solo shots or, at worst, two-run homers). I’m worried that the frustration will cause him to come unfocused should he give up another home run. He’s made three starts in his career against the Rays. One was a good start, one was a decent start in which he got charged with five earned runs after giving up a three-run homer to straightaway center field with two outs in the eighth inning, and the last start (which came late last year) was an unmitigated disaster after trying to rush himself back from an elbow injury. Meanwhile, David Price has not given the Tigers a whole lot. The only Tiger in the lineup with decent numbers against him is Ramon Santiago (he also possesses the only extra-base hit in the group). Both Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta are 0-for-7 against him. Still, it would be nice to see Cabrera at least get an RBI in this game. He’s gone seven games without one (and in a slump update, he did hit two loud outs in his last two at-bats yesterday).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm Glad I Didn't Go to THAT Game

After I spent yesterday’s blog discussing the specific problems I’ve seen and how it really didn’t feature the starting pitching or the defense, this game was just plain ugly. Jim Leyland may have liked Bonderman’s stuff, but as he said, the command was not there. The command was not there with any of the relievers, either. And apparently Brad Thomas thought he could pitch through an ankle injury, which turned out to be a bad move (Again, don’t pitch hurt). I’m not sure what Eddie Bonine’s problem was. On the flipside, it looked as though the Tigers were trying to be patient against Scott Kazmir, but he was unusually proficient and throwing first-pitch strikes and he only walked one batter. I think their approach against Jered Weaver was better, though.

The Tigers will try to avoid the sweep as they send Rick Porcello to the mound. Porcello was lit up by the White Sox in his first real bad start since his return. He has not pitched particularly well against the Angels in his career, but he’s done better against them than he has against the White Sox. Meanwhile, the Angels will start Trevor Bell, who has an elevated ERA, but he’s not made that many starts yet. His minor league numbers were pretty good. The only Tiger who has seen him is Jhonny Peralta. He’s 1-for-3 with an RBI. Your Mood Music for today: Breaking Benjamin.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

An Attempt at a Diagnosis

I don’t have a lot of time, but I’m going to try do discuss some of the things I’ve observed recently during this slide. First of all, it really isn’t the fault of the starting pitching. Justin Verlander got off to a rocky start (He said that attempting to back off on his fastball like he had in Boston ended up adversely affecting his secondary pitches), but he righted the ship, although the damage was already done. And in the last two weeks, there has only been one starter who has gotten lit up, and that was Porcello against the White Sox. The defense has actually been better than it has been all year. That turns our attention toward the offense. Now, in this game, I think guys had much better at-bats against Jered Weaver than you might think. Peralta and Raburn both had really good battles with him and went largely unrewarded. Still, one thing I have observed is a power outage. There have been very few extra-base hits. It would be easy to proclaim Miguel Cabrera as the only power threat in the lineup, but in fact, there are plenty other guys in there who have at least doubles power with the occasional home run. Brennan Boesch looked more on-track than he has recently. Maybe that’s a good sign. Second, Cabrera is in a slump. People might not have realized it, because he’s getting walked a lot, but he only has two hits on this homestand, one of which was an infield single, and he has come up in big RBI situations where he hasn’t been walked, and he hasn’t done anything. His last RBI came in Boston. His slumps generally don’t last very long, but they sure are excruciating. And short of him being injured, it’s the last thing the Tigers can afford right now. Third, the other teams’ defenses continue to be sparkling. I don’t know how to solve that particular problem.

Tonight is a game I was considering going to, but I made the decision to go in two weeks instead. Anyways, Jeremy Bonderman will be starting on short rest. He was very good against the White Sox, and is the proud owner of the Tigers’ last victory. I don’t know how he’ll fare against the Angels, but I do know that they’re gonna want to run on him. Hideki Matsui has some wicked good numbers against him (.448 with three home runs). The Tigers will face Scott Kazmir as he makes a return from the DL. Kazmir has not pitched well this year, but is one of those pitchers that you would label as “underachieving” rather than “bad.” Johnny Damon and Brennan Boesch both get the night off tonight. The only lefty in the lineup is Will Rhymes. Jhonny Peralta owns Kazmir: 7-for-14 with two doubles and two home runs. Cabrera’s numbers are decent (.313 with a home run). Everyone else’s numbers aren’t all that impressive. And don’t be missing Magglio too much in this game. He’s only 2-for-16 against Kazmir (thought I’d throw that in there since I tortured you with his good numbers against Mark Buehrle).

