Monday, April 18, 2011

Moving Day!

As I announced a few days ago, I am now moving to Aerys Sports to become their Tiger blogger. Please update your bookmarks to this link (or if you want to directly link to the Aerys Sports page, use this link). This site will remain up in case I have use for it in the future, but for now, I'm excited for this move and I hope you will join me over there.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Banged Up and Confused

This is going to be a short post because I only saw the last two innings and nothing happened during them. Going into a four-game series on the road, your goal is to split, but the worst way of accomplishing that goal is to win the first two games and then lose the last two. Truth be told, I was prepared to lose this game on the pitching matchup alone, since expecting to win all four games is unrealistic (Before this trip started, my plan was for the first and third games to be wins, the fourth game to be a loss, and the second to be a tossup; having the A's hit five doubles off Verlander was not part of my plan). It's almost like Brad Penny is the antithesis of Brayan Villarreal in that while Villarreal continues to pique my interest, Penny continues to not impress me. I can't get into detail, since I didn't see his outing, but I will give him credit for being forthcoming when he doesn't pitch well. Brad Thomas, Al Alburquerque, and Daniel Schlereth all had uneventful outings, so there's no point in commenting on them further.

The offense couldn't do anything against Trevor Cahill, which, again, I expected. The lone bright spot was a home run from Casper Wells, but other than that, the Tigers didn't strand anyone in scoring position because they never had a runner in scoring position. I knew nothing about who would and would not be playing (other than I knew Magglio would be out of the lineup and I remembered Leyland saying something last night about giving Inge the day off), so when I got home from work and saw that Victor Martinez's name was not in the boxscore, I was puzzled but figured it was Leyland being stubborn about giving guys a break. I was in a feisty mood so I went over to Bless You Boys and made up a story about Martinez being injured, only to learn that he actually WAS injured (apparently he suffered a groin strain in his last at-bat last night). And then MLive had some throwaway line about Brandon Inge trying to play through a quad injury that no one else seems to know about.

The Tigers now head up to Seattle to take on the Mariners, who are off to a rough start this year (having gotten largely steamrolled by the Rangers, Indians, and Royals; it sounds wrong to mention two of those teams as having steamrolled anyone). The good news is that the Tigers will not have to face reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez (although he hasn't been pitching well so far) or very talented rookie Michael Pineda. Their first opponent is lefty Jason Vargas, whom I've actually seen in person (the Tigers scored a bunch of runs off him in that game; they didn't score nearly as many when they saw him in Seattle earlier that year). One thing to note is that Leyland has said that Victor Martinez will not be able to catch this game (he might DH, depending on the injury), so Alex Avila will be pressed into duty against the lefty. Meanwhile, it feels like it's been about two months since I last saw Max Scherzer. He's coming off a decent start against the Rangers where he was in trouble a lot, but managed to keep the damage to a minimum. He did some good work against the Mariners last year.

I Was Starting to Wonder Where the Weird Was

What, you thought they would be able to avoid the strangeness that the west coast inherently seems to have? Unfortunately, it seemed to rear its ugly head during Verlander's start. I don't feel I was given a satisfactory enough explanation for why he gave up five doubles (other than being "ambushed"). They were all focused on that weird play where he made what looked like a left-handed pickoff throw to first, except he was facing toward home (obviously) and he threw home. His explanation was that he was going to do a pickoff throw to first, but he stepped backwards and couldn't turn, so he threw home in order to avoid a balk. It ended up eventually being called a balk, mostly because the umpires didn't know what else to call it.

The offense obviously didn't do much. They scored the only two runs on an error and a fielder's choice. Dallas Braden threw a lot of changeups and the Tigers mostly either took them for strikes or took really funky swings at it. The bulk of the highlights were a single from Magglio Ordoñez, a double from Miguel Cabrera, and a single and a double from Victor Martinez (although he couldn't come up with another hit late when he represented the tying run). Jim Leyland said that they failed to "recognize scoring opportunities" and that "This isn't slow-pitch softball." I have no idea what that last statement is supposed to mean.

It's the final game of the series today, and Brad Penny is going for the Tigers. His last start was decent (even if he lucked out by being in his home ballpark), and the Coliseum is also a pitcher's park (though the ball does carry better during the day than it does at night). He'll be up against Trevor Cahill, who won 18 games for the A's last year and recently signed an extension. He used to be pretty easy to beat up on, but that obviously changed last year. The Tigers haven't scored an earned run off any of the A's starters in the series so far, so it would be nice to take that little factoid off the board. Just try to avoid the weirdness today.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the Other Side: Oakland Athletics

Today's edition of From the Other Side is a bit different from the others because two A's bloggers volunteered, so this edition will be sort of a mini-roundtable discussion. Joining me today are Bee Hylinski, author of Contract Year, a coming of age love story set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball; and Jason Leary of Junk Ball, where he has blogged the A's since 2008. My thanks goes to both of them for helping me out on this project (One minor note: I conducted this Q&A last week, so keep that in mind).
1. What do the A's have to improve upon from last year in order to challenge for the AL West title?

Bee: Offense.

Jason: That's easy, the A's need to improve their hitting if they're going to have any chance to build on last season's .500 finish and make a run at the AL West title. Acquiring Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus was general manager Billy Beane's attempt to address the A's painfully impotent offense. The early results this season have been uninspiring and it's easy to see why Beane made such an aggressive, but ultimatelt futile, run at free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.  In my opinion the team's most dangerous hitter is Chris Carter but the young slugger is taking his hacks in Sacramento instead of Oakland as mangement stubbornly tries to convert the lumbering first baseman into an outfielder.

2. How much of a concern is Andrew Bailey's health and how good is their bullpen depth, should they need a fill-in closer for an extended period of time?

Bee: It’s a concern.  He was a big part of the A’s success last year and is a two-time All-Star.  Brian Fuentes hasn’t picked up the slack, though his last outing was good.

Jason: During spring training I didn't think the loss of Bailey would have a big impact since the A's had an impressively deep bullpen thanks to incumbent relievers Mike Wuertz and Craig Breslow and free agent additions Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. But Wuertz is now on the disabled list and Breslow is still rounding into form after nursing a hamstring injury in spring training. Fuentes should be able to adequately fill in as closer for short periods, but over the long haul of the season the A's are going to need Bailey to anchor the bullpen. Everything I have read indicates that Bailey is recovering at a steady pace and I expect him to spend most of the season handling the ninth inning. 

3. Both the A's and the Tigers finished 2010 with an 81-81 record. What offseason moves have both teams made that make them a better (or worse) team this year?

Bee: I can only speak for the A’s.  They strengthened their offense with the acquisition of DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui and they strengthened their bullpen with Fuentes, Balfour, and maybe Rich Harden if he can get (and stay) healthy.  They also added a solid 5th starter in Brandon McCarthy.

Jason: I think Oakland's addition of Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, Balfour, Fuentes, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden all make the team better. The offense should be marginally improved and the bullpen and bench should be deeper. As for the Tigers, adding Victor Martinez to an already strong offense can only help them in the AL Central. Aside from that I think they grossly overpaid for Joaquin Benoit and Brad Penny probably won't be a difference maker in their starting rotation.

