Friday, October 22, 2010

Welcome Back Brandon and Postseason Thoughts

The big news coming out of Detroit yesterday was that the Tigers have re-signed Brandon Inge to a two-year, $11.5 million deal with an option for 2013. You guys should know me well enough by now to know that I am thrilled that I’ll be able to see Brandon Inge in the Olde English D for at least two more years. With the payroll flexibility that the Tigers have right now, it’s a reasonable contract. During the press conference, Dave Dombrowski really didn’t drop any new hints regarding offseason moves. He talked about the infield as a whole, and he seemed to imply that their next step is reaching an agreement with Jhonny Peralta. He also reiterated that at this point they are committed to having either Will Rhymes or Scott Sizemore (or possibly Carlos Guillen) at second base. And so I now know that three of my Top Five are safe. Now it’s time to continue fretting about the remaining two.

I’ve been keeping myself busy by watching the postseason. Currently, both the ALCS and the NLCS see the teams I’m rooting for up three games to two. However, I keep thinking of 2007, when a bunch of Indians fans in my Spanish class were bragging that their parents were buying them World Series tickets. A few days later, I walked into class to find them all sitting there looking shell-shocked. Of course, that was the Boston Red Sox, a team that can bring itself back from the brink like no other (they came back from a 3-1 deficit in 1986 and 2007, almost did that again in 2008, and came back from a 3-0 deficit in 2004). They’re annoying like that. I still feel like the Rangers have a good chance of advancing to the World Series, although it may take a Game 7 for them to do it. Cliff Lee is a pretty good equalizer. The Giants, on the other hand, may well have blown their chance when they didn’t seal the deal last night. They are stuck going back to Philadelphia, which is, in the words of Rod Allen, “a very hostile environment.” There are some ballparks where the fans just seem to be in attack mode moreso than others. Citizens Bank Park is one of those ballparks. Other examples are Fenway Park, U.S. Cellular Field, and Target Field to some extent (Of course, these are all just observations I have made watching them on TV; I have never been to any of these ballparks). I don’t sense this as much at Comerica Park. Tiger fans seem content with cheering for their own team (I have been told that Yankee Stadium is largely the same). Anyways, the Giants certainly have the starting pitching to pull it off, but their bullpen has been shaky and their offense isn’t very potent. Cody Ross has been red-hot and a good story. However, I watched a lot of him with the Marlins and I like him, but he is a streaky hitter. He could go cold at any time and if he does, someone else is going to have to heat up or the Giants won’t stand a chance. But in that series, I really think that the momentum has completely shifted to the Phillies and I can’t see how they won’t manage to pull off the comeback, which is unfortunate because I am tired of the Phillies winning all the time. Also, I am so glad that Carlos Ruiz does not play in the American League, because if he did, I guarantee you that he would be a Tiger killer extraordinaire.

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to talk to the Baseball Guru about several things (to review, he’s a former catcher, he’s a Yankees fan, he’s very old school, and he’s totally computer illiterate or I would definitely get him his own blog). This was during Game 2 of the ALCS and at the time, he seemed to honestly believe that the Rangers were the better team. We discussed the Rangers’ Game 1 bullpen meltdown, and he maintained that you’re never going to see something like that again. He agreed with every move that Ron Washington made in that inning (in terms of them being what he would do if he managed the Rangers, not in terms of them giving the Yankees an advantage). I get the feeling that he thinks Sabathia is overrated, but at the same time he thinks he’s a strong Cy Young candidate because of his win total (I know that’s gonna annoy some of you, but as I said, he’s old school; he keeps bringing up the fact that the one year that Nolan Ryan led the league in ERA, he had a losing record, and he still thinks that Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander should have won the Cy Young last year and not Zack Greinke; with that in mind, I didn’t even bother bringing up King Felix as a candidate this year). He’s torn between Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano as his preference for MVP (because he honestly believes the Yankees would not have made the postseason without Cano because many of their other key hitters had down years), but his prediction is that Cano will win it because voters won’t like that Cabrera was not on a playoff team and Josh Hamilton missed the final month of the season. However, his pick for Rookie of the Year is Austin Jackson because he’s an everyday player and Neftali Feliz is a relief pitcher. On the NLCS, he picks the Phillies because of their pitching and their offense is built like an American League team (actually, with the Rays having been eliminated, I think he’s picking the Phillies to win it all).

