Is Detroit Still a Great Baseball Town?

With the Tigers marching toward three million in attendance for 2012, this might seem more than borderline preposterous. But stick with me.

I lobbed a tweet last week about how Tigers fans are coming unglued online and on the air. I could even take it a step further and suggest the faithful are assuming the personality traits – obsession, paranoia, rage – of Yankees fans.

Last Thursday morning, listening to Power Alley on MLB Network Radio, a Tigers fan called in to rail on Joaquin Benoit and how he just can’t be trusted, Leyland shouldn’t use him in the 8th inning anymore. Why? Well, he allowed four runs to score in an 8-6 win over the White Sox. And, well, because.

Hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette politely disagreed that Benoit was a problem – much less the problem, as the caller also suggested – and that in fact he’d been quite good of late and for the majority of the season. They acknowledged his stretch of surrendering home runs (looking at you, Taylor Teagarden) but that he’s certainly not someone about whom Tigers fans should waste energy.

This is just one example. Since April, Tigers fans have been scorching Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde and, of course, Jim Leyland*.

*Recently Reds GM Walt Jocketty was on Power Alley and he answered a question from the hosts about Dusty Baker‘s approach to resting players throughout the season, even into September. Jocketty defended his manager and talked about how the great managers know who needs a rest and when – and how this can payoff late in the season. He mentioned Leyland by name as another skipper who knows when to give his players a day off. Then he said something like, “I heard on this show a Tigers fan was complaining about Jim Leyland resting players. Jim’s one of the best in the game at this and I can’t believe they’re complaining about it.”

How did this happen? Is it all because of pre-season expectations and the season drawing to a close? Is it the number of outlets fans have to air even the flimsiest arguments? Yes to both, I think.

I acknowledge this is likely coming across as Old Man Thinking and to some degree it is. What’s really puzzling to me is that Detroit has a reputation as being a great baseball town. And it is.

Or it was. Right now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve never witnessed such vitriol being sprayed in so many places against a manager and his players – ever. Fans are treating Leyland like they do their political villain of choice. (Two years ago I wrote my case for Leyland and stand by it today.) It wasn’t long ago that the Tigers had managers the likes of Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish and, inexplicably, Luis Pujols. People: Luis Pujols.

Granted, you could argue (and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you) that the days of Bell, Parrish and Pujols were dreadful seasons in which most Tigers fans were apathetic at best. But people still went to the games, followed the team and called into the sports talk shows to complain about Bobby Higginson. Some people cared … but not many, and not much. But still.

Does all the moaning and groaning mean Tigers fans are as engaged as ever? Or does it mean Detroit has lost its collective mind when it comes to baseball and the expectations of a team that, for an enternity, was an embarrassment?

What do you think?

The Monday Report: A-Jax’s Throw, Ron LeFlore’s Record and Mats Wilander’s Birthday

Welcome to the last full week of August. The Tigers enjoy a 4.5-game lead on the Indians today. The last time they led the A.L. Central by that many games was Sept. 16, 2009.

Leading Off: I’ve watched a lot of Tigers baseball in my time but I can’t recall a more exciting final out sequence as the one we saw on Sunday to preserve a 8-7 Tigers win. Austin Jackson’s flawless throw to Alex Avila. Rick Porcello seemed hell bent to surrender a seven-run cushion but thankfully the bullpen did enough to blow it entirely … The Tigers head to Tampa Bay for a four-game set … They also are looking for their first winning streak of more than three games since June 7 when they had a four-game winning streak snapped.

Around the Central: The White Sox crushed the Rangers 10-0 at U.S. Cellular Field; the Red Sox downed the Royals, 6-1, and the Yankees blanked the Twins, 3-0.

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The Tigers are in first place, 4.5 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Rays — Justin Verlander (18-5, 2.31 ERA) vs. Jeff Nieman (8-4, 3.29 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Verlander has won each of his last six starts for the Tigers dating back to July 21, compiling a 2.36 ERA and 51 strikeouts during that stretch.

In nine career starts against the Rays, Verlander’s 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA.

With a win tonight, he would equal his career high in victories set in 2009. It would mark the fastest a Tigers pitcher won his 19th game of the season since Mickey Lolich did so in the club’s 114th game of the 1972 season.

On this date, Ron LeFlore swiped his 27th consecutive base as the Tigers beat the Twins, 7-3. He began the streak on July 16.

On this date in 1981, the Tigers acquired first baseman Ron Jackson from the Twins for outfielder Tim Corcoran.

On Aug. 22, 1997, The Tigers pounded the Brewers, 16-1, with the aid of 23 hits and an 11- run seventh inning. Bobby Higginson got five hits, while Travis Fryman and Tony Clark drive in four runs apiece.

Happy 35th Birthday to Jeff Weaver. Also celebrating today is Doug Bair; he’s 62.

