Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy Opening Day!

First, an announcement: Tigers Amateur Analysis now has a Facebook page. Check it out!

At long last, we've made it. Whatever happens this season, I hope to enjoy it for what it is, but it all begins here. And we start off with an old familiar matchup: Verlander versus Sabathia. Seriously, it seems like these guys have opposed each other a thousand times already. In fact, I believe that since Sabathia joined the Yankees, he's pitched against the Tigers in every series they've had, and Verlander was always the Tigers' starter. So far, the victor has always been the home pitcher, but Sabathia rarely shuts the Tigers down (even though he's got quite a few wins against them thanks to his Indians days). Hopefully the weather will hold up. It's supposed to rain today in New York, but tomorrow is supposed to be even worse. And now for the traditional Opening Day Mood Music song:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From the Other Side: New York Yankees

I'm beginning a new feature this year at Tigers Amateur Analysis called From the Other Side. A lot of blogs do this, so I thought I'd try my hand at it. Basically, I've tried to get in touch with bloggers from all the other teams the Tigers will be playing this season (the other AL teams plus the six NL teams that they'll be playing in Interleague play this year) and I'll be asking them a series of 4-5 questions about both their team and the Tigers. So far, I've lined up contacts for all except for about three to four teams. I'll be posting the Q&As either shortly before or during the Tigers' first series with that team. With that in mind, first up is the New York Yankees. I interviewed Gregg Snyder, a Yankees fan who runs the site Double G Sports. It was founded in 2009 and covers all New York and New Jersey area sports teams. You can also follow him on Twitter.

1. What is your take on the Yankees' offseason and what are your expectations for them this year?

Gregg: A lot of people were disappointed that the team missed out on Cliff Lee. I was more disappointed that they put all their eggs in one basket and missed out on other free agents like Carl Crawford for example. Andy Pettitte retiring hurts a bit but I like the addition of Soriano to the bullpen. The Yankees have a very good lineup from top to bottom. The bullpen should be a strength and I think the starting rotation will hold it's own. I fully expect this years team to challenge Boston for the AL East and Wild Card.

2. What is the Yankees community's perception of the Tigers and how do you think they'll perform this season? 

Gregg: I think a lot of people are unsure about the Tigers entering the year. Personally, I think they have the players to make a serious run at the AL Central title. I like their starting rotation. The lineup has some speed and power. Austin Jackson will continue to get better. Victor Martinez was a big pick up and will bring added power to a team that already had the ability to knock the ball around the park. 

3. The big story of last offseason was the blockbuster three-team trade that netted the Yankees Curtis Granderson and the Tigers Austin Jackson and Phil Coke (along with Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer). It may still be too early to tell how things will pan out, but what is your assessment of this trade one year later?

Gregg: Because the Tigers got more players making contributions I think you could say they got the better deal right now. However, with that said, I think Grandy will have a big year for the Yankees. He started playing much better toward the end of last year, has been having a very good spring so far despite recently suffering an injury. Granderson looks more comfortable and has said he will be more aggressive this season. That will help him in a big way. Big things from Granderson this season, write that down!

4. Which player (on either or both teams) is currently flying under the radar but could end up making a major positive impact?

Gregg: Hard to think the Yankees have a player flying under the radar but again I have to go back to Granderson. With all the talk about the rotation questions marks, who will bat leadoff, the catching situation and so on...I think Granderson will sneak up on people and have a big season.  For the Tigers, again hard to say. I don't really have a reason, but my gut says Rick Porcello will bounce back. He didn't have the season a lot of people expected last year but he is a very talented pitcher. Look for him to solidify the middle to back of their starting rotation.

5. Do you have any random predictions for this season?

Gregg: Yankees and Tigers both make the playoffs. Sabathia and Verlander will both be in the Cy Young discussion. Don't think either will win it, but they will be in the discussion.

Again, a big thank you to Gregg for taking part in this feature.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tigers Amateur Analysis 2011 Season Preview

After yet another stressful offseason, "real" baseball is almost upon us. Glancing through both blogs and the mainstream media, Detroit writers seem to be the most excited they've been about the team since early 2008. And there is reason for excitement. The offense and bullpen seemed to have been given significant upgrades (you're not going to convince me that the rotation is markedly better, so I'll leave them out of the "excitement" chatter), and against most people's expectations, the team has been competitive for most of the last two years without these new players onboard. And yet I just can't shake this tiny bit of hesitation that I have. Maybe it's because the hype reminds me somewhat of 2008 (and for the record, I was hesitant back then as well, but I kept quiet about it because I figured all those writers and bloggers knew better than I did). The Tigers have put up a good record this spring and the pitching has been especially strong (although as I type this, Max Scherzer has just imploded against the Orioles, giving up three home runs, two to Luke Scott). I know spring performance doesn't necessarily correlate to the regular season, so there's no reason to be cynical as yet, but there have been a couple potential warning signs. Back in early February, the ZiPS projections for the Tigers were released. I don't really pay much attention to these computerized projections, nor do I like making predictions myself, but the projection did say something that I'm inclined to agree with: 

 I still think that the Tigers are likely to win somewhere between 84 and 90 games, but 70 wins would surprise me a lot less than 95 wins - you combine age and lack of depth for emergencies and there's at least the potential for a wheels-coming-off season.
I'm not going to get into what they project for each individual player. What I am going to do is go through each facet of the team and discuss what might go right or wrong. 

