Saturday, July 31, 2010

By the Skin of their Teeth...

Photo: AP

Winning at Fenway never seems to be easy. Armando Galarraga got off to a bit of a shaky start, but looked pretty strong after the first inning. His pitches looked to have decent movement on them, although his command was a bit spotty (It did not help matters that the home plate umpire was not calling the low strike. He was consistent with not calling the low strike, but it was more to Galarraga’s disadvantage than Lester’s because Lester has better stuff). And then Kevin Youkilis hit a line drive off his ankle and for a few minutes it looked as though the Tigers would sustain yet another major injury. Fortunately, it turned out just to be a bad bruise and while he’s really sore, he should be able to make his next start (if he has one). Unfortunately, it meant that he had to leave the game one out shy of qualifying for the win. Following that was some solid work out of the bullpen until the ninth inning. I don’t know what happened with Valverde there. I’d like to think it was just a fluke because of what he showed during the first half. I did wonder again if there was some sort of injury. He said afterwards that he had trouble gripping the ball, similar to what happened in that outing against Texas. I’m pretty sure that the David Ortiz grand slam would not have been a home run in Comerica Park because the walls are lower at Fenway Park (not 100% sure, because that’s right around that area with the camera well, where the wall is a bit lower), but it still would have been big time trouble and it would have cleared the bases. One thing’s for sure: Valverde will not be making another appearance in this series.

It was really, really weird to see Jhonny Peralta in a Tigers uniform. I mean, I’ve seen the game long enough to have seen guys I’m familiar with from other teams come and play for the Tigers, but I think this is the first one from a division rival. The other guys I spoke of I saw maybe a couple times a year. I’ve seen a ton of Peralta and due to my dislike of the Indians, I generally rooted against him. All of a sudden I find myself rooting for him. However, Peralta knew exactly what to do to endear the skeptical fans: Hit two home runs in his Tigers debut. Aside from that, the whole “game of inches” thing really came into play, and every one of those plays turned out to be crucial. Will Rhymes’s RBI double just bounced off Mike Cameron’s glove. Gerald Laird laid down a bunt that Kevin Youkilis missed the tag on. Laird would later score in the inning.

Well, after that hair-raising adventure, it’s time for a big Fox game (and hopefully the win last night will tone down the no-hitter crap). Max Scherzer will take the ball for the first time since he almost no-hit the Rays before being outdone by Matt Joyce. He faced the Red Sox earlier this year and it was disastrous, leading to him getting sent down to Toledo. David Ortiz hit two home runs in that game. Meanwhile, the Tigers will face Daisuke Matsusaka. He’s the type that could throw a no-hitter or walk nine in a game, sometimes at the same time. He’s been good in his last couple starts, though, and against the Tigers, he generally gives up a lot of baserunners, but not a lot of runs. Nothing really stands out in terms of individual matchups. Miguel Cabrera is 2-for-6, and Gerald Laird is 2-for-5, but Jhonny Peralta is 0-for-11.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Close Game...

See what I mean about everything being just a tick off? You can’t really put the blame on Rick Porcello. He pitched quite well. He got victimized by some infield singles and a couple ground balls that Cabrera couldn’t quite come up with, but that’s just the way things are going right now. They just can’t get away with any mistakes whatsoever. On the offensive side of things, well, they weren’t going to get a whole lot off David Price. Most teams don’t. What I can’t figure out is the seventh inning that has replayed itself for three straight games. When it happened the first time, I wasn’t surprised that Joe Maddon issued the intentional walk because this is a guy who once issued an intentional walk with the bases loaded in a two run game. I’m also not surprised that Brennan Boesch didn’t come through (even if he weren’t slumping). What astounds me is that the situation was identical each time: Top of the seventh, runners at first and second with two outs in a one-run game and Cabrera at the plate. How does that exact same scenario happen in three straight games? The odds of that have to be incredibly ridiculous.

And so we find ourselves with a situation where the Tigers have lost all four games on this road trip so far, but they could just as easily have won all four. The pitching has been good for the past week or so. But now, they head to Boston, where it is very difficult to pitch. The Red Sox, like the Tigers, have been beset with injuries, although their guys are starting to get healthy and come back. And it’s still a formidable lineup. The first unlucky soul charged with the task of keeping them at bay is Armando Galarraga. It feels like an eternity since he’s been on the mound, mostly because I did not see his last start, which was a good one. However, that was against the aggressive, free-swinging Blue Jays. The Red Sox are much more patient and much more adept at fouling off tough pitches. He beat them earlier this year back in his season debut with the Tigers, but his other meetings with them have not gone so well. He has never pitched at Fenway Park, as far as I know (He was scheduled to last year, but he got sick and was scratched at the last minute). At the same time, he once again needs to turn in a good start. These Ted Lilly rumors haven’t died yet. Most of the Red Sox really haven’t hit him for average, except Kevin Youkilis, who has ridiculously good numbers against him (4-8 with two home runs). But they have found ways to score runs against him. Meanwhile, the Tigers will face Jon Lester, who is coming off two straight losses. The cheery online game preview noted that the last time he lost two in a row, he rattled off eleven straight wins. The Tigers have handled him the couple times they’ve seen him, but they’ve never had to face him before in the second half, when he’s generally tougher. Brennan Boesch, who had some good swings off him back in May, is not in the lineup. Two lefties are being thrown at him (Damon and Rhymes, who has hit impressively well so far). This game will also feature the Tigers debut of Jhonny Peralta and the major league debut of Jeff Frazier, who was called up this morning with Jeff Larish being designated for assignment. Frazier has been one of the hottest hitters for the Mud Hens (along with Rhymes) and he’s second in the International League in home runs, so it’s worth a shot, I suppose. Either way, if the Tigers win tonight, they’re gonna have to fight real hard for it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

Another close game, another loss. You could almost just take what I said yesterday and plug it in here, except the bullpen allowed the Rays to pull away in the eighth inning. Eddie Bonine pitched better than his line would indicate, I think. He had some bad luck in the fourth inning where he kept inducing weak ground balls, but they were almost too weak because the Rays kept beating them out for infield singles or the Tigers couldn’t turn the double play. I daresay Bonine pitched better than Brad Thomas, and Thomas didn’t give up any runs. The offense managed to score more runs against Niemann than most teams are able to. Meanwhile, Brennan Boesch seemingly has inherited Gerald Laird’s lineout curse, because for the second straight game he hit an absolute scorching line drive that was caught. He was also victimized by the Rays walking Miguel Cabrera again to get to him. He made contact this time, but it wasn’t enough.

The Tigers will try to get a win today behind Rick Porcello. He pitched decently last time (not as good as he was in Cleveland), but still took the loss. He’s faced the Rays once before, going 5.2 innings and only giving up one run. That was at Comerica Park. I’m not sure Tropicana Field will be as friendly. If he’s on, he’ll get lots of ground balls, and we all saw last night what happens to ground balls on that artificial surface. If he’s not on, the Rays will find other ways to score runs against him. David Price will start for the Rays, and he’s had a hell of a season. He started the All-Star Game, and his ERA is under three. He beat the Tigers last year the only time he faced them (I’m pretty sure I did not see that game; I do remember it being a big Fox game). There’s nothing that impressive in the individual matchups, either. They haven’t posted the lineup yet, but I’d be surprised to see Jhonny Peralta in there. Jason Beck mentioned on Twitter last night that his plane was supposed to land at the Tampa airport at 11 AM and this game starts at 12:10.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I am Getting Sick of Other Teams' Defenses

This was one of those frustrating games, though it did not come from lack of effort. Justin Verlander gave all he could. It’s a shame that the difference in the game was on a broken-bat double to Matt Joyce. On the hitting side of things, the Tigers had issues with stranding runners, but they finally got the situation they wanted in the ninth: Miguel Cabrera at the plate in a situation in which he couldn’t be pitched around or walked intentionally. He ended up bouncing into a game-ending double play. Credit Evan Longoria with taking a huge risk and having it pay off. That thing was executed to the microsecond. If Johnny Damon had gotten to second base any sooner, or if Cabrera was just the slightest bit faster, that double play does not get turned. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see the opposing team’s defense come up with spectacular play after spectacular play to squash Tiger rallies, and the number of times it has happened in the second half is ridiculous.

