The Non-Sequiturs: The Peralta, Sardinha and Pirates Edition

We’re now so far into the Post-Jhonny Peralta Era that we’re starting to talk about his possible, potential and highly unlikely and not improbable return to the Tigers for the last weekend of the season – and presumably the postseason. This whole saga calls to mind a couple of things. First, it’s how fleeting these controversies can be. In the course of five days, the Tigers trade for José Iglesias, keep him warm at third base for a couple of games, watch Peralta get suspended and then … crickets. Or what seemed like crickets.

I’ll admit there have been several game situations in which I wished Peralta was in the lineup, but for the most part it’s bygones. What about you?

The second thing is that when you think about all the things we Detroit fans have endured over the years, we haven’t witnessed a key player at the center of huge MLB-wide story. Think about the occasions when the national spotlight shone on a Tigers player it was,by and large, for positive reasons. Here are the stories that come to mind:

Am I missing anything? I don’t think so.

The last baseball scandal I can remember which remotely approaches Biogenesis is the mid-’80s Pittsburgh cocaine trials, but no Tigers were implicated in that one. But this time, man, the Tigers were in the thick of it. (Unlike when fringy player Exavier Prente “Nook” Logan was named in The Mitchell Report back in 2007, but he was hardly a household name or an essential part of the Tigers future – or present for that matter.)

Even though he’s working out with the Tigers now, I still can’t imagine we’ll see Peralta again in a Tigers uniform. Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but I can’t see the Dombrowski/Leyland Administration brining that level of distraction to the club during a playoff run.

Apropos of nothing:

  • Now, can we talk about Rick Porcello? Actually, I’d rather not; it’s too frustrating. Some other time.
  • I can’t believe I’m writing these words: I wish the Mets were better than they are. This is quite a statement given my deep-seated hatred of those mid-‘80s teams led by Davey Johnson. The only redeeming quality from those clubs was my favorite undervalued Tigers player: Howard Johnson. I always felt like he was the solution to Sparky’s third-base problem but instead, the skipper saw the future at third with Tom BrookensChris PittaroDarnell Coles, Jim Morrison and whomever else they could plug into that spot. And more often than not, it was Brookens. Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, the Mets. Never mind.
  • If the Tigers’ current situation leaves you unsettled, contrast it with last year’s Sept. 10 dilemma: they were three games back of the White Sox. A 5.5-game lead over a flawed Indians club works better for me.
  • I was glad to see Tony Paul’s article last week on how this team is not the 2009 Tigers – and it’s not simply because there’s no Dane Sardinha, no Zach Miner, no Fu-Te Ni. This team just doesn’t have the feel of a club that will cool along with the September temperatures. Am I wrong? (Just for fun, look back on some of the names on that ’09 roster. Oy.)
  • Don’t look now but thanks to his four-hit night on Tuesday Alex Avila is hitting .221.

Finally, speaking of Pittsburgh: congratulations to the Pirates and their fans on a long-deserved winning season. Pittsburgh officially might have suffered more years of losing baseball than Detroit fans, but we’ll always have this on them and any other awful team: 2003.

2012 Top 10 Stories: #5 – Victor Martinez Lost for Season

About four weeks before the Tigers convened in Lakeland for spring training, the club’s outlook instantly went from brimming with confidence and optimism to soaked in despair and gloom. That’s when Dave Dombrowski received word from Florida that Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would eventually be lost for the season.

The Tigers’ front-office boss put on a brave face when he talked to the media after hearing the news:

“After you feel sorry for yourself for a day or so, you move on,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We have a good club. We’ve got a lot of players who will step up.”

But Tigers fans knew the impact this would have on the lineup and most likely the season. Martinez’s provided desperately needed protection for then-cleanup-hitter Miguel Cabrera. As good as Delmon Young was in the postseason, few expected him to be a reliable solution. And, Dombrowski certainly made it sound as if the Tigers would be making no major splash to shore up the sudden loss of Martinez.

Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder remains a free agent, but it’s unclear if the Tigers would want to make a major financial commitment to a long-term contract to replace the injured Martinez.

“Most likely, I would say it’s short term,” Dombrowski said. “But I don’t know that for sure. Depends on what position somebody plays and who they are.”

Dombrowski did seem to shoot down the possibility that Cabrera could move from first base to third, with another first baseman joining the team.

The Tigers signed Gerald Laird to serve as Alex Avila‘s backup, so that part of the equation was solved. The pressing issue was how to replace a guy who in 2011 batted .330 with 103 RBIs and a .855 OPS.