Offense: This was probably the big priority of the offseason, and with that, the big signing was Victor Martinez. At the time, I wasn't really enamored of any of the potential big bats the Tigers could sign, but there really weren't any all-around players out there that weren't going to cost an arm and a leg. The choice basically came down to Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn, and given those two, I find Martinez to be more desirable. Dunn has a lot of power (moreso than Martinez, who's no slouch), but he also strikes out a lot. Martinez is a much more selective hitter and doesn't strike out as often, and he hits for higher average. Therefore, he provides better protection for Miguel Cabrera. Martinez may be a sub-par catcher (and so I'd be happy if they kept his stints behind the plate to a minimum), but he is a very good hitter, and not only that, he's a very good switch-hitter. He hits well from both sides of the plate. Detroit is primed to have a very good 3-4-5 in the batting order. 
Potential Warning Signs: For some reason, the offense just hasn't been that impressive in the spring. I can't really point to one particular cause. It's just that for the most part, it's been rather blah. Granted, it's sometimes hard to tell in spring training because of all the minor leaguers and prospects that are sprinkled into the lineup, but it still sometimes felt like they needed to get four or five baserunners in an inning to score one run. Both Magglio Ordoñez and Jhonny Peralta in particular have had slow springs. I don't really know how either of them usually fare in the spring, but I do know that Magglio generally starts off the season a little slow and it takes him a couple weeks to get going. If he does that, though, there's going to be people bringing up his age, his ankle, and/or the hamstring problems that he's had off and on during the spring. As for me, however, I'll only get worried if his hypothetical slow start spills over into May. Peralta doesn't have an RBI (and he's only got one more game to get one). He's not expected to hit for a super-high average, and I think it's a bit premature for Lynn Henning to be advocating trading him. Age shouldn't be an issue with Peralta, since he's only 28. When you think about it, you could probably find the potential for something to go wrong with just about every position player on the team (Austin Jackson starting his sophomore year, Victor Martinez being primarily a DH for the first time, Miguel Cabrera's alcohol battles, etc). Odds are that someone's going to have an off year, but it's highly unlikely that everyone will.

Defense: Actually, I'm not going to separate this into "good" and "bad." I'm just going to discuss it. This is probably the area with the biggest potential for meltdown. In terms of good defense among the starters, they have Austin Jackson and Brandon Inge. I still maintain that Miguel Cabrera is a better first baseman than people give him credit for, but he is still error-prone. Everyone else has issues with either lack of range or errors (or both). I'm a little bit worried that after a couple years emphasizing pitching and defense that they're starting to go too far back in the other direction, but at this point, it is what it is.

Starting Pitching: If everyone plays to their potential, the Tigers could have a strong front three in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. I'm not sure what they'll get from Phil Coke or Brad Penny, but Coke at least has shown the ability to make in-game adjustments. Penny may well become my whipping boy for the season, mostly due to the circumstances surrounding his arrival. I'm not saying he's a bad pitcher, just that there are pitchers with his level of ability that I'd rather watch. I don't think he makes that big of a difference. If the Tigers weren't good enough without him, they're not going to be good enough with him. But as I said, as long as the front three pitch the way they're capable of and the other two don't totally suck, things should be good.
Potential Warning Signs: Justin Verlander's really the only starting pitcher who has had a good spring. Scherzer and Porcello have been wobbly, Coke's had a few growing pains, and while Penny's numbers look good on the surface, several of the outs he's gotten have been hit quite hard (that and the fact that he's so slow that moss probably starts to grow on his defenders). Penny also has the injury history, as he hasn't pitched for than 100 innings in several years.

Bullpen: Joaquin Benoit was probably the most dominant setup man in baseball last year, and he kind of came out of nowhere to do it. Jose Valverde's looked like he regained his form during the spring (which I guess is to be expected, because his struggles during the second half last year made no sense). There's also quite a few talented hard-throwers in Ryan Perry, Brayan Villarreal (who I still want to see as a starting pitcher), and Daniel Schlereth. With that group, they have to potential to rack up strikeouts in the late innings.
Potential Warning Signs: Benoit's had a good spring, but it's still a good idea to be a little cautious about a guy coming off a breakout year (that and the fact that the very first time I saw him, he was with the Texas Rangers and he was walking Pudge Rodriguez with the bases loaded; I love Pudge, but he is the hardest guy in the world to walk). There's also quite a bit of inexperience, especially with Schlereth and Villarreal. Joel Zumaya should rejoin the team at some point (since from what I've read, what he's going through right now isn't so much "setback" as "slow recovery") but he's got such a tendency for weird injuries that I wouldn't be surprised to see a satellite fall out of the sky and land on him while he's on the mound.

