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?

Who’s the Tigers’ Youkilis?

White Sox third basemen are hitting something like .180 this season with a single home run. As usual, Ken Williams does his thing and plugs in Kevin Youkilis to anchor the hot corner.

Tigers second basemen are hitting .196 (.192 if you include 20 at bats from Brandon Inge and a pair from Hernan Perez) with three* home runs – two from Ramon Santiago and one from Ryan Raburn). Dave Dombrowski is looking to plug this hole with … Matt Garza. Wha-?

*It’s four if you add Inge’s one homer.

I get why DD is looking for a dependable arm in the fourth spot; Rick Porcello‘s days in the Tigers rotation should be drawing to a close and who wants to see two rookies at the four and five spot? Not me. (Though, of course, I love what Drew Smyly has done and what Jacob Turner will do later this year or next, but come on.)

My guess is the Tigers are looking for – have to be looking for – a package deal with Garza and maybe second baseman Darwin Barney to patch the roster.

As I’m watching Tigers games I picture the opposing second baseman in a strategically placed slot of Jim Leyland‘s lineup maybe hitting second.

But as Lynn Henning writes today, just about every team is alive in their division and has needs of their own. You have only to look at the Pirates’ offense to see that teams hovering near the top of their division could use a serving of firepower.

If the Tigers are going to make a move chances are it will involve lots of bodies, like last year’s Doug Fister trade, right? And if they do, it can’t result in only one decent player coming to Detroit (calling David Pauley.)

My guess is Dombrowski isn’t feeling any pressure because of Williams picking up Youkilis. He’s been dealing with him for 10 years in the A.L. Central. Any pressure is coming from the calendar, the lineup and perhaps the owner.

Six Months Off, Two Months In: The Daily Fungo Returns

Six months ago I turned out the lights on The Fungo. The other day, I changed my mind. I know you’ve got lots of great Tigers blog choices so I hope you’ll work this site into your rotation.

Allow me, if you will, to catch up on the past half-year:

  • Victor Martinez out. I think this injury, like few others that I can remember, showed how close to the edge a Tigers offense was treading. Suddenly the club had no designated hitter, no number-two catcher (though who expected him to catch more than a handful games – at most – in 2012?) and no one to hit behind Miguel Cabrera. And, with Magglio Ordonez not coming back, who else would be a reliable middle-of-the-order hitter?

    Today, I wonder how much better the Tigers would be with Martinez at DH over Delmon Young? Methinks much, much better. I hope the possibility of a September return becomes a reality. If the Tigers have faded by that point I’m sure we won’t see #41 until Spring Training 2013.

  • Prince Fielder in. When word circulated Tigers had signed him for nine years and $214 million not long after Martinez was lost for the season (presumably) I thought “of course they did.” It was the quintessential Mike Ilitch move – and likely displeased Dave Dombrowski for no other reason than he was forced to again deal with Scott Boras. The immediate thought was “they wouldn’t move Cabrera to third would they? Nah.” Ahem.

    As a Tigers fan, who suffered through so many years of superstar-less teams, how could you not love the addition of yet another All Star? I loved it and, with his current .320 average, still do.

    P.S. I heard this on MLB Network Radio yesterday on the way to work and saw it on ESPN.com today:

    Prince Fielder (at 275 lbs) just hit his 10th career triple. According to baseball-reference.com, Prince Fielder is the second player in MLB history weighing at least 275 pounds to have 10 career triples. Adam Dunn (285 lbs) also has 10.

    Delicious.

  • Brandon Inge whines, whiffs and vanishes. So much has been written on this guy that I won’t waste much of your time with it. My issue with Inge, beyond his anemic hitting, was that he suffered from delusions of grandeur.

    Remember when he was the Tigers’ starting catcher and the club signed Pudge Rodriguez? Inge thought he should still be the starter. Remember when they traded for Cabrera and he thought he should still be the starting third baseman? No one argued that Cabrera was a better defender but did Inge really think the Tigers would stick Cabrera in left field in 2008 … or move him to DH after signing Fielder?

    From all accounts Inge is a tremendous person and certainly didn’t deserve to get booed as loudly as he did at Comerica Park. But if he hit even .240, he’d be the Tigers’ second baseman today.

  • Delmon Young shows his ugly side. We didn’t think the Delmon Era in Detroit would be a light and breezy affair, did we? I’ll be surprised if he’s on the roster at the end of June.

  • Verlander’s gem. I was bummed out when Josh Harrison foisted the ball into center, which I heard on the radio. When I saw the replay, I wondered why Jhonny Peralta didn’t lay out and try to knock it down. After a couple more looks it was clear that it would’ve been tough for him to get his glove on it.

    Not since Mark Fidrych have the Tigers had a pitcher you’d pay to see no matter the opponent. Every Verlander start is appointment TV for me.

