Tigers Leftovers, Thoughts and Reflections

Making up for lost time with a stream-of-consciousness post …

It’s been almost a month since Miguel Cabrera took a Sergio Romo 0-2 fastball down the middle for the final out of the World Series. In some ways it feels that long ago and in others, still too recent.

So much seems to have happened since the middle of September when the Tigers were a game back of the White Sox and we weren’t certain (well, at least I wasn’t) postseason baseball was in our future.

But it was. A grueling ALDS against the A’s, an exhilarating sweep of the Yankees and then, good God, that World Series.

By the end of Game 2, it became increasingly clear that the Giants were a team of destiny … and the Tigers had gone into another frustrating offensive slumber. As we saw all too vividly, that’s a toxic brew.

Even though the Series was over in a heartbeat, and the Tigers looked overmatched, I was stunned with how it played out. I never for a moment thought they’d lose to the Giants – a mindset that was equal parts homer-optimism and at-least-it-ain’t-the-Cardinals relief. (There was also my anti-Giants bias lingering from the Barry Bonds era.)

And now that I’ve had time to think about it, Bruce Bochy‘s club was perfectly constructed to take down the Tigers. I tweeted that my biggest fear going into Game 1 was that Barry Zito would impersonate Bruce Chen and stymie a rusty Tigers lineup. He did both and, as fate would have it, that was all she wrote.

If I’d created a list of possible World Series scenarios and endings, a sweep by the Giants, an ice-cold Prince Fielder and a caught-looking Cabrera to end it all wouldn’t be on it. None of them.

There was one thing that did not surprise me in the Series: Justin Verlander‘s Game 1 implosion. Who didn’t see that coming?

Listening to the national media leading up to the opener, you’d have thought Verlander had an unblemished postseason (or at least World Series) record. Except, you know, he totally didn’t: 0-2, 5.30 ERA, 1.545 WHIP. And now he’s 0-3/7.20/1.75.

I don’t know about you, but the Game 1 performance is what I feared in ALDS Game 5 … and in the ALCS.

Chances are I wasn’t alone in almost dreading a Game 4 win and what it might mean. Would it prolong the agony? Absolutely. Because at that point it was clear the Tigers weren’t going to beat Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Rick Reuschel, Mike LaCoss or any other starter the Giants rolled out to the mound.

This postseason was one wild ride. One I didn’t expect to come to a screeching halt with Miguel Cabrera* watching one blow by.

*Speaking of the MVP: watch for a post on that whole debate soon.

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Fare thee well, G-Money

When Gerald Laird arrived in Detroit ahead of the 2008 season, I was giddy. At last, a solid backup and successor-ish guy for Pudge Rodriguez. We’d watched Laird abuse Tigers pitching for long enough; time for him to do some damage in The D. Yeah, well, ahem.

I was equally giddy when Laird left Detroit after the 2010 season. He never produced at the level the Tigers had expected (or that fans had hoped) so, good riddance. Right?

When G-Money returned to Detroit for the 2012 campaign on a one-year deal my giddiness returned. He’s the perfect guy to backup Alex Avila and a great mentor for the new young arms coming up, I thought. And how big a lift was Laird this past season? Huge, I’d say.

He was exactly what the Tigers needed as Avila was assaulted game after game. And, Laird actually hit this year (.282) in his 63 games.

Good for G-Money landing a two-year deal with the Braves. Unlike in ’10, I’m sorry to see him go.

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Finally, here are some moldy leftovers. I found this (at best) half-baked post from last October that never saw the light of day:

After watching the Rangers bludgeon the Tigers in a terrifically played series, I just don’t have it in me to watch Nelson Cruz or Mike Napoli again until 2012. That doesn’t, of course, mean I’m not pulling for the Rangers in the World Series. I’d root for any team – even the White Sox – against a Tony LaRussa team.

As it turned out, I didn’t watch any of that Rangers-Cardinals World Series.

No regrets, either.

Okay, Now It Seems Real

With the Giants’ saturation of the Cardinals complete — and how delicious was that three-games-to-one comeback? — we can all wrap our heads around this still-confounding factoid: the Tigers are going to the World Series. This year’s World Series.

Since the Tigers broomed the Yankees Thursday evening in Detroit, I’ve found myself watching and re-watching the condensed game on my iPad just to verify that it really happened. And yeah, it happened.

A while ago.

And we had to wait through an NLCS that lingered on with the insufferable Cardinals and the constant shots of the Giants’ Brian Wilson playing the tired  “look at me; even though I’m injured I’m still bearded and desperate to make everyone believe I’m ironic” act.

Now, we can focus on the World Series, on Justin Verlander versus Barry Zito, on Miguel Cabrera and Marco Scutaro, on those wacky people in McCovey Cove, and on Delmon Young in the outfield.

I could list a lot of reasons why I didn’t want the Tigers to face the Cardinals this year. The biggest one for me was the uniqueness of the match up: in these clubs’ 242 years combined existence they’ve only squared off a dozen times in Interleague Play (Detroit is 5-7.)  It’s not unlike how I felt in 1984 when the Cubs and Padres battled in an epic five-game NLCS: I wanted San Diego, and not because I was afraid of the Tigers facing the Cubs. It was because I could imagine the Tigers and Cubs playing each other somewhere along the way. But the Padres? Under what cosmically generated circumstance would the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres possibly face each other? Back then, if an interleague match up didn’t happen in Spring Training it wasn’t happening until October.

As a friend and San Franciscan said in a Game 7 post-game text message: “Tigers and Giants in the World Series. Old school!” So true.

And now, so real.

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.

Tigers Wild Ride in ALCS Continues

And this evening I gleefully eat crow.

Justin Verlander or no, I didn’t expect the Tigers to win Game 5. After Wednesday night’s deflating extra-inning loss, my typically optimistic self thought the Tigers had run out of gas and that the Rangers were just too hot to lose.

Texas was making the most of their opportunities — lord knows they (and the Tigers with much less success) have had plenty this series — and how long could Detroit’s worn out pitching staff keep Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, the only Rangers not scorching the ball these days, in check? Not long, at least in the case of the former.

When Young doubled in the first inning, that queasy feeling of doom washed over me. Then I got angry: No way Verlander wilts in this situation. He didn’t.

Despite what some wrote, Verlander was terrific. Untouchable? No. But he had enough stuff, grit and determination to get the outs he needed at just the right time.

These same observers are saying the Tigers were lucky to win this game. Well, yeah — and it’s about time a bounce went Detroit’s way. And an ice-cold hitter hit a home run. And a starter went deep into the game. And someone other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the final outs. And a packed Comerica Park trembled one more time.

If the Tigers go on to win this series, imagine how we’ll remember a beaten down Alex Avila at last delivering a key hit with an opposite field home run, or how iconic Miguel Cabrera‘s sixth-inning double off the third-base bag will become in Detroit sports lore. Or Victor Martinez‘s triple when the man can hardly walk. Or Delmon Young‘s two rockets to left-center that put him in elite company in the Tigers’ postseason record book.

With Max Scherzer going in Game 6 — the first time the Tigers have been in a postseason Game 6 since 1968 — you have to feel good, don’t you? My guess is that he feels he has some unfinished business after Game 2 and will be on a mission Saturday night.

For now though, I’m going to savor this win and the crow I was forced to eat after not so much doubting the Tigers’ grit, but recognizing the offensive buzz saw that’s the Texas Rangers right now.

And you know what? Jim Leyland seems to be having the time of his life in this series. Perhaps it’s time I stop fretting every pitch and just enjoy the ride too.

Who’s with me?

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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