Other tidbits: This is the final year on the contracts of both Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski. I think both have done a good job (though Dombrowski has now on two occasions ripped my heart out, smashed it on the ground, and run over it with a pickup truck). I'm not one to get into GM politics, so I'll leave that to other bloggers. As far as Leyland is concerned, a manager's job is always a tenuous one. He will be fired someday. That's just how it goes. Very few managers go the way Bobby Cox did and simply retire. Whether it's this year, next year, or ten years from now, I can't say. Another thing to keep an eye on is the home vs. road record. What's happened the last few years makes no sense. And obviously, they've got to do a lot better than 29-52 on the road if they want to win the division. 

I hope I'm not coming off as cynical, because I don't want to. I've spent the better part of the last three years trying to drag the other Tiger fans out of the darkness, after all. I can see this team going in either direction this year, but the odds are that they'll be competitive. They'll be a flawed good team, but they may well be "good enough."


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ring Around the Roster + No One Wants to Fact Check

I don't know about you, but it seems to me like the past couple of months leading up to the start of the season have flown by. I think this may have been due to a combination of having all my enthusiasm extinguished for a period of about three weeks followed by it mostly coming back, followed by actually going to Lakeland. Anyways, with barely over a week until the season starts, the roster is starting to take shape as the Tigers announced a flurry of cuts yesterday, some surprising, some not. Max St. Pierre is not surprising at all, obviously. Fu Te Ni isn't all that surprising, even though he'd been having a decent spring, because he's not on the 40-man roster and there's enough other lefties pitching well. Clete Thomas had also been having a decent spring, but with all the other outfielders also doing well, he kind of got lost in the mix, and apparently he was granted an additional minor-league option because he was hurt most of last year. There's a lot of surprise about Robbie Weinhardt being sent down, and I have to say that I'm one of them. So if you're assuming that there will be seven guys in the bullpen (plus Phil Coke at the beginning of the season), we know that four spots are taken: Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas (Sorry, I know most of you aren't exactly enamored with him, but he would've had to have a complete meltdown of a spring to not make the team). And barring an implosion or injury, it looks like Daniel Schlereth's chances of making it into the bullpen are real good. That leaves two spots and three pitchers competing for them: Brayan Villarreal, Adam Wilk, and Enrique Gonzalez. All three of them are starters in the minor leagues, so any of them could fill that long relief role. As I've said before, my preference is for Villarreal to go to Toledo because I find his starting potential to be interesting, but I haven't actually seen him pitch yet and I'd love to have the chance to evaluate him before most of the rest of you guys see him. However, both Wilk and Gonzalez are non-roster invitees, so bringing either them north means someone else gets taken off the 40-man roster, and I'm not sure the Tigers want to ax two guys. The other possibility that's been floated around is that the Tigers will start the season with an 11-man pitching staff since they won't need five starters until the first homestand and so Phil Coke will start the season in the bullpen. That way, they can carry an extra position player until Coke's first start, at which time the position player can be sent down and another reliever (likely Weinhardt) will be brought up. I have no idea if they'll actually do this, but it makes sense if they decide to. And speaking of the position players, we have a winner in the second base competition. Congratulations to Will Rhymes. I have to admit that he's the one I was rooting for. I know Scott Sizemore theoretically has a higher ceiling, but he's yet to prove that in the majors (I'm sure he will once he's given the opportunity, but that doesn't have to be now). Mostly I prefer Rhymes because of the type of hitter that he is. The Tigers already have a bunch of power guys that bash the ball all over the ballpark. Rhymes has sort of that prototypical #2 hitter characteristic going for him. He's a left-handed contact hitter who has good speed and at the very least can move Austin Jackson along to be knocked in by the big bats behind him. And if it doesn't work, well, it's not like there's a shortage of second basemen on this team. At that point you can call Sizemore up and give him a shot (I'm leaving Guillen out of the conversation until there's an actual sign that he's close to returning, since he's got to be the slowest healer ever).

While we're talking about guys on the roster, I'll take a brief look at how our five starters are doing (and I mean "brief"). The only one who hasn't had a hiccup at one point or another is Justin Verlander (no complaints there). I haven't seen him yet (because he pitched the day I arrived in Lakeland and he hasn't been on anyone's TV broadcast yet), but all reports indicate that his stuff looks good. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello started out strong but more recently they've both wobbled a bit (oddly enough, their wobbles started right around the same time). They were both better in their last outings, although their walk totals were still a little too high (three walks in less than five innings isn't quite the definition of sharp). Phil Coke's outings recently have been a little strange, and I guess his are the most easily questioned since he is the one making the transition to starter. However, I noticed firsthand in Lakeland that if he gets hit around early, he is capable of making adjustments, which is a quality you need in a starting pitcher, so I'm actually feeling better about him than I once was. Brad Penny was the starter on Fox Sports Detroit's broadcast yesterday, and I may have issues this season. And this may turn out to not even be related to effectiveness or who I'd rather see in his place. Penny is SLOW. I mean glacier slow. He makes Rafael Betancourt look like a speed demon. On the bright side, if I happen to work on a night where Penny is pitching, I'll know that I'll have a good chance of catching at least four innings when I get home.

