2012 Top 10 Stories: #9 – Brennan Boesch Vanishes

What difference can a year make? Look no further than The Case of Brennan Boesch.

In the 2011 ALCS, the Tigers desperately missed Boesch in the lineup’s number-two slot. How he could’ve elevated the order’s production when Magglio Ordonez went down with a broken ankle.

A year later the Tigers were back in the ALCS and Boesch was nowhere to be found, left off the roster just as he was in the ALDS against the A’s. How far had he fallen? Far enough to be replaced by a 21-year-old who didn’t face big-league pitching until September – and who started the season at Lakeland.

If ever a player embodied the notion of wait-’til-next year it was Boesch. Coming into 2012, the Tigers were counting on the 27-year-old to have a breakout, injury-free season and live up to the promise we’d all witnessed in 2010 and ’11. With Victor Martinez on the shelf for the year, Boesch’s healthy return was crucial.

He got off to a promising start in Spring Training, hitting .288 with six homers, and 21 hits in 24 games. Unfortunately, his Grapefruit League performance didn’t translate to the regular season.

By the end of June, it looked like his return was anything but healthy. He was hitting below .250 and with only seven home runs showing none of the power the Tigers had hoped for (and probably expected.) About six weeks later, he talked about his still-tender thumb and how it hampered his swing:

“Once you do surgery on your hand, things need to re-create, they need to reboot,” Boesch said.

(snip)

“I never blame performance on injury,” said Boesch, who was expected to deliver a steady punch in manager Jim Leyland’s lineup, but who found himself Tuesday batting .247, with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. “But have I played long enough to make necessary adjustments when dealing with an injury?

“Probably not.”

By the time August arrived Boesch was a non-factor, appearing in a mere 19 games. In fact, beginning in May, Boesch played in fewer games each successive month: 27 in May, 25 in June and 23 in July. Not coincidentally, his playing time reached season lows when Andy Dirks returned from the disabled list in August.

So it came as no surprise that Jim Leyland left Boesch off the ALDS roster.

“The Boesch decision was a tough one,” said Leyland, “but it made sense for versatility and things of that nature. Plus he hasn’t been playing lately, so it was common sense.”

Again: What difference can a year make? Enough that Don Kelly and Quintin Berry leapfrogged Boesch on the Tigers’ depth chart. I agreed with the decision at the time, but admit I would’ve rather seen Boesch taking cuts against the Giants’ bullpen than Berry, even if the results were the same. There’s always a chance Boesch, unlike Berry, will connect on a long ball.

At the Winter Meetings this week, the Tigers were reportedly listening to offers for Boesch; among others, the Mariners and Mets were showing guarded interest. But as of this writing, he’s still a Tiger. But if he has a lackluster Spring Training and Garcia or Nick Castellanos pass him on the left, chances are Brennan Boesch is to achieve his potential, it’ll be for a team other than the Tigers.

Brennan Boesch’s 2012 Stats

Split G PA H 2B HR RBI BA OPS
April/March 22 94 21 2 3 11 .231 .607
May 27 110 25 7 2 8 .245 .663
June 25 97 20 3 2 8 .220 .576
July 23 82 23 7 4 17 .295 .868
August 19 63 14 1 0 5 .246 .616
Sept/Oct 16 57 10 2 1 5 .196 .614
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 12/6/2012.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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.

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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).

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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.”

The Labor Day Breakfast

Happy Labor Day and a warm salute to the working men and women of the U.S. A special hat-tip to my Dad who helped build so many structures around Detroit — including the Ren Cen.

Leading Off: The Tigers completed a deliciously emphatic sweep of the White Sox last night, 18-2. Alex Avila collected four hits, Miguel Cabrera teed off big-time with a double, homer and four runs driven in, and Max Scherzer was terrific in his seven innings of work: five hits, six strikeout and no walks. Andy Dirks also drove in four (but who didn’t?) with a homer and a single.

