And There Goes Plan B (Or Was It Plan A?)

Not sure I speak for the majority of Tigers fans, but I’ve given up hope that anyone but Jhonny Peralta would be the Opening Day lineup for the Tigers. There’s plenty of time between now and then, but with the Red Sox plucking Stephen Drew off the free-agent market, the Tigers lost perhaps the club’s top shortstop target.

So now what?

Well, I suppose there’s a chance the Tigers zero-in on a shortstop as they shop Rick Porcello. Although, if we believe the chatter, a closer is a bigger priority for Dave Dombrowski. On the other hand, Dombrowski is sticking to his Bruce Rondon story.

As for Peralta, I get all the anti-Jhonny arguments (and Lee makes them as well as anyone), and of course I’d rather see someone with a bit more range at short.

So, assuming the Tigers don’t nab a new shortstop, I’ve come to grips with the notion that Danny Worth‘s defense will win more games (and prevent four-out innings) next season than a potential offensive rejuvenation by Peralta.

At least that’s the perspective of those who drills down into the defensive metrics.

Again. Now what?

We sit and we wait. And we listen to Dombrowski talk about how comfortable the club is with Peralta at short and Rondon at closer.

I’ll buy the Peralta part. I’m not ready to do the same on Rondon.

Tigers and Angels Talking Porcello?

It’s clear the Tigers are shopping Brennan Boesch and, with the return of Anibal Sanchez to the rotation, Rick Porcello’s days in Detroit appear numbered.

Out in Anaheim, the Angels find themselves with a surplus of outfielders now that Josh Hamilton has been formally introduced. According to Danny Knobler, the Tigers and Angels are feeling each other out about a deal involving Porcello.

A Porcello-for-Peter Bourjos swap would seem to make great sense for both sides. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

For one thing, the Angels are telling teams that they would prefer to address their surplus by moving Kendrys Morales, rather than Bourjos or Mark Trumbo. Bourjos would stay in the outfield with Hamilton and Mike Trout, with Trumbo getting the at-bats that Morales would have had as the designated hitter and back-up first baseman.

I like the sound of these possibilities. And expect we’ll hear a lot more Porcello rumblings in the next few weeks. Boesch too.

Recapping the Return of Anibal Sanchez

Detroit fans have been spoiled rotten by Mike Ilitch‘s generosity with the Red Wings for 30 years and the Tigers for the past 20. But I thought even he’d reached his limit with the addition of Torii Hunter last month. And I’m so glad to be wrong.

The re-signing of Anibal Sanchez – to a contact equal to Justin Verlander’s 2009 extension – is not only another indication of an owner’s urgent desire to win, it’s a reminder of how the Tigers have become a destination of choice for big-name players.

For a long time, the Tigers had to overpay any free agent with even a hint of interest in playing home games at Comerica Park:

Then the winning came and with it a reputation for being a great place to play. Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Hunter further proved that. And now with the re-signing of Sanchez, the Tigers must be considered a threat to add big names for big dollars every year. But back to Sanchez. He was the highest-profile Tigers free agent since, perhaps, Jack Morris in 1990. But unlike Sanchez, few expected Morris to bolt for his hometown Twins. (Juan Gonzalez doesn’t count; no one expected him to re-sign with the Tigers after the 2000 season. And thankfully he didn’t.)

With Sanchez sticking around to permanently replace Rick Porcello as the Tigers’ fourth starter, his impact on the rotation could be just as big as Hunter’s in the everyday lineup.

 

What Others Are Saying

If anything, this deal highlights the differences between operating a franchise that will spend money and one that either won’t or is limited by its market size. The Royals had to trade a premium prospect to acquire two years of Shields. The Tigers can just dip into owner Mike Ilitch’s wallet and sign a free agent — this offseason, Torii Hunter and now Sanchez. The Royals might think of themselves as playoff contenders,but this signing makes it a little less likely that will be the case. – Dave Schoenfield, ESPN.com “Sanchez signing makes Tigers clear favorite”.