And now I want to make another point: During this second half, even while we’ve had all these rookies on the team, it’s not like they’ve been completely overmatched. They have played a lot of really close games. They’ve had five one-run losses, a couple of two-run losses, and a couple more games that were close until the very late innings. There’s more fight in this team than a lot of people think. I get the feeling that everyone’s just a tick out of sync, and I mean JUST a tick. It seems like every game ends up hinging on one particular pitch or one particular at-bat. I think that’s why I seriously believe that acquiring the right person at the deadline would be more beneficial than a lot of fans believe it would. Because the Tigers are still hanging around. It’s taking them all they got, but they’re still in it.

Eddie Bonine will make a spot start tonight, and thanks to the efforts of Justin Verlander, the bullpen should be well-rested. Bonine seems to be able to go about sixty pitches before he loses his effectiveness. He’s been decent out of the bullpen, though he has had issues with stranding inherited runners recently, although that has absolutely no bearing on tonight. Only two Rays have ever faced him. Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria are both 0-1. Starting for the Rays is Jeff Niemann. He is having a very good year (as are most of the Tampa Bay starting pitchers). He made two starts against the Tigers last year, and they didn’t do much against him. The Tigers won both of those games because they came back against the Rays’ bullpen. Johnny Damon and Miguel Cabrera are both 3-8 against him. The rest of the uninjured Tigers have no hits against him or have never faced him. Also, late-breaking news: The Tigers have acquired Jhonny Peralta from the Indians for Giovanni Soto. I’m not quite sure if that’s the bat I was looking for, but it is an indication that the front office hasn’t given up yet.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

That Sucked Just As Much As I Thought It Would

The last time the Tigers were no-hit, I was six years old and I didn’t even know what a no-hitter was. Hell, I believed that the only out you could make was via strikeout, a ball was any pitch that was not swung at, and that any ball put in play was automatically a hit (therefore the concept of walks and double plays were completely mind-blowing to me by the time I learned them). That was June of 1990. I will turn twenty-seven a week from today, so the odds that I would live out the rest of my life without the Tigers getting no-hit again were extremely low. It had to happen sometime. I’ve sat through a couple close calls where the opposing pitcher was no-hitting the Tigers into the seventh or eighth, but they always managed to avoid it. I did see the Tigers get no-hit by Ricky Nolasco in spring training last year, but I bet I’m the only one who remembers it. Still, the fact that it was ultimately inevitable doesn’t make last night any less humiliating. And it’s not necessarily reflective of a team’s offense (as in, having a poor offense doesn’t necessarily increase your team’s chances of being no-hit, otherwise the Mariners probably would have been no-hit about six times already this year). I mean, the other teams this year to have been no-hit were the Braves, Rays (twice), Marlins, and Indians (insert asterisk here). Of those teams, I’d say only the Indians had a poor offense. I figured that the Rays would get their team’s first no-hitter sooner rather than later, just based on how good their pitching staff has been the last couple years. And actually, I had a sense that Matt Garza was a real strong candidate to do it (that may have come from the fact that he almost no-hit the Marlins a couple years ago). But it’s completely mind-blowing that of the 120 pitches he threw, a whopping 101 were fastballs. That’s insane. His breaking pitches were not really working at all last night. And I even got the feeling that Jim Leyland and Johnny Damon (who were the only ones interviewed about it last night) felt like that wasn’t really no-hit stuff, because there wasn’t any of that diplomatic “he could have no-hit anybody” talk from either of them. They both remarked that there were a lot of fastballs, and both of them mentioned that they felt the Tigers should have gotten better swings at them.

It should be noted that this game featured dueling no-hitters for a long time. Max Scherzer actually looked more impressive than Garza because he was striking more guys out and it looked like his secondary pitches were working better than Garza’s. However, that all fell apart in the sixth inning; He said later that his mechanics broke down. I know his command broke down, because he walked two and went to full counts on two others. He finally got burned by ex-Tiger Matt Joyce, and in that situation, it might have been preferable to just walk in a run. Also, there was a lot of complaining that the strike zone was different for the two pitchers. I will have to investigate that further, but I do know that the Tigers were again victimized by two blown calls. And I get the sense that Leyland’s had enough.

Hopefully the healing can begin tonight. Justin Verlander certainly has the capability of no-hitting any team on the planet. However, against the Rays, it seems like he has to work harder to get his outs, though his ERA isn’t bad against them. On the flipside, the Tiger hitters face James Shields, who has struggled this year to the point where his ERA his almost five, but I have to believe that’s deceptive, because his strikeout to walk ratio is excellent. It seems like every time he faces the Tigers, he gives up exactly three runs. Who knows what happens tonight, though?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Goonies Never Say Die

Photo: Reuters

This is going to be shorter than it should be because I wasted time all day and now all of a sudden, the next game starts in less than an hour. It took almost everything they had, but the Tigers did manage to gain a split in the doubleheader. I only was able to listen to the ninth inning of the first game and I was surprised to hear Jose Valverde giving up a home run to lose the game. He proceeded to give up a home run in the nightcap as well, which is odd. I am wondering if it has something to do with the line drive he took off his knee to begin the ninth inning of the first game. In the first game, it was a shame, because by all accounts, Armando Galarraga was very strong. I had been worried that the Blue Jays would be a bad match for him because of all the home runs they hit (and he did give up a couple), but at the same time, I failed to realize that when he’s at his best, he can mow down an aggressive team. From what I hear (and not just from Jim Price), the movement on his pitches was better than it had been most of the year. In the nightcap, Bonderman was not as sharp as Galarraga, but he held his own for most of the game. It’s hard to keep track (since most of us were stuck listening to the radio), but it seemed like the Jays got an awful lot of infield singles. At any rate, the Tigers were running out of time when Ryan Raburn came through with a three run double to give the Tigers the lead. Some people in the media and some other bloggers were referring to that almost as if the Tigers should be embarrassed about Raburn being the hero, or that they should have lost “for their own good” in order to avoid false hope. I find it reassuring that the hero was not one of the usual suspects like Cabrera (though he did provide some heroics of his own in both games which shouldn’t be overlooked). I still feel like the Tigers can still hang in there if they can just get one more big bat. Also, I feel like I should note that it looks (or rather, sounds) like Brennan Boesch is beginning to come around. By all accounts, his at-bats were better in the doubleheader (though he only got one hit to show for it), and he was showing a lot more plate discipline. We’ll see what happens going forward.

Tonight begins what ought to be a grueling road trip through two of the three “Beasts of the East.” First up is four against the Rays. Oddly enough, the Rays actually have a better road record than home record, but they are still a formidable foe. The Tigers’ fortunes at Tropicana Field have been mixed over the last couple years. In 2009, they swept the Rays. In 2008, they got swept. Those were both three-game series. This is a four-gamer, and that old adage about wanting a split should be appropriate. Max Scherzer gets the start for the Tigers. He was stellar in his last start against the Rangers. He’s never faced the Rays before, and the only hitter of theirs that he’s seen is Matt Joyce. That came back when Scherzer was a Diamondback and Joyce was a Tiger. Joyce is 0-3 (I know Joyce hit a home run in that game and up until now I thought it was off Scherzer, but apparently not). Meanwhile, the Tigers will face Matt Garza. They’ve been successful against him in terms of wins/losses and ERA, but most of their hitters haven’t done much against him. Maggs was pretty much the only one who owned him. Other than that, Gerald Laird’s got the best numbers at 2-5. Cabrera’s only 1-6, but that one hit was a home run (I always seem to be saying that every time Cabrera’s only got one career hit off any particular pitcher).  