4. There have been news stories off and on that the Athletics want to move to a new stadium in order to increase attendance. How likely is this and will it help draw more fans?

Bee: Not likely in the next 5 years as it will take that long to get the approvals and actually build the thing, and it all hinges on MLB’s decision from the study done by Bud Selig’s special commission investigating move possibilities.  As for drawing more fans, it will have that effect, at least initially.  If they have a lousy team in a new ballpark, the interest will wane.

Jason: Personally, I don't think a new ballpark will happen anywhere anytime soon for the A's.  San Jose is simply co-owner Lew Wolff's pipe dream until MLB commissioner gets off his butt and makes a call on whether the A's can move and infringe on the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights. Oakland is making a push for a ballpark near Jack London Square but that process is in the very early stages. California's budget crisis also threatens any effort to build a ballpark in San Jose or Oakland because each city wants to use redevelopment agency funds to help finance a park but Governor Jerry Brown wants to eliminate those agencies.  If the A's ever find a new place to call home they'll definitely get a big boost in attendance, at least in the first few years when droves of fans will probably come out to see the new ballpark.

5. Is there anything that the Tigers can learn from the A's (or vice-versa) that can make them a better team?

Bee: Pitching and defense with decent hitting is the key, as is staying healthy.  Having a top-notch player development program is another strength for the A’s, especially as it pertains to pitchers.  Young pitchers tell me they are thrilled when they are signed or traded to the A’s.  They know they will get great training and stand a better chance of making it to the majors, either with the A’s or as trade bait for other teams.

Jason: To be perfectly honest, I don't follow the Tigers closely enough to be well-versed with their organizational philosophy.  The biggest difference between the A's and Tigers is money, a common theme when comparing the A's to most other organizations. The Tigers sign players to contracts the A's could never afford and the A's sign players the Tigers may never have to consider because a bigger budget means they can successfully bring in top-shelf talent. That makes it hard to level any constructive criticism at the Tigers or focus on something the A's could adopt and use to their advantage.

One additional note from Bee:
The A’s are off to a bit of a slow start, which may be due to reduced playing time at spring training, in an attempt to ward off the injury bug.  It’s early.  I think they’ll be fine.  At this point their Triple-A team is doing better than they are.  

Patience is a Virtue

And I don't mean patience like taking walks (although that's good too). I mean waiting until the end and getting rewarded for it. Rick Porcello was much better. He was pitching in traffic for much of his outing, but he got his sinker working and got outs when he needed to. He was also helped out a lot by his defense, especially Ramon Santiago, who snagged a line drive from Hideki Matsui early in the game and turned it into a double play. The game also featured the big league debut of Al Alburquerque, who looked like he could be a boost as long as he continues throwing strikes. And finally, it was the first major league win for Brayan Villarreal, who unfortunately combined with Joaquin Benoit to fall victim to the cliche of pitchers not being able to pitch with a big lead and his ERA took a hit as a result. Hopefully he'll fare better next time.

It looked for the longest time like Porcello would be stuck with the tough-luck loss, as the Tigers could do nothing with Brandon McCarthy. Brennan Boesch almost provided a lift in the eighth by crushing a ball to center field, but the ball doesn't carry at night at Oakland, and it just ended up being a long out. The odd thing was that the whole time I wanted to see Miguel Cabrera in the ninth. I guess I was remembering last year, when he hit a game-tying home run off Brian Fuentes in Anaheim. Well, history repeated itself, as the Oakland air proved no match for Cabrera's big bat. No ballpark can hold him. The floodgates opened in the tenth thanks to three Oakland errors, and what was once a nailbiting pitching duel turned into a blowout.

Tonight is game 3 of this series, and by now you must know that the matchup features two pitchers who have thrown no-hitters: Justin Verlander and Dallas Braden. Verlander is coming off a tough-luck loss to the Rangers. The last time he was in Oakland, he pitched a complete game and won, but he faced the A's again two starts later at Comerica Park and didn't fare so well. And they'll probably show the footage of Dallas Braden's perfect game last year about a billion times. He can be tough, but the Tigers get to him more often than not. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

I'll Spare the Obvious Pun...

Come on, you know what pun that is. Phil Coke threw seven shutout innings and looked good doing it. He didn't get a lot of strikeouts, but he was in control pretty much all night. It never really felt like the A's were going to mount a threat. The only real quirk (besides Coco Crisp's hair) was that he could not throw strikes to Daric Barton (who has the reputation for being a walk machine anyways). I'm not sure it was any particular pitch that worked for him, more like the mix of pitches. It looked like they had a good game plan. Joaquin Benoit bounced back from his bad outing the other day (It feels like I should have seen him more than I actually have), and Jose Valverde polished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth (that involved Victor Martinez taking a foul tip in a really bad spot).

The offense probably should have scored more runs than they did, considering that the Athletics pitchers combined to give up ELEVEN walks, but the Tigers only had four hits the entire evening. Gio Gonzalez has good stuff, so I can see him getting into the "effectively wild" category, but six walks seems excessive, and the A's bullpen couldn't throw strikes either. Ryan Raburn finally got the Tigers on the board with an RBI double, and Ramon Santiago (who probably had the best swings of any of the Tigers last night) provided another with a sacrifice fly (another run scored on an error). Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were pretty quiet. Cabrera did have two walks (one intentional, one semi-intentional), but Martinez went 0-for-5, all on groundouts to the middle infielders. No one's really talking about it because the Tigers are winning right now, but his average is now right at the Mendoza line. And he seems to be having trouble getting the ball in the air, because it seems like he's hitting a lot of groundouts to the second baseman or shortstop (oddly enough, he's only grounded into one double play so far this year). Now, he's been a good hitter for a long time, so I'm not really worried about him long-term, but it'd be nice for him to start making opposing pitchers pay for walking Cabrera

It's gonna be another late night tonight. Rick Porcello tries to get his first win of the year. The other four starters have all turned in at least one decent outing (even Penny, although you can throw an asterisk onto that one if you want). Porcello got his sinker working for about three innings in his last start and then it went away again and he ended up giving up nine hits and five runs for the second straight start. He'll be up against Brandon McCarthy, who was once a big-time prospect for the White Sox before getting traded to Texas, where he never really panned out and got hurt a lot. Still, he's off to a good start this year. He hasn't faced the Tigers since 2009. It's Jackie Robinson Day, so everyone will be wearing the #42 on their jerseys (though hopefully the A's will wear something besides those blindingly bright yellow jerseys that they had last night).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Walk-Offs are Becoming a Habit

Anyone else think this was a strange game? The first four innings took forever, and yet, no runs scored. Usually pitching duels make for quick games, but not this time. I was stuck listening to the radio for most of the game (I only got to see the ninth inning on TV), but I'll do what I can. It was not an easy start for Max Scherzer. He was dealing with baserunners (usually multiple baserunners) just about all afternoon, but to his credit, he made the big pitch when he needed to before finally blinking in the sixth. He had seven strikeouts, so something was working. For the second straight game, Julio Borbon got picked off to end a threat (that's the second time I've seen the "fake to third, look to first" play work; the other time was actually a Rangers game against the A's, and that would have worked except the Rangers made an error). This game also featured too many wild pitches, but some more stellar work from Brayan Villarreal (and while there have been other pitchers credited with a hold without throwing a single pitch, Villarreal is apparently the first Venezuelan to have that distinction).

