Week 1 in Review: Pondering Tigers’ Fast Start

A fast start to any baseball season is infinitely better than the opposite. Impressed by the Tigers’ 6-0 start in the first week of the season? Heck yeah. Good, fun baseball is good, fun baseball — even better when it includes the general destruction of two divisional pests.

“Yeah, but it’s only the first week.”

True enough.

But it’s the first week of a season in which Detroit faces a lopsided intra-division schedule early, in which Justin VerlanderBruce Rondon and, unexpectedly, Joe Nathan are on the disabled list. It has disaster written all over it, people.

Instead, the Tigers ripped off six wins, four of them were by a margin of at least four runs, and at least announce to the 6-0 Royals that the Tigers won’t let them or anyone run away with the A.L. Central. At least not in April.

Thirty years ago the Tigers won their first six games … and finished a distant third in the A.L. East, and only a game ahead of the Yankees. Chances are that fast start kept the Tigers from plummeting from wire-to-wire champs to fourth place in one year. More recently, in 2008, they lost their first seven games and never recovered.

We have a long way to go before we can determine what impact the Tigers’ 6-0 (now 6-1) start meant to their 2015 destiny. And, oh yeah, they’ve yet to face the White Sox and Royals. One thing’s for sure: a fast start definitely doesn’t hurt.

Other thoughts after Week 1: I don’t understand and probably never will understand Major League Baseball’s early-season scheduling rationale. It’s not just the players that are miserable and risking injury in icebox conditions, the fans are stuck outside in what would likely be considered sub-optimal football weather. Of course, I sat through many a bone-chilling Opening Day and early season games at Tiger Stadium and Coors Field and didn’t really mind all that much. Now? I just feel bad watching fans freeze out there … Who knows if Yoenis Cespedes will be a Tiger for more than one season, but I certainly hope he signs an extension. He’s fun to watch. I dreaded him with the A’s but love him in Detroit … And finally, this is related to today’s loss to the Pirates: Josh Harrison’s first-pitch homer off Anibal Sanchez isn’t the first time an opposing player teed off on the first offering on Opening Day. On April 7, 1986, Opening Day, at Tiger Stadium, Dwight Evans hit a first-pitch, leadoff home run off Jack Morris. (I skipped school that day and sat in the centerfield bleachers, upper deck of course.)

Twinfuriating

balloonpop.jpgI’m mad at myself more than anyone else.

After the Tigers beat the Twins on Monday night — in a game that the Twins traditionally have won in the past — I thought: maybe this is the turning point. Maybe this is when the Tigers overcome whatever mental block that stands in the way of them a) beating the Twins, and b) beating the Twins in Minnesota.

Even Joel Zumaya’s season-ending injury couldn’t temper my enthusiasm. After all, the Twins lost their closer, Joe Nathan, in spring training and they’ve been in first place virtually all year.

And then — poof — along comes Tuesday…and then Wednesday and, darn it, reality.

I’ve long contended that the Tigers’ true rival in the Central division is the White Sox. After last year, though, I began to think the Twins were gaining ground as the Tigers’ chief nemesis.

(By the by, since 2004, Chicago is 23 games over .500 against the Tigers; the Twins are 10 games over.)

Right now the Tigers can’t solve the Twins. Nor can they do much with the White Sox. With just a game and a half separating these three teams, and the inconvenient truth about the Tigers’ recent history against Chicago and Minnesota, the smart money can’t be on Detroit winning the division.

My thinking might change if the Tigers make a trade that alters the Central’s landscape. If it’s the Twins or White Sox that make a splash, it is, in the words of my podcast co-host, game over for Detroit.

Tuesday Night Therapy Session: Game 163 A Week Later

therapist.jpgIf someone with a stopwatch had timed my lightning-quick zap of the TV last Tuesday evening after Game 163, my guess is that the stopwatch would’ve read less than three seconds.

I couldn’t watch the Twins celebrate, again, on their turf. (Still can’t.)

Think about it: the last time the Tigers were a division champion, they (and we) had to watch Dan Gladden and the suddenly despicable Twins celebrate on Tiger Stadium’s infield.

And the time the last two times the Tigers got close (2006 and ’09), we had to watch Joe Nathan and Co. dance a jig on the Metrodome concrete.

Sickening, really. This time I showed a rare combination of maturity and resignation all at once. Sort of.

So anyway, after a week of stewing and fretting, devouring three servings of sour grapes, followed by a weekend of Schadenfreude, I’m almost ready to move on. More or less.

Three things are still rattling around in my head a week later:

Continue reading Tuesday Night Therapy Session: Game 163 A Week Later

Game 159: Fail-ebration

balloonpop.jpgESPN highlights available here…eventually.

The Score: Twins 8 – Tigers 3

The Gist: Wasted opportunities. Sure, the usual ones — stranded runners, untimely hitting — but also new and exciting storylines. Like, four errors by the Twins, a bizarrely mediocre Joe Nathan and…oh, what’s the difference? Nate Robertson pitched well enough to not lose but not much better. Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez overreacted again, issued warnings, ejected Jim Leyland, Jeremy Bonderman and Gerald Laird, watched benches clear. You know, the usual playoff atmosphere.