Sunday, July 25, 2010

These are the Times that Try Men's Souls

When all else fails, get literary. Anyways, I’ve got some analysis, reporting, cheerleading (because no one else will), and previewing to do, and not much time to do it in. First, last night’s game, minus the injuries (I’ll get to those in a minute). Rick Porcello was not as sharp as he had been in Cleveland, but he still looked pretty good, definitely well enough to win. The three runs he gave up were on a groundout, a bloop single, and a fielder’s choice (this from a team who lives and dies by the home run and isn’t really known for their manufacturing). They got some good work out of the bullpen as well. As far as offense goes, you’d say that two runs on ten hits is inefficient, and it is, but those hits sure were scattered. They had a hit in every inning except the ninth, but a lot of those came with two outs, and they only got the leadoff man on once.

Of course, the more serious blow had nothing to do with the score. All day yesterday, I had a really odd feeling about this game, like something would happen that would set off a chain of events leading us all down an unpleasant and undesirable path. I think I found what was bothering me. Magglio fractured his ankle sliding into home plate and will be out 6-8 weeks. Was it because he was already dealing with soreness in that ankle? I don’t know. It looked like he got his spikes stuck in the dirt as he was beginning his slide. Perhaps that was the final blow that snapped an already weakened ankle, although if that’s the case and the ankle was already that feeble, it was probably only a matter of time before that happened and he should not have been playing anyways (It’s hard to say, because they were really vague about what the original injury was other than it was “sore”). On the other hand, it could have just been a freak thing that would have happened even if his ankle were completely healthy. The Tigers have also had to place Carlos Guillen on the DL with a calf strain. There’s no timetable on him, although I can’t imagine he’d be out as long as Magglio. All signs point to the Tigers calling up Jeff Larish and Will Rhymes. Larish you already know from his previous stints with the Tigers. Will Rhymes has been one of the hottest hitters for the Mud Hens recently. He doesn’t have a lot in the way of power (though he did homer in a Mud Hens game I was at recently), but he has some speed, having stolen 20 bases for the Hens. And he’s not real tall, but then again, neither is David Eckstein. And now I’m going to get on the soapbox, because no one else will. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in Tigerdom, and that’s understandable, but I say to you: The season is not lost! Magglio certainly wouldn’t want them to give up, and if they do, shame on them. This is still a very winnable division, and the White Sox and Twins are both dealing with key injuries of their own. Plus, all this has happened before the Trade Deadline. It’s entirely possible that Dave Dombrowski can go get a bat or two. There are two, and only two, players who are the true lifeblood of this team. Those would be Verlander and Cabrera. The loss of either of those two would be a season-killer. Only in that case would I give up this early. There is just too much baseball left to be played to pack it in now. The Tigers got oh-so-close last year, and they only had consistent production from two, maybe three guys. There’s no reason that some of the underperformers this year can’t step it up. As the Twins taught us last year, sometimes all it takes is one hot month. And I will remind you that the Tigers still have fourteen games remaining with the division leaders (as well as six against the Twins). And so I tell you: Do not go gentle into that good night.

At any rate, the Tigers don’t have a lot of time to cry over spilled milk. There’s a lot of baseball to be played today with a day-night doubleheader. Unfortunately, I work today, so I will miss the day game. This is especially frustrating because they switched the starting pitchers, and so now Armando Galarraga will start the day game. Also, I am fairly certain that this will be his last start for the Tigers, although I am not as certain of that as I was before last night’s game. For a while there, it looked like the Tigers were going to acquire a starting pitcher, and that may still happen. It’s possible that Galarraga would be included in such a trade, but either way, the new starting pitcher would almost certainly replace him in the rotation. Also, the Tigers need a spot starter on Wednesday. I heard from Dan and Jim on the radio last night that they would prefer to have someone in the bullpen start and not have to make a roster move, but that’s entirely dependent on what happens the next few days. If Galarraga can give some good innings and spare the bullpen like he did in his last start, he might be okay. But I still think the odds are against him. It’s probably not a particularly good matchup for him, because he’s prone to giving up home runs (always has been; that’s fine as long as they are solo shots) and the Blue Jays hit a lot of home runs. He hasn’t faced them since 2008, where he made one decent and one very good start against them. The Blue Jays will start lefty Brett Cecil, who I admittedly know very little about. He struggled in three starts toward the end of June, but his July numbers have been pretty good (against the Yankees, Twins, and Royals). Johnny Damon is the only Tiger who has faced him (0-3). The nightcap will feature Jeremy Bonderman against Jesse Litsch. Bonderman was shaky in his last start against the Rangers, although he came away with a no-decision. Litsch does not have a real good ERA, but I seem to remember him getting locked into a pitching duel with Armando Galarraga back in 2008 (which the Tigers eventually won).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stupid Weather

Okay, so take everything I said about last night’s game and apply it to tonight, because it’s the same pitching matchup. I really didn’t want them to have to play a doubleheader because that messes up the pitching schedule, which means someone will have to make a spot start on Wednesday, which means someone else is going to lose his rotation spot. At any rate, the reason the doubleheader was scheduled for tomorrow and not today is because more storms are expected today, so we might have this conversation all over again tomorrow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Verlander and Cabrera are Magnificent Beasts

Photo: Getty Images

This is the first Christmas in July where I haven’t titled the post “You’re Getting a Lump of Coal.” Justin Verlander gave up a couple runs and a lot of extra-base hits early, but had the wherewithal to see that the Jays were sitting on his fastball, and started to mix in his offspeed stuff which worked beautifully. And before you knew it, he was able to give the team eight solid innings. Offensively, it was kind of a pitching duel with Ricky Romero for most of the game characterized by a couple of baserunning blunders. Ramon Santiago got doubled up on a soft line drive to second that he should not have been. Magglio thought that a pitch Ryan Raburn had swung and missed at had gotten away from the catcher, but it hadn’t, and was a dead duck. Miguel Cabrera led off the sixth with a double but got thrown out at third on Raburn’s ground ball to first (although that wasn’t really a baserunning mistake so much as it was a heads-up play by Overbay). However, Cabrera came through twice for the Tigers, knocking in both the first run in the fourth and the go-ahead run in the eighth.

The series continues tonight. Rick Porcello will try to see if he can duplicate that great outing he had in Cleveland. Like Verlander, he’ll have to have his secondary pitches working, because we’ve already seen what the Blue Jays do to fastballs. He made his Major League debut against the Blue Jays way back in April of last year, and had a decent start against them in September. Both Aaron Hill and Adam Lind have hit home runs off him. The Tiger hitters will be facing Shaun Marcum, whom they have not seen since early 2008. He’s been out for more than a year with shoulder surgery. I remember him being a hard thrower with some really good stuff, but I don’t know how the surgery affected him. None of the Tigers have eye-popping numbers against him. Miguel Cabrera’s 1-5, but that one hit was a home run. That is the only extra base hit among all active Tigers against Marcum. At the same time, everyone who has seen him has at least one hit except Santiago, but in most cases it’s just that: One hit.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unlikely Sources

Photo: AP

Nice to put that photo credit up again. I figured it would take something like a shutout to get the Tigers back on track, and they got one (technically, it wasn’t a shutout, but still). Max Scherzer did very well. I knew it was probably the Tigers’ night when he allowed a leadoff triple to Michael Young and Young didn’t score. The only blip on the pitching was that Jose Valverde was extremely, and uncharacteristically, wild. With the way he kept looking at his hand after almost every pitch, I thought that he might be battling a blister or torn callous or something, but after the game he said he didn’t know what the problem was. It’s possible he could still have a blister and not be telling anyone, but for now, that’s just speculation, and hopefully it’s a one-time thing and we won’t have to worry about it.