As bizarre as Scherzer's outing was, the lack of runs against Dave Bush was even more puzzling. It's not for lack of patience. The Tigers had some real grind-it-out plate appearances. I don't think I've ever seen that many nine or ten-pitch at-bats not produce anything. They finally broke through in the sixth inning to tie things up, starting with back-to-back doubles from Victor Martinez and Brennan Boesch. It was a big game for Brandon Inge, who tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and then won the game with his first home run of the year in the bottom of the ninth. 

And so now we turn from day games to sleep deprivation as the Tigers head out west (cue my monologue about how weird things happen on the west coast). The first stop is Oakland for four games. The Athletics have had some really good pitching to start out the year, but their offense has struggled, although it has started to pick up a bit in the last few days (they came back from being down three runs against the White Sox yesterday and ended up winning in extra innings). Tonight's game features Phil Coke against Gio Gonzalez. Coke struggled early in his start against the Royals, but then settled down and actually pitched really well. Gio Gonzalez has also been pitching really well. He's only given up one earned run so far, but he occasionally has a tendency to walk batters. Stock up on the caffeine (no excuses; I have an exam and a case study due tomorrow and I'm still watching). 

And finally, an announcement: This blog will be moving soon. I am joining Aerys Sports, a network of blogs for every major sports team, and all the blogs are run by women. You may recall that I did some guest-posting over there for Allison Hagen at No Run Support during spring training, and now, Tigers Amateur Analysis will become the new Tigers blog on the network. I can't give you an exact time, but the move will probably happen in the next few days, and hopefully it'll be a seamless transition.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Amazing Things Happen When You Can't Walk Cabrera

This would definitely qualify as a hard-fought victory. It took just about everything they had to get it. Brad Penny did okay, although if this game had been in Arlington (or anywhere other than Comerica Park, for that matter, except maybe Seattle or Oakland), things would have been far different. He probably would have given up at least three home runs, maybe four. However, there is something to be said for playing to the ballpark. The star of the game was the defense. The Rangers were making pretty solid contact off Penny more often than not, but good positioning and excellent plays kept the damage to a minimum, such as Ryan Raburn robbing Michael Young of a 3-run homer, or a good relay from the outfield to nab Adrian Beltre on what looked to be a sure triple. Even the defensive lapses turned out to work in their favor. In the first inning, Josh Hamilton had driven in a run with a triple and was standing at third with one out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop-up that both Inge and Martinez ran after. Inge caught it, but for some reason, Penny was still standing on the mound and not covering home plate, so Hamilton took off for home. Luckily, this flaky moment ended up being a good thing, because Martinez was able to get back in time and tag Hamilton out. This whole thing turned out to be a really bad decision for the Rangers, because Hamilton broke his humerus on the slide and is expected to miss about eight weeks. My favorite moment of the game was when Penny was lifted for Brayan Villarreal with two outs in the seventh and Julio Bourbon standing at first. Villarreal promptly picked him off (he's got a really good move for a right-hander, maybe even better than Verlander's), and thus earned a hold without throwing a single pitch. The only real dark spot of the afternoon was that Joaquin Benoit struggled and gave up the tying run, but it's a little too early to decide if that's a problem or not.

It was a grind-it-out day for the offense as well. The first couple runs were of the "manufactured" variety (RBI groundout, sacrifice fly, etc.). For a while during the late innings it looked like they were going to keep lining out to Adrian Beltre. Then in the ninth, good at-bats from Inge, Jackson, and Raburn (along with a sacrifice bunt by Avila) got Miguel Cabrera to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth. And since the Rangers had no choice but to pitch to him this time, Cabrera did what he does best: Driving in a run. What kind of surprised me was that it was his seventh walk-off hit, but his first since July of 2008 (which was a two-run walk-off homer against Cleveland, one I actually remember). That seems like kind of a long time for him. 

Today's game wraps up the homestand before the Tigers head out west. Max Scherzer is looking to build on a strong start against the Royals. He faced the Rangers twice last year. One was early in the season in Texas and it wasn't a particularly good start. The other was a strong start at Comerica Park in July. Meanwhile, the Rangers are having a bullpen start, since they played a doubleheader a few days ago and apparently they don't want to have to call anyone up. Dave Bush is expected to be the first one out of the 'pen for them, though that has not been made official. The Tigers last saw him with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, and beat him up pretty good. One other thing to note is that it became public last night that the Tigers are going to call up Alberto Alburquerque this morning (I'm not sure what I did to be punished with having to type that name over and over on this blog), but as of last night, they hadn't decided on a corresponding roster move (which makes it sound more like this is about Alburquerque than about anyone on the big league roster). It'll be announced before the game today, but as I'm typing this, they haven't said anything. The theories on the internet seem to consist of DFAing either Brad Thomas or Enrique Gonzalez, optioning Robbie Weinhardt, or putting Magglio Ordoñez on the DL. I'm skeptical of them getting rid of Thomas because Dave Dombrowski seems to like him, and if they were going to replace him, it would make more sense to bring up a lefty like Fu-Te Ni. Magglio's problem is apparently a buildup of synovial fluid in the bursa sac around the Achilles' tendon, and even though there is no inflammation right now, the fluid buildup itself can be painful. Putting him on the DL seems unnecessary at this point, especially to bring up a pitcher (and moreso when you consider that the corresponding move seems to serve the purpose of creating roster space, rather than the other way around), since the bullpen really isn't overtaxed at this point in time, but I can't rule it out as a possibility. Weinhardt and Gonzalez both have those early-season high ERAs, but it should be noted that Weinhardt has minor league options remaining while Gonzalez does not. However, I am not going to predict what happens, because they've done weird thing before and for all I know they'll send down Brayan Villarreal. I wouldn't put it past them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Too Many

This post is going to be a little short on detail because I didn't see any of this game (stupid class). Apparently Justin Verlander looked real good early and got a complete game (rare for anyone in April), but it wasn't enough as he blinked in the seventh inning. Actually, this reminds me of another complete-game loss the Tigers had last year (not Verlander's). Perhaps one of the ghosts is still hanging around. However, I think it's a bit premature to be looking up who currently holds the record for complete game losses since Verlander has a whopping two complete game losses in his career and pitchers a hundred years ago threw nine innings almost every game.

Meanwhile, the only one who ever figured out Alexi Ogando was Miguel Cabrera, who managed a single and a double off him. However, he made a baserunning error that killed one of the few scoring opportunities when Victor Martinez hit a pop-up to shortstop and Cabrera kept on running. I don't know if he thought it was going to drop or if he thought there were two out (I know I thought there were two out; Having Rhymes and Boesch bumped up one spot each in the lineup was confusing). And Ryan Raburn made us all learn that if you're batting in front of Miguel Cabrera and he represents the tying run in the ninth inning, you'd better hit a single or a home run. Not a double or triple, because then you leave first base open. I don't think that they would've intentionally walked Cabrera if first base wasn't open or the bases were empty (I wouldn't put it past Joe Maddon to do it, but not Ron Washington). But hey, if I were a manager, I'd rather face Victor Martinez, too. He's a good hitter, but he's not as good as Cabrera. 