How could they possibly do it? Dave Schoenfield offered some borderline gruesome alternatives:

If there’s good news for the Tigers, there are at least several decent options out there in free agency. One-time Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena could provide a nice alternative, even improving the team’s defense if Jim Leyland is willing to shift Cabrera to DH. Pena needs a platoon partner, but did have a .388 OBP and .504 slugging percentage against righties in 2011. Johnny Damon, another ex-Tiger, would also fit in nicely at DH.

Thankfully, neither of these two options materialized.

And luckily Tigers fans didn’t have to wait long to find out who’d replace Martinez in the lineup.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Tigers Leftovers, Thoughts and Reflections

Making up for lost time with a stream-of-consciousness post …

It’s been almost a month since Miguel Cabrera took a Sergio Romo 0-2 fastball down the middle for the final out of the World Series. In some ways it feels that long ago and in others, still too recent.

So much seems to have happened since the middle of September when the Tigers were a game back of the White Sox and we weren’t certain (well, at least I wasn’t) postseason baseball was in our future.

But it was. A grueling ALDS against the A’s, an exhilarating sweep of the Yankees and then, good God, that World Series.

By the end of Game 2, it became increasingly clear that the Giants were a team of destiny … and the Tigers had gone into another frustrating offensive slumber. As we saw all too vividly, that’s a toxic brew.

Even though the Series was over in a heartbeat, and the Tigers looked overmatched, I was stunned with how it played out. I never for a moment thought they’d lose to the Giants – a mindset that was equal parts homer-optimism and at-least-it-ain’t-the-Cardinals relief. (There was also my anti-Giants bias lingering from the Barry Bonds era.)

And now that I’ve had time to think about it, Bruce Bochy‘s club was perfectly constructed to take down the Tigers. I tweeted that my biggest fear going into Game 1 was that Barry Zito would impersonate Bruce Chen and stymie a rusty Tigers lineup. He did both and, as fate would have it, that was all she wrote.

If I’d created a list of possible World Series scenarios and endings, a sweep by the Giants, an ice-cold Prince Fielder and a caught-looking Cabrera to end it all wouldn’t be on it. None of them.

There was one thing that did not surprise me in the Series: Justin Verlander‘s Game 1 implosion. Who didn’t see that coming?

Listening to the national media leading up to the opener, you’d have thought Verlander had an unblemished postseason (or at least World Series) record. Except, you know, he totally didn’t: 0-2, 5.30 ERA, 1.545 WHIP. And now he’s 0-3/7.20/1.75.

I don’t know about you, but the Game 1 performance is what I feared in ALDS Game 5 … and in the ALCS.

Chances are I wasn’t alone in almost dreading a Game 4 win and what it might mean. Would it prolong the agony? Absolutely. Because at that point it was clear the Tigers weren’t going to beat Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Rick Reuschel, Mike LaCoss or any other starter the Giants rolled out to the mound.

This postseason was one wild ride. One I didn’t expect to come to a screeching halt with Miguel Cabrera* watching one blow by.

*Speaking of the MVP: watch for a post on that whole debate soon.

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Fare thee well, G-Money

When Gerald Laird arrived in Detroit ahead of the 2008 season, I was giddy. At last, a solid backup and successor-ish guy for Pudge Rodriguez. We’d watched Laird abuse Tigers pitching for long enough; time for him to do some damage in The D. Yeah, well, ahem.

I was equally giddy when Laird left Detroit after the 2010 season. He never produced at the level the Tigers had expected (or that fans had hoped) so, good riddance. Right?

When G-Money returned to Detroit for the 2012 campaign on a one-year deal my giddiness returned. He’s the perfect guy to backup Alex Avila and a great mentor for the new young arms coming up, I thought. And how big a lift was Laird this past season? Huge, I’d say.

He was exactly what the Tigers needed as Avila was assaulted game after game. And, Laird actually hit this year (.282) in his 63 games.

Good for G-Money landing a two-year deal with the Braves. Unlike in ’10, I’m sorry to see him go.

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Finally, here are some moldy leftovers. I found this (at best) half-baked post from last October that never saw the light of day:

After watching the Rangers bludgeon the Tigers in a terrifically played series, I just don’t have it in me to watch Nelson Cruz or Mike Napoli again until 2012. That doesn’t, of course, mean I’m not pulling for the Rangers in the World Series. I’d root for any team – even the White Sox – against a Tony LaRussa team.