One final note: This is nothing more than a glorified popularity contest, but if you’re interested, has posted the nominees for the 2010 This Year in Baseball Awards. Three Tigers are up for awards. Miguel Cabrera is up for Hitter of the Year, Austin Jackson is up for Rookie of the Year, and Armando Galarraga is up for Performance of the Year. Go vote, if you have a chance.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Looking Ahead to the Offseason: Fasten Your Seatbelts

As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not a fan of the offseason, and it seems every year I like it less and less. In free agent negotiations, someone always comes off looking bad. In trades, someone’s feelings get hurt. You get the idea. The worst part about it is simply not knowing what’s going to happen. And even if things work out, going through it is still rough. Take last year. The trade that sent Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer to Detroit worked out fabulously, but as a fan, it was very hard to say goodbye to a player like Curtis Granderson. And with many, many changes certain to be afoot for the Tigers, this will be a stressful five months indeed, and there are a couple of players I’m very fond of whom I might be forced to part with, and I’m not looking forward to that. But, to the business at hand, at the present time, Dave Dombrowski has said that the top priorities are finding an RBI man to help out Miguel Cabrera and bolstering the bullpen. With that, I’m going to take a position-by-position approach to this offseason preview, and as I warned last time, if you’ve even only half-paid attention to this blog, you already know a lot of what I’m going to say already, so forgive me for sounding repetitive.

At the present time, it seems like the Tigers are ready for Alex Avila to take over as the starting catcher. His bat needs to perk up a little more for him to keep that job (and I still have no idea why there’s this notion that left-handed offense from a catcher is more valuable than left-handed offense from, say, an outfielder or a shortstop; people always tell me that it’s because it’s a position where you can only throw right-handed, but if you look all around the majors, there are plenty of first basemen and outfielders who bat left but throw right), but his defense has made major improvements, and I definitely approved of his caught stealing rate (because the last thing I want is someone like Brian McCann or Victor Martinez, who are only in their respective lineups for their bats and can’t throw the ball worth anything). In the meantime, we already know that Gerald Laird will not be re-signed. Now, back in 2008 when it was clear that the Tigers needed a catcher, Laird was my first choice among the realistically available catchers of that offseason, and I will maintain that that was a good trade. He was everything I could’ve hoped for defensively (I’m still annoyed that he didn’t win a Gold Glove last year). He just couldn’t get things going with the bat, and even though I think he hit into some bad luck this year (it seemed like every single game in the first half, he hit at least one lineout), he probably “should” not have hit much above .240. The time is probably right to bid farewell. To replace him, the Tigers are apparently looking to either sign or acquire a right-handed hitting veteran to either back up or platoon with Avila. Now, I have my own pipe dream about that, but it’s not gonna happen so I’m not even gonna get into it. Some of us online were discussing Bengie Molina the other night. He is a free agent, he’s a great thrower, he’s passable with the bat, and as an added bonus, he’s Puerto Rican. The downside to Molina is that he is The Slowest Man in the World (and yet somehow he hit for the cycle this year). I can’t really think of any other desirable candidates off the top of my head, but it goes without saying I’d prefer a free agent signing to a trade.

First Base
Unless Miguel Cabrera’s season-ending ankle sprain turns out worse than originally thought (last I heard was three week recovery time), this is absolutely not a concern.

Second Base
It’s possible that the Tigers might try to get someone for this, but they’ve got in-house candidates in Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes. Sizemore’s put up the better minor league numbers, has more power, and most stat geeks are in his corner as being more likely to put up “sustainable” offensive numbers. Rhymes has become the fan favorite of the two, is a better defender, has more speed, and bats left-handed, so at this point, it’s a toss-up. Leyland has said he does not want to use Sizemore and Rhymes in a platoon, so at the moment it’s looking like a spring training competition. However, we’ve seen instances in the recent past where it looked as though the Tigers had two prospects for one position (or rotation/bullpen spot) headed to a spring training competition, only to see one of them traded at some point during the offseason. This could very well happen in this situation (and remember, they still have the switch-hitting Ramon Santiago as the backup infielder). Carlos Guillen’s name also gets stuck into the mix for second basemen, but he’s likely not going to be fully healthy when the season starts and Dave Dombrowski has said right now Guillen is a man without a position. It sounds as though the Tigers would like to somehow trade Guillen if they could, but his huge contract will probably prevent this from happening (I’m only advocating him staying because saying “I want the Mafia to stay intact” sounds more fair than “I’d like three of the Mafia members to stay and I don’t care about the fourth”).