Another way to beat a losing streak is to get contributions from guys who have been struggling, and I would say Laird would qualify. It had even been a long time since he got robbed or lined out. But he came through this time with a home run and a single. And it was refreshing to see the Tigers turn a pop-up into a sac fly for once, instead of being victimized by it. Something else worth mentioning is that Austin Jackson had himself a rather good series.

Now it’s time to welcome in the Toronto Blue Jays for four games. If they were in the AL Central, they’d be right in the thick of the division race, but in the AL East, they are a distant fourth place. Their calling card: Home runs. And lots of them. And their pitching isn’t too bad. They’ll start lefty Ricky Romero in the day game today. He made his Major League debut against the Tigers back in April of last year. He also faced them in September. He has one win and one loss against them. He’s pitched well this year, as his 3.50 ERA will attest to, but I’ve seen a couple games where he’s laid an egg, so he is beatable. Every Tiger who has faced him has at least one hit, except Ryan Raburn (Raburn is still in the lineup to give Brennan Boesch a mental day off). No one has faced him more than seven times. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander, like Max Scherzer, is looking to bounce back from a wild outing against the Indians. He has faced the Blue Jays three times in his career and he has not pitched well against them. His ERA is over eleven, with two losses and a no-decision (that no-decision came courtesy of an Aubrey Huff pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning; that’s why I can’t dislike Huff entirely, because that home run was awesome). Most of the Blue Jays only have three or four plate appearances against him. Vernon Wells (who is enjoying a bounceback season) has owned him to a 5-7 clip. John Buck has faced him the most (thanks to playing for the Royals for many years). He’s 7-26, but one of those hits is a home run. It’s Christmas in July at Comerica Park, one of my least favorite promotions. I’m about ready to ask Santa for a long Tigers winning streak, though.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stop Playing Like It's 2008

I still haven’t thought of a good introductory sentence, so let’s just launch into the post-mortem, shall we? Armando Galarraga started out a little bit shaky in his return by giving up three runs early (though Austin Jackson misplayed the Ian Kinsler triple and probably should have been able to hold him to a double). After the second inning, however, he got a lot better. The slider looked especially good, as he racked up six strikeouts (though if I remember correctly, he’s always been proficient at striking out Rangers). David Murphy kept hitting long fly balls off him, but he was the only batter who consistently had good swings off him (There’s always gonna be someone, even against Verlander). He did give up a run in the sixth, but I wasn’t looking for him to pitch a shutout, and he threw strikes, only walking one. All in all, there was more good than bad. He gave them some innings, he helped get the bullpen back in order, and he kept his team in the game. The high pitch count kind of concerns me, because he was already pitching on short rest and proceeded to throw 115 pitches. He just had no run support, and that’s starting to become the story of his season. The Tigers have won most of his starts, but they haven’t scored many runs while he has been the pitcher of record (I’ll delve deeper into this when I preview his next start, if he has another start). The brief cameo by the bullpen was disastrous and put the game completely out of reach. I really felt bad for Casey Fien, because I’ve briefly met him and he seems like a nice guy.

The Tiger offense, like many before them, couldn’t do anything against Tommy Hunter. It’s hard to tell what it is that makes him effective. I kind of bullied a sabremetrics expert into saying he’s due to regress, but apparently that didn’t happen last night. It looked like they were starting to figure him out a little bit near the end of his outing. The Rangers were probably wise to go to the bullpen when they did. Can I also add that I am sick and tired of opposing teams making outstanding defensive plays against the Tigers?

And so it is now Max Scherzer’s turn to snap the streak, which is appropriate, since he’s kind of the one who started the slide in the first place (It really doesn’t feel like a seven-game losing streak, because the first loss happened almost ten days ago and two of the other losses happened on the same day). He had massive control problems in Cleveland, walking five (so did everyone else except Rick Porcello; so far, the only real strike-throwers we’ve had in the second half have been Porcello and Galarraga). He’s made one start against Texas this year in which he gave up a home run to Vladimir Guerrero. He ended up with a no-decision because the Tigers tied the game against Neftali Feliz, although they still lost in the ninth. Colby Lewis will start for the Rangers. He’s been very good for them as well. He beat the Tigers earlier this year but got off to a shaky start before settling in and the Tigers could do nothing with him after the first couple innings. He’s the only pitcher that Austin Jackson has homered off of.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And Sometimes It Doesn't Make Sense

Could a single game get any weirder? I felt like it was a west coast game (and it certainly ended about the time a west coast game would). Throughout the whole mess, there were clues that things just weren’t going to go the Tigers’ way last night. Obviously, the big blow is that Brandon Inge suffered a broken hand and will be out 4-6 weeks (Now, is that including “resuming baseball activities” and rehab assignments, or is that separate?). That’s going to be tough to work around, no matter what the Inge haters say, because there’s no organizational depth at third base. I guess the rumored plan is to eventually move Carlos Guillen back over there (yuck) and call up Scott Sizemore, but for tonight at least it looks like Don Kelly will fill in and Casey Fien has been called up. That makes sense, because the bullpen has got to be running on fumes right now and you have to be prepared should the worst happen. Just about the only guy in the bullpen who is at full strength is Brad Thomas. I’d say Ryan Perry and Robbie Weinhardt are definitely unavailable, Eddie Bonine would only be available in an emergency, Jose Valverde and Enrique Gonzalez are questionable, and Phil Coke is probably available. I wonder if it is either Justin Verlander or Rick Porcello’s side session day (I can’t remember if that happens two days after you start or three). If it is, one or both might be held back just in case. There were other clues that things weren’t going the right way. The normally sure-handed Austin Jackson made two errors. Robbie Weinhardt kept getting weak ground ball after weak ground ball that kept finding holes, and then when he finally got the double play ball, the Comerica Park infield was momentarily transplanted with that of the Metrodome and the ball bounced right over Santiago’s head (Seriously, that bounce looked like something straight out of Angels in the Outfield). The home run that Nelson Cruz hit did not look like it would travel that far off his bat, but it found the camera well where the wall is low (although the runner was on the move at the time, so even if it went off the wall instead of over it, a run probably would have scored, and it was hit in a spot that I don’t think Magglio could have caught up to, if you’re thinking about him possibly catching it).

The Tigers beat up on Scott Feldman the way they usually do, scoring five runs in five innings. Then those little clues started to emerge again. Johnny Damon hit a bullet that was snared by Chris Davis, saving a run. Later, Damon should have scored the winning run on Brennan Boesch’s single, but got deked by Nelson Cruz and lost the ball in the lights so he had to hold up at third and Carlos Guillen bounced into an inning-ending double play (though I still don’t know why the Rangers were playing at double play depth and not infield in, given that the winning run was at third). Let’s not forget that Damon is normally a very good baserunner (so it’s akin to the two Austin Jackson errors in that respect). There was some complaining about the strike zone throughout the game. However, every time there was a questionable call, Gameday would confirm it as a strike, although just barely, except once, and that was the called third strike to Austin Jackson that ended the game. That was definitely outside. On the bright side, it was nice to see Cabrera swinging the bat well again. He ended up with three hits, two home runs, and two RBIs. Now if the pitching staff could only hold down Josh Hamilton so Cabrera can get back in on top in batting average.