Maybe it's the fact that spring training is winding down and writers are getting tired of all those preview-type stories they have to write, but I've been noticing a lot of silly mistakes recently. However, none have been as bad as SBN Cleveland's Tigers preview. Now, as far as SBN is concerned, I mostly hang around Bless You Boys (and the writing is terrific there), but from the little bit of the other sites I've seen, the writers have generally been fair-minded and accurate. I've never looked at any of the Cleveland teams, however, and I hope this is a fluke, because otherwise it speaks very badly of their writers. In this article, they make their case that the Tigers might not be the contenders most people think they are because there are a lot of holes. I don't mind the fact that they're criticizing the Tigers. After all, I think the Tigers are a good team that certainly should contend but I also see potential for a repeat of 2008. What I take issue with is that SBN Cleveland has gotten an amazing number of things just flat-out wrong. First of all, they describe Miguel Cabrera as a "part-time" first baseman. Since when? Cabrera made 148 starts at first base last year and only two as DH. That doesn't sound very "part-time" to me. Second, they consistently use the plural word "basemen" when they're only talking about one person. Along the same line, Jhonny Peralta played for the Indians for many years, and yet they still spelled his name wrong (technically, you could make the argument that they actually spelled it correctly, but you know what I mean). They seemed to have missed the memo that Phil Coke is now a starter because they say the Tigers have a "fifth starter by committee" (Granted, there's the possibility that may happen, but not right away). And the discussion of contracts is also screwy. They say Brad Penny is on a $7.5 million contract, when in reality it's $3 million guaranteed plus $3 million in incentives. That $7.5 million contract was with the Cardinals last year. Then they discuss Magglio Ordoñez and how he "almost made 18 million last year even though he hasn't played a full season since 2008." First of all, Magglio's option for 2011 was $15 million not $18 million. Second, it was a vesting option. If he'd played the entire season, there wouldn't have been a choice in the matter. This article makes it sound like Magglio was asking for $18 million in a new contract for this year, which makes no sense. Now, one mistake or even two is okay. Goodness knows I've done that before. However, I counted at least six and possibly more, and these six points make up the bulk of their argument. Messing up that many times really hurts your credibility. The Tigers have a lot of holes? Maybe, but they don't have as many as this article does. I suppose I should just be glad that they didn't bring up Cabrera's DUI arrest.

Lost Boys Update: I wasn't going to update on Pudge and Armando so soon, but there have been developments since the last post and in the case of Galarraga, it ties in nicely with my complaints in the previous paragraph. It appears that Venezuelan writers are not immune to not fact-checking, although this time it's mostly made me confused. The Venezuelan newspaper Lider reported this morning that Galarraga had lost the battle for the fifth starter spot to Barry Enright and that the Diamondbacks were trying to decide what to do with him. The problem with this statement is that the Diamondbacks have more than one rotation spot open. According to, there's still at least one spot still open, possibly two (since Kirk Gibson will not guarantee Joe Saunders a spot just yet), so he's still in a battle with Aaron Heilman, presumably (I did see where Heilman's spring ERA is almost six, so it's not as if he's doing all that stellar, either). However, this may not be just a simple case of lack of fact-checking, because Cesar Marquez, who wrote the article, tweeted a quote from Armando that basically translates to "I want to remain a starter, but I'm a professional and it's up to me to work hard to return to the rotation." Note that he specifically said "return" and not "stay" or "remain" (and I know I'm translating the word "volver" correctly as "to return"). He seems to think he's on the outside looking in. The way his spring has gone, I can understand why. Actually, his last couple outings have been really strange. He'll start an inning by giving up a bunch of runs and then he'll retire, like, the next eight hitters in a row or something. From what I've read, it sounds like he's still battling the confidence issue. They say that his stuff looks really good, but he's got to get it into the strike zone more often. Meanwhile, the Nationals apparently want Wilson Ramos to be the starting catcher, so they tried to trade Pudge to the Red Sox but the Red Sox weren't interested. Hey, I have no strong feeling toward the Nationals either way, so if they don't want Pudge as the starter, then I'm all for trading him to a team that wants him to be the starting catcher (so long as that team isn't the Red Sox, any AL Central team that isn't Detroit, or a team where 7 is retired or in use by a top-line player, because seeing him in 12 or 77 just seems wrong). I just find it annoying that both these guys are fighting for their starting lives. By the way, I will NOT be giving daily updates on these two during the season. I may bring them up on a slow news day or an off-day or if I really need to post something, but it's not going to be a regular occurrence.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Scattering of Thoughts

It goes without saying that I wish I was still in Florida. Lakeland was wonderful and right now I'm back into the grind of school and work (and it doesn't help that at least two of my friends are in Lakeland right now). I'm not sure when I'll get to my first regular-season Tigers game. I know I'll be going to games on July 16th and August 20th, and if all goes well I'll be attending their four games in Oakland in September, but I'm holding out hope for more than that. At any rate, I don't really have anything concrete to discuss (since I really don't find the battles for the final spots in the bullpen and on the bench to be all that interesting), but it's been a week since I've posted, so I have to say something. Hence, you get this.

