2012 Top 10 Stories: #2 – Tigers Win the Pennant

Given how the Tigers’ 2012 season went, months of frustration and a division title that came at the 11th hour, a trip to the World Series was far from assured. Far.

As dominoes fell late in the year, the Tigers ALDS opponent depended on which team, the A’s or Rangers, won the A.L. West. They might play the Orioles. Or the A’s. Or the Yankees. No matter which club they played in the first round, a bad match up could’ve been awaiting the Tigers.

In the end, it was the red-hot A’s which vanquished the Rangers in a stunning sweep to end the season. The good news was that the series, thanks to baseball’s new two-three scheduling, started at Comerica Park and not in Oakland where the A’s had mixed up an amazing collection of comeback wins in 2012. Even with Justin Verlander starting Game 1 against rookie Jarrod Parker, the A’s had a kind of juju that made Tigers fans (at least this one) nervous.

A leadoff  home run by Coco Crisp didn’t help. But the Tigers cobbled together enough offense to take the game 3-1. (And who knew we’d witnessed Jose Valverde‘s final save as Tigers closer. More on that in a moment.)

Game 2 featured shaky relief work by Joaquin Benoit and walkoff heroics by Don Kelly to secure a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead. Out in Oakland, the series tightened after the A’s won Game 3 and mounted a late comeback in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all Game 5. Thankfully, Verlander was locked in and the Tigers offense gave him plenty of support to send Detroit to the ALCS for the second consecutive year – but this time against the Yankees.

Was I alone in thinking the Tigers were due for the Yankees to exact revenge for New York’s 2006 and 2011 exits? No? Well, I prepared myself for that possibility.

The ALCS got off to a tremendous start in Game 1 with the Tigers leading 4-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Valverde brought to life the worst-case scenario – one like fans witnessed in Game 4 of the ALDS when he surrendered three runs to give the A’s a walkoff win. This time, Valverde gave up four runs on a pair of two-run shots, the first by Ichiro and then one by Raul Ibanez.

In the top of the 12th a Jhonny Peralta ground ball to Derek Jeter changed the series dramatically and for good. Jeter landed awkwardly and saw his season end with a broken ankle. The Tigers scored two in the inning and Drew Smyly shut down New York in the bottom half to earn Detroit an exhausting 1-0 series lead.

The rest of the series was filled with intriguing story lines: Phil Coke‘s emergence as closer, Anibal Sanchez‘s brilliant Game 2 shutout, the Yankees’ offensive drought.

Even though the series ended in a sweep,  it wasn’t completely dominant. Other than in the 8-1 Game 4 win, the Tigers didn’t pile on the runs. Sure, they scored six in Game 1 but only because Valverde didn’t allow the first four runs to stand up. In Games 2 and 3 they scored a combined five runs. But the Yankees scored six in the entire series – and who saw that coming?

The same people who predicted a Tigers sweep of the Yankees to with the American League pennant.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

It’s Not Just You: The Tigers Don’t Deliver with Bases Loaded

In the first inning of Tuesday night’s ALDS Game 4, Yankees starter A.J. Burnett was on the ropes. He’d walked the bases loaded and with two out Don Kelly ripped what appeared to be a liner over Curtis Granderson’s head in centerfield. (Lord knows we still love Grandy in Detroit, but his reaction to that ball might’ve been one of the reasons the Tigers were willing to deal him in 2009.)

Unfortunately for Kelly and the Tigers, Granderson recovered and made a leaping grab that definitely saved the game for the Yankees and perhaps the series.

It was the second game in a row the Tigers had loaded the bases in the early innings with a chance to blow the game wide open. At least in Game 3 Miguel Cabrera plated a run when he grounded into a double play.

How many times this season have we seen the Tigers load the bases only to come away empty handed?

For the past six months I asked that question only rhetorically. Thanks to some horrific relief work in the eighth, I had time (and good reason to) visit Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to get the definitive answer.

Continue reading “It’s Not Just You: The Tigers Don’t Deliver with Bases Loaded”

Game 2 Recap: Tigers 5 – Yankees 3

ESPN highlights available here.
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The Score: Tigers 5 – Yankees 3

The Gist: Miguel Cabrera got to Freddy Garcia early, crushing any potential mind games the Yankees’ starter could potentially play on the Tigers, lining a two-run homer down the rightfield corner. Cabrera finished with three hits and RBI. Victor Martinez and Don Kelly drove in the other two runs to give a cushion that wasn’t needed until the bottom of the ninth. The bulk of the day belonged to Max Scherzer who was brilliant, no-hitting the Yankees for six innings. I won’t go into Jose Valverde‘s appearance. If you were lucky enough to miss it, just know it was an inning fraught with panic and despair.

The Quote: “It’s going to be electric.” – Justin Verlander on the environment Monday night at Comerica Park for Game 3.

The Stat: 1 – The number of stolen bases by Cabrera, the only one in the game by either team.

Up Next:

Monday: Tigers vs. Yankees @ Comerica Park | 8:37 p.m. ET | On the air: TBS/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (19-8 3.00 ERA)

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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.