Game 97: Luke Scott Fatigue

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The Score: Orioles 11 – Tigers 10

The Gist: The Tigers were up 6-0. Again they couldn’t hold pile on until it was too late. Not sure if tacking on three runs counts as “piling on”, though. Nate Robertson was awful — 2.1 IP, 8 hits, 7 ER (but no walks) — and Placido Polanco had a four-hit game. The rest you know about — i.e., the blown call at the plate in the 10th inning. The Tigers dipped under water with the loss. Oh, it’s worth mentioning that Fernando Rodney was excellent over 1.1 innings pitched.

The Quote: “When he tagged me, I already had my entire foot on the plate.” — Polanco on the call at home.

The Stat: 10. The number of triple-digit pitches by Joel Zumaya.

Game 91: Two Words: White. Flag.

WhiteFlag.jpgI’m breaking from the usual game recap format tonight to reluctantly raise a white flag on the 2008 season.

In fact, indulge me while I use a line from my favorite movie, “Midnight Run“, in which Robert DeNiro tells Charles Grodin:

“You’re in this mess because you’re in this mess. I didn’t put you in this mess.”

There are countless reasons why the Tigers are in this mess. The poor start. The inconsistent hitting. The Little-League caliber defense. You know the rest. But I think one of the main reasons the Tigers are in a mess for the rest of the season is the closer role.

Easy target? Yep. Todd Jones is actually too easy a target, I’ll admit it. But in tonight’s loss to the Twins, you could feel the difference between the two teams as the game wore on. The difference, of course, is the Twins closer, Joe Nathan. The guy simply doesn’t blow saves.

Okay, he’s blown two this season (the same number as Jones. Ahem). But against Detroit in his career Nathan’s a perfect 24-for-24. Opponents know that he’s lurking out there waiting to come in, usually in the ninth inning, to close out the game, often in 1-2-3 fashion.

Let’s face it, the Tigers bullpen, outside of setup man Joel Zumaya, maybe, scares no one. These days, opponents are practically giddy when “Bobby Seay, Bobby Don’t” or Fernando Rodney enter a game.

If — a monumental if — the Tigers somehow hang around to make late noise in the division there will be tight games left and right, and the margin for error, particularly in the standings, will be just about zero.

How confident are you that Todd Jones can save important games down the stretch?

Same here. Discuss.

The Non Sequiturs: Triple-Digit Heat Edition

FireballXSmall.jpgLike Nuke LaLoosh, summer is announcing its presence with authority.

Triple digits returned to the desert on Sunday — a mere 104. Today the temps approached 110.

Big whoop. If you can’t handle the heat, don’t dish out The Non Sequiturs.

Or something like that.

  • Charley Steiner spoke with national baseball writer Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune this morning on XM and Rogers’ parting shot regarding the Tigers was stinging at best, dripping in reality at worst:

    “The Tigers have a better chance of finishing last than finishing first.”

    Yowza. (Check out Rogers’ power poll here.)

  • Happy 31st Birthday to Brandon Inge. I’ve come around to the Inge-at-Third line of thinking and believe it’ll happen at the All Star Break. How all the pieces fall into — or out of — is anyone’s guess.

  • I’m overdue for a game recap of the Tigers game from Sunday but will offer a short one here. Randy Johnson was totally beatable — they hit the ball hard off the gimpy southpaw all game long. But when you walk the number-eight hitter to face Johnson at the plate and proceed to walk him as Nate Robertson did, you’re not going to beat anyone.

  • Speaking of the Diamondbacks, I finally got to see why they’re beating ever team in sight these days. However, if the Tigers had had Joel Zumaya or Fernando Rodney to come in and blaze some heat when Jeremy Bonderman and Robertson faltered, maybe… Oh, what’s the use?

  • It would seem pretty obvious for Freddy Dolsi to be sent back to Erie when Dontrelle Willis is activated soonly, but what happens when or if Zumaya and Rodney return? Methinks that if Zach Miner‘s ERA is still over eight, he’ll be sent out. One thing would seem fairly certain: Armando Galarraga stays.

Finally, Happy Birthday also to one-season Tiger Luis Salazar. He played 130 games in 1988 and hit .270 with 12 homers. (And wore number 12.) Salazar turns 52 today.

Game 37: Rogers Rolls, Homers Hibernate, Jones Nearly Ruins It All

ESPN highlights available here.

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The Gist: Game #37 featured a terrific outing from #37 Kenny Rogers, three hits from Pudge Rodriguez and ridiculous ninth inning from Todd Jones. Luckily, and most importantly, it all added up to a Tigers’ 6-5 win over the Yankees. Rogers gave the Tigers a quality start — 6 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 3 K — and, in the second inning, picked off the 92nd runner of his career, Wilson Betemit. Ryan Raburn, getting the start in center, went 2 for 2 with a pair of runs scored.

The Quote: “Todd had the [leadoff] guy 0-2, and if he gets him, the game probably ends without any excitement.” — Jim Leyland on the Yankees’ half of the ninth inning.

The Stat: 5. The number of consecutive games the Tigers have played without hitting a home run.

My Two Cents: Watching Kerry Wood smoke the Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning this afternoon at Wrigley Field made me long for the return of Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. You know, guys who can hit 95+ on the gun. I’ll admit that railing on Todd Jones seems so 2006, yet I can’t help but wish aloud that Tigers had a flamethrower at the back end of the bullpen.

Three Reasons Not to Worry About the Tigers Bullpen

FireballXSmall.jpgOkay, we get it. The Tigers bullpen is to the team’s championship aspirations as an anvil is to a skydiver.

But what, pray tell, if it’s not?