I could go on – about the infuriating offense, Max Scherzer‘s Max Scherzerism, the inconsistent relief work, Austin Jackson‘s resurgence, Brennan Boesch‘s slow start, Ryan Raburn‘s woes, Doug Fister‘s injuries, dismal umpiring – but why bother?

Final thought: It’s bad enough to see the Tigers struggling as they are, but to see the White Sox sitting atop the A.L. Central is insulting.

And so is the idea of Craig Monroe as a studio analyst. (But I’m sure Rod is happy to have him around.)

Tigers Roster Set … and a Tad Upsetting

In 1984, the Tigers made the no-brainer decision to leave southpaw reliever Sid Monge off the playoff roster. Monge had an undistinguished half seaon with the Tigers after being picked up off waivers from the Padres — 1-0, 4.25 ERA in 19 games.

He didn’t pitch enough in the regular season and, left hander or no, he wasn’t going to appear in the ALCS or World Series. And God knows we didn’t want him to.

This morning we learned that another seemingly no-brainerish decision — to leave Brad Penny off the ALDS roster — was, in fact, not made. What the …? Jim Leyland hasn’t, and likely won’t, offer much to the media to chew on in the way of rationale for this decision.

Here’s the most obvious question: In what scenario, a Game 4 start, long relief, middle relief, would any Tigers fan feel comfortable seeing Penny on the mound? Speaking for myself: None.

Jason Beck reports on his blog:

Both Rick Porcello and Brad Penny are on the roster. One of them is expected to start Game 4 is necessary (sic). The other will work out of the bullpen.

Would I feel better seeing David Pauley? It depends. If it’s relief, absolutely. And would I feel more confident in Porcello starting Game 4? Ditto. (But if there’s a rainout between tonight and Game 4, are we still to believe that Justin Verlander won’t make that start?)

And what about Ryan Perry? Can the Tigers afford his baffling inconsistency in the postseason?

So what we’ve got are four pitchers — the three P’s: Penny, Porcello, Perry, and Max Scherzer — on the ALDS roster that make us wonder if the good version or bad version will show up.

I have no problem with the position-player decisions, even backup catcher Omir Santos. There’s no way Leyland is going to lose a playoff game — or series — by having to put Brandon Inge or Don Kelly behind the plate. No chance. I think Santos makes sense.

But the real news here is Penny. I’m afraid that if we see him in this series we’re going to long for Sid Monge.

Dave Schoenfield weighs in on both A.L. Division Series rosters on the SweetSpot blog.

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 Monday Report: Bad Penny, Power Rankings and Elliot Gould

Welcome to the end of August, in which the Tigers have amassed a 16-9 record so far. The boys returned home after a 5-2 road trip for four against the Royals.

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The Tigers are in first place, 6 games ahead of the White Sox, 6.5 ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers vs. Royals – Max Scherzer (13-7, 4.21 ERA) vs. Luke Hochevar (8-10, 4.91 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Scherzer:

Scherzer enters his start this evening versus Kansas City with a 4-3 record and 2.97 ERA over his last nine starts dating back to July 7.

He’s making his 15th start of the season at Comerica Park this evening against the Royals. He is 6-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his first 14 starts at home in 2011.

Lifetime, Scherzer is 4-3, 2.85 ERA against Kansas City.

Notes on Hochevar:

Hochevar will make his fourth start against the Tigers in tonight’s series opener, his third at Comerica Park. He’s 1-1 with a no decision, sporting a 6.48 ERA … both of his decisions have come in Detroit: a 9-5 victory during the Royals first trip of the season on April 10 and then a 3-1 loss on May 13 … he’s allowed 6 earned runs on 12 hits in 13 innings here in Detroit this season, with 5 home runs, all solo shots.

Lifetime, Hochevar is 3-4 against the Tigers with a 5.10 ERA in 10 games, including 9 starts, and is 2-2 at Comerica Park with a 6.04 ERA in 5 games.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .480 off Hochevar.

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Leading Off: Brad Penny proved to be a stopper after all: a momentum stopper. Maybe it was too much to ask for, a sweep of the Twins in the last trip to Target Field this season, but the Tigers lost with a flourish, 11-4. Ramon Santiago collected four hits but other than that, it was a stinker. And what about poor David Pauley? The forgotten man of the bullpen might have showed once and for all why he is the forgotten man of the bullpen: 2 IP, 4 hits, 4 runs (all earned), a walk and homer. Meanwhile, Wilson Betemit is hitting 110 points higher than Brandon Inge Carlos Guillen is slated to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Toledo tonight and soon thereafter will throw second base into disarray.

Around the Central: The Royals did their part to help the Tigers to no avail, beating the Indians 2-1, and the White Sox finished off a sweep of the Mariners, 9-3.

The Tigers moved up two spots in ESPN’s Power Rankings this week to number 7, seven spots ahead of the Indians and nine ahead of the White Sox.