For game 2, the Tigers start Brad Penny, who really has yet to show why he is a clear upgrade. He was better in Baltimore than he was in New York, and maybe the vastness of Comerica Park will help curb the long ball that keeps biting him (although the Rangers can bomb the ball anywhere). The Rangers will start former closer CJ Wilson. The Tigers saw Wilson several times as a reliever, but never as a starter (and the Tigers are the only AL team that Wilson hasn't made a start against). And Wilson is supposed to be the ace of their staff. Magglio Ordoñez is going to sit for a couple of days to get his ankle/Achilles' tendon straightened out because Leyland is tired of putting him and taking him out of the lineup repeatedly (He actually sounded a little annoyed with Magglio). So with that in mind, and with the lefty on the mound, my guess is that Victor Martinez will catch and Casper Wells will be in there somewhere. And maybe Santiago in place of Will Rhymes (although I don't think Leyland can take all the lefties out of the lineup, so odds are that either Rhymes or Boesch will be in there).

Monday, April 11, 2011

From the Other Side: Texas Rangers

New series, new team, new installment of From the Other Side. Today I've got a Q&A with Dan Edmonson from Chicken Fried Baseball, a Texas Rangers blog (you can also follow him on Twitter). I'd like to thank him for being kind enough to help me out on this.

1. What, specifically, do you think is the key for the Rangers in getting back to (and ultimately winning) the World Series?

 Dan: The key to the Rangers winning their first ever World Series will be the starting pitching.  There doesn't seem to be much question that the offense will be one of the league's best, and with Neftali Feliz returning to the bullpen, relief pitching should also be a major source of strength.  For the Rangers to achieve their ultimate goal, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis will have to repeat their 2010 performances, Derek Holland will need to mature into a reliable front-of-rotation pitcher, and in all likelihood, they will have to trade for another starter.

 2. There was a lot of talk during spring training about possibly converting Neftali Feliz back into a starting pitcher. Do you see him in that role eventually, or is he better off as a closer?

Dan: The current plan is for Feliz to be a starting pitcher next season, and I have little doubt that he will be a member of the 2011 rotation.  The Rangers decision to leave him in the 'pen this year had more to do with their closer options than their hopes for Feliz.  In fact, I'm convinced that if some relievers had pitched better in spring training, or if Tommy Hunter's injury had been diagnosed a week earlier, Feliz would be in the rotation now.  There will be a number of closers available in the upcoming free agent market, and I expect the Rangers to sign Neftali's replacement next winter.

3. Opinions are quite divided regarding the Tigers. What is your take on them as a Rangers fan, and how do you expect them to fare in the AL Central?

 Dan: My "bold" pre-season prediction was for the Tigers to win the Wild Card.  My pick was largely based upon the top-to-bottom strength of the AL East, and that the two worst teams in the AL appear to be in the Central division.  I think it will be a close race among the top three teams, with the White Sox winning the division, and Minnesota finishing third.  I think Max Scherzer could have a breakout season, Rick Porcello could develop into a strong middle-of-rotation starter, and that the Joaquin Benoit will help solidify the bullpen.  I'm a little concerned about the defense up the middle, the lack of a legitimate fifth starter.

4. Which player (on either or both teams) maybe doesn't grab the headlines but is vital to his team's success?

Dan: He's new to the team, but I think Benoit will have a big impact.  Many writers are coming around to the idea that a dominant set-up man can be more valuable than a closer, and Benoit is just that.  For the Rangers, I think Colby Lewis might be one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.  Among qualifying starters, Lewis was fifth in the AL last season in strikeouts per nine innings (between Justin Verlander and Scherzer), posted a WHIP of 1.19, and ate innings.  Using the "doesn't grab headlines" caveat, I would say David Murphy.  Murphy is a well rounded player who seems to be good at everything, but great at nothing.  In 138 games last season, he had a slash line of .291/.358/.449, and 14 steals in 16 attempts.  He is the fourth outfielder, but manages to find his way into games, and makes the most out of his opportunities.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sleepy Saturday is Followed by Sloppy Sunday

In my season preview, I mentioned how I could see the Tigers' season going in one of two directions. It's too early to tell much of anything (since just about every team is going to have a stretch of nine games where they don't play well), but it would be nice for them to stop going in the wrong direction. Today's game didn't help. Porcello was a bit better with getting the ground ball, but he ran out of steam too early and those ground balls turned into live drives. Four errors didn't help matters, even though all the runs were technically earned. For some reason, the pitchers got it into their heads that Miguel Cabrera is left-handed and has six-foot long arms. The other two errors came from Brandon Inge (out of character) and Ryan Raburn (somewhat in character). I don't rag on Brad Thomas like a lot of other fans do, but when he's the best pitcher of the day, something's wrong.

The offense couldn't get anything going against Luke Hochevar until it was too late, and every time they scored, the Royals would come right back and score more. The good news is that they seem to have found their power stroke again. Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, and Miguel Cabrera all went deep in the loss, but they were never able to get a big rally going. They got the first two on in the eighth inning and Will Rhymes followed that with a nice 9-pitch battle, but ended up grounding into a double play and the rally fizzled. They also got the first two on in the ninth, but the Royals did damage control and they only managed to get one run out of it. Outside of that, there weren't a whole lot of good scoring opportunities. Also, they didn't draw a single walk. 

If the Tigers are going to get on track before their next road trip, they're going to have to do it against the defending AL champs, the Texas Rangers, who are 8-1 and red hot, both in offense and pitching. The Tigers did not give up a home run to the Royals in the entire three-game series, but they probably won't duplicate that feat against the Rangers, who have been leaving the yard in bunches. Anyways, the Tigers have their best shot in the first game with Justin Verlander starting. He was awesome against the Orioles, and he's generally pitched well against Texas in his career. The Rangers will start Alexi Ogando, who was a reliever last year but has made his way into the starting rotation.

Sleepy Saturday

There are pitching duels, and then there are games where you feel like absolutely no scoring will ever happen. And those games end up feeling kind of flat. It did feature a good start by Phil Coke. He was shaky early, but that ability to make adjustments that I observed in spring training turned out to be true in the regular season as well. It was too late to salvage this start, but it was a good step forward nonetheless. Robbie Weinhardt looked good as well, even if he did give up a run.