It's occurred to me in the last few days just how thoroughly uninteresting most of the Tigers' starting pitchers are (regardless of their level). Now, by that statement I do not mean I don't think they're good pitchers, but watching them pitch (or listening on the radio) is not very exciting (Verlander is awesome, but he's really the only one that I enjoy a lot; I enjoy Rick Porcello a little bit, but Max Scherzer and Phil Coke are only marginally interesting and the most positive thing I ever feel about Brad Penny is complete apathy, and that's when I'm in a good mood). I've gone through the past three years with two starting pitchers that I've gotten passionately excited about and really enjoyed watching. Now that I'm down to one, I'm realizing that I just don't go for pitchers all that often. However, I did notice a trend. The starting pitchers that I have developed some level of interest in (not necessarily Tiger pitchers) have all thrown no-hitters. But what's weird is that in every case except one, I got interested in them BEFORE they threw their no-hitter (the lone exception is Anibal Sanchez, who threw his in 2006, before I really got into baseball). And you should know very well by now that I don't necessarily develop interest in pitchers with traditional "no-hit stuff." Right now, there is one Tigers starting pitcher prospect that I'm intrigued by, and that's Brayan Villarreal. I wonder what that means for him (I know there's talk of moving him to the bullpen because he's theoretically blocked by Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver, but I really hope they don't do that; the starting corps in the minors could use a spark like him).

Is there a reason why Jon Heyman has a personal vendetta against Miguel Cabrera? He seems to have gotten tired of making unfunny drunk jokes about him on Twitter and has moved on to making unfunny fat jokes on Twitter (and they don't need to be justified by linking to them). He quoted Dave Dombrowski expressing confidence that Cabrera will be at the weight he needs to be at once the season starts, but then pointed out that he didn't say what Cabrera's weight is, as if to discredit him. First of all, Cabrera himself said he was at about 270 pounds when he arrived in Lakeland (though I think he was exaggerating a little). Second, I did see a couple pictures of him during the offseason where he looked kind of big, but he wears really baggy street clothes (which'll make anyone with a large build look even bigger) and for the past couple months, he's been working out intensely with a personal trainer in Florida (I've talked to him several times on Twitter; he's also been working with Magglio Ordoñez and Alex Avila). The extra weight is almost entirely muscle. Third (and most importantly), I've seen him up close and in person. He looks fine. If there's anyone on the team who looks like they've put on weight, it's Brad Thomas, of all people.

If all you want to hear about is Tigers stuff, you can stop here. I won't be offended, but I guess I'll give an update on the two of my Magnificent Six who are no longer with the Tigers (Pudge Rodriguez and Armando Galarraga). Pudge started off the spring pretty hot, but he's fallen off quite a bit. Last I checked he was hitting .238 with two RBIs, and in the last couple years, his bat hasn't been what it used to be (although he did have a good first half last year, which was wiped out by a terrible second half). However, his defense is as strong as ever and catching prospect Wilson Ramos isn't hitting that much better (.250 with one RBI). Pudge has been battling a minor calf injury for the past couple days. Currently, the Nationals plan to have Pudge begin the season as the starting catcher and then have Ramos take over after the All-Star Break (this is leading to speculation that Pudge could be a trade deadline candidate). However, there is speculation that Ramos could take over sooner than that if he gets off to a hot start. All I'm going to say is that Pudge is 183 hits away from 3000, I really want him to get to that mark (and I know that's his big goal), it'll probably take him two years as a starter to get there, and it's going to be really hard to do if he's relegated to a backup role. As far as Galarraga is concerned, well, remember when I said that he doesn't pitch well in spring training? That has not changed. I can't bring myself to listen to any radio broadcasts or watch on (I can't even bear to look at a picture of him in another uniform right now), so all I have to go on is Gameday, but it hasn't been pretty. His first spring outing was an exercise in lack of control (according to one of the Venezuelan writers). The second was against Texas and was probably the best one so far (featuring strikeouts of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz). The third was last Saturday against the White Sox and was a complete disaster (In three innings he gave up seven hits, six of which went for extra bases). His last outing was Tuesday and was kind of a roller coaster. His first inning of work was terrible, giving up three runs (two of which came on a home run by Aubrey Huff). However, he followed that up with a pair of 1-2-3 innings, including striking out the side in his final inning (he had five strikeouts total, which is really good for him in a three-inning span). The problem is that he's not guaranteed a rotation spot. He's battling with three others for one of two spots (there had been four competing, but Zack Duke broke his hand and will miss 4-6 weeks). I know Barry Enright has pitched well (and I know this because he's been pitching on the same days as Galarraga), but I have no idea how Aaron Heilman is doing. I don't know what the Diamondbacks plan on doing with him if he doesn't make their rotation, but they're starting to get to the point where two competitors won't be able to pitch on the same day, so I imagine a decision may come shortly after the next outing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lakeland Day 4: Tigers vs. Phillies (Again)