Alex Avila extended his current hitting streak to 12 games yesterday at Minnesota. He compiled a 10-game hitting streak earlier in the month, doing so August 2-13. Avila is the first Tigers player to have two hitting streaks of 10 games-or-better in a single month since Roger Cedeno(!) did so in May of 2001. Cedeno posted two 10-game hitting streaks that month for the Tigers, doing so May 1-11 and May 15-25.

Paul Sporer wrote that Justin Verlander’s20th win was nothing but a symptom of greatness.

Joe Janish looks at waiver wire deals of the pastand finds two Tigers deals worth mentioning, if not remembering.

On this date in 1925, the city of Detroit hosted a dinner for Ty Cobb honoring his 20 years in a Tiger uniform. He was given a trophy by the city and $10,000 by the club.

On Aug. 29, 1959, Hamtramck won the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.

Finally, Happy 73rd Birthday to actor Elliot Gould who is known for many roles, but my favorite will always be that of Reuben Tishkoff in “Ocean’s 11” and 12 and 13.

The Daily Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

BreadcrumbsWelcome to the weekend.

Leading Off: The Royals or the Tigers’ bullpen, depending on your point of view, did their best to ruin another terrific outing by Rick Porcello – but neither was up to the task. The Tigers came back, after leading 3-0, to win 4-3 in 10 innings. Daniel Schlereth (1-1) earned the win in relief for Detroit, while Jose Valverde notched his 31st save … Porcello went 6 1/3 allowing seven hits and three runs. He was pulled in the seventh and Jim Leyland explained why … With last night’s win the Tigers are 7-3 against the Royals this season and now 27-27 on the road this season.

Around the Central: Michael Young and Rangers spoiled Ubaldo’s debut with the Indians, defeating Cleveland 8-7 in 11 innings, the five-games-under-.500 White Sox beat the 10-games-under-.500 Twins 5-3 at Target Field.

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The Tigers are in first place, 4 games up on the Indians.

Today’s Game: Justin Verlander (15-5, 2.24 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (3-4, 5.05 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. ET | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Verlander enters his start this evening versus the Royals leading the American League with 178 strikeouts and a .186 batting average against, while he is second with 15 wins and 6.02 hits per nine innings, third with a 2.24 ERA and fourth with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.8 walks per nine innings.

He’s 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 18 starts during his career against Kansas City (7-2 with a 1.62 ERA at Kauffman Stadium). He leads active pitchers since the start of the 2006 season with 12 wins, a 2.31 ERA and 110 strikeouts versus the Royals.

With seven more strikeouts, Verlander will match Denny McLain for ninth place all-time in franchise history.

On this date in 1938, the Tigers fired manager Mickey Cochrane.

On Aug. 6, 1947, Skeeter Webb of the Tigers pinch runs for Fred Hutchinson against the Indians and scores. Detroit bats around, and Webb lifts a flyball that scores a run in the nine-run eighth. Stubby Overmire wins, 13-6, in the first game of a doubleheader. Detroit sweeps, winning the nightcap, 7-5 behind Hutchinson.

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More on JV’s Mastery: Buster Olney today writes that Verlander has started to consider adding another pitch to his arsenal: a split-finger fastball.

The suggestion amused Avila. Verlander, after all, already has refined four pitches – his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. “The way he’s been pitching this year,” Avila said, “he’ll throw almost any pitch in any count.”

That’s no lie. Hitters’ batting average against him in the 2-0 (and beyond) hitter’s counts? .171, that’s third in the bigs behind Cole Hamels (.170) and Ricky Romero (.157).

Against 3-1 and beyond counts he ranks tied for eighth overall (with Matt Cain and Matt Garza) with a .161 average against.

Betemit: The 46-percent Solution? When the Tigers traded for Wilson Betemit last month the hope was that he’d be an upgrade at the plate over his predecessor, Brandon Inge. Sure, he’s hitting .281 in his 12 games in Detroit but in 39 at bats he has 18 strikeouts. Even Inge was better than that (60 strikeouts in 215 at bats, or 27 percent.)

The Odds are Good; the Goods are Odd. As of this writing, Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers’ playoff odds at 80 percent … or to be more specific: 80 percent to win the division, 0 percent to win the Wild Card spot. Sadly for Indians fans, BP has them with the third-best odds (6.9 percent). The White Sox are second with 11.5-percent. Take heart, Twins fans. BP says your club still has a 1.6-percent chance of taking the division.

Draft-pick Signings: The Tigers today announced they’ve agreed to terms with two players selected in the June draft: shortstop Brandon Loy from the University of Texas (fifth round) and righthanded pitcher Chad Smith from the University of Southern California (17th round). The Tigers now have agreed to terms with 30 of the club’s selections from this year’s draft.

Finally, Happy 39th Birthday to outfielder Duane Singleton who appeared in 18 games for the dreadful 1996 Tigers. He hit .161 with 15 strikeouts in 61 plate appearances.