The Quote: “Really, what is there to say?” — Yours truly.

The Stat: 0 – As in 0 for 5 for Ramon Santiago on the day, suggesting that perhaps Leyland chose the wrong day to give Placido Polanco a breather. Santiago was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position, including a bases-loaded chance in the fourth when he popped out to the catcher. The catcher.

Magic/Tragic Number: 2 – Still two.

Up Next: White Sox @ Tigers

Edwin Jackson (13-8, 3.36 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (8-6, 3.75; 2-0 with the Sox)

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Game 156: Microcosm

ESPN highlights available here.
ScorecardXSmall.jpg

The Score: Twins 3 – Tigers 2, 10 innings

The Gist: Stop us if you heard this one: The Tigers had plenty of baserunners but a dearth of clutch hitters. Rick Porcello was lights-out for the Tigers over six-and-a-third innings but his offense made Nick Blackburn look like Bert Blyleven. And just like that, the Tigers’ lead is one game. Blackburn retired 12 Tigers in a row at one point as the offense hibernated.

The View: All year long I’ve been wanting to say that this team has no heart. But a team that spends the better part of four months in first place deserves the benefit of the doubt. Until now. Who cares that they rallied back from a 5-0 deficit against the White Sox three days ago? The Tigers had a chance today to make a statement — about the series and the season — and they did: “We can’t hit.”

The Quote: “[crickets]” — The Tigers’ offense.

The Stat: 100Joe Nathan‘s save percentage against the Tigers in 30 attempts.

Up Next: Twins @ Tigers – Game 2 Tonight – 7 p.m. ET

Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.41 ERA) vs. Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33)

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Wednesday Walewanders

spaghetti.jpgIn our recent Fungo Pulse Check, readers said — barely — that they prefer the Tigers go after Toronto’s Roy Halladay (38 percent, 10 votes) over Oakland slugger Matt Holliday (27 percent, 7 votes).

Interestingly enough, almost as many votes came in for “Neither” (35 percent, 9 votes) as votes for Halladay. Personally, I’d like to see Rockies’ rightfielder Brad Hawpe in a Tigers uniform but with the Rockies hanging around the N.L. Wild Card race he’s going nowhere.

The Tigers should go after the A’s Holliday but only if they can sign him to a reasonable extension — if for no other reason than to see what a “reasonable extension” looks like from the Tigers.

In other news…

  • With Joel Zumaya back on the shelf, don’t the Tigers have to at least consider making him a starter? If we’ve learned nothing else, we now see that he’s not built for the late-innings role but might excel in the rotation — think “marathon versus sprint.” Also, if the Tigers have a young Ryan Perry waiting in the wings, why not try to extend Zumaya’s career? What do you think? Take our latest poll –>

  • Great to see Magglio Ordonez go yard with a grand slam last night. Still, it was an off-speed pitch. No chance he gets around on a Joe Nathan fastball, though.

  • A report here in the Arizona Republic says the preliminary Interleague schedule for next season has the Diamondbacks visiting the Tigers. Enough with the Interleague already.

  • On this date in 2005 the Tigers acquired infielder John McDonald for a player to be named later. If you recall, that player was John McDonald.

Finally, in case you were wondering, 25 years ago the Tigers were 66-29 and had a nine-game lead over Toronto in the American League East. On July 22, 1984, the Tigers beat the Rangers 2-0 at Tiger Stadium behind Dan Petry‘s 8-2/3 innings of four-hit ball. Sparky lifted him with two outs in the ninth with lefty Pete O’Brien coming to the plate with the tying run on base. Willie Hernandez came in and got O’Brien to pop out on the first pitch. (And the game lasted only two hours, 11 minutes. Imagine.)

Meet Brandon Lyon

BrandonLyon.jpgWhenever I watched Brandon Lyon pitch for the Diamondbacks the past couple of seasons, my immediate reaction was always he’s a younger Todd Jones.

Fact is, he throws harder than Jones — which can’t hurt — but no one is going to confuse him with Joe Nathan.

Last season wasn’t a pleasant one for the D-backs’ closer, a position he lost to Chad Qualls. Well, that’s not entirely true.

Despite four blown saves in 23 chances in the first half, hitters managed a .243 average against him and his ERA was 2.43. (Compare that to Jones’s 4.95 ERA and .297 opponents’ average in the first half.)

In terms of repertoire, it doesn’t extend far past a fastball and curve. In fact, that’s it. But the curveball is something to behold; no roundhouse breaking pitch, Lyon’s is top-to-bottom — or noon-to-six, as they say. Still, in 2008 he threw the fastball 72 percent of the time — 73 percent with two strikes.

As you might expect, Lyons doesn’t heave bullets across the heart of the plate. Instead, he has a Jones-like corners-nibbling approach. His favorite spots — against righties or lefties — are the outside corners. But against lefties his greatest success comes on the inside corner, up and in, and down and in. So, did the Tigers get themselves another Todd Jones?

Perhaps.

But Lyon is 10 years younger than the Tigers’ erstwhile closer and, in the spirit of optimism, he seems to have the durability and closer-ish stuff the bullpen so desperately needs.