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The Tigers are in first place, 6.5 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Indians – Doug Fister (6-13, 3.26 ERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (2-1, 5.56 ERA) | 1:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Fister

Fister is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA – including a victory over the Indians on Aug. 20 – since joining the Tigers. He’s 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA in four outings versus Cleveland this season.

Notes on Jimenez

Jimenez has given up four runs over 13 innings in his two most recent starts after being smoked for 21 runs in 21 innings through his first four appearances with the Indians.

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Around the Central: The Indians beat the Royals 9-6 and the Angels beat the Twins, 4-1. Today the Twins and White Sox play a day-night doubleheader, and the Royals visit the A’s.

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Lemire looks at what it takes for a big-league pitcher to lose 20 games — a mark which the Orioles’ Jeremy Guthrie is close to reaching; yesterday he lost his 17th. Naturally, the article looks at Brian Kingman and Mike Maroth, the last two pitchers to lose 20.

Losing 20 games is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for the game’s worst pitchers. For a pitcher to lose 20, there must be a delicate balance of conditions: He can’t be so good that he’s winning games on his own, while he can’t be so bad that he loses the faith of the manager and front office, plus the offense can’t provide meaningful run support. A 20-game loser must be good enough that the team wants to continue giving him the ball. Kingman and Maroth were both in their first full major-league seasons, yet weren’t returned to the minors for more seasoning.

Leftovers from 20: The Postgame’s Eric Adelson wrote about Justin Verlander’s chances for reaching 300 wins, and why JV doesn’t much care for the conventional wisdom:

He doesn’t care for the statistician’s math. And he doesn’t care for history’s math. He knows 20-game winners are rare these days and, therefore, winning 300 in a career is a milestone most people view as unlikely.

(snip)

And still, to those who say it can’t be done, he says, pssshh.

“I disagree with that,” Verlander says, his eyes wide. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Happy 46th Birthday to Rob Richie.

Forty years ago today the Tigers tied a major-league record by using six pinch hitters in an inning (the seventh), but lose 6-5 to the Yankees.

On this date in 1984, Cal Ripken made a first-inning error to let in the game’s lone run as the Tigers beat Orioles, 1-0. Juan Berenguer gets the win and Willie Hernandez picked up his 28th save. Mike Flanagan goes the distance in the loss. Detroit’s magic number is 15.

Finally, Happy 82nd Birthday to Bob Newhart, one of my all-time favorites.

The Saturday Breakfast: Al’s Okay, Penny’s Good Enough and Happy Birthday to “Schneider”

Good Saturday morning. Thank goodness Al Alburquerque is going to be okay after a batting practice scare yesterday. The Tigers placed Alburquerque on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion effective August 12 and recalled Ryan Perry from Toledo. Perry appeared in 20 games with the Mud Hens, posting a 3-0 record, 3.03 ERA, seven saves and 30 strikeouts.

pancakes.jpg

Leading Off: The Tigers won their seventh-straight one-run game, topping the Orioles 5-4 [highlights here]. Andy Dirks went 4 for 4 and knocked in the winning run and Brad Penny was good enough for his eighth win … The victory marked the seventh straight game the club has won by one run. According to STATS LLC, Detroit’s seven straight wins by one run matches a club record, equaling the mark established by the 1944 club. The 1944 Tigers won seven straight such games July 18-29 … In other news, the Tigers transferred the option of pitcher Lester Oliveros from Triple A Toledo to Double A Erie on Friday.

Around the Central: The Indians beat the Twins 3-2 in Cleveland and the Royals handed the White Sox their seventh-straight home loss, 5-1.

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The Tigers are in first place, three games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Orioles: Max Scherzer (11-7, 4.33 ERA) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (5-15, 4.38 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Scherzer enters his start this evening at Baltimore looking for his 12th win of the season. With a win tonight, he would equal his career-high win total established with the Tigers during the 2011 season.

His career mark against Baltimore 1-1, 3.46 ERA. This will be the first start of his career at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

With a win tonight, he would join Justin Verlander to become the first pair of Tigers pitchers with 12-or-more wins in the club’s first 119 games of the season since Jeff Robinson and Frank Tanana did so in the first 119 games of 1988.

