Friday Fungoes: The 40-game Mark, Verlander’s No-hit Follow Ups, Magglio’s Demise

Every year someone (usually Tom Gage) rolls out the time-worn Sparky Anderson truism about not judging a team until after it’s played 40 games. I suppose it’s my turn.

On Saturday against the Royals the Tigers will play game number 40 and, at worst, will finish that game at an even 20 and 20. So what conclusions can we draw from these first 40 games? For that matter, what conclusions can we draw from the past week, which delivered some terrific baseball?

Are they as bad as they looked against the Royals in April and the Tribe two weeks ago? Or are they as good as the club the swept Chicago at home?

I hate to punt on this, but I think we’ll know more about the Tigers after another series against the Royals, Indians and White Sox.
What do you think?

In the meantime, here’s a look at the Tigers’ record after 40 games since Jim Leyland arrived in Detroit.

  • 2010: 23-17
  • 2009: 24-16
  • 2008: 16-24
  • 2007: 24-16
  • 2006: 27-13

As I’m writing this, Justin Verlander has kept the Royals hitless through four innings. Earlier this week I was wondering how he fared in the start following his June 12, 2007 no-hitter. Well, it was a bit different from his 12-strikeout torching of the Brewers. Verlander’s next start came against the Phillies on Sunday, June 17 at Citizens Bank Park. His final line: six innings, seven hits, two walks, three earned runs.  The Tigers won, 7-4.

I sure hope we haven’t seen the last of Magglio Ordonez, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list today.

“He’s been feeling the effects of his ankle off and on during the season here,” trainer Kevin Rand said. “We decided to look at it, and to err on the side of caution, we’re shutting him down.”

The stats are ugly: .172 with one home run and five RBIs in 26 games this season. I can’t believe that his hitting skills have plummeted to Gerald Laird levels simply due to age. You?

Buried at the bottom of the Ordonez story is this little update on Carlos Guillen.

Guillen was in the clubhouse as well and has started baseball-related activities again.

Guillen says he’s been able to hit, run and take ground balls, although there’s still no timetable for his return.

Talk about a forgotten man.

Finally, on this date in 1913, Joe Louis was born. He was the world heavyweight champion for a record-setting 12 years.

Have a great weekend.

Identity Crisis

The best teams in any sport have an identity.

Even the teams who do everything well, that’s their identity.

The Tigers don’t have one. They’ve won and lost games with pitching. They’ve won and lost games with hitting. They’ve won and lost games with defense. For now, they don’t know who they are, and, if they don’t develop something soon, something like the Giants did last year, it’s going to be terminal.

Continue reading Identity Crisis

Opening the Tigers’ History Book

OldBookXSmall.jpgWhile we await the Tigers’ next move this offseason, let’s look back on the trades the club made on this day in …

And on Nov. 20, 1985, the Pirates hired White Sox third base coach Jim Leyland to be the club’s 33rd manager in history.

Tigers Today: September 7, 2010

BallBatGrass.jpgTigers’ Record:

68-70, 3rd Place; 13 GB

Today’s Game

Tigers vs. White Sox | 7:05 p.m. ET – Comerica Park | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.61 ERA) vs. Freddy Garcia (11-5, 4.82 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

White Sox 5 – Tigers 4 (10 innings)

Continue reading Tigers Today: September 7, 2010

Thinking Out Loud: Trade Deadline Despair Infects Tigers Fans

Thinking Man.jpgHere’s a quick thought in the form of a question after tonight’s long-awaited win:

Would there be as much handwringing and angst about the Tigers if it weren’t 10 days before the trade deadline?

If the Tigers had lost seven straight in, say, the first week and a half of May, would we all be so ulcer-ridden?

I’m thinking … no.

An extended slide in the first six weeks of the season wouldn’t have the perceived escape hatch of a mystical trade deadline when all problems can be corrected.

We’d be ticked off, that’s for sure. But the panic, the calls for Jim Leyland‘s head, the outlandish trade wishes? They’d be nowhere near the fever pitch of the past week.

But hey, the Tigers won tonight — and if Johnny Damon hadn’t committed a major baserunning gaffe on Monday, they’d have taken two of three from Texas and we’d all be happy.

The losing streak is over. The Tigers are just three games out. And it’s only July 21.

Life is good.

Weekend Wrap: 67% Satisfaction

NotebookXSmall.jpgIt was the best we could hope for, two of three from the Twins. Would it be greedy to have hoped for a sweep on Sunday?

In theory, no.

In reality, with the seemingly unbeatable Carl Pavano on the mound, the answer is a begrudging yes.