Third Base
I like Brandon Inge very much and I did not want to see him go, and after a lot of uncertainty, it looks as though there’s a very good chance we’ll be seeing him in the Olde English D a bit longer. The Tigers want him back and Inge wants to stay, so it’d be shocking if they didn’t work something out. Inge is still a streaky hitter (Did you notice he was starting to get hot again right at the last couple games of the season?), but his defense is invaluable.

Back in late July, I never imagined I would find myself typing this, but keeping Jhonny Peralta around for another year might not be the worst thing in the world. Once Inge came off the DL and Peralta moved back to shortstop, I thought sure we’d spend two months watching Edgar Renteria Redux, but Peralta actually did a pretty good job. And his offense was acceptable, if a little bit streaky, Besides, this year’s shortstop free agent class leaves a lot to be desired, and the trade market isn’t much better. I know there are rumors floating around that the Diamondbacks offered Stephen Drew straight up for Rick Porcello around the Trade Deadline, but I don’t know how I would feel about that trade.

I’ve grouped those together because any DH the Tigers might bring in will likely (ostensibly) be an outfielder. Austin Jackson will be in center, we know that, and Johnny Damon will not be with the Tigers anymore. I like Johnny Damon. His low average with runners in scoring position was puzzling (and likely an aberration), but he did a good job at getting on base and he was well-liked in the clubhouse. However, I can’t really see where he would have a place on the team going forward. So that leaves us with an open DH and question marks at left and right. Of the Tigers in my Top Five, two are in very real danger of not being with the Tigers next year. One of them is Magglio Ordoñez. Now, there is mutual interest, and I would very much like Maggs back next year. There are a couple problems, though. One is that Dave Dombrowski has already said that he would prefer this hypothetical RBI/DH-type to be a left-handed hitter (though if Magglio’s ankle heals well, he should still be able to play right field at a reasonable level). The other problem is Scott Boras. He will drag negotiations out as long as he can. He will try to get other teams involved. He will try to get the Tigers to bid against themselves. Dave Dombrowski has been able to work with Boras in the past, but if these negotiations go on long enough and another opportunity presents itself, he may go that route instead. I hope that doesn’t happen. As far as that left-handed RBI man talk goes, a lot of media people think Dombrowski is hinting at Adam Dunn. Dunn profiles as a good DH, but I’m not sure he would want to. There are a lot of fans who would like the Tigers to go after Carl Crawford, but he is going to take an enormous contract (remember, in two years, the Tigers will already have two players on their roster making around $20 million a year; having three players account for $60 million of your payroll does not sound like a good idea) and he strikes me as more of a table-setter than an RBI guy. In-house, apparently Ryan Raburn has been promised more of a regular job next year (though I can’t find the original article/interview in which this was said). I’ve noticed something with Raburn. For the past three years, he’s started off the season very slowly and then had a hot second half. It might not be a bad idea to see if the Tigers could possibly sell high on Raburn, seeing as how good the end of his season was. In addition to Raburn, the Tigers have Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells. Boesch is probably gonna have to tear it up in spring training to avoid starting his season in Toledo. I’m not sure where Casper Wells fits in at this time. He hit pretty well in September, but the Tigers may see him as minor league depth for now. Of course, there is also the possibility that one or both will be traded.