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  • The Tigers are #10 in ESPN’s Power Rankings, up from nine last week. They trail the D-backs (who have one more win) and this week’s opponent, the Rays (#7).
  • Somehow I missed out on Dave Schoenfield’s reminiscing about Chet Lemon last week:

    If you’re too young to remember Chet Lemon, he was a superb ballplayer. He could them run down in center field — in fact, his 512 putouts with the White Sox in 1977 remains the American League record, not bad for a guy who had converted from third base as a rookie the year before. He hit .300 three times, had some power, drew some walks, got hit by 10 to 20 pitches a season. He did a lot to help his teams win.

    What Chet Lemon wasn’t very good at was stealing bases.

  • This is a topic that deserves more thought than I have time for today but am I the only one who thinks Miguel Cabrera has a profound lack of hustle on the bases, particularly out of the batter’s box?
  • SI‘s Joe Sheehan thinks the stars are aligning in the Tigers favor after sweeping the Indians:

    Jackson’s base-runner kill helped Jose Valverde escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam and convert his 37th consecutive save this season. The Tigers have fended off a series of challenges by the Indians, and after a trip to Tampa Bay get seven games against the Twins and Royals to stretch their lead before six more against the White Sox and Indians. That week may represent both teams’ last shot to keep the Tigers from making September a coronation.

  • Are the Tigers winning with other clubs’ talent?
  • Not a game goes by that I don’t wish the Tigers still had Placido Polanco batting second.
  • It doesn’t matter if the Twins send Jim Thome to the Indians before Aug. 31. The Tigers are set to face both clubs six more times this season so, they’re hosed either way.

Finally, Happy 47th Birthday to tennis hall of famer Mats Wilander who, in 1988, won the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open.

Tigers Today: July 6, 2010

PickOffSmall.jpg**Sorry this one’s coming late in the day. I was traveling and got online later than expected. This one include information about tonight’s win and Monday’s too.**

Tigers’ Record:

45-37, 1st place; 1/2-game lead over Twins

Today’s Results

Tigers 7 – Orioles 5 (11 innings)

Yesterday’s Results

Tigers 12 – Orioles 9

Continue reading “Tigers Today: July 6, 2010”

Tigers Today: June 30, 2010

BallBatGrass.jpgTigers’ Record:

41-35, 2nd place; 1/2-game behind Minnesota

Today’s Game

Tigers @ Twins | 1:10 p.m. ET – Target Field | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Andy Oliver (0-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. Kevin Slowey (7-5, 4.79 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

Twins 11 – Tigers 4

Continue reading “Tigers Today: June 30, 2010”

Tigers Today: June 25, 2010

Tigers’ Record:

39-32, 2nd place; 1/2-game behind Minnesota

Today’s Game

Tigers @ Braves | 7:35 p.m. ET – Turner Field | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Andy Oliver (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Kris Medlen (4-1, 3.33 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

Tigers 6 – Mets 5 | Fungo Recap

Continue reading “Tigers Today: June 25, 2010”

Tigers Today: March 31, 2010

BehindHomePlate.jpg

Tigers’ Spring Training Record: 15-10-1

Today’s Game:

Tigers vs. Pirates | 1:05 p.m. ET – Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland | On the air: MLB Gameday Audio (Pirates’ broadcast)

Pitching Matchup: Justin Verlander (1-3, 5.63 ERA) vs. Zach Duke, (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

Also scheduled to pitch: Phil Coke and Brad Thomas

Yesterday’s Results

Tigers 10 – Orioles 9 | Box Score

Mere moments after the Nate Robertson trade was announced — which secured Dontrelle Willis‘ rotation spot — D-Train celebrated by surrendering five earned runs in 4.1 innings — his worst outing of the spring.

Offensively, Miguel Cabrera hit about 1,000 feet worth of homers with one in the first and another in the fifth. Scott Sizemore and Don Kelly also went yard.

Continue reading “Tigers Today: March 31, 2010”

2009 Player Profile: Carlos Guillen

Carlos Guillen #9

  • Height: 6′ 1″ | Weight: 215
  • 2008 Stats: .286 – 10 HR – 54 RBI

GuillenHead.jpgYou can’t blame Carlos Guillen if he’d like to forget the 2008 season. After being tapped as the starting first baseman, Guillen lasted there only a few weeks before moving across the diamond to third, where his lack of range became glaringly apparent.

Offensively, though, Guillen put together a solid, if not spectacular first half to ’08 (.284/8/47). Back problems shortened his second half, limiting the Tigers’ All-Star selection to a mere 93 at bats and shelving him altogether after Aug. 25.

A bad back likely is the cause for the dramatic drop off in power numbers from a career-high 21 homers in 2007 to just 10 in ‘08.

The switch-hitting Guillen bats predominately from the left side and has few spots in the strike zone that he can’t handle. Inside pitches – both up and down in the zone – give him trouble but he’s skilled at hitting off-speed pitches, splitters and the fastball. From the right side (just 89 at bats in ’08), Guillen’s hot zone is the heart of the plate.

The Tigers are hoping a move to left field in 2009 will provide relief for Guillen’s back and trigger a return to the production levels he had from 2004 to 2007.

Of course, if the transition to the outfield isn’t the answer, the club could be looking at another Bobby Higginson scenario: a fat investment with meager returns.