But who would have guessed, though, that the Tigers would take the first two games of the weekend series and still slip into second place? White Sox GM Kenny Williams? Probably.

And so here we are at the All-Star Break and the Tigers are an eyelash out of first place — and with a bit of breathing room between themselves and the Twins.

All things considered, not too bad.

Friday: Tigers 7 – Twins 3

Friday night’s game was the marquee matchup, Justin Verlander versus Francisco Liriano, and Verlander was at times excellent and baffling — 103 pitches in 5-1/3 innings? Yikes — and the offense, as the 7-4 score would indicate, was paced by Magglio Ordonez, Brennan Boesch and Carlos Guillen who went a combined 7 for 11.

After the game Jim Leyland blasted holes through the Rick Porcello trade rumorette — Jon Paul Morosi speculated that Porcello’s pushed-back start could be viewed as a showcase for a trade partner. Perhaps Morosi got a little too close to the truth and the Tigers wanted to respond? I’m thinking we haven’t heard the last of this story.

Continue reading Weekend Wrap: 67% Satisfaction

Friday Freehans: Interleague Gumbo

BillFreehan.jpgInterleague play is back! What’s that? You haven’t missed it?

  • As the Pirates come to town let’s do an interleague reset: Since interleague play started in 1997, the Tigers have compiled a 124-108 record, 57-33 in interleague games at Comerica Park. This year they’re 1-2.

  • In a related note, here’s the good news coming into this weekend: The Tigers’ next three series are against teams that are an average of nine games under .500. Then again, their last three series were against teams that are an average of 10 games under so draw whatever conclusions you will.

    Continue reading Friday Freehans: Interleague Gumbo

Beyond Frustration: The White Sox Have the Tigers’ Number

IMG00003-20100518-1351.jpgAdding insult to the injury of the Tigers’ loss yesterday to the White Sox, I attended an event at my son’s school and saw this new plaque next to the pre-school playground.

Paul Konerko is a Scottsdale native so it’s nice to see him giving back — and you should see this playground: awesome. It didn’t sting as much because for once Konerko didn’t homer in the game.

And so the Tigers lost again to the White Sox, the 54th time at Comerica Park since it opened 10 years ago, and, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, since 2005 the Tigers are 34-59 against the White Sox … 25 games under .500. (FYI: Over that same span they’re 47-52 against the Twins.)

What is going on here? Why do the White Sox have the Tigers’ number? I wish I had an answer. I wish Jim Leyland had an answer. You just know Ozzie Guillen does.

Let’s face it: The Tigers cannot beat the White Sox when it counts (i.e., the final weekend of the 2009 season when they lost three of four in the most moribund series in memory) or when it doesn’t — like yesterday when the Tigers left nine men on base and Rick Porcello looked, at times, more like Rickety Porcello. Other points of utter frustration include:

  • The Tigers always seem to make pitchers like Freddy Garcia look 10 years younger.
  • On cold, damp days the Tigers’ offense stays in the cozy clubhouse while the Sox come out swinging as if it were 80 and sunny.
  • A single bone-headed move — like Brennan Boesch‘s failure to score on a ground ball to first — can turn the game in Chicago’s favor…and usually does.
  • The mere presence of Ozzie, A.J. Pierzynski and Bobby Jenks. Thankfully there’s now Jermaine Dye to torment us this year.

This year’s Tigers team is hanging around the top of the Central division through a savory mix of ingredients, not the least of which is luck. If they want to stay in the race into September they better figure out a way to gin up some of that luck against the lousy teams in their division — and right now that includes everyone except the Twins.

Or the White Sox, at least when they’re playing the Tigers.

Weekend Wrap: Where to Begin?

CoffeeCalendar.jpgAfter the Tigers took three of four from the Yankees, the three-game weekend set with the Red Sox had all the makings of a classic letdown.

Max Scherzer certainly did his part on Friday night by serving up five runs in the first inning which fueled Boston’s 7-2 win.

What happened on Saturday was the stuff that magical seasons can be built on. An overstatement? Maybe. But when Dontrelle Willis plays the role of Scherzer by yielding four runs and seven walks in just 3.1 innings, you could almost expect the Tigers to mail it in. Except they didn’t. Instead, they chipped away at Jon Lester and the Red Sox bullpen and mounted a thrilling comeback behind Brennan Boesch‘s four-hit game — and near cycle.

Another letdown appeared imminent with John Lackey starting for the Sox on Sunday but that wasn’t meant to be either. The Tigers wore down Lackey with nine hits and four walks and Ramon Santiago went deep in the fourth for his first homer of the year.