This is the part where I ramble a lot. The three locks are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. Verlander and Scherzer speak for themselves and don’t require any further discussion. Porcello will be in the rotation as long as he doesn’t get traded (which is a possibility, although for now I feel as if it’s a remote one). On the final day of the season, Jim Leyland announced that Phil Coke will be the fourth starter. I grant that the Tigers know more about their pitching staff than I do, but when you say you’ve made it your priority to improve the bullpen, is it really the best idea to take the guy who was your best reliever and stick him in the rotation? I’m all in favor of having a lefty replace Jeremy Bonderman, and perhaps the Tigers feel as though they won’t be able to find a suitable lefty on the free agent or trade markets (since they’ve already said they won’t be pursuing Cliff Lee and it looks as though Ted Lilly will return to the Dodgers). However, we’ve heard promises like this from the Tigers before. Remember April of 2008, when Miguel Cabrera was “only” going to play one game at first base and there was nothing else to read into it? Or when it looked like their starting catcher for 2009 would be Dusty Ryan? Or when Carlos Guillen was “definitely” their left fielder and the Tigers were “fully prepared to rely on” Joel Zumaya as their closer? How’d those turn out? I’m not saying the Tigers were wrong to break any of those assertions (as a matter of fact, in most cases breaking the promise turned out to be the better move). But it’s safe to say that something the Tigers have said about next year will turn out to fall by the wayside (be it Phil Coke as a starter, Raburn getting more playing time, or Alex Avila being the starting catcher). But I’ll count him in as the fourth starter until something happens to change that. That leaves the fifth starter, and you already know what I’m going to say about that. I really want it to be Armando Galarraga, but I think he’s going to be traded (it would not surprise me to see the Tigers aggressively shopping him, as a matter of fact). Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski at least had the decency to pay him some lip service on the last day of the season. Actually, if you just looked at the quotes themselves, you’d think as it stands right now, Galarraga would be the frontrunner. Leyland’s quote was to the news media and was something to the effect of “If Galarraga pitches the way he’s capable of, he’ll have a real good shot,” but I don’t know what the original question was, so it’s unclear if he was prompted to say that or not. Dave Dombrowski’s comments came during his in-game interview with Fox Sports Detroit, so I can tell you for sure that he brought up Galarraga’s name on his own without being prompted. His comments were basically the same as Leyland’s, albeit a bit more encouraging, if anything. However, in his offseason preview which was posted on a few days later, Jason Beck seemed to hint that the Tigers considered Andy Oliver to be the frontrunner with Charles Furbush as a dark horse candidate and the only mention of Galarraga was to say that the Tigers “might have to make a decision” on him (if that doesn’t sound ominous, I don’t know what does). For all the talk about Galarraga being inconsistent, in most of his starts, he went between five and seven innings and gave up between two and four runs, which in most cases is at least giving your team a chance to win. Now, if in the course of the offseason, the Tigers have met their other needs (namely, offense and bullpen) and they have an opportunity to make a clear upgrade (either through free agency or trade), then yes, they should go that route. I may be carrying around inexplicable emotional attachments to players, but the well-being of the team is still my top priority, same as anyone else’s (although there have been times where I have been tempted to waver). If that happens, I will most definitely go through a long and arduous grieving process, but I’ll understand the move. However, notice that I phrased it as “CLEAR upgrade.” A gamble on a formerly dominant pitcher coming off an injury or a bad year is NOT a clear upgrade. A formerly so-so pitcher who is coming off a very good year is NOT a clear upgrade. An aging veteran is NOT a clear upgrade. Andy Oliver is NOT a clear upgrade, at least, not at this time. He’s got good stuff, but can you honestly say he couldn’t benefit from a full year in Toledo? The same argument could go for Charles Furbush or another team’s super-prospect. Plus, I always hear about how spring training is a horrible time to evaluate anyone, and I’m starting to believe that’s the case. We’ve seen guys dominate in spring training only to crash and burn once the season starts, and if Justin Verlander’s rotation spot depended on his spring training performance, he’d have started each of the last two seasons in the minor leagues. Let me put it another way: If you start the 2011 season with Galarraga in the rotation and something goes wrong or there’s an injury, Andy Oliver will be right there in Toledo, ready and waiting. But if you go with Oliver and lose Galarraga and it turns out that Oliver was, in fact, not ready for the bigs, then you’re stuck (and don’t even think of suggesting Alfredo Figaro). But as I said, I think Galarraga will be traded long before spring training even starts, so this whole argument will probably turn out to be moot. But for God’s sake, PLEASE don’t trade him for a reliever.

Along with offense, Dave Dombrowski has stressed this area as a priority, although I’d prefer they focus on the free agent market as opposed to trades because I’d hate to see anyone traded for a reliever unless it’s another reliever (or Alfredo Figaro). We know that Valverde’s still the closer. Most blogs that I’ve read blame his second-half struggles on being used too much in the first half (although a lot of the struggles themselves are limited to late July and August; granted, he spent a good chunk of September battling injuries). I’d say there’s a reasonably good chance he bounces back, because his second-half numbers this year did not match his career second-half splits (which were typically better than his first-half numbers). Ryan Perry projects to be the primary setup man, although he had stretches where he looked ineffective. With Phil Coke moving to the rotation, the job of primary lefty falls to Daniel Schlereth at present, but this is a spot the Tigers may look to upgrade. The most notable lefty relievers on the free agent market are Scott Downs, Will Ohman, and Joe Beimel. Downs is the most effective, but he’s a Type A free agent and the Blue Jays will likely offer him arbitration. On the righty side of the ledger, there are a bunch of fans who would just as soon throw Joel Zumaya overboard. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Zumaya can be a very dominant pitcher when he’s healthy and throwing strikes. HOWEVER, there needs to be backup plan already in place when the season starts, because they can’t keep getting caught off-guard whenever Zumaya injures himself. To that end, that probably means signing another right-handed late-inning reliever. Some of them coming off good years include Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Joaquin Benoit and J.J. Putz (although Balfour is a Type A, so proceed with caution there). Under no circumstances should Kyle Farnsworth even be considered.