Let me be the first to say that I have no idea what’s going to happened tonight. Armando Galarraga is back up with the Tigers (it was nice seeing him in the dugout again, and I had a thought that it was an amazing coincidence that his friend Miguel Cabrera had a big night at the plate). I know there’s not a lot of confidence in him from the fans, and I feel as though the odds are already stacked against him. Texas has a good offense (even though most of their threats are from right-handed bats and Galarraga can shut down righties when he’s going good), plus Galarraga’s schedule got all out of whack last week. He ended up in Los Angeles at the ESPYs, which was cool, but it left him unable to make his scheduled start in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and ended up pitching three scoreless innings in relief the following night (He threw 48 pitches, if I remember correctly). Therefore, he’s starting on short rest, which isn’t exactly routine. He’s faced the Rangers three times before, with one not-that-great, one excellent, and one decent start. The not-that-great start was the most recent, however, and he’ll be up against the guy who beat him in that start, Tommy Hunter. He’s one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now. He’s 6-0 with a very good earned run average. He beat the Tigers last year by holding them to one run in seven innings (though if I remember correctly, the Tigers stranded a lot of baserunners in that game; I also happen to know that I went to the drive-in that night, for some odd reason). Miguel Cabrera struck out twice against him (once with the bases loaded, I think). He has not faced a lot of the guys he’ll be facing tonight, though. And one more thing: I refuse to quit on this season just because of Inge’s broken hand. There are only two guys whose loss(es) would make me believe the Tigers have no chance, and they are Verlander and Cabrera. There’s still a long way to go, and the White Sox and Twins are both dealing with injuries of their own. And now for Mood Music (it came up on my iPod and I thought it appropriate).  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is That How The Texas Rangers Felt?

I guess I’m not really going to feel the full impact of what everyone else is feeling, because I did not see two of the games in this series, and looking at a box score doesn’t give you the same emotional charge as “experiencing” it live (or, in my case, on television). The only bit of this game that I saw was Jhonny Peralta’s inside-the-park home run, and that was only because I had to know how that went down, because Peralta doesn’t exactly have a lot of speed, and while Raburn’s definitely a defensive liability, he’s not THAT bad. As it turns out, it wasn’t entirely his fault. He ended up crashing through the bullpen gate, which probably should have been locked (something similar happened to Mike Stanton right before the All-Star Break). Andy Oliver continued to kind of slip away. The decision between him and Porcello, in the end, really wasn’t that difficult, and as it turns out, the Tigers made the expected move a day early, sending Oliver down to Toledo in order to call up Armando Galarraga. The pitching as a whole was a problem in the entire series. Scherzer, Verlander, and Oliver all each walked five batters. Porcello was the lone bright spot in the rotation, going eight innings without walking anybody. And just about every member of the bullpen failed at some point except for Ryan Perry. Even Jose Valverde gave up a run. Meanwhile, the Indians played this series the way I almost expected them to play the whole season (Trust me, go back to some of my writings from spring training, particularly the previews, and you’ll see I warned you not to count Cleveland out; while it’s probably too late for them to make a run, they can realize the potential I sense at any time). However, let us not forget that the Tigers opened up last year’s second half by getting swept, and that didn’t kill the season right then and there (That particular event happened later).

The Tigers are now entering a stretch where their next 31 games are all against teams that are over .500. They had a similar stretch earlier in the season, and they got through it all right. Still, it won’t be easy. At any rate, they’ve returned home for seven. First up is the Texas Rangers. They finished the first half by being swept in a four-game series by the Baltimore Orioles. In a sense, that’s probably a bigger blow to the ego than what just happened to the Tigers, because that sweep happened while the Rangers were at home and the Orioles are an even worse team than the Indians. They seemed to have bounced back nicely by taking three of four from the Red Sox at Fenway, however, and they’re one of the few AL teams who play well on the road. They’ve won something like 14 of their last 19 road games. At the same time, they’ve lost their last eleven games at Comerica Park, and the Tigers will certainly be trying to extend that to twelve. Jeremy Bonderman will try to snap the Tigers’ losing streak in the process. He had a decent start last time against the Twins. He’s faced the Rangers once this year, and was somewhat uneven. The Tigers did win that game, though. Meanwhile, Scott Feldman will start for the Rangers (one silver lining is that the Tigers will NOT face Cliff Lee in this series). He’s struggled for much of the year, but was good in his last start, which was against the Orioles (their bullpen blew that game). I haven’t done Mood Music in a really long time, so why not tonight? This song came on the radio while I was out today, and I felt like playing it here for some reason.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Double Blech

Forgive me for not being very descriptive. I had planned on writing the majority of this post last night once game 2 ended just so I’d have it ready, but the lengthy rain delay and extra innings kind of ruined that plan. Plus, I didn’t see game 1, so I can’t comment on that too much. You’d think Justin Verlander could easily win if he’s up 3-0 before he even throws a pitch, but that wasn’t the case. The only run scoring I saw was the wild pitch, and it definitely looked like a blockable ball. Meanwhile, I guess the story on the offensive side was that all the rallies kept getting squelched by good defensive plays. Okay, I understand how sometimes the Tigers make bad pitchers look good, and I understand how sometimes our pitchers get lit up by teams that don’t hit much. There’s some level of control there. What I don’t understand is how the Tigers can cause a bad defensive team to turn in an entire Web Gem segment of sparkling plays. Logic would dictate that you CAN’T cause that, and yet it just keeps on happening.

Game 2 featured a very encouraging outing from Rick Porcello. He looked like he did the last time I saw him, maybe a little bit better. The key stat of the night was zero walks, after Scherzer and Verlander both walked five batters. However, the bullpen eventually couldn’t hold it. Robbie Weinhardt just could not get the final out of the eleventh inning. Meanwhile, a lot of the fans seem to be blaming the offense problems in this game on Leyland. I don’t really get that. Take the first inning, for example. The Tigers have the bases loaded with nobody out and Miguel Cabrera at the plate. What is Leyland supposed to do there to change the outcome of that inning? Leyland, for his part, seemed to think Game 2 was due to some sort of lack of effort. At least, that’s what his tone suggested. It was a rough night for Cabrera. His lone hit should have been a double but he thought it was a home run and only ended up at first. He immediately realized he had screwed up, because he kept looking in the direction of the Tigers’ dugout, pointing to himself and saying “My bad” (one of the rare instances where I could read his lips), but you could tell Leyland wasn’t happy about it.

Well, Rick Porcello put up a good outing. Now it’s time for Andy Oliver to make his move. Someone will have to be sent down on Tuesday to make room for Armando Galarraga, and it’s likely to be one of those two. Oliver’s been in the rotation for almost a month and he’s still looking for his first win. And his outings have gotten increasingly rough. Obviously, none of the Indians have seen him, unless someone got called up from double A and I don’t know about it. Meanwhile, the Indians will have a starting pitcher making his major league debut: Jeanmar Gomez. I had read earlier that they were considering David Huff for this start (He blanked the Mud Hens over six or seven innings on the Fourth of July), and I don’t know what happened to that planned. Anyways, Gomez’s triple A numbers aren’t particularly enticing. His ERA is 5.70, and that’s over 18 starts (so it’s not like he just got called up to Columbus and the ERA is in that wildly fluctuating state). Still, I’d hazard a guess that none of the Tigers have seen him before.  

