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

2012 Top 10 Stories: #8 – The Black Hole at Second Base

Remember when Scott Sizemore was the answer to the Tigers’ second base question? After nearly five seasons of Placido Polanco’s wizardry at second, and in the number-two slot of the lineup, the Tigers tried to convince fans – and maybe themselves – that Sizemore could take over with gusto.

After 65 games spread across two seasons, Sizemore was dealt to Oakland and suddenly second base became a giant black hole. Again.

In 2010, Carlos Guillen and Will Rhymes both played more games at second than Sizemore, fully cementing the second-base-by-committee approach.

Last season, Ryan Raburn made his play for the job, appearing in 56 games at second and committing 10 errors in 201 chances. Backed by his usual second-half surge, he convinced the Tigers he could hold down the job full-time in 2012.

The assumption, naturally, was that Raburn would hit enough to mask some lead-gloved D. (The same was said of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jhonny Peralta.)

Except, he didn’t hit well enough to warrant a job anywhere on the diamond. Neither did Plan B, Ramon Santiago.

Combined, Plan A and Plan B hit .189.

That’s why, as the July 31 Trade Deadline inched closer, the Tigers were linked to every available second baseman in the majors: from Darwin Barney to Kelly Johnson to the man the landed on July 26 along with Anibal Sanchez: the prodigal son Omar Infante.

Having a full-time second baseman certainly settled the lineup but Infante look anything but settled at times, at least defensively after his arrival. He made nine errors in 267 chances over 61 games at second, At the plate, he hit .257: 80 points higher than Raburn and 50 more than Santiago.

Heading into 2013, Infante is the incumbent at second and in the final year of his contract. Given the slim pickings in the Tigers’ minor-league system, a solid first half could earn the 31-year-old Infante a contract extension and make him the second baseman for the foreseeable future … just as he was in 2001.

Go figure.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Random Thoughts Before Game 5

In no particular order:

  • From the what-if file: Imagine the added dimension a healthy and capable Daniel Schlereth would add to the Tigers bullpen.
  • Kevin Kennedy was asked what he’d do if the Tigers have a four-run lead going into the ninth and Justin Verlander at a 120 pitches. His answer? “I know what Jim will do … ” Kennedy said Leyland will likely go to his bullpen; it’s what he’s done all year. And that’s what makes us all so queasy.

The Tigers and Athletics will battle in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series this evening at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It marks the eighth time in the club’s post-season history the Tigers have had a series go to the maximum number of games. Detroit has compiled a 3-4 record in the previous seven series. The Tigers won Game Seven of both the 1945 and 1968 World Series and Game Five of the 2011 American League Division Series, while the team suffered the loss in Game Seven of the 1909, 1934 and 1940 World Series and Game Five of the 1972 American League Championship Series. 

  • Everyone I talk to today tells me that I should feel great about Game 5 with Verlander on the mound. But why don’t I? It’s because my gut tells me he gets too amped up for these big starts and gets dinged for early runs – like Coco Crisp‘s leadoff homer in Game 1. So, here’s what the Game Notes say:

Verlander is making the 10th start of his post-season career this evening. In his previous nine starts, he is 4-3 with a 4.96 ERA (49.0IP/27ER) and 59 strikeouts. Verlander is 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA (12.1IP/5ER) and 17 strikeouts in two starts against the Athletics during his post-season career. 

Yeah, but … looking at his career numbers he’s given up 48 hits in those 49 innings. Plus 30 runs and 24 walks. And, before his Game 1 start last Saturday, his career ALDS ERA was over five. I’m not trying to be negative, only trying to express why I’m hesitant to crown him a true big-game pitcher yet. We’ll know better after tonight.

Finally, Happy Birthday, Dmitri YoungJeff Larish and Gregg Olson. Enjoy the game tonight, folks.

Martinez Official, But More to Come … Right?

Martinez.jpgDespite what some national guys are saying about the Victor Martinez signing, I think it’s outstanding.

Is it Jayson Werth or Adam Dunn? No. But signing Martinez to hit behind — or maybe in front of — Miguel Cabrera makes the Tigers’ lineup more formidable — especially when Martinez is in the lineup in place of Alex Avila.

As Jayson Stark writes this morning, the prevailing wisdom is that Dave Dombrowski isn’t done.