I’m not going to get into stuff about arbitration and the Rule 5 Draft or anything like that, because those things really don’t interest me (although I obviously wouldn’t complain if the Tigers got more draft picks). Obviously, once the Tigers start making moves, I’ll be weighing in (or venting, depending on what it is). I hope you guys enjoy watching the ALCS and NLCS over the next few days. I’ll be rooting for the Rangers and Giants.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Blast From the Past

I'm still working on the offseason preview, but in the meantime, a few posts ago, I made some offhand comment about finding a tape with Armando Galarraga doing the Tigers lineup before a game. Someone expressed a desire to see it, so I encoded and uploaded it. I don't have the greatest VCR/encoding software ever. The video quality starts out not-so-great and gets progressively worse, and the sound goes out of sync right at the end, but the sound quality itself is good enough. Also, I don't know how long I'll be able to keep this video up before MLB gets wind of it and pulls it, so get your viewing in quickly. 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The 2010 Season Review

And so the prognosticators got it right, but only the end result. The Tigers finished their season at .500 exactly, but I don’t think those people who predicted that would have expected the long and winding road that got them there (so basically, they were right for the wrong reasons). This was one roller coaster of a season. There were magical moments of euphoria, and there were times we were thrown into the ultimate depths of despair. And at the same time, it felt like this season absolutely flew by. All this brings about a real random jumbling of thoughts, but I will attempt to organize them here.

In my season preview, I wrote that the theme of the season could be “Redemption.” In some ways, that was fulfilled, and in other ways it wasn’t. The Tigers as a team certainly didn’t make up for being passed by the Twins at the wire last year. But on a personal level, Miguel Cabrera certainly more than redeemed himself to the fanbase. He did not have a good ending to his 2009 season, to say the least, and I know for a fact that there was a lot of lashing out at him by the fans. But whether it was the bad press or the loss in game 163, Miguel realized he had a problem and he got help for it. And with those demons seemingly behind him, he had himself one hell of a year, one which unfortunately ended six games too soon. With the exception of a few trolls on MLive and Facebook, he’s earned the respect and love of Tiger fans everywhere (and thank goodness Facebook changed their display so that I no longer have to read those moronic comments). Now it’s up to the voters to acknowledge that. Obviously Cabrera’s big hurdle is that the Tigers fell out of the playoff picture by late August (although I’d like to point out that Josh Hamilton had a horrible April and missed almost all of September and the Rangers still made the postseason easily). I really don’t think that the postseason should play a factor in MVP, just as I think offense should not be a factor in Gold Glove selections, but such is the case with subjective voting. The last time a player in a non-playoff team won the AL MVP was in 2003. It’s happened more recently in the NL. Albert Pujols won MVP in 2008, a year the Cardinals finished in third place, so there is historic precedent, just not a lot of it. But MVP or no, it was a lot of fun to watch Cabrera this season. There were a couple games in which he came to bat in the ninth inning when the Tigers were trailing, and I just knew he’d tie the game. The two specific instances I remember were a game against the Angels and another one against the Orioles. Obviously, those instances dwindled once injuries claimed the other big hitters in the lineup, and he had somewhat of a slow September, but it was still a great season for him.

It’s a pity that injuries took out so many of the key Tigers all at once. You can extrapolate and spit out all the numbers you want, but the reality of the situation is that you don’t know what would have happened. Still, the trouble started right out of the All-Star Break, when they were swept in a four-game series in Cleveland, and this was before anyone major got hurt. Whether they would have been able to turn things around with Magglio and Guillen will forever remain unknown (plus, you don’t know if Dave Dombrowski would have been more aggressive in a Trade Deadline deal if those two were healthy). Obviously, July 24th was a real low point in the season (and a really bizarre point for me, because I subliminally predicted that something bad would happen in that game). Getting no-hit a couple days later was even less fun. Throughout that whole bad stretch, I sensed a lot of fight in the team. There were a lot of close games and one-run losses, but they just kept coming up short. Maybe they were overachieving in the first half, but I don’t think they were as bad as they sometimes looked in the second half. Sure enough, things did finally even out and they did play pretty well in September up until the last road trip.