As it turned out, I didn’t watch any of that Rangers-Cardinals World Series.

No regrets, either.

ALDS Game 1 Non Sequiturs

There are some 2-1 or 3-1 games that you know are too close for comfort. Others, not so much.
[callout title=The Gist]ALDS Game 1

Tigers 3– A’s 2

W:Justin Verlander (1-0)

L:Jarrod Parker (0-1)

Save:Jose Valverde (1)

HR:Alex Avila (1)

Boxscore

Highlights[/callout]

I don’t know about you, but after the Tigers took a 2-1 lead over Jarrod Parker and the A’s in Game 1 of the ALDS it seemed to me like it would be tough for Oakland to score — thanks to the generous strike zone offered by umpire Jim Reynolds. And that’s only because Justin Verlander made it through the first couple of innings without suffering much damage. Coming into Game 1 my fear was Verlander would be the amped-up version we’ve seen in other postseason (and All-Star Game) outings. Despite a high pitch count in the early frames, this certainly looked like his best playoff performance. ESPN.com’s Dave Schoenfield agrees:

For Verlander, it was the best postseason start of his career. In seven previous starts (not counting the rain-shortened one-inning outing against the Yankees in last year’s division series), he had allowed at least three runs in each game and owned an unimpressive 5.57 ERA. He was shaky at the start, needing more than 60 pitches to get through the first three innings.

While I hope he’s right, I’m not sure I agree with Dave that the A’s are in trouble after just one loss. Remember when it was doom and gloom after Game 1 of the ALDS in 2006 and 2011? The Tigers fared just fine. A 2-0 lead heading to Oakland would be sublime, of course. And let’s hope for that.

Other thoughts:

  • Did you know that it was a year ago today the Tigers defeated the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS? It feels like a year to me. Speaking of anniversaries, today’s the three-year anniversary of Game 163.
  • Remember what a huge loss Brennan Boesch was last year in the playoffs? From difference maker to healthy scratch just like that.
  • From Baseball-Reference.com: On this date in 1945, a goat and its owner make an appearance at Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the World Series. The pair is told to leave before the game ends, angering the owner. The Cubs lose to the Tigers, 4-1. Detroit will go on to win the Series in seven games and the Cubs won’t win another National League championship for the rest of the 20th century. A belief that the Cubs were cursed by the goat will eventually develop.
  • I have no doubt Jim Leyland‘s going to be back next year as manager. With Terry Francona taking the Indians job, there aren’t many high-profile managers waiting in the wings — unless you want a retread like Larry Bowa or Bobby Valentine. I don’t.
  • Watching MLB Network’s post-game show, the usually sharp Ron Gant made a curious comment about the Tigers: He’s worried about the top of order, not the usually anemic bottom third. Host Brian Kenny seemed confused by the, ahem, insight too. I’ll give Gant the benefit of the doubt that he meant the bottom of the Tigers lineup is worrisome.
  • Michael Rosenberg has already filed this piece for SI.com, saying that JV is ready for postseason success. The lede:

Shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday evening, Oakland A’s outfielder Coco Crisp committed the dastardly, almost treasonous act of hitting a home run off of Justin Verlander. and that was enough of that. The A’s did not score on Verlander again. Eleven times, they struck out and had to go back to the dugout, or to their rooms without dinner. I can never remember which.

Verlander did not come here to play your silly games, Mr. Crisp. He came to this postseason to dominate, the way he has for the last two seasons, and to fix the one little blemish on a career that could bring him to the Hall of Fame.

Enjoy the few hours between now and Game 2.

Tigers Wild Ride in ALCS Continues

And this evening I gleefully eat crow.

Justin Verlander or no, I didn’t expect the Tigers to win Game 5. After Wednesday night’s deflating extra-inning loss, my typically optimistic self thought the Tigers had run out of gas and that the Rangers were just too hot to lose.

Texas was making the most of their opportunities — lord knows they (and the Tigers with much less success) have had plenty this series — and how long could Detroit’s worn out pitching staff keep Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, the only Rangers not scorching the ball these days, in check? Not long, at least in the case of the former.

When Young doubled in the first inning, that queasy feeling of doom washed over me. Then I got angry: No way Verlander wilts in this situation. He didn’t.

Despite what some wrote, Verlander was terrific. Untouchable? No. But he had enough stuff, grit and determination to get the outs he needed at just the right time.