Meanwhile, the offense was completely shut down by Bruce Chen. I can't give much insight myself because I was visiting relatives and I couldn't pay a lot of attention to the middle part of the game, so I have to go with the analysis from the guys on TV and radio. Dan Dickerson and Jim Price in particular mentioned that on previous occasions when Chen shut the Tigers down, they got the feeling that the Tigers were getting themselves out. This time they felt that Chen was genuinely pitching that well and that the Tigers had no chance. The best opportunity they had was in the sixth inning, when Will Rhymes singled and Magglio doubled with two out, but Rhymes was thrown out at the plate, stranding Miguel Cabrera and his 8-for-16 against Chen in the on-deck circle. I certainly thought Rhymes would be able to make it. It would've taken a perfect relay to get him, and that's what the Royals did. There was some argument over whether he actually got tagged or not. Leyland thought that Brayan Peña didn't have control of the ball. It looked to me like Rhymes actually tagged himself out because as he put up his hands to brace himself, he touched Peña's glove (which I don't blame him for, because you can't really control that). They also loaded the bases with two out in the eighth, but Magglio couldn't come through a second time. 

The series wraps up today and it pits Rick Porcello against Luke Hochevar. Porcello had a problem with keeping his sinker down in his last start. Hopefully he can get it down this time, but if he can't, hopefully the bigger outfield of Comerica Park can help him out. Hochevar was the Opening Day starter for the Royals with Zack Greinke gone. He hasn't given up a lot to the Tigers in his career but on the few occasions that he has, it's been at Comerica Park.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

From the Other Side: Kansas City Royals

It's time for another installment of From the Other Side. This time, I'm featuring the Kansas City Royals and I've gotten the help of Ray W from Royals on Radio Etc, which provides a listing of all the Royals radio network stations as well as a blog on the Royals. I'd like to thank him for his help on this feature.

1. What are your thoughts on the Zack Greinke trade and the Royals' other offseason moves?

Ray W: The Greinke trade was a great one for the Royals, sure it hurt to lose Zack a guy whom, we all watched fight through his personal struggles to eventually win the Al Cy Young. But the fact is he wanted out of Kc, and I believe if he would have stayed I don't know if he'd have given 100 percent. And what the Royals got in return for Zack (and Yuniesky Betancourt) were four solid guys. A SS who really fills a need and should be there for years to come in Alcides Escobar, a 100 mph throwing pitcher in Jeremy Jeffress, a speedy OF in Lorenzo Cain and pretty darn good pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi. So the Royals were able to take a possibly bad situation with Zack and stock up on even more depth. Besides the Greinke trade, earlier in the offseason we traded fan favorite CF David DeJesus to the A's for Starter Vin Mazzaro. The outfield depth made David expendable, and the Major League rotation is the biggest fault on the team currently. I wasn't fond of the trade at first, but looking at it now it's kind of a toss up. The only other major moves were just one year stop gap signings, to bide time while we wait for the prospects to arrive. (Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francis).

2. The Royals are consistently ranked as having one of the best farm systems in baseball. With that in mind, how close are they to being competitive again?

Ray W: This is the season were everything looks like it'll start to come together. Look for the big name prospects: Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers and Montgomery to get some playing time with Royals, late in the season. And be playing "hopefully" everyday in 2012. If most of the prospects pan out, and they should I'd expect a winner on the field by 2014 if not sooner. Key words there are, "most of the prospects". We've got so much talent right now that unlike in the past, we can afford a miss or two.

3. Is this a "make-it-or-break-it" year for Alex Gordon?

Ray W: Career wise I don't think so, I'm still high on Alex and he should become a solid middle of the order bat, and constantly hit in the vicinity of 20 home runs,  and a .270 Avg. The big question is, will that happen with the Royals ? And that I don't know, one look at John Buck should show you what I mean.If he can't progress and put it together in Kc this year I don't believe he ever will in a Royals Uniform. But he is off to a pretty hot start this year.

4. What is the perception of the Tigers from the Royals' community and how do you expect them to fare this year?

Ray W: The Tigers are thought of as one of the more likable teams in the AL Central by the Royals community.Not necessarily a team your going to go out and root for, but more of a "far better if Detroit, wins then say the Sox or Twins". And I think a lot of that dates back to the 2002 and 2003 seasons when the Tigers made the Royals feel good about themselves. lol And for the most part Tiger fans are one of the easiest fans to get along with. Of course there are exceptions, but that's with any team. If the Royals aren't in it, I'll be pulling for the Tigers to win the Central. Now with all that said I regret saying I think the Tigers finish third behind the Twins, and White Sox.

5. Do you have any other random predictions about this season?

Ray W: Random huh ? Hmm.. I'll say the Royals will get two All-Stars this year, Joakim Soria, and Billy Butler. Look for the Royals to stay near the bottom of the division all year, go through a couple hot streaks before cooling back down by the All Star break. Post All Star break look for the team to start getting  some of the young talent up. Also manager Ned Yost has stated that the Royals will be much more aggressive on the base paths and so far they've not disappointed. So steals is definitely something to keep an eye on and see if the trend continues. Overall this Royals team just has a different feel to it then in years past, and I can not put my finger on why that is. Finally I'll predict that this will be one of, if not the last of, the bottom dwelling Royals teams for quite awhile.

There's No Place Like Home

It's so good to see Comerica Park back in action again. And after that road trip through two of the most homer-friendly parks in baseball, I think I appreciate the vast expanse of an outfield now more than ever. For the first time all season, Tigers pitching did not give up a home run. They didn't hit any, either, but there was apparently a stiff wind blowing in from left that knocked a couple well-hit balls down. Anyways, Max Scherzer was a lot better than he had been in New York. He didn't exactly rack up the strikeouts, but the Royals were tough to strike out last year, so that's not necessarily a reflection on his performance. That was followed up by some impressive work from the bullpen, especially Joaquin Benoit. 

This turned out to be one of those games where the offense beat up on Kyle Davies, who spent most of the game not throwing a lot of strikes. The Tigers walked five times. And oddly enough, all the RBIs in the game were provided by former Indians. Victor Martinez introduced himself nicely to the home fans with a bases-clearing double. Jhonny Peralta added an RBI double later in the inning and a sacrifice fly a couple innings later (that might have been a grand slam had it not been for the wind). Miguel Cabrera spent most of the game getting beat up. He got hit on the hand in one at-bat. Then later, he went after a pop-up and ended up falling over the tarp and banging his knee on it. He says he's fine, and he's been cleared to play today, so that's good. MLive has a video of a postgame interview with him, but the microphone is so far away that you don't have a chance at understanding what he's saying. Like Peralta, he also fell victim to the wind, because he absolutely crushed a pitch to left and it died on the warning track. 