Saturday, July 17, 2010


So much for starting the second half off on the right foot. Max Scherzer battled command problems most of the night, but it was really odd the way he went about it, because I think he got ahead of the first four hitters that he walked. Again, lead protection was an issue, since the Tigers led 1-0. Robbie Weinhardt and Brad Thomas had issues, although there was nary a hard-hit ball up until the Austin Kearns home run. Meanwhile, the first couple innings against Jake Westbrook looked really good, because they ran his pitch count up quickly, but after that it kind of fizzled. There were too many swings and misses from guys who don’t swing and miss that often. However, one guy who did look sharp was Austin Jackson, who had really long at-bats in three of his four plate appearances. However, my attention was divided between Tigers and Mud Hens. It’s been an eventful week for Armando Galarraga. Since he was at the ESPYs on Wednesday night, I guess the Tigers decided it would not be a good idea for him to start Thursday after taking a red-eye (I did not know this, and upon getting home from work I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the score). He was supposed to start last night (while being on a pitch count, since the plan is still to call him up Tuesday), so I was really confused when his line got replaced by Scot Drucker in the box score. As it turns out, his flight got delayed and he didn’t land in Scranton until 6:00 (I’m not sure why they didn’t have him fly into Scranton the day before, though). So after all that, he finally got into the game in relief, pitching three scoreless innings against a good team (I daresay the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees could possibly be better than some of the bottom-feeders in the majors). Hopefully no more weird stuff happens and he can rejoin the Detroit rotation as planned (and stay in the Detroit rotation, of course).

Today’s a busy day with a day-night doubleheader. In the first game, Justin Verlander squares off against Fausto Carmona. Verlander, unlike his fellow rotation members, got in a bit of work when he pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game, so hopefully he will not be as rusty as Scherzer was. Meanwhile, Fausto Carmona was the Indians’ lone All-Star, but he never made an appearance, and the last time the Tigers saw him, he was the losing pitcher in Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. However, it’s not like he pitched badly in that game. The final score was 3-0 and Carmona went the distance while only throwing 94 pitches (marking one of those rare occasions where both starting pitchers threw complete games of less than 100 pitches each). In the second game, Rick Porcello will be called up to make the spot start (although there have been hints that he might stay up; one of Porcello, Oliver, and Galarraga will be squeezed out). He last started last Saturday, and looked pretty good with seven shutout innings (I was at that game). Meanwhile, Mitch Talbot has been one of the most consistent starters for the Indians, although I often hear he’s due for “regression to the mean” from the stat geeks. I’d like to do a blog post on each game, but that’s not going to happen, since I work 11-7, so there will be just one blog covering both games. I wonder what the guys in the bullpen will be doing between games this time. Probably carving their numbers into their chests or something like that.

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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tigers Represent!

Photo: Getty Images

That is actually not the picture I wanted to use, but the picture I wanted to use somehow got screwed up in the 24 hours since it was posted to Daylife, and there weren’t any other good pictures of the game itself, at least, not any that featured any Tigers. And so you get a picture of Miguel Cabrera in the Home Run Derby. But as I alluded to in the title, the three Tiger All-Stars did their fans and their league proud. Miguel Cabrera went 1-2 and got the American League’s first hit. Justin Verlander pitched a scoreless, though adventurous, inning, and was actually in line to win the game. Jose Valverde had a 1-2-3 ninth inning and struck out the side, though it was not a save situation.

Unfortunately, the rest of the AL Central totally stunk it up (Well, with the exception of Fausto Carmona and Joakim Soria, neither of whom made an appearance). With Verlander on the mound, David Wright (who had hit a leadoff single) took off for second base. A good throw would have gotten him. Instead, Mauer uncorked an absolutely terrible throw that sailed into center field. Verlander and Mauer were lucky that Wright didn’t advance to third. Mauer then committed a huge baserunning error and got thrown out at third in the bottom half of the inning (Two other AL All-Stars, Elvis Andrus and David Ortiz, also made crucial baserunning mistakes). Matt Thorton was the big goat of the evening. He was brought in to defuse a first-and-third, one out situation and it started out promisingly enough with a popup. And then things collapsed. He walked Marlon Byrd to load the bases, but still had a chance to get out of it by going after the lefty Brian McCann (who isn’t all that proficient at hitting lefties). Instead, McCann ripped a bases-clearing double into the gap. The other AL Central rep who made it into the game was Paul Konerko. Konerko took over for Cabrera in the sixth and went 0-2, both times stranding runners. This is why I had mixed feelings about Cabrera being bumped up to starter. The prestige that came with starting was wonderful, but at the same time, could you imagine what he could have done in the late innings?

And so now begins the wait for baseball to start up again. In case anyone’s interested, Armando Galarraga will be starting for the Mud Hens tomorrow night at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (after taking a flight in from Los Angeles). Minor league Gameday Audio is free, and the link should appear on the Mud Hens’ website sometime shortly before the game starts. Unfortunately, I’ll be at work, so I won’t get to listen, but I’ll be fretting for him as usual. In the meantime, I’ll have a small “halfway report” either tomorrow or Friday for you.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Into the Break + Further Adventures with the Mud Hens

I’m going to be brief in my discussion of Sunday’s game, because there really wasn’t much to get excited about. Andy Oliver didn’t have enough command and made an early exit. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out in the second half as far as he, Porcello, and Galarraga are concerned (well, “interesting” is probably the wrong word, because someone’s going to be left out in the cold). Carl Pavano was about as tough as he’s been. The Tigers tried to make a comeback late, but the inherited runners and add-on runs that scored off the Tigers’ bullpen was too much to overcome.

After that game, I headed out to see the Mud Hens for the second night in a row. That game had two different rain delays, and the Mud Hens lost 6-4, but most of the fun happened before the game started. As it turns out, Armando Galarraga was not there (which makes sense, since he is not scheduled to pitch in Toledo at all), but I came away with a satisfactory amount of consolation prizes and no regrets (Hey, I did all I could). I kind of met Alfredo Figaro, who was the starting pitcher that night. I was hanging out around the dugout with a bunch of kids, two dads, and a guy about my age who had no kids. Figaro (not in uniform yet) came into the dugout talking on a cell phone. After he finished, one of the dads yelled out, “You ready to mow ‘em down?” Figaro kind of unenthusiastically said yeah and yawned. The dad observed that he looked tired, and he said his friend was bringing a Red Bull. He then unlatched the gate that we were standing in front of and tried to open it, but the latch was stuck on the padding. A couple of us (including me) tried to help him open it, with no success. Finally, he just decided to jump over the gate. When we saw him again a few minutes later, he was back on the field, Red Bull in hand. I never got his autograph, but I got plenty others to join Scot Drucker and Robbie Weinhardt’s signatures on my baseball. My final haul: LJ Gagnier, Brendan Wise, Brent Dlugach, Robinzon Diaz, Casper Wells, Jeff Frazier, Casey Fien, and Rick Porcello. That’s right, folks. I met Rick Porcello. And I made him blush. I told him he had done a nice job the night before (which he had) and he got all shy and sheepishly said thanks. By the way, the Tigers’ front office was smart to have Porcello start Saturday instead of Sunday, because the rain delay was long enough to chase Alfredo Figaro after just two innings.

Well, I suppose I could preview the All-Star Game. I watched the Home Run Derby last night, although it was a lot less interesting once Miguel Cabrera was eliminated. He definitely hit the most majestic shots of anyone, though. And hopefully he’ll get a hit or two tonight, because apparently he’s hitless in his previous All-Star appearances. Jose Valverde has been designated as the closer for the American League, and I never congratulated Justin Verlander on his late All-Star selection to replace CC Sabathia/Jered Weaver (long story). Hopefully we’ll see him tonight as well. At any rate, this might just be the NL’s year because their pitching seems especially strong, but I’ll be rooting for the AL all the way. Also, head on over to Bless You Boys tonight to see me unveil my All-Star Photoshops for this year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Home Run Derby Starts Early

Photo: AP

I did not see much of this game, so the recap will be brief. It looked early like this one was going to be a slugfest, but Jeremy Bonderman managed to dig deep and give the Tigers six good innings. And one thing I’ve noticed with Bonderman is that his velocity is slowly creeping back up. I’ve seen him hit 93 MPH several times in his last few starts. Meanwhile, four different Tigers homered off of Nick Blackburn: Cabrera, Avila, Maggs, and Damon. Speaking of Cabrera, it looks like he’s feeling a lot better, judging by his body language. And that’s a good thing, because Justin Morneau has bowed out of the All-Star Game due to a concussion, which means Cabrera is now the starting first baseman. And he deserves it (even though I had started to fantasize about him being the late-inning hero).