These same observers are saying the Tigers were lucky to win this game. Well, yeah — and it’s about time a bounce went Detroit’s way. And an ice-cold hitter hit a home run. And a starter went deep into the game. And someone other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the final outs. And a packed Comerica Park trembled one more time.

If the Tigers go on to win this series, imagine how we’ll remember a beaten down Alex Avila at last delivering a key hit with an opposite field home run, or how iconic Miguel Cabrera‘s sixth-inning double off the third-base bag will become in Detroit sports lore. Or Victor Martinez‘s triple when the man can hardly walk. Or Delmon Young‘s two rockets to left-center that put him in elite company in the Tigers’ postseason record book.

With Max Scherzer going in Game 6 — the first time the Tigers have been in a postseason Game 6 since 1968 — you have to feel good, don’t you? My guess is that he feels he has some unfinished business after Game 2 and will be on a mission Saturday night.

For now though, I’m going to savor this win and the crow I was forced to eat after not so much doubting the Tigers’ grit, but recognizing the offensive buzz saw that’s the Texas Rangers right now.

And you know what? Jim Leyland seems to be having the time of his life in this series. Perhaps it’s time I stop fretting every pitch and just enjoy the ride too.

Who’s with me?

The Monday Report: Power Rankings, Masao Kida and Johnny Cash

The Tigers embark on their final roadtrip of the season and Detroit fans can gleefully bid adieu to Ozzie Guillen and his band of jolly outlaws.

Leading Off: The Tigers beat the Twins 2-1 yesterday for the club’s ninth straight win — their first of that length since May 1984. Doug Fister shutout the Twins over seven innings for the win, while Jose Valverde posted his club-record 43rd save of the season. Delmon Young led the Tigers with two hits and an RBI.

[callout title=The Monday Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 10.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

The magic number is 7.

Today’s Game: Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.87) vs. John Danks (6-11, 4.09 ERA) | 8:10 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Porcello

With a win tonight, Porcello would match his career high established during his rookie season with the Tigers in 2009.

He’s compiled a 2-0 record and 2.75 ERA over his last three starts. And, he’s issued two-or-fewer walks in 23 of his 27 outings for the Tigers this season.

Notes on Danks

In his last start, last Tuesday in Minnesota, Danks suffered the third loss in his last 13 starts.allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings.

He became just the third pitcher since 1961 to go 0-8 before June 1. The 0-8 start was the first by a pitcher who won 15 games or more the previous season since Montreal’s Dale Murray in 1976 (also 0-8).

[/callout]

ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume says that if there were a catchers draft, Alex Avila should be the easy number-one selection:

Avila has been the best catcher in baseball this season. Among the game’s everyday catchers — let’s say those who have started more than 100 games behind the plate — Avila leads the majors with a .300 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .522 slugging percentage and .913 OPS. He’s No. 1 across the board. Remember, this hypothetical applies to catching actual games, not your fantasy league team, so forget about Victor Martinez or Mike Napoli — the guy you draft has to actually crouch down and catch for you every day. Avila has done exactly that for the Tigers.

Austin Jackson enters tonight’s game having hit safely in each of his last 15 games against the White Sox. He is hitting .403 with four doubles, three triples, three home runs and nine RBI during the 15-game stretch.

Looking for some autographed Tigers memorabilia? You’re in luck. MGOAuction.com, an auction site of primarily University of Michigan sports memorabilia, has several Tigers items up for bid. The items include autographed baseballs signed by Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks, Brandon Inge and other items signed by Alex Avila, Al Kaline and Todd Jones. Proceeds benefit a series of undergraduate scholarships at UM including the Bernard “Pat” Maloy Cancer Scholarship, the Shelly Kovacs Scholarship. Check out MGoAuction.com.

The Tigers have finally leap-frogged the Diamondbacks in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings this week and earned a spot a number four. (Though they couldn’t crack John Kruk’s rankings.) And, the Tigers are this week’s U.S. Army Team of the Week.

Eighty years ago today at Fenway Park, Eddie Durham and the Tigers Arthur “Red” Herring faced off in a 13-inning pitching duel. Durham won, 1-0.

The funny thing about this nine-game winning streak and 10-1/2-game lead? The anti-Jim Leyland crowd sure has been quiet.

Birthdays! Happy 71st to Mickey Lolich, Happy 55th to Mark Thurmond, Happy 52nd to Scotti Madison, and Happy 43rd to Masao Kida.

Finally, music legend Johnny Cash died on this date in 2003 at the age of 71. Let’s remember him with one of his classic songs, “A Boy Named Sue.”