The Tigers and Royals have a late-afternoon game today (for some reason, all the big Fox games start at 1:00 and all the "not worthy" games start at 4:00 or later). It's a battle of lefties, which is something that I haven't been able to say very often in the past year. Phil Coke will make his first start of the year after appearing a couple times in relief. Now, I saw him for one start in spring training, and I will reiterate that he has shown the ability to make adjustments if the opponent is on to what he is doing early. However, we shall see how that translates to the regular season. Meanwhile, the Royals will start Bruce Chen, and he's a little like Kyle Davies in that the Tigers seem to either beat him up or get completely shut down by him (and as a matter of fact, the last game they faced him in led to one of my most-read posts ever, although Chen wasn't exactly the primary subject; let's just say that was one of my least favorite games ever, based solely on the involuntary reaction I had). The lineup hasn't been posted yet, so I can't really comment on it, although I think Leyland mentioned that Ryan Raburn would start in left field.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Not Stopping the Bleeding

I know the Tigers struggled on the road last year, but most of those struggles were from an offensive standpoint. There were some ugly blowouts, but for the most part, the pitching staff gave up one extra run, maybe two. Not five or six. I'm not going to get into Brad Penny's performance because I didn't see it, other than to say that it looks like it was better than his first outing (though that's not saying much). To tell you the truth, I was mostly upset that the bullpen blew what would have been a win for Brayan Villarreal (who, by the way, has a REALLY nice slider). Earlier in the day, the Tigers placed Ryan Perry on the DL with an eye infection. I'm hoping it's not pinkeye, which is extremely contagious, but from what I've heard, it doesn't sound like pinkeye. I guess the problem is that there's inflammation and he can't wear his contact lenses. Anyways, until he gets back, they need someone else to handle the seventh inning. Apparently back in spring training Leyland said he'd give Brad Thomas and Enrique Gonzalez the first crack at it should both Zumaya and Perry go down, and that didn't really seem to work. From what he said last night, I gather that he was prepared for the possibility of Brian Roberts getting a base hit, because he said that the killer was the walk to Nick Markakis. And really, the ball that Vladimir Guerrero hit to get the Orioles tied was not that bad a pitch and it wasn't hit well at all but it found a hole (I'm surprised none of the reporters asked Don Kelly what happened in the outfield, because I've never seen him make a throw like that).

I'm also not really going to talk about the offense much, because I didn't see most of that, either. It appears that Alex Avila and Austin Jackson are looking better at the plate (although in Jackson's case, most of his at-bats have looked good; he just wasn't getting any results out of them). With all the griping about the bullpen, I'm surprised that no one questioned why Magglio didn't pinch-hit for Raburn (only reason being that Magglio's more likely to put the ball in play). I'm not saying he should have, but it's not like fans to not question something like that. 

And so it is finally time to open up Comerica Park. It'll be good to see those home whites again. The first opponent on the home schedule is the Kansas City Royals, who are off to a decent start this year. They took three of four from the Angels and then split with the White Sox (although the Royals held a three run lead in the ninth inning with two out and nobody on in their last game, and Joakim Soria proceeded to give up four runs. They tied it in the bottom of the ninth but eventually lost in extras). They have played a lot of extra-inning games already. They'll start Kyle Davies today, who either gets beat up by the Tigers or completely shuts them down. Max Scherzer will have the honor of starting Opening Day. He's looking to bounce back from giving up six earned runs against the Yankees (but still getting the win). And for your Mood Music: It's the traditional home opener song (apologies if the sound is wrong; I can't turn the sound on the computer right now so I have no way of checking). 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One Night of Silencing Critics

Justin Verlander is terrible in April? He wasn't this time. I didn't see a lot of the game, but he looked almost midseason in the few innings I saw of him. The eight innings and nine strikeouts will attest to that. And he only threw 108 pitches in those eight innings which is downright economical for him. Apparently he did have one little hiccup where he gave up a two-run homer to Derrek Lee, but I was impressed with what I saw (Then again, I get impressed by Justin Verlander on a routine basis).

The off-day looks as though it worked wonders for Miguel Cabrera, who had better swings all night and hit the 250th home run of his career (It also looks like congratulations will be in order for him and his wife later in the season. Apparently the couple is expecting their third child and first son, although I don't know when the baby is due). Victor Martinez followed up Cabrera's home run with one of his own, and finished the game with three hits. But the star of the game was Alex Avila. There's been a lot of grumbling that Victor Martinez should be the starting catcher because he provides more offense. I've mostly refrained from chiming in on this argument because it's way too early to make decisions like that, plus I find it to be a somewhat one-dimensional argument. The way the Tigers are built, they shouldn't have to have enormous production from all nine positions, and with that in mind, I'd prefer the stronger defender be behind the plate (and before you bring up wild pitches, I'll remind you that Martinez also let a wild pitch get past him in the one game he's caught so far). Avila's not exactly a Gold Glover, but he's better than Martinez. He staked his claim on the job last night, falling a triple shy of the cycle and ending up with five RBIs. He's the first catcher to collect five RBIs in a game since Pudge did it against the Phillies back in 2007 (Thanks for the Pudge reference, Fox Sports Detroit). One game isn't going to resolve this debate, but it does make for a decent rebuttal. 

The Tigers finish up this road trip tonight. Brad Penny looks to bounce back from an awful start against the Yankees and get back into my good graces (Oh, who am I kidding? He's yet to make it into my good graces). As much as I'm moaned and complained about him, I really don't expect him to get lit up every time he pitches, but if he doesn't put in a good start tonight, the fans at Comerica Park tomorrow won't be very friendly. The bullpen is well-rested should they be needed, thanks to a combination of the off-day and Justin Verlander. Chris Tillman starts for the Orioles. He was part of the group that dominated the Rays, giving up only one run. The Tigers have a better offense than the Rays, but the Orioles still have a lot of confidence despite losing last night.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maybe It Was Something You Ate

In my season preview, I highlighted some of the things that might go wrong with the starting rotation. I also said that it was highly unlikely that all the problem spots would crop up all at once. However, baseball sometimes has a tendency to be an all-or-nothing kind of phenomenon, and so we're left with Justin Verlander as the only starting pitcher to come up with a good outing through one turn of the rotation. Rick Porcello had one of those outings that, while not great, he might have been able to get away with had it been a different day or a different ballpark. Oddly, he only had one groundout the entire game, though he did generate more swings and misses than he usually does. Strikeouts aside, you did get the feeling that he was flirting with disaster with the fly balls he was giving up in that ballpark, and Brian Roberts finally got him. The odd thing was (and Porcello talked at length about it) was that that particular pitch was down and pretty much where they wanted it. Porcello was completely stumped by it (which may explain why he seemed more rattled than normal after it happened). On the plus side, Brayan Villarreal contributed two nice innings. I'm still trying to evaluate him, but it looks like he's got a nice slider and his fastball isn't half-bad either. 

The offense was just about as blah as the pitching. I had to listen to the first few innings on the radio and one of the things that Dan Dickerson and Jim Price mentioned was that Jake Arrieta had problems with falling behind hitters. Arrieta proceeded to be very efficient at throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters (to be fair, he had good stuff and he throws hard). And while they didn't outright say it, Dan and Jim kept mentioning that Arrieta "wasn't afraid," and their tone suggested that they expected pitchers to cower at the mere thought of the Tigers' lineup. The last time I sensed that sort of attitude was 2008, and that didn't end well. The only Tiger who had a real good day at the plate was Will Rhymes, who had two hits, drove in the only run of the game for the Tigers, and got his first career stolen base. Magglio Ordoñez got his first hit of the season (and as I said, it normally takes him a couple weeks to really get going, so no cause for alarm yet), and a couple other Tigers had doubles, but that's about it. Miguel Cabrera didn't look real good at the plate and stranded four runners, and it was revealed after the game that he's sick with what is assumed to be food poisoning. According to Brandon Inge, he was throwing up between innings. Jose Valverde is also sick and he was the one who declared it was food poisoning (he blamed it on something he ate on the plane), although he didn't pitch so that had no effect on this game. He claims that there are more Tigers who are sick, although Kevin Rand swears that Valverde and Cabrera are the only two. If it is food poisoning, it usually only lasts a couple days (although when I had food poisoning last year, I was sick for five days), but the second part of it is not going to be fun. Drink fluids. Meanwhile, I was feeling queasy myself, but not for the same reason. Mine had more to do with the fact that Jim Joyce was the first base umpire and the game was in Baltimore. Painful reminders both.