You can’t discuss 2010 without mentioning what at times seemed like a thousand different rookies playing for the Tigers. I’ve spent the past several days sorting through what seems like hundreds of unlabeled videotapes, many of which are games from the 2008 season (It may have sucked as a season, but damn, there were a lot of guys on that team I liked; by the way, I will probably have a post later on some of the more amusing moments I saw on those tapes). Watching those tapes, the thought crossed my mind that it’s amazing how quickly the Tigers have gone from being one of the oldest teams in baseball to being one of the youngest. However, they have a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in Austin Jackson, who unfortunately couldn’t quite finish his season over .300, but was impressive nonetheless. And as good as his offense was, his defense was even better. Brennan Boesch had a good first half and then just fell off the map in the second half. I knew he would have to regress a little bit, but I don’t think he was supposed to drop THAT much. And then there was the parade of rookies including Casper Wells, Robbie Weinhardt, and Will Rhymes, all of whom have become fan favorites (I don’t suppose the fact that they’re all on Twitter hurts the matter).

On a personal level, it was quite a season for me. I got to go to Comerica Park three times, and saw three really good games. I also went to three Mud Hens games (though none of those went as well; the Hens lost all three of those games). Between the Tigers and Mud Hens, I saw four out of the five pitchers in the Tigers’ starting rotation (the only one I did not see was Bonderman, which I’m not too sad about). And thanks to those Mud Hens games, I got to meet several players, including Robbie Weinhardt, Casper Wells, and Rick Porcello. I had a question answered by Armando Galarraga in an online chat. My Venezuelan Mafia picture was seen by Magglio Ordoñez. Perhaps my biggest nerd moment of the season was when Miguel Cabrera came down with a kidney infection. I knew with about 95% certainty what his treatment regimen would be. One thing I do regret (a lot, actually) is that I didn’t go to any Mud Hens games in April or early May (the reason for why I regret that should be obvious).

But of course, the moment that will resonate the longest will be Armando Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game and the blown call heard ‘round the world. So many facets of that make it an incredible story. This is a pitcher that very few fans believed in, so the feat in and of itself is quite an accomplishment. And I hope one day it will be counted officially as a perfect game. But he created such a moment of class and sportsmanship out of it, a moment that took him above perfect games and blown calls and all that sort of thing. There was such a huge outpouring of love for him in the following days. It was incredible to watch. I know things didn’t go the way he wanted to after that. He spent most of the rest of the season frustrated, for a variety of reasons. First he had some problems with thinking too much on the mound, then he rattled off about six really good starts in a row but only won one of them due to lack of run support or bullpen meltdowns, and then he had three terrible starts in a row (one of which I would consider to be my personal low point of the season, just because of the way I reacted to it). I think that final start was very important for him from an individual perspective. He may have taken the loss, but he was tremendous, and his postgame interview would seem to suggest he finally found peace with himself. We’ll probably never see him again in the Olde English D, but he’s given us a story that will not soon be forgotten (unless you’re the MLB ad person in charge of “Year of the Pitcher” commercials).

That just about does it for the season review. Coming soon: The offseason preview, although if you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention, you’ll know most of what I’m going to say.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Where Will I Be? Back Where I Started

Photo: AP

This is probably the first time I've quoted the same song for two different things in the same season. After all the ups and downs that this roller coaster of a season brought us, the Tigers end the way they began: .500. Apparently, it’s only the second time in their history that they finished at exactly .500 (I think the other time was 1958, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now). And what’s more, their home record (52-29) was exactly the inverse of their road record (29-52). This was a bizarre game because I’m not sure what all I’m supposed to glean from it. There was lots of news concerning 2011, but I should probably wait until I write my offseason preview to get into those tidbits in detail. But one piece of news is that Leyland (for now) wants Phil Coke in the starting rotation next year. He was shaky yesterday, although at this point I’m not going to interpret that as anything other than a bad outing. But the pleasant surprise was that he was the only guy out of the bullpen to be shaky. Everyone else did a nice job. Daniel Schlereth had a really nice-looking curveball going for him. As I expected, it felt like a spring training game with all the pitchers, but having Jose Valverde in the ninth restored some normalcy, although it looks like he now spins on the mound in addition to dancing. And there could not be a better end to this season than to have Brandon Inge make a highlight-reel diving catch to end the game.

Speaking of Brandon Inge, one of the announcements made yesterday is that the Tigers want him back. They’ve made him a multi-year offer (I heard somewhere that it was a two-year deal, but I haven’t seen that anywhere else to confirm), and knowing how much Inge loves it in Detroit, I find it hard to imagine that the two sides won’t come to an agreement. In fact, on the article, Inge talked almost as if he’d already signed the contract. And in addition to the great catch that ended the game, he hit a two-run home run that tied the game at that point. While Inge now seems all but certain to return, Johnny Damon has played his final game as a Tiger. However, before he departed, he hit an RBI single to give the Tigers the lead for good. It was also a good day for Will Rhymes, who had two doubles.