One hundred years ago today, in a move that only Carlos Zambrano could appreciate, Ty Cobb, apparently believing the Tigers can no longer win the pennant race, begins a vacation.

On this date in 2007, Placido Polanco played his 144th consecutive game at second base without an error. This broke Luis Castillo’s record, set earlier that season. The two streaks overlapped for many months. The Tigers still lose, 7-2, dropping them to eight wins in their past 25 games and a tie for first place with the Indians.

Happy Birthday to Roman Colon, 32, and Jarrod Washburn, 37.

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More great work this week by Paul Swaney and his team at StadiumJourney.com. The spotlight turns to Jerry Uht Park, home of the Erie SeaWolves, the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate. Here’s a taste of Joshua Guiher‘s review:

Jerry Uht Park … was originally built in 1995 at a cost of $8.7 million. In 2006, the park underwent a $4 million upgrade that added a nice scoreboard, a very large picnic area and a second level of seating among other things.

All About Al. In his ESPN.com blog [$], Jim Bowden lists the under-the-radar players on each American League club. His pick for the Tigers is Alburquerque.

Alburquerque has been an important part of the first-place Tigers’ bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander has an impressive 2.29 ERA with 55 strikeouts and just 18 hits against him in 35 1/3 innings pitched. His fastball plays in the 93-96 mph range, and he has a hard, downward, biting slider that misses bats.

The Phighting Phifty-one-year-old Tony Phillips. Choose your own bizarre angle to this story (with video!), I’ll go with the ‘Tony Phillips is still playing?!‘ perspective.

Did you know that Wilson Betemit is hitting .360 since joining the Tigers last month? With as little as he’s played on this road trip, I’d have guessed it was about 200 points less.

Finally, a Happy 49th Birthday to “Mad Men” star John Slattery. And we can’t forget to mention the 82nd birthday of actor Pat Harrington who played Schneider in the unwatchable 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time.”

Friday Freehans, Link Style

The Tigers make their first visit of the year to Chicago which typically means nothing but anguish.

Not this weekend.

Detroit’s recent good fortune against the Sox continues. (Right?)

  • Here’s a terrific piece about Sparky Anderson from someone who knew him in his southern California community for 40 years.
  • Out here in Phoenix, there’s some noise about the Diamondbacks pursuing the Mets’ David Wright. All things being equal — and Brandon Inge’s mono notwithstanding — I’d sure rather see him in Detroit. What about you?
  • The Tigers’ all-time record against the White Sox heading into play tonight is 1,012-996-1. Why does it seem as if  half those losses have come since 2004?
  • Two tidbits about tonight’s starter Andy Oliver: 1. He was selected to participate in the Futures Game held prior to last year’s All-Star Game in Anaheim, but was unable to participate because he’d been called up to the Tigers. 2. Following last season, Baseball America named Oliver the third-best prospect in the Tigers organization, the 13th-best prospect in the EasternLeague and the 19th-best prospect in the International League.
  • On this date in 1952 the Tigers acquired lefty Bill Wight, infielders Johnny Pesky, Walt Dropo and Fred Hatfield and outfielder Don Lenhardt from the Red Sox for righthander Dizzy Trout, infielders George Kell and Johnny Lipon and outfielder Hoot Evers.
  • Have you been itching for a closer look at the Tigers’ platoon situations? ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl has you covered:

The Tigers might be the team with the most potential variations, to the point that Jim Leyland could flirt with multi-positional solutions every bit as creative as [Rays skipper Joe] Maddon’s. After all, the Tigers broke in Ryan Raburn in a multi-positional utility role with a lean toward starting him against lefties in the past, and using youngsters Andy Dirks and Casper Wells as platoon outfielders now. Raburn and Brennan Boesch have struggled to stick in regular roles, opening up a host of possibilities for Leyland to try to hide some of his players from the sources of some of their struggles.

Finally, Happy 61st Birthday to singer Suzi Quatro, who played Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. Did I just date myself?

Have a great weekend.