Now we have one of those annoying pre-planned off days, although this time it might not be a bad thing as it'll allow the sick Tigers to recover. Justin Verlander also had food poisoning, by the way. What are these guys eating? His was last Friday and is unrelated to the current epidemic, and he should be close to full strength for his start tomorrow. Maybe he can get this starting rotation settled down and into a rhythm. His numbers against the Orioles are good. He's 5-0 with a 2.52 ERA. Jeremy Guthrie was supposed to start for the Orioles, but he ended up in the hospital with a high fever and pneumonia yesterday, so odds are that they will start Brad Bergesen in his place. Whoever the starter is, the Orioles have yet to give up more than one run in a game. How long can this hot pitching streak last?

Monday, April 4, 2011

From the Other Side: Baltimore Orioles

As we start the second series of the year, it's time for another installment of From the Other Side. Today I'm happy to have the insight of Anthony Amobi from Oriole Post. He was kind enough to answer my questions so please check out his blog and his Twitter page.

1. What are your thoughts on Buck Showalter and what he brings to the Orioles?
Anthony: He had a considerable aura over the Orioles over final two months of the 2010 season. Think of it, the Orioles were a horrible team – close to being historically so, until Showalter showed up. Now, even though Showalter had pretty much the same talent that both deposed managers Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel had; however, I think he shook up the players -- to an extent. Really, while Showalter’s record with the Orioles was impressive, the team's play could be attributed to some of the players performing well above their norms, a healthy roster - the return of Brian Roberts, Koji Uehara (very critical), Gonzalez - in addition, to the starting pitching performing much better halted a train wreck. Also, the batters seemed to have a plan at the plate and hit much better in the clutch, plus in key situations in game. In addition, a lot of base running gaffes we saw under Trembley and Samuel seemed to decrease greatly under Showalter. They looked prepared to play games after August and the record shows that. It’s safe to say right now that Buck Showalter is the public and yes, marketing face for the Orioles.
2. What are your expectations for the Orioles this year?
Anthony:  Basically, I want them to starting winning and take a team that has been a punching bag and a joke into a formidable squad. Now, the Orioles are still doing a quite a good amount of rebuilding. I’m not picking the Orioles to end up the World Series, much less win their division; however, most feel that they will be better by at least five or ten games and perhaps even a few games over .500. I think they will win 78 games; however, if all breaks their way and a few guys have career years, they could finish above .500 and certainly make life miserable for their rivals in the American League East. More than likely, they'll challenge for fourth place -- if all goes miraculously well, perhaps third place.
3. What is the perception of the Tigers in the Orioles community?
Anthony:  I can’t speak for the Orioles community, but will do so on my own behalf. I think the Tigers are a team that can contend in the American League Central. It looks they have some very good talent – Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander – and some up-and-comers. Right now, I tab the Tigers to finish third in the American League Central behind the Chicago White Sox (second) and the Twins (first). I certainly think the Tigers are a team that will finish above .500; however, they may not have the tools to take it all. We shall see, right?
4. Which player (on either or both teams) doesn't get a lot of press attention but is a crucial part of the team's performance?
Anthony: I don’t know the Detroit squad well, but obviously the key for you doing well is if Miguel Cabrera can keep his demons under control. I’m not one to criticize to denigrate anyone, but he’s best on the field when his life is under control and they sky is the limit for him with his talents. He’s a leader on that team and he needs to show it by example. He’s a Hall of Fame talent and the Tigers need him; however, it’s up to him to stay away from his vices. Hopefully, the organization is giving him the help he needs. As for the Orioles, my eyes are on Matt Wieters. Many have called him a bust; however, I disagree with that assertion. Before we all forget, 2010 was Matt’s first full season in the majors. He’s only 24 and it would have probably been impossible to live up the advance billing that was given to him before he even had his first-major-league-at-bat. Of course, Wieters’ production in the minor leagues has not translated to the majors and everyone expected him to be a hybrid of Joe Mauer and Johnny Bench; however, he cannot be classified as a failure despite his struggles in 2010. He showed flashes of brilliance in ’09 after a June call-up, but took a huge step back. Wieters did finish up the year strong last season and let’s not forget he had to learn, guide a pitching staff, plus deal with a horrendous four-month stretch of losing before Showalter came to the Orioles. He simply needs more time to develop his hitting game and his offensive output will take time to flourish. Hopefully with an Oriole lineup this upcoming season stacked with proven veterans, mainstays, and some excellent young talent, he’ll start to hit and develop.
5. Finally, any random predictions for this season that you'd like to offer?
Anthony: There’s a lot I can say, but this may be main key for the Orioles to finally get over the hump and become contenders. The new offensive additions are nice; however, how the Orioles do this season will depend greatly on the starting pitching – especially out of the young arms in the rotation. If these guys can’t go at least six innings, or worse throw 80, 90, 100 pitches even before the fifth inning – over even sooner – they will put the Orioles in a hole. It won’t matter if the Orioles score four or more runs a game, the losing seasons will continue unless the mound performances by the young pitchers improve. I will also say that the organization really needs some of its young stars, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and a lesser extent, Felix Pie to step up and take their games to another level. If they can do that, anything can happen and the road for Baltimore will be bright.
Again, thank you to Anthony for his time.  

If You Can't Outpitch, Outslug!

It was ugly, but the Tigers did get out of Yankee Stadium with a win. Max Scherzer was just as unsuccessful as everyone else at keeping the Yankees in the ballpark (actually, you might say he was more unsuccessful), but this time he got the run support to make up for it. The problem I had noticed with Scherzer when I was in Lakeland was that his velocity seemed low. He attributed this to a problem with his mechanics and said he corrected it in his last bullpen session. The radar gun at Yankee Stadium seems to be broken, as the FS Detroit graphics weren't giving the pitch speed, so I can't tell you for sure if his velocity was back to where it should be, but with the naked eye, it looked like it was. His location was off (obviously), and although a couple of the home runs he gave up may not have even made it to the warning track at Comerica Park, there was still a lot of solid contact going on. According to Jason Beck, Scherzer became the first Tigers pitcher to give up at least four home runs in a game and win since Jeremy Bonderman in 2007 (I don't remember that game). One thing that I think was key was Phil Coke's relief appearance. Even though he gave up a run, he kept the switch hitters turned around to the right side, where it's much harder to homer in Yankee Stadium, and that strategy worked. 

The Tiger bats, meanwhile, got the home run ball working for them in this game. Miguel Cabrera blasted off twice and looked magnificent each time. He finished with three hits and four RBIs. It was a big day for Brennan Boesch as well. He also had four RBIs and finished with four hits (including a home run) and four runs scored. Lost in all the fireworks is the fact that Jhonny Peralta had three hits and both he and Brandon Inge are hitting .364 in this young season (and that's after Inge went 0-for-4). 