I, for one, refuse to buy into the bullpen as Achilles’ heel conspiracy theory, and here are three reasons why:

  1. Healthy starters
  2. Dave Dombrowski
  3. Zach Miner

1. Healthy starters. Among the many problems last season, the one that stands out most prominently for yours truly is the regularity with which Jim Leyland had to go to his bully in the sixth inning or sooner. Not only did it wear a path from the dugout to the hill, it prevented the bullpen from getting the rest required to be fresh when it was really needed. Instead, by Aug. 1 the Tigers bullpen was spent and Joel Zumaya‘s return proved to be too little, too late.

Oh, we’re all concerned that the Tigers staff has lingering questions including Kenny Rogers‘ age and ability to pitch deep into games — and the season. There’s concern over Dontrelle Willis‘ declining stats the past two seasons and whether he’ll pitch closer to 35 rather than his actual age. And, let’s not forget Fungo-favorite Nate Robertson. Can he at last shed the Tough Luck Nate label and win some close games?

By all acounts, Jeremy Bonderman‘s elbow is sound and should be helped by the change-up he’s supposedly improved — if not mastered. That leaves Justin Verlander. So far, so good and let’s keep it that way.

In all, the only health concerns surround Rogers and he appears good to go. The healthy outlook of the starting five should mean more quality starts, more starts lasting into the seventh or eighth innings and a more-rested relief corps.

2. Dave Dombrowski. Let’s assume — for a moment — that the bullpen underachieves. Then what? I’m betting that Dave Dombrowski will find the right arms (or, I suppose, left arms) to keep the bullpen afloat until either Zumaya or Fernando Rodney get healthy.

By now hasn’t Dombrowski proven to Tigers fans that, with the exception of Neifi Perez, he’s pulled the trigger on the right deals for the Detroit Nine?

And let’s not forget that Dombrowski has a potentially rock-solid chip to parlay into bullpen depth: Brandon Inge. Whether it’s May 1 or July 31, Inge will be gone and you can bet in return the Tigers will have acquired the reliever they need.

And who knows, Francisco Cruceta might have resolved his visa issues by then and logging valuable work in the seventh and eighth.

If I had to have GM at the wheel in this scenario, I’d want it to be the Tigers’.

3. Zach Miner. I’m a Zach Miner Fan Boy. There. I said it. Miner, in my view, is the Tigers most versatile and under-appreciated pitcher. All he’s managed to do since he came to Detroit is eat innings and fill the roles of spot starter and middle-relief guy with aplomb. Sure, he cratered in the second half of the 2006 season — his first in the bigs — but according to Baseball Prospectus 2008:

Miner kept the ball down on the way to an effective [2007] season, posting a 2.3 G/F [groundball to flyball ratio] and allowing just 14 extra-base hits in 232 opponent plate appearances. Miner was also effective with runners on, stranding 24 of the 30 he inherited. Of the Tigers three garbagemen, Miner has the most upside.

(In their assessment of Miner, BP included Chad Durbin and Jason Grilli as the others in the Garbage Time Trio.)

Granted, it’s not a rousing endorsement but if nothing else, the Baseball Prospectus folks do their homework. If they thought Miner was a dog, they’d say it.

Bottom line: If the first two in my recipe fail to hold up their end of the bargain, I feel considerably better knowing that Zach Miner is around to start, mop up or close shop.

Putting the “Dead” in Trade Deadline

Those of us old enough to remember when Pat Gillick was general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays (before moving on to similar roles with the Orioles, Mariners and his current employer, the Phillies), may be thinking of him today when pondering the Tigers approach to the non-waiver trade deadline.In the late 1980s, Gillick earned the nickname “Stand Pat” primarily because he would do just that at the trade deadline and leave Blue Jays’ fans scratching their collective noggins until Opening Night at Maple Leaf Gardens.Now that I’ve had a few hours to ponder the Tigers lack-tivity, I’m surprisingly relieved. What I found throughout the day as I listened to coverage on XM Radio and on ESPN, was that I was more anxious to learn who the Tigers would give up in a trade more so than who they acquired.The Tigers were not giving up Cameron Maybin; No drama there. And, given how fragile the Tigers’ pitching staff has proven to be this season, I couldn’t fathom the Tigers peddling the solid arms currently tending the farms in Toledo, Erie, Oneonta, Comstock Park and Lakeland.I’ll admit I’m a little late to this party.Our man in Connecticut, Peter Fuhrmeister, commented in podcast #24 that he didn’t want to see the Tigers make a move at the deadline. He’s content to ride out this season with what the Tigers have to offer in the bully. John Milton, my brother and I all disagreed with Peter but managed to avoid calling him nuts.After watching the first game of the Angels series, we were stinging from the dismal pitching performance on Friday night. Two games later, you could not convince me that a better, reasonably priced bullpen solution wasn’t out there. Somewhere. (Could the Tigers swallow some pride — and salary — to bring back Jamie Walker?)Today, Peter, as usual, looks to be the wise man.And now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m willing to accept that a pair of healed, experienced arms are on the way in Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya. If they are back to full strength, the Tigers should be okay. I’m also willing to concede (again) that this team is going through a particularly grueling stretch of baseball right now. A couple of wins, a day off and a healthy back-end of the bullpen should put the Tigers back in business.If not, maybe Dave Dombrowski can phone Gillick and see what arms he’s willing to part with for a package of Jason Grilli, Craig Monroe and Omar Infante.I can almost hear Gillick’s response now: “Well, Jose Mesa‘s available…”Update: Jason Beck tells us what the Tigers had brewing today. Wasn’t much.