Meanwhile, Armando Galarraga made a triumphant return to the majors and was superb (despite walking two of the first three hitters): 5.2 IP, three hits, one run, three walks and five strikeouts. And what about Jim Leyland bringing in Jeremy Bonderman for an inning of flawless relief? Whatever works.

For me, the most interesting part of an exciting week were the roster moves made after Saturday night’s game. Scherzer being sent down came as no surprise after he showed on Friday how truly out of sync he is. With Galarraga seemingly ready to resume his big-league career, this makes sense.

Demoting Scott Sizemore jolted me a little. Based on everything we heard since spring training — and that they let Placido Polanco walk — I expected the Tigers to ride it out with Sizemore. Then again, when your keystone combination is hitting a combined .399, you’ve gotta do something.

I’ll say this about Dave Dombrowski, he’s certainly not afraid to bring up the kids. Right now, the Tigers have five rookies on their roster. And good ones. Who knows how long Danny Worth and Casper Wells will stick in Detroit, but it certainly is fun to watch it all play out.

The stunner in all this was the announcement of Carlos Guillen becoming the Tigers’ starting second baseman when he returns from the disabled list. Tell me how this can possibly end well? One wrong twist trying to turn a double play and Guillen could be on the shelf again. Then again, this is a player — a favorite of mine, actually — who landed on the DL running the bases. Add the more demanding defensive requirements of the middle infield and, well, yeah. This can’t end well. (Of course this isn’t saying much, but I’d certainly rather have him at second than in left.)

In his career, Guillen has played a dozen games at second base, all with the Mariners in 1998 and ’99 and he had 56 error-free chances. He’ll have to make quite a few to catch up with Sizemore’s six errors so far this year.

A weekend that started out poorly — and could’ve gotten a lot worse without much effort — certainly turned around in a hurry and featured lots for Tigers fans to chew on as the dreaded White Sox come to town on Monday.

Time to Get More Than the Minimum from Max

[Note: This post also appeared on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot Blog.]

Coming into this week, the Tigers had a rotation in tatters and a bullpen at risk of being overworked. And though Justin Verlander appears to have solved his customary early-season woes—evidenced by his masterful start on Thursday against the Yankees—the rest of the Tigers’ starting five was causing Jim Leyland to tap into his steady relief corps far too early and far too often. Coming into Friday, Tigers starters have the fewest innings pitched (184) in the American League and rank 29th overall.

Things might be looking up in Detroit, though. Rick Porcello at last may be untracked thanks to his performance against the Yankees on Wednesday and Jeremy Bonderman is showing signs that he might (again) be a reliable starter after all. So, at least for now the Tigers’ rotation appears to be steadying itself. That is, except for a guy they expected to gobble up innings in 2010: Max Scherzer.

After a dazzling debut on April 7 in which he held the Royals to one hit over six innings in a no-decision, Scherzer has been nothing but a question mark in Detroit’s rotation. He hasn’t won in nearly as month, he’s given up 48 hits in 37 innings so far, and in his last two starts alone he allowed 15 earned runs in 9.1 IP.

Scherzer enters his Friday start against the Red Sox with a 1-3 record and a bulky 6.81 ERA. He’s also been a major contributor to the number of innings the Tigers bullpen has pitched in the first six weeks of the season: Scherzer averages barely five innings of work.

Not exactly what the Tigers had in mind when they made him a key piece of the Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson trade last winter.

But should we be surprised with Scherzer’s struggles adjusting to the American League? Well, if he were regularly facing lineups like the Yankees and Rays, the answer would be yes. But the fact is he’s getting pounded by the likes of the Royals and Indians—and Twins and Rangers and, well, you get the idea. Even with the DH factored in Scherzer should not be faring this poorly against A.L. opponents.

What should the Tigers do with Scherzer? Unfortunately, they have few choices at this point.

With his 1.68 WHIP, Scherzer’s not a candidate for the bullpen. And even if he did move into a relief role, the Tigers aren’t exactly brimming with capable replacements to slot into the rotation. Maybe Armando Galarraga. Or perhaps recently recalled and even more recently demoted Alfredo Figaro.

The Tigers are enchanted with Scherzer’s potential—after all, he was taken by the Diamondbacks with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft—and are likely to let pitching coach Rick Knapp tinker with him and hope things click as they have for Verlander, Porcello and, just maybe, Bonderman.

Yes, Scherzer’s upside is tremendous – the guy throws in the mid 90s and he’s only 25 – which explains why the Tigers were so intent on bringing him to Detroit. Though, presumably the club thought he was ready to elevate his performance to a higher level than what he displayed last year for the Diamondbacks in his rookie season.

For now, the Tigers will have to live with some growing pains and hope he starts pitching past the fifth inning—beginning tonight.