The reason I missed a lot of the game was that I was at the Mud Hens game. If you’re wondering, I did not see Armando Galarraga at all (though he could’ve been in the dugout later), and I didn’t get any autographs because I was outdone by a bunch of pushy kids and I didn’t want to be seen as the “obnoxious adult.” However, Rick Porcello pitched very well. He threw seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts and plenty of groundouts. I noticed he got a lot of swings and misses on his changeup in particular. At any rate, Porcello was in line for the win, as the Mud Hens led 1-0 going into the top of the ninth, but Jay Sborz gave up a three-run homer to Jonathan Van Every to erase that lead and send the Hens to a loss. By the way, remember former Tiger Wilfredo Ledezma? He’s now pitching for Indianapolis.

Today’s game wraps up this series as well as the first half. Hopefully the Tigers can go out on a high note. They’ll have Andy Oliver starting for them. He’s coming off a very rough outing against the Orioles. I’m not sure what the Tigers plan on doing with him for the second half, but I know they wanted the lefty against the Twins. This game is the entire reason why Galarraga is in the minors right now (even though I can’t find him). He had an okay start against the Twins a couple weeks ago, but was done in by defensive lapses (one of them his own). Meanwhile, the Twins will start Carl Pavano and his porn ‘stache (usually I like facial hair, but that thing looks fake). Pavano’s turning into the Tigers’ personal nemesis, except this year he's beating other teams at a high rate (though he did stumble against the Blue Jays in his last start), but they have beaten him the last two times they saw him. One was late last season, the other was earlier this year, when he got outdueled by Dontrelle Willis. And I should be able to see the whole game as long as it doesn’t go too long, but I am going to try another Mud Hens game tonight (It’s their last home game before the 20th, so it’s my last chance).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

[Insert Appropriate Elvis Song Here]

Photo: Getty Images

I forgot that last night was Elvis Night, or I would have played some Mood Music for you. At any rate, Justin Verlander had his curveball working really well last night. He also finally got a couple pickoffs, which I knew he was looking for all season. I’m not sure what happened in the sixth. Robbie Weinhardt did a terrific job in his outing. Unfortunately, Ryan Perry couldn’t get an out in the ninth and had to be bailed out by Jose Valverde. Meanwhile, the Tigers jumped on Francisco Liriano like they did the last time they saw him. I’ve never seen him like that against Detroit. There were big nights for Maggs and Guillen in particular. I am somewhat disappointed that they weren’t able to score any runs against the Twins’ bullpen, but I’ll take the win any way it comes.

Today the Tigers and Twins are on big Fox. Jeremy Bonderman is coming off a rough start in which he allowed two 3-run home runs and got ejected because of a wacky strike zone. He won his last start against the Twins, but had to pitch out of trouble quite a bit. There are theories that he’s entering a dead arm phase because he hasn’t pitched much the last couple years. Meanwhile, Nick Blackburn continues to struggle, although he pitched well against the Tigers back in Minnesota. However, he pitches a lot worse on the road. And as for me, I will be at the Mud Hens game tonight, scouting Rick Porcello for a trade that will not happen (at least, I hope it doesn’t happen because I don’t want Dan Haren).  

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sweeps and Conspiracy Theories

Photo: AP

This is not going to be an ultra-detailed post because it was the eighth inning by the time I got home. Max Scherzer became the first Tigers pitcher to not pitch in traffic the entire time, as he held down the Orioles’ offense for seven innings. Robbie Weinhardt had himself a decent debut even though he gave up a run, and Phil Coke did a good job subbing for an unavailable Valverde. Meanwhile, Danny Worth had the distinction of hitting his first big league home run, and while you’d figure that you’d score more than four runs against a guy with an ERA over six, but it was enough, so I won’t complain about it. By the way, I sense something screwy’s going on with the Galarraga demotion (which the Toledo Blade seems to be treating as a rehab assignment or a publicity stunt). Little hints and a similar move back in 2008 (Eddie Bonine was sent to the minors near the All-Star Break for the exact same reason and we were told he would be back when the fifth starter spot came up, but they called up Zach Miner instead) have left me doubting Dave Dombrowski’s intentions. Let me put it this way: It would not surprise me if someone other than Galarraga makes the start against Texas on July 20th. I hope I’m wrong.

After today’s off-day, the Tigers get set for a showdown with the Twins before the All-Star Break, except this time the Tigers are in first place. But can they hold it? It’ll be a showdown of Liriano against Verlander. The Tigers got five runs off Liriano the last time they saw him, but I get the feeling that was kind of a fluke, given the way he normally pitches against the Tigers. Meanwhile, this’ll be Verlander’s second start against the Twins this year. His first start saw him at the losing end of a pitching duel with Liriano. Verlander was sensational his last time out, striking out ten Mariners (and I was there to witness all of them). The hitters he needs to look out for in particular are Span, Kubel, and Mauer, all of whom hit over .350 against him. Of course, the seven home runs he’s given up to Jim Thome is fast becoming legendary, but Thome doesn’t hit him for a high average (only .244).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fever Swing

Photo: AP

The Tigers have been good this year at giving us victories that don’t entirely feel like victories, although this one comes from the front office. Armando Galarraga seemed to be fighting himself the entire time he was out there. Fastball command wasn’t quite there, as he fell behind a lot of hitters. He dealt with multiple baserunners pretty much every inning, but managed to make good pitches when he needed to, and he was helped out by his defense (Avila throwing out a couple runners, Cabrera making a heads-up throw to third, Kelly’s diving catch, etc). I really don’t think he should’ve gone back out for the seventh, and I was right in thinking that, because Nick Markakis finally touched him up for a two-run homer. The Orioles have not been known for getting that many baserunners in a game, but when you take into consideration the fact that nobody else on this pitching staff so far has been able to keep them off the bases either, Galarraga really wasn’t all that bad. And he gets rewarded by being sent down to Toledo after the game. I understand the logic (they won’t need him again until the 20th, so they might as well go with an extra reliever while he gets a regular start for the Mud Hens), and were it not for the fact that the Tigers are playing the Twins this weekend instead of any other team in the league, Andy Oliver probably would’ve been the odd man out. It is the right tactical move, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I can only hope that Dave Dombrowski will keep his word and that Galarraga will be back on the 20th. In the meantime, the Tigers have called up Robbie Weinhardt, who I just met on Sunday.

In the meantime, there were a lot of offensive heroics late. Miguel Cabrera told the Free Press that he had a fever before the game. Combine that with the heat and that had to suck. And all he did was finish a double shy of the cycle, including a game-tying moonshot in the bottom of the ninth. Of course, Johnny Damon played a really big role in the win. He drew a leadoff walk in the ninth and scored on Cabrera’s home run, and he delivered the win with a walk-off home run of his own. Also of note are runs that were driven in by Alex Avila, Brandon Inge, and Brennan Boesch.