Well, it was another loss, which I hope isn't the start of a new trend, and I didn't have an epic win like I did yesterday, but I think I came away with a decent haul, getting autographs from Jake Wood (the first African-American to ever play for the Tigers), Will Rhymes, and Ryan Perry. For analysis of the game, head on over to No Run Support. For more pictures, head on over to Facebook. For random observations, stay right here:
  • Even though I really don't care for the Phillies (and the fact that there were a TON of Phillies fans at the game was annoying), it was nice to see Placido Polanco again. He even signed autographs for some of the Tigers fans (I didn't get in on that, though, because he didn't sign very many and I was in the wrong spot). 
  • Jimmy Rollins is TINY. He might be shorter than Will Rhymes.
  • I know I have a tendency to knock Victor Martinez's defense, but I'll give credit where credit is due. He made a real nice play fielding a slow roller up the first base line while Jose Valverde was on the mound. He practically did a somersault in throwing the ball to first, just nabbing the runner. Very nice.
  • The other entertaining point of the game came a little bit later. Andy Dirks hit a hot smash back to the mound that got caught in the webbing of the pitcher's glove. Dirks got a base hit out of the deal.
  • There's a feature at Joker Marchant Stadium called Tiger Trivia wherein they ask a member of the crowd a trivia question and if they get it right, they win...something (I think it's a hotel stay or free food or something). And the questions are usually super easy. Today's was "Who was the last Tiger to throw a no-hitter?" The general sentiment of the crowd was to ask "Officially or unofficially?" This was followed by a lot of people agreeing with each other that "yeah, it was a perfect game."
  • While waiting out by the player exits (which wasn't as great as yesterday because there were a ton of people, so players didn't stop, and I understand why), I met a woman who was a huge fan of Armando Galarraga, so we were able to commiserate (and she is flat-out convinced that he's going to have a huge year and the Tigers will regret trading him; yes, there's a part of me that hopes she's right). I also met a woman who was a huge Pudge fan, so we were able to gleefully reminisce and talk about what a marvelous player he is.
  • I don't know where Miguel Cabrera gets the idea that Ryan Perry is quiet. He was chatting up a storm with the fans in the parking lot. Someone asked him if he was a sweetheart, to which he replied "Sometimes." For some reason I overcame my shyness at that point and added, "Not when he's on the mound," which got a smile out of him. I also told him I liked his hair long like it is now.
  • And with that, my Lakeland trip has come to a close. It's been an absolute blast, totally worth the expense. Of course, the highlight was meeting Miguel Cabrera. That alone made the entire trip worth it. My next post will probably be from back home in Ohio, so until then, happy baseball!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lakeland Day 3: Tigers vs. Marlins (Wherein the Tigers Lose But I Still Win)

My good track record with the Tigers evidently isn't enough to save them in a spring training game where the pitchers just won't throw strikes. Max Scherzer just didn't have it, and apparently neither did anyone else on the pitching staff (for a more detailed analysis, see my No Run Support post and to see it in gory detail, here's my Facebook album). All the control problems made for a very long game (though not as long as the Nationals game yesterday). In addition, all the guy next to me did for the entire game was bitch and moan about, well, everything (topics of complaint included, but were not limited to, the stadium design, the screen behind home plate, Scherzer's drop in velocity, Miguel Cabrera's alcohol problem, and Austin Jackson striking out too much). I began wondering why he was even at the game, since there didn't seem to be a single player on the team that he liked. The guy finally left in the sixth inning when a swarm of small black bugs descended upon us. I have no idea what they were, but they were annoying as hell. After the game ended, I found myself waiting in the parking lot near the player exit for over an hour, but the game, the whiny guy, the bugs, and the wait were all worth it, because I met Miguel Cabrera and got his autograph. And he was really nice to all the fans who had waited around the exit, too. He even struck that awesomely goofy pose when he saw I was taking his picture. That has to be the highlight of my entire trip to Florida. Other notes:
  • Andy Dirks does a pretty funny imitation of Chris Berman. 
  • Before the game, Justin Verlander was giving an interview for a Boston TV crew when in the middle of the interview, he suddenly realized his pants were unzipped and unbuttoned. That got a huge laugh from the fans near the clubhouse.
  • Apparently on days when Magglio Ordoñez is the DH, he never takes his shin guard off. He was even warming up with it on. 
  • In the third inning, some guy behind me randomly yelled out (very loudly), "Armando! Where's Armando?" Um, okay (Look, I love Armando Galarraga and I wish very much that he was still with this team, but even I admit that Max Scherzer is a better pitcher).
  • In the same inning, once Scherzer gave up the three-run homer to Matt Dominguez, the same guy yelled out "Toledo!"
  • I had never seen Charlie Furbush pitch before. He has a very slingly delivery. Hopefully he's usually not as slow as he was today.
  • There was a guy behind me cheering on Cabrera in Spanish (It might have actually been the same guy yelling for Armando, because one of his cheers was "Viva Venezuela"). Then he started yelling "Thank you Magglio!" as Maggs was standing in the on-deck circle.
  • I also got autographs from Rob Brantly, Ben Guez, Tom Brookens, and Rafael Belliard.
  • Tomorrow will be my final game here in Lakeland. The Tigers take on the Phillies again. And this time my new camera will have a better lens than it did today.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lakeland Day 2: Nationals vs. Astros (AKA Road Trip to Viera)