There's no rest for the Tigers' pitching staff, as they go from the launching pad of Yankee Stadium to the homer-friendly Camden Yards, and even though it tends to give up the long ball more often during the summer, it is supposed to be in the eighties there today. The Orioles have gotten off to a good start. They swept the Rays at Tropicana Field and their pitching staff only gave up three runs total the entire weekend. The Tigers have a better offense than the Rays, but the Orioles look to be on the rise and they've played extremely well since Buck Showalter took over as manager. Rick Porcello will get his first start of the season, and it would be nice to see his sinker working, especially in that ballpark. Oddly enough, his final start of the 2010 season was in Baltimore, and it wasn't particularly good. One tiny bit of good news is that the Tigers might not see a lot of Luke Scott, who suffered a groin injury (Max Scherzer is also not pitching in this series).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'll Hold Off Saying What I Really Want To Say...

However, you faithful readers can easily guess what I really want to say. At any rate, I would be perfectly content to merely point out that Brad Penny is boring and slow, but he did nothing to win over Tiger fans yesterday (one more outing like that and he might get the Brandon Lyon treatment at the home opener, although Lyon would go on to become the Tigers' best reliever in 2009). He did settle down a little bit in the third and fourth, only to fall apart in the fifth. Brad Thomas wasn't much help. For all the griping that goes on about him, he only gave up four home runs last year, but he wasted no time in getting his first out of the way this year. Other than that, the only thing of note as far as the pitching is concerned is that this was the first time I got to see Brayan Villarreal pitch  and he promptly served up a home run to A-Rod. To his credit, he didn't seem shaken by it, and though he had a slight problem with falling behind hitters, he wasn't missing by much (if he had been pitching the ninth inning, a lot of those calls would have gone in his favor). The defense was shaky once again, but what's weird is that it's largely been the few who are considered "good" defenders that have faltered. The errors in this season so far have come from Brandon Inge, Will Rhymes, and Austin Jackson. I have assurances that Alex Avila will be a very good defender, and yet he's had problems keeping the ball in front of him, although that's not entirely his fault. It's also not his fault that the Yankees stole two bases yesterday. He made real good throws that made it at least close, but it looks as though Penny is terrible at holding runners on. It's like having Bonderman back.

Once again, it seemed like it took the Tigers everything they had to score runs. On the plus side, however, they did get their first two homers of the season out of the way, courtesy of Austin Jackson and Victor Martinez. Magglio Ordoñez left in the middle of the game with soreness in his ankle and is not playing today as a precaution. Since the final televised spring training game, I have noticed that Magglio's a little impatient right now, swinging a bit more than he normally does. I have no idea if that has anything to do with the ankle. I do know that it generally takes him a couple weeks to get going, though, so there's no cause for alarm at this point.

And in another example of "Don't Panic," I will point out that, among others, the Twins and Red Sox are also 0-2, but it would still be nice to get this first win sooner rather than later. They'll have to do it against Phil Hughes, who was strong through most of 2010 but faded somewhat down the stretch. He also got a ton of run support. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer believes he's corrected the mechanical problem that was giving him trouble in spring training (and it turns out it was the same mechanical problem that got him sent to Toledo last year). He did turn in one good start at Yankee Stadium last year (sort of; he threw six shutout innings but I seem to remember there being a whole lot of baserunners in those six innings). With Magglio out, Brennan Boesch is the DH, Don Kelly is in right field, and Victor Martinez is behind the plate. Fasten your seatbelts.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Haunted by the Ghosts of Tigers Past

This title is appropriate in a couple different ways. The first is the most obvious, and we'll get to that in a minute. Poor Justin Verlander remains winless on Opening Day. He's now up to three no-decisions and a loss. However, he did look better than he normally does in April. Most of his problems came early, when he threw thirty pitches in the first inning (of course, it doesn't help when the strikezone is moving all over the place; I don't think anyone, Tiger or Yankee, pitcher or position player, was happy with the strikezone). It looked like he had Mark Teixiera struck out, and instead it was called ball four. He then proceeded to walk A-Rod and then went to a full count on Robinson Cano before blowing a fastball by him. It looked like he kept missing up with his fastball, and finally paid for it when Mark Teixiera parked one of those high fastballs into the right field seats for a 3-run homer. After that, Verlander got rolling and looked very good. Hey, it may be cliched, but the Yankees are still a good offense that make you throw a lot of pitches. I'll take six innings and three runs against that lineup anytime, especially considering the weather was less than ideal. The problem started once the bullpen came in. Phil Coke was brought in to face Curtis Granderson (our first ghost of this story), fell behind 2-0, and his subsequent fastball down the middle didn't come back. Almost every Tigers fan remembers that Granderson had a lot of trouble with left-handed pitching when he was a Tiger (save for the 2008 season, when he hit a respectable .250 against lefties) and he started out his Yankees career with the same problem. I'm told that he improved against lefties once their hitting coach did major surgery on his swing. Baseball-Reference doesn't do joint splits against lefties and righties in the first half versus the second half, so I'll have to take their word for it. The other runs scored thanks to combinations of errors, sacrifices, wild pitches, and bloops. As far as the other ghosts are concerned, well, each instance only lasted a split-second, but there was a dugout shot where I mistook Verlander for Armando Galarraga and another dugout shot where I mistook Brennan Boesch for Jeremy Bonderman. This makes no sense, since Verlander looks nothing like Galarraga and Boesch looks nothing like Bonderman. Also, it's not some sort of grieving process thing because I'm not exactly in mourning for Bonderman. But when you tie it in with Granderson's home run, there did seem to be some haunting going on.

The offense seemed to continue what I observed in spring training: Taking three or four baserunners to score one run. There wasn't exactly a power show (although Brandon Inge was robbed by Granderson on what looked like a sure double), but there was a great deal of manufacturing. Jhonny Peralta didn't have a single RBI during the spring, but he got the first RBI of 2011 with a sacrifice fly. Brandon Inge had an RBi single and Miguel Cabrera also had a sacrifice fly. Cabrera was pretty decent at the plate, although Brandon Inge's throwing error in the seventh led to him getting hit in the bare hand. He was messing with his finger for the rest of the inning, although there was no mention of it in any postgame interview, so hopefully it doesn't swell up or anything during the off day. There was a lot of griping about how Alex Avila looked bad at the plate, but I think it's a bit premature to burn him at the stake. Last time I checked, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera weren't exactly pushovers. We'll see what happens further down the road.

Now that we've been teased with real baseball, we have to sit through an annoying off-day before we get to watch more. Brad Penny will get his first start. His numbers against the Yankees aren't all that good, but he hasn't really faced them that often. While Penny is trying to bounce back from injury, his former teammate AJ Burnett is trying to bounce back from a bad year. I once heard Burnett described as being able to strike out ten and walk ten in the same game. Jim Leyland has said that Brennan Boesch will start this game, but he hasn't said who he's replacing in the lineup (whether it's Raburn or Avila).