So even after making four significant signings, the Tigers clearly aren’t done.

They’re not finished with their bullpen. And they’re still prowling for a big right-handed, corner-outfield bat. They could be players for Jayson Werth. They could bring back Magglio Ordonez. They could have a surprise in store. But they have the dollars to make almost anything possible.

But is that it? It’s certainly impressive the amount of business the Tigers have accomplished. Yet even with all the activity the Tigers have had this month, I still think it will make the Winter Meetings next month even more intriguing — and worth watching.

There has to be a trade of some sort in the offing, right? If they miss out on Werth, do they make a deal for a slugger? Do they go after Hanley Ramirez and shift Jhonny Peralta to second? Purely speculation, of course, but I just can’t see the Tigers going to the Winter Meetings and not be open for some degree of business.

What do you think?

Here’s the Boston Globe’s story on Martinez’s conference call today announcing the deal.

In unrelated news, Happy 63rd Birthday to one of my favorite all-time Tigers, Richie Hebner. Today’s also the birthday of Mike Moore, brilliant with the A’s, dreadful for the Tigers from 1993-95. He’s 51.

Have a great weekend.

The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition

pumpkin.jpgEach October, I’m astounded to learn that Halloween is the second-largest retail holiday of the year. I’m not a fan of Halloween, though I do like the occasional, or frequent, Kit Kat.

It’s a treat to be able to watch the World Series on Halloween, though the Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria sightings are undoubtedly the “trick” part of the equation.

  • In our highest vote-gettin’ poll of the season, Fungo readers were emphatic on what the Tigers’ next offseason move should be: target Nationals’ slugger and free-agent-to-be Adam Dunn.

    Twenty-four percent (148 voters) of the 628 readers casting votes selected Dunn as their top choice. Here are the runners up:

    • Sign Jason Werth (16%, 103 Votes)
    • Sign Victor Martinez (15%, 97 Votes)
    • Trade for a starting pitcher (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Pickup Jhonny Peralta’s option (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Sign Magglio Ordonez (12%, 73 Votes)
    • Other (5%, 31 Votes)

    Thanks to everyone who voted and a special thanks for those that left comments. It was a great discussion. Keep those comments rolling in.

    Continue reading “The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition”

Tigers Make a Droplet of a Trade in Getting Peralta

Peralta.jpgJhonny Peralta.

It’s precisely the move we expected the Tigers to make. That is, a drip not a splash.

Not only is he the Tigers’ new and temporary third baseman until Brandon Inge returns, he’s also the new and temporary shortstop until the Tigers acquire Stephen Drew.

Ahem.

What’s more, you present a writing dilemma for me. Do I add “Jhonny” to my spell check dictionary and run the risk of misspelling someone who’s name is Johnny, or live with the annoying red line under “Jhonny”?

[callout title=Jhonny Peralta 101]Here’s what we know about the Tigers’ newest acquisition:

  • Age: 28

  • Born: May 28, 1982 in Santiago, Santiago, D.R.

  • Signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1999.

  • 2010 Salary: $4,850,000

  • 2010 Stats: .246 / 7 HR / 43 RBI / .698 OPS

  • Lifetime: .264 / 103 HR / 456 RBI / .751 OPS

  • Lifetime vs Tigers: .256 / 11 HR

  • Lifetime vs. White Sox: .237 / 7 HR

  • Lifetime vs. Twins: .238 / 11 HR

Source: Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index
[/callout]

This isn’t exactly like 2006 when the Tigers scrambled to find a replacement at second base for the injured Placido Polanco and made the mystifying trade for Neifi Perez. Peralta will help the Tigers a lot more than Perez, but the bar is set fairly low in that regard.

Even though the Tigers appear on the brink of collapse, they still are 9-1/2 games closer to first place than the Indians are, which means Peralta could be energized and be a big help.

Again, it’s all relative.

Perhaps the way to view this trade is how Baseball Prospectus 2010 sums up Jhonny Peralta:

Peralta has enver been the most consistent player, but given the gross similarities of his 2007-2008 seasons, any bounce back seems likely to be similar in form — good, but just barely that.

On the bright side, the Tigers have made a trade. Let’s savor it; this might be all we get.