I won't lie; the drive from Lakeland to Viera is long and actually pretty boring, except when you're going through the part of I-4 where all the Disney World exits are. At that point it becomes downright chaotic. But at any rate, this was the first baseball game I've ever been to that wasn't Tigers or Mud Hens. Of course, it was entirely because I wanted to see Pudge, which I got to do. I didn't get his autograph, but for once, my shyness had nothing to do with it. It was actually due to a combination of a high school glee club that was singing the national anthem and me being in the wrong place. Can't do anything about that (and I JUST missed getting Steven Strasberg's autograph; the coaches made him leave before he got to me). However, my seat was at just about the perfect vantage point for me to watch him (and I was close enough to the dugout that I could hear him laughing at one point; if you've ever heard Pudge laugh, you'll know it's rather distinctive). There are only three downsides: 1) He didn't get a hit, 2) He was only in the game for six innings (which I expected, being spring training and all), and 3) My camera kept auto-focusing on the screen behind home plate instead of the players, so I was constantly battling blurriness. Still, I managed to get a TON of fairly decent pictures of him (and by "ton," I mean bordering on stalker-quantity). I've put the best ones on Facebook, along with the pictures of the other players. And now for some additional notes:
  • There was at least one other Tigers fan there, as I saw a guy wearing an Austin Jackson t-shirt. There were also a few Cubs and Reds fans there. 
  • This game took FOREVER. I mean, the final score was 14-9 in favor of the home team, and the Nationals scored nine runs in the 8th inning (all with two out), but it was dragging even before then thanks to a lot of hits, walks, deep counts, and long at-bats. 
  • At one point, Pudge jogged out to talk to whichever Nationals pitcher was on the mound (he made a LOT of those mound visits in this game), as he was walking back to the plate, the stadium people played an airplane sound effect. That didn't really make sense (I know it's Space Coast Stadium, but it still doesn't make sense).
  •  Nationals fans seem rather unsatisfied with Jayson Werth. They cheered for him enthusiastically when his name was announced in the lineup, but after that, whenever he batted, there was a lot of complaining and booing going on. The fact that he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts didn't help matters. I checked the boxscore, and he IS hitting only .077 so far, but it's only spring training. I mean, closer to home, the Tigers middle of the order is hardly setting the world on fire right now, but I'm not worried about them, and most of the fans in Lakeland don't seem to be worried either. 
  • Speaking of Jayson Werth, at one point he fouled a pitch straight off the umpire's chest and the umpire didn't even flinch. 
  • Unlike in Lakeland, the Space Coast Stadium grounds crew does NOT dance. 
  • I also got to see former Mud Hen (with a very brief Tiger cameo mixed in) Jeff Frazier, whom I've met before. He had a nice day with a single and a walk. At one point, though, he nearly took out his third base coach on two consecutive foul balls. 
  • Nationals pitcher Garrett Mock began the fifth inning by giving up a hit-by-pitch, a walk, and a three-run homer before getting pulled. As Jim Riggleman was heading to the mound to make the pitching change, an old lady that was sitting near me shouted, "Leave him in! He needs the practice."
  • I was sitting about three rows behind the Nationals dugout. During the middle of the game, one of the vendors stopped at the stairway closest to me and gave the familiar "Ice cold beer" shout that you hear at every baseball game. A guy from over near the Astros dugout shouted something, and somehow everyone on the first base side could hear him. The vendor yelled out, "Is somebody dying out there?" to which the guy replied "I'm dying over here!" Apparently there was only one beer vendor in the entire stadium? At any rate, the vendor shouted, "I'll be with you soon, sir." The guy (politely) yelled back "Take your time." The vendor's response? "I won't take as long as this game is." That got laughs and applause from just about the entire stadium. I think even a couple of the players (including Pudge) smiled at that.
  • When we sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Comerica Park, we sing "root, root, root for the Tigers." At Fifth Third Field, we "root, root, root for the Mud Hens." I always wondered how it got sung if the home team was more than two syllables. Well, as far as Washington is concerned, they just try to condense "Nationals" into that line as best they can.
  • I really wanted to see Pudge throw someone out, but the only time a runner took off (and it wasn't a hit-and-run) was when there were runners at the corners and he held onto the ball to make sure the runner at third didn't take off for home. This was the correct move, because the runner sure did look like he was going to try and score. 
  • And yes, I did get to see the phenom Bryce Harper. He hit two doubles during the nine-run eighth.
  • Finally, I'd just like to point out that I am loving the above picture. That is quite possibly the best picture that I have gotten of any player ever. Anyways, that's it for tonight. Tomorrow it's back to Joker Marchant Stadium to see the Tigers play the Marlins.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lakeland Day 1: Tigers vs. Phillies