Normally, this paragraph is where I’d preview the next game, but sadly, the next game is not until March 31st of 2011. I’d say there’s a good chance that the starting pitchers will be Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia (Again! That’s gotta be about the tenth time those two have matched up), but it’s such a long way off. Hopefully within the next week I’ll have a season review and an offseason preview for you (although if you have been paying any attention at all, you’ll already know about 90% of what I’m going to say in the offseason preview). I won’t be posting every day, but I’ll try to check in two or three times a week. And in the meantime, I’ll chime in on the postseason if I feel like I have something substantial to say about it. Out of the eight teams that made it in, I’ll be rooting the most for the Rangers and the Rays (who unfortunately are playing each other in the first round, so one of them won’t last very long). The only AL team I’d like to see eliminated swiftly is the Twins, and given the fact that I was born without the Yankee-hater gene, I have no problem wishing them to beat Minnesota (although my dad apparently promised the Baseball Guru that both he and I would root for the Yankees because the Tigers didn’t make it in). The NL doesn’t really have any team I’m all that enthusiastic for. I’m sick of the Phillies winning all the time. I don’t have a strong feeling for the Braves, but I used to absolutely despise them when I was a kid. I don’t really care for the Giants all that much. The Reds are okay, I guess. Living in Ohio, there are a few Reds fans around here (though they’re badly outnumbered by Tigers and Indians fans). But any baseball is better than no baseball at all. And it’s certainly better than Hell’s Hot Stove (Have you learned by now that I don’t care much for the offseason and the deals and signings that go with it?).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Just Hope This Isn't Goodbye

Obviously, neither of these options is anywhere near ideal, but if I had a choice of only these two (both difficult) outcomes, I’d rather Armando Galarraga’s final Tigers appearance be a tough-luck loss than a game in which they had to nurse him through five innings to get him the win (unless, of course, there was a playoff spot on the line or something, but there isn’t, so that caveat is moot). I mentioned all the ways in which the odds were stacked against him for this start, and just about none of that mattered. Galarraga was absolutely brilliant. He looked like the Galarraga of 2008, pitching-wise. He showed the type of pitcher he can be if he trusts his stuff. And his stuff was excellent. He was throwing strikes and pitching efficiently, enough to give him another complete game. Unfortunately, it was a complete game loss and he deserved better (as Jason Beck has pointed out, that could be the theme of his season), and he got bitten by the home run-friendly nature of Camden Yards (I didn’t get the distance on Nick Markakis’s home run, so I’m not sure if that’s out at Comerica Park or not). Still, only giving up two runs on three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in a complete game is nothing to be ashamed of at all. I was worried he’d be hung up over the fact that he couldn’t get a win out of it, but he seemed to be taking a positive spin on things in his postgame interview. But was it his last postgame interview as a Tiger? I am still very much inclined to say yes (and even the Baseball Guru now thinks he’s going to be traded). This brilliant outing probably increased his trade value more than his rotation chances (and don’t worry, I’ll save the sappy eulogy for when the end actually comes). I dearly hope I’m wrong, because I’m not ready for the end just yet.

I’m not sure why I’m devoting a paragraph to offense, because there wasn’t much. Brandon Inge homered (and my sentiments about Galarraga can parallel with Inge; I hope that wasn’t his last postgame interview as a Tiger, either). That was pretty much it. Ryan Raburn had the other two hits in the game. The Orioles made a couple of highlight-reel defensive plays to snuff out a potential rally in the eighth. And that’s all I can say about the offense, cuz they just struck out the rest of the time. It’s a shame Max St. Pierre didn’t get more chances with his call-up, but I think he did a terrific job handling Galarraga last night. I have to give him thumbs up on that (He caught Galarraga while both of them were in Toledo at the beginning of the season, and Galarraga put up good numbers there, so maybe there’s something to that).