Friday, August 6, 2010

From Hero to Disappointment

I don’t really have a lot to say about this game. I’m not mad or anything. It’s just that I had to go to work after the top of the tenth inning so I really can’t weigh in on the resolution. I do know Max Scherzer was decent. But our guys seem to be in one of those phases where they can’t get away with any bad pitches. Scherzer got done in by two bad pitches, and Weinhardt and Valverde were victimized the same way in what were otherwise solid outings. Offensively, they stranded a lot of runners early but most of their threats came with two outs and there were two instances where they ran into bad luck double plays. Ryan Raburn finally got the clutch knock with a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth, but it was a feat he was unable to duplicate in the eleventh.

And so now hope is fading fast and they are running out of time to turn things around. There’s plenty of fight, but so far it hasn’t translated into wins. The Angels are kind of in the same position, although I don’t know if they have fight or not because I don’t follow them that closely. They just got swept by the Orioles and their record has fallen under .500. However, they will be sending out a very good pitcher tonight in Jered Weaver. It seems like whenever Weaver faces the Tigers he’s either on his game or he gives up a bunch of runs. The Tigers have beaten him a couple times this year, although he hasn’t really gotten beat up on by them. And several of the guys in the lineup (notably Jackson, Peralta, and Cabrera) have good numbers against him. Damon does not have good numbers against him, on the other hand. Meanwhile, it feels like it’s been a month and a half since I’ve seen Justin Verlander pitch. He got a no-decision in his start against the Red Sox. He’s had his fair share of troubles against the Angels, although he’s won his last three starts against them. There are six Angels who hit at least .300 against him. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ lineup was posted unusually early today, and it’s had a bit of a shuffle. Boesch has been moved to second in the lineup (which removes the pressure of having to protect Cabrera somewhat), with Peralta batting fifth and Damon sixth. Your Mood Music for tonight: I had never heard of this song before yesterday, but I heard it on Gameday Audio before the Tigers’ pregame show. Once I figured out what it was, I thought it was fairly appropriate because I’m betting about 90% of you feel this way.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh, For the Lack of Run Support

Again we see the Tigers fall into the trap of close games where they come up empty. Armando Galarraga had problems commanding his fastball. I noticed he didn’t throw very many sliders (which had been a big pitch for Bonderman the night before), but he was quoted after the game as saying he didn’t feel like the slider was working. He also said he was tired of giving up home runs. I’m not sure what he’s going to do about that, because he’s always been prone to giving up home runs. The key for him is to limit the damage. He did give them some innings, though. Rod Allen was speculating that the ankle was still bothering him. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, and we’re not going to find out. Galarraga would never admit it, and Leyland won’t use it as an excuse.

The problem for the offense was the lack of extra-base power. They had ten hits, but they were all singles. And it’s not like the scoring opportunities came with a rookie or the bottom of the order at the plate. For the most part, they had the hitters they wanted up there. Out of the ten hits, the 4-5-6 hitters combined for just one of them, and that was a swinging bunt infield single. Miguel Cabrera came up with runners at first and second and less than two outs twice, and he didn’t do anything. I’ve mentioned a couple times that the Tigers cannot afford to lose Cabrera. A corollary to that is that they cannot afford to have Cabrera go into a slump. He’s got to bust out of it soon. As for the others, Peralta hit a couple balls hard, but right at people. One bright spot was that Brandon Inge had three hits and an RBI in his return (and his lone out chased Juan Pierre to the warning track).

The Tigers wrap up this series this afternoon, and the hole-digging has to stop soon. Max Scherzer was pretty good against the Red Sox, although the Tigers lost that game after a bullpen meltdown. However, one little oddity about Scherzer is that he has pitched really well outside the division, but has struggled in the Central (which is not what the Tigers were looking for when they got him). He faced the White Sox earlier this year and lost to John Danks. Omar Vizquel hit a home run off him. Meanwhile, the Tigers face Freddy Garcia, who they haven’t done much against this year, even though several of them have homered off him in their careers. Hopefully this will be the pitcher that gets Miguel Cabrera going again, though. He’s hitting .353 with three home runs off his fellow countryman. On the flipside, Brandon Inge only hits .216 with sixteen strikeouts against Garcia.