Hello from sunny Lakeland, Florida! My first spring training game turned out to be a good one, although it didn't look like it would be that way for most of the game. I analyzed the game itself over at No Run Support, so I won't rehash that entirely. So here is the condensed version, along with some other observations:

  • It looked to me like Phil Coke was getting hit hard early. He only gave up the one run, but it seemed like every out was either a hard ground ball or a flyout to the warning track. However, he got better in the third and fourth inning, especially with the offspeed pitches.
  • I know the folks in the media are starting to get concerned with Miguel Cabrera's lack of hitting so far this spring. It looks to me like he's a little jumpy and swinging at stuff that he wouldn't normally swing at. I'm not worried, though. He'll figure it out.
  • In case you were wondering how the fans in Lakeland have been treating Cabrera, I can assure you that the reception towards him was very positive. Oddly enough, Victor Martinez was the one getting booed. However, I couldn't tell if that was from the Tigers fans or the Phillies fans (and there were quite a few Phillies fans there). 
  • Keep an eye on Brian Holaday, who hit the home run in the eighth inning to tie the game. This kid has the makings of being a very good catcher. He can REALLY throw.
  • I didn't have a lot of luck in the autograph department, but I did get to meet (and get signatures from) Duane Below and Lester Oliveros.
  • Before the game started, I was hanging out by that screened-off player area near the locker room. I got to watch Justin Verlander being interviewed by Tom Gage (I think), which was great because that's the closest I've ever stood to Justin Verlander. But the strangest thing happened a little later on. Jim Leyland showed up and I tried to get a picture, but my camera kept focusing on the screen instead of him (and this camera doesn't have manual focus). I expressed my frustration at this, which caused the woman next to me to point at a player I didn't recognize and ask, "Is that your husband?" What?
  • I found it amusing that the PA announcer gives the gametime temperature in Detroit as well as Lakeland. 
  • I think they have some sort of contest or promotion every single inning. My favorite was when they paged the owner of a specific car (you know, make, model, and license plate) to the box office like the person's lights were on or something. After a long pause the announcer said "Your car has been selected as the dirtiest car in the parking lot." The person won a free car wash or something.
  • The little girl sitting behind me must have been at her first baseball game. She apparently was expecting to see real tigers, and her mom was trying to set her straight.
  • This is the first Tigers game I've ever been to in which Ryan Raburn did not play (but I believe the Brandon Inge streak is still alive).
  •  And if you want to see more pictures, check out my album on Facebook. Be aware that almost every picture was taken from behind either a screen or a fence, though.
  • Tomorrow I'll be at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, watching the Nationals and Astros.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random Thoughts

This will probably be the last post I write before I head to Lakeland on Saturday, unless there’s some big news that happens between now and then. For now, I just have some random thoughts to share:
  • As far as Miguel Cabrera is concerned, the main priority should be his well-being as a person, and with that in mind, I sincerely hope that the treatment program he’s been recommended is truly the best for him and gives him the greatest chance of overcoming this problem. However, I won’t lie. It’s great seeing pictures of him back in game action.
  • I wasn’t able to listen to yesterday’s game, but I’m told that the Astros radio broadcasters observed that there were fans booing Cabrera during his at-bats. Ignoring the fact that this is a tacky thing to do from a conscience standpoint, booing him doesn’t even make sense from a completely selfish standpoint. Even if all you were concerned about was the Tigers winning games, what is booing going to accomplish at this juncture? The season hasn’t even started yet. Nothing he’s done has hurt the team’s chances at anything. This is also puzzling because previous reports had stated that fans were treating him no better or worse than normal. I’ll be able to get this cleared up once I’m in Lakeland.
  • Gee, the media sure doesn’t seem to be that interested in the news of Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp being arrested for DUI.
  • Joel Zumaya will be out a couple of days after tearing scar tissue in his elbow. Not surprisingly, this news has caused a strange mix of panic and gallows humor-type jokes among the Tiger fans. I’ve seen enough stories about other players’ surgeries to know that scar tissue tearing is pretty much a normal part of the healing process. The only reason anyone’s making a big deal of it is because it’s Joel Zumaya. People panic if he so much as sneezes. 
  • And last but certainly not least: While I’m in Lakeland, I will be blogging here (obviously), but I will also be writing for Allison Hagen’s blog, No Run Support. If you don’t read her site already, you should.