The Tigers need to win today to have a .500 season. This season has totally flown by. It seems like only yesterday that we were watching with wide-eyed optimism as Austin Jackson stepped in against Zack Greinke for the first pitch of the season. And it’s going to end with a bullpen day. Phil Coke will officially get the start, and fans are trying to read all sorts of things into that. I’m not sure why there’s this big obsession over him possibly starting next year. For right now, Leyland says not to read anything into it and that Coke will only go about three innings at most. There’s no point in me previewing the Tigers’ pitching beyond that because it’s just going to look like a spring training game. The Orioles will start Brad Bergesen, who pitched very well in September before finally getting knocked around in his last start against the Rays. The Tigers beat him back in July, but that was with help from hitters they don’t have anymore. This game may be the final time we see Brandon Inge and who knows how many others in a Tigers uniform. So I find it fitting to use this song as the final Mood Music of the season.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


It seems like the team is running out of gas before the season actually ends. Jeremy Bonderman just totally fell apart. He was having issues with walks early, but got double play balls to get himself out of trouble. But a combination of poor command and not a lot of movement on the pitches finally caught up to him in the fourth. After a bunt single to start the inning, the Orioles hit a lot of balls hard. And a lot of those hits went for extra bases. Rick Porcello only gave up one extra-base hit, but it was enough to seal his fate. He also gave up eleven singles, which seems excessive, but he did have the double play ball working. It was a respectable final start, but he didn’t get any run support. In both games, the bullpen did a decent job with the exception of Alfredo Figaro, who was the only reliever to give up a run.

The offense just could not get anything going against the Orioles’ starting pitchers. Don Kelly was pretty much the only one with consistently good swings. He hit a home run in each game, and was the only Tiger to homer. They did put some runs up on the board against the Orioles bullpen in the first game, but they needed one more big hit to make things interesting, and they didn’t get it.

The Tigers need to win one of these last two games to finish the season at .500, and both to secure a winning record (there are some that would rather have the Tigers lose both games in order to protect their draft pick, but I’m not one of them). Lefty Brian Matusz will start for the Orioles, and he’s had a very good second half. He hasn’t had a bad start since mid-August, and he beat the Tigers in a game last year. No one’s seen him more than six times (and that’s Jhonny Peralta, who is 1-for-5 with a walk). Meanwhile, I’m continuing a trend I started a couple weeks ago and saying that I am just about certain that tonight will be the last time we see Armando Galarraga on the mound in a Tigers uniform. A lot of you may be happy about that, but I am not. There’s a little bit of writing on the wall to be had. I haven’t seen a single interview with either Jim Leyland or Dave Dombrowski where he’s mentioned as a candidate for the rotation. When Rod and Mario have discussed the two open rotation spots for next year, they’ve talked about Phil Coke, Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner, and even Alfredo Figaro, but not Galarraga (although I did see where he got roped into being the guest of honor on that Tigers promotional cruise that they do every winter). I would love for him to go out on a high note, but it seems like the odds are stacked against him. Camden Yards is very home run-friendly, he’s prone to giving up home runs, there’s a couple of Orioles who have hit multiple home runs off him, he hasn’t figured out what the problem was in his last start, and he’s never pitched well in Baltimore. Still, if he could overcome those issues somehow, it’d be great, for old time’s sake, so to speak. I was sorting through old video tapes and I came across a start of his against the Angels in 2008. It was a very good one. He got very close to a complete game shutout and had one out in the ninth inning before a two-run homer chased him. It was also somewhat humorous, because I only watched a little bit of it, but I suddenly realized that the home plate umpire was Jim Joyce, resulting in a “little did they know” moment. It’s also amazing how different Galarraga looked back then, appearance-wise. It’s nothing that I can put my finger on. He just looked different. I did notice from watching the tape that he seemed calmer and his mechanical delivery looked a little slower back then. I’m not sure if that’s an adjustment that needs to be made, and I’m not a pitching coach (nowhere near), but if I picked up on it, then they had to have, right? On a lighter note, I found another tape of a Fox game where Justin Verlander started (not well) and Galarraga did the lineup, and he was hilarious. He had a nickname for just about everyone in the lineup (another bizarre thing was that Miguel Cabrera was batting sixth in this particular game). It was funny to watch and kind of heartbreaking at the same time, because as I said before, I’m not ready for him to depart just yet. I know he doesn’t have the win totals he wanted, but with the way the Tigers’ offense is struggling right now, he can’t think about wins or run support or trying to throw a shutout. He just needs to do the best that he can, not overthink, not get picky with the strike zone, etc. The other four members of the rotation are all going into the offseason with bad feelings. I don’t want him to make it a complete set of five. Your Mood Music for tonight: I wanted to give kind of a swan song for Galarraga, and I decided to go the Broadway route, although this particular rendition of “The Impossible Dream” is in Spanish. I believe the singer is from Spain, not Latin America, however. But the dude can sing.