Tonight wraps up this series. Max Scherzer is coming off a very strong start against the Mariners where he went eight innings and only have up one run. Only three Orioles have seen him before. Miguel Tejada is 2-7 off him with a walk. Cesar Izturis is 0-1 and Corey Patterson is 0-2, so there’s not a lot to gauge there. The Tiger hitters will face Brad Bergeson, who has an ERA of over six. He’ faced five of the Tigers before, and it looks like it was just one game, because the most plate appearances anyone has against him is four. Magglio is 3-4, while Cabrera is 1-3 with a double.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ninety Degree Marathon

Photo: Getty Images

Wow, Brandon Inge can jump. Anyways, you would have had to figure that the longest game the Tigers played this year would come on the hottest day of the year. This game really reminded me of how the season series has gone between these two teams for the last two years. It really shouldn’t have, because the Orioles’ offense is not as good as it was in 2008 and 2009. It seemed like Andy Oliver was 2-0 on just about every hitter, and on the rare occasion that he was ahead of a hitter, he struggled to put them away (Leyland was apparently annoyed with Avila for not trying to speed up the pace of the game). The onslaught continued against Eddie Bonine, and even Jose Valverde had some problems. I did notice that the Orioles’ hitters had what Rod Allen would probably call “a good approach.” They hit a lot of balls up the middle or the other way. Perhaps this is something to look out for tonight. As for Valverde, it seems counterintuitive that the only teams he’s given up runs to are the Royals, Pirates, and Orioles. On the surface, I’m not that worried. It was a non-save situation and if he’s going to have a rough outing, might as well be then. However, they got Enrique Gonzalez up very early on in the ninth (I think it was once the first two men reached, but at the time it was still a five-run lead), so I wonder if maybe there’s something going on that they haven’t told us about.

The Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, hit Kevin Millwood just about as hard as they did in spring training. His velocity seemed way down. I never characterized him as a hard thrower, but I swear he usually throws harder than 88 miles an hour. At any rate, just about every Tiger in the lineup had a good day. Brennan Boesch was the only one not to get a hit, and he walked four times. Brandon Inge had four RBIs. Guillen and Damon each had three hits (Damon is now one hit away from 2500 in his career). Cabrera had two doubles and reclaimed the RBI lead.

Tonight is the middle game of the series, and boy, I would love to win this one. The Orioles will start rookie Jake Arrieta. Obviously, none of the Tigers have seen him before (and neither have I), but his ERA currently sits at 5.81. Still, this will only be his sixth start. He started his career with two very good starts (against the Yankees and Giants), then struggled for two (against the Padres and Nationals), and then was okay his last time, giving up four runs (three earned) in six innings against Oakland. Meanwhile, Armando Galarraga is probably in need of a good start, even though I don’t think he pitched that badly against the Mets. He did not really pitch that well against the Twins in his last outing, though. He has not pitched well against the Orioles in his career, but a lot of the guys who pounded him in those games are either on the DL or are no longer with the Orioles (though Jake Fox is 4-4 with a home run, and the other four Orioles who have seen him have at least one hit as well; small sample size for all, though). However, in Galarraga’s lone rough start while he was with the Mud Hens, he got lit up by the Norfolk Tides for seven earned runs. The primary contributor to that was Orioles prospect Josh Bell (when I see that name, I think of a violinist named Joshua Bell, but I digress), who tagged him for a three-run homer and ended up with four RBIs against him (I think). Josh Bell is currently with the big club. He left Sunday’s game with leg cramps and did not play yesterday, so I am unsure of his status. He was supposed to be sent back down to Norfolk to make room for Felix Pie (who was supposed to come off the DL today), but last word was that he’s played too well so far, but at the same time, the Orioles bullpen has to be worn out, so they might need to get a pitcher. Still, even though those numbers don’t show up on the official record, Josh Bell knows what he’s done, Galarraga knows what he’s done, and my guess is that Juan Samuel knows what Josh Bell has done to Galarraga. Barring injury or demotion, I’d be a little surprised if he wasn’t in there somewhere. Another thing to consider is that it’s still supposed to be really hot tonight, and the heat has sapped Galarraga of his energy before. I don’t know if there’s any way to prepare for that or not (although he was wearing a sweatshirt during Saturday’s game, which I didn’t understand; he’s not as crazy as Jose Valverde, who was wearing a sweatshirt yesterday).  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wrong Kind of Fireworks

It seems to me like the Tigers usually don’t fare well on the 4th of July, but I’m not about to go look that up. I said Cliff Lee was beatable, but that he would have to be outpitched. Jeremy Bonderman didn’t do that. The first group of runs he gave up were on a hanging slider to Russell Branyan and that’s Bonderman’s fault, plain and simple. After that, things got a little more complicated. There were several pitches that looked to be right down the middle that were called balls. Granted, Bonderman let that get into his head a bit too much, but I’m not sure where he was expected to throw his pitches for strikes. Anyways, that unraveled quickly and both Bonderman and Laird got tossed (Leyland tried his hardest to join them, but did not succeed in that endeavor). Meanwhile, the Tigers had several situations where they got the first two men on, but then nothing else happened.

Unfortunately, the BYBers, who cheered the Tigers to a victory on Saturday (pics), couldn’t bring the same mojo to the Mud Hens (pics), who lost their tenth straight game. Rick Porcello had one bad inning where he gave up four runs and only two balls left the infield (one of which was an out), otherwise he looked pretty strong. Larry Parrish was ejected arguing a close play at home plate. And the game actually turned out to be a rematch of the Tigers’ home opener, because the starting pitcher for Columbus was David Huff, but the Hens could do nothing against him. Twice, they had situations where someone doubled with a runner on first, but the runner was held at third and the next guy made an out, stranding two. The highlight of the night was when Alli, Jason, and I met Robbie Weinhardt and Scot Drucker, which was cool.

By the way, congratulations to Miguel Cabrera and Jose Valverde, who were named to the All-Star team yesterday. Cabrera actually won the player vote over Justin Morneau. It sounds as if he’s going to participate in the Home Run Derby as long as he gets over the kidney infection in time (Jason Beck finally learned that those aren’t cured with a single dose of antibiotics, and Cabrera is exhibiting other symptoms besides flank pain). However, that’s still a week away, so he should be feeling better by then. Meanwhile, Valverde’s definitely had an All-Star-worthy season, but it feels like he was flying under the radar so I thought he might be overlooked, but he wasn’t. If there were any snubs with the Tigers, it was Boesch and Verlander. I didn’t really expect Boesch to be named to the team, but I thought he’d have a real strong chance at the Final Vote. I’m not sure why Delmon Young was picked for that instead. Verlander’s ERA was probably a bit too high, but there’s still a chance for him to make it since any starting pitcher who pitches on Sunday will be ineligible, and right now there are several who are in line to start that day. However, Joe Girardi has already said that CC Sabathia will be replaced by Andy Pettitte, and as far as other potential replacements are concerned, I would think that Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver would get preference over Verlander.

Today is an unusual day game to start a series (since the 4th of July was on a Sunday this year), and the last-place Baltimore Orioles are coming to town. For a while they looked like they had a shot at overtaking the 2003 Tigers for futility, but they have been playing slightly better recently. For instance, today’s starter, Kevin Millwood, started the season 0-8, but has now won three of his last four starts. His ERA isn’t pretty, but those more into sabremetrics than I am believe he’s pitching in a lot of bad luck and his peripheral stats would indicate that he’s actually doing better than what his ERA says. In the past, I have seen the Tigers light him up, and I have seen them get shut down by him. Cabrera and Maggs have hit him very well (.323 and .375, respectively, and Cabrera’s hit two home runs). Damon’s not as good from an average standpoint (.261), but he does have four doubles. Not of the other Tigers have really hit him well. Meanwhile, the Tigers have flip-flopped Andy Oliver and Armando Galarraga in the rotation, and so Oliver will start today. I like this move. First, it puts the hard-throwing lefty in between Bonderman and Galarraga (good idea, since I think those two feature similar stuff). Second, it sets the rotation so that Galarraga will not have to face the Twins this weekend, which does him a favor as well as the Tigers. Anyways, Andy Oliver is still looking for his first win. He was not as good against the Twins as he had been against the Braves, so hopefully he can bounce back against the Orioles, who don’t really have a good offense this year (and the Tigers have caught a big break because Luke Scott is on the DL right now).