(Oh, and Lyon wore number 38 in Arizona and will need a new one in Detroit…unless Jeremy Bonderman wants to give up his number. I’m guessing he ends up with 36.)

Catching Up on a Week of News

Catcher.jpgEvery time I sat down to write about a bit of Tigers news in the past five days, another shoe would drop and I’d think “I’ll write about both of those items.” Then another and another, etc.

So, as I wait out this Tigers/White Sox rain delay from bright, sunny Phoenix, it’s time to weigh in on:

  • Todd Jones’s Retirement. The decades-old joke in Detroit is that the most popular person in the city is the Lions’ backup QB and/or the Red Wings’ backup netminder. I think we can now add the Tigers’ setup man to that punch line. Detroit is unusually cruel to its closers. Less than a year after Willie Hernandez won the 1984 Cy Young and MVP awards, he started getting booed and it’s never stopped. Mike Henneman did too, but to a much smaller degree. The Tigers were so unwatchable during Todd Jones‘s first tour of duty in Detroit, that often he was the only bright spot. Come to think of it, he was a welcome sight then because it mean the Tigers were in line for a rare win.

    But what was it about Jones in his second stint as a Tiger? What made it so infuriating? Sure, he got 93 saves in just under three seasons but his ERA was always around four and … ah, what’s the use? Jones is a good guy and I’m sure he’ll be missed by his teammates. I guess. For me, though, I’ll never be able to forgive him for not being Joe Nathan.

    Continue reading Catching Up on a Week of News

Game 14: Tigers Borrow Rally Monkey Again

ScorecardXSmall.jpg
ESPN highlights available here.

The Gist: Powered by four home runs — solo shots from Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez and a two-run dinger from Miguel Cabrera — the Tigers defeated the Twins 6-5 and swept the mini-series. Nate Robertson appears to be working his way back into form with 6.1 innings pitched, four runs (all earned), five strike outs and a walk. Clay Rapada earned his first major-league win. And, in another sign the offense is thawing, the Tigers’ 3-5 hitters went a combine four for 12 with five RBI.

The Quote: “I saw the ball coming out and said ‘Stop,’ but it didn’t.” — Ryan Raburn on his near-catch of Delmon Young‘s near-home run/near-flyout turned triple in the top of the ninth.

The Stat: 0. The number of times the Tigers had to face Joe Nathan in this series. Wonder how this all would have worked out for the Twins if Nathan were brought in during the eighth inning on either or both nights?

Up Next: Tigers at Indians

Armando Galarraga (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. C.C. Sabathia (0-2, 11.57)

Blogging a Thursday Matinee Game

The beauty of being self-employed: watching a Tigers matinee game on my office TV while working away. I don’t do this very often but he are my thoughts updated throughout the game.Jeremy Bonderman clearly has the slider going today.Wow, Timo Perez. As I’ve mentioned before, never in their history have the Tigers had a player named “Perez” on the roster. That streak ended last year when Neifi arrived. Chances are the Tigers are the first team in history to have a Timo and a Neifi on the 40-man.What’s with all the pop ups today?Timo Perez is wearing #19. It reminds me of the unfortunate Roger Cedeno years. Let’s hope Timo, if he’s in position to do so, shows up for the team photo.I’d like to see Mike Rabelo go yard. Today.I don’t think I’ve seen a major league game with as many key injuries as last night’s to Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Marcus Thames.Speaking of Cuddyer, he certainly doesn’t have quintessential clean-up hitter numbers: AVG .289 | HR 10 | RBI 56. I wonder why Justin Morneau doesn’t hit fourth…Timo looking too much like Craig Monroe.Uh-oh. Down a run. Better start hitting lest they want to face Joe Nathan.Good for Rabelo.Placido Polanco legs out a double. Guess his leg’s okay.Jeez, Sheff. You just cost the boys another run! > Bottom of the 7thHow big does that Sheffield blunder at second look now?Bonderman with his typical Metrodome implosion. Man, that’s getting old. > Top of 8thThey walk Curtis Granderson to face Polanco? Gutsy that Ron Gardenhire….freakin’ Neshek.> Bottom of 8thYou just knew that Morneau was overdue. Way overdue.Wow. Umpires always amaze me with their instant recall of the rule book.How in the world did they get out of that mess? Morneau will have to shoulder the blame for that one. > Top of 9thNo surprise Nathan is in this game. Gardenhire has to got to do whatever he can to prevent a Tigers sweep.Will the Tigers continue with Zach Miner in the bottom half or will they bring in Jose Capellan? Is it just me or is Capellan persona non grata in the Tigers’ bully?Think the Twins are eager to see Magglio Ordonez leave town?Sigh. > Bottom of 9thWhat can you say about that Zach Miner? > Top of 10thWho says the American League can’t play small-ball? Good for Brandon Inge. I think Nathan is the toughest closer out there so it’s about time the Tigers made some noise against him. Now, about that insurance run… Bottom of 10thHere comes that Todd Jones queasiness.Hey, Jones’s ERA is under five. When did that happen?Double pl— … d’oh!Nice and tidy by Todd Jones standards.Now I can eat lunch!