Did the Tigers overpay for Sanchez? Something like that is somewhat relative. In a vacuum, yes, the Tigers are paying $16 million to a pitcher who, while productive, isn’t exactly great like his impressive paychecks will say he is. Was he the best available left on the market, though, and a pitcher who can help Detroit achieve their goal of winning a World Series before the Tigers as we know them scatter to the winds? That’s why they acquired Sanchez at last year’s deadline to begin with. Re-signing him is simply giving that plan another go, and it’s hard to blame them considering how close they were to getting it done on the first attempt. – Marc Normandin, SB Nation “Anibal Sanchez might be overpaid, but fits Tigers

When the reclining Tigers finally sat up and took enough notice to get off their original four-year, $48 million offer, the Cubs almost got him. The Cubs still might have had him if they had been willing to enter a bidding war that would have saddled them with a potentially bad contract. – Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun TimesTigers outbid Cubs for Anibal Sanchez — but it was close

Some viewed the Tigers as an underachieving bunch, but that did not sway Tigers owner Mike Ilitch’s commitment to winning a World Series. Like he did last year with Prince Fielder, Ilitch swooped in at the last minute to re-sign Sanchez, which preserved one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league. – Jim Bowden, ESPN.com “The AL Central’s strong offseason

[T]he Sanchez signing was essential to preserve the Tigers’ clearest advantage over their divisional foes — and potential October opponents. Detroit’s postseason rotation – Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Sanchez and Max Scherzer — posted a 5-1 record and 1.02 ERA against Oakland and New York in the AL playoffs. And now no member of that group will be eligible for free agency until Verlander and Scherzer after the 2014 season. – Jon Paul Morosi, FoxSports.com “Sanchez signing gives Tigers an edge

What do you think about the Sanchez contract?

Despite Saturday’s Gem, Rick Porcello’s Time is Up … Right?

I admit it: if the Tigers traded Rick Porcello, I’d be more than okay with it.

What? Yes, I did track the game last night and he was the Porcello we see all too infrequently. As Jason Beck writes, Saturday night’s start against the Rays was the righthander’s finest outing in 14 months. But that’s just it: should we have to wait more than a year between stellar performances from a guy in his fourth big-league season? My answer today is: no way.

After last season, with a couple of postseason starts to add to his solid work in Game 163, I thought Porcello was ready to elevate his game. “He’s still only 23,” I’d say to anyone who was down on him last year or in the offseason. But now, after watching him get hit hard in a game at Wrigley Field last month and sitting through frustrating six-innings-at-most starts, I’ve changed my tune.

I think.

I mean, he’s still only 23.

Though, as the Doug Fister situation becomes more mysterioso and alarming by the start, we can’t watch the Tigers jettison serviceable young arms can we? We can if it brings back a package including Matt Garza and Darwin Barney, or Jed Lowrie or Jose Altuve and Wandy Rodriguez.

But Porcello did have a decent outing against the Rangers last week — one run on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts over six innings — so maybe he’s putting it together now. Yet this could be the height of his trade value and Dave Dombrowski would be wise to include him in a package. Better him that Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly or Casey Crosby. Right?

I still believe many of us Tigers fans are paralyzed with fear that the club will commit another John-Smoltz-for-Doyle-Alexander trade with one of their young arms or catching prospects. My gut tells me that wouldn’t be the case with a trade of Rick Porcello. What we’ve seen is what we’re going to get.

Or maybe not.

I mean, he’s still only 23.

Who’s the Tigers’ Youkilis?

White Sox third basemen are hitting something like .180 this season with a single home run. As usual, Ken Williams does his thing and plugs in Kevin Youkilis to anchor the hot corner.

Tigers second basemen are hitting .196 (.192 if you include 20 at bats from Brandon Inge and a pair from Hernan Perez) with three* home runs – two from Ramon Santiago and one from Ryan Raburn). Dave Dombrowski is looking to plug this hole with … Matt Garza. Wha-?

*It’s four if you add Inge’s one homer.

I get why DD is looking for a dependable arm in the fourth spot; Rick Porcello‘s days in the Tigers rotation should be drawing to a close and who wants to see two rookies at the four and five spot? Not me. (Though, of course, I love what Drew Smyly has done and what Jacob Turner will do later this year or next, but come on.)

My guess is the Tigers are looking for – have to be looking for – a package deal with Garza and maybe second baseman Darwin Barney to patch the roster.

As I’m watching Tigers games I picture the opposing second baseman in a strategically placed slot of Jim Leyland‘s lineup maybe hitting second.

But as Lynn Henning writes today, just about every team is alive in their division and has needs of their own. You have only to look at the Pirates’ offense to see that teams hovering near the top of their division could use a serving of firepower.

If the Tigers are going to make a move chances are it will involve lots of bodies, like last year’s Doug Fister trade, right? And if they do, it can’t result in only one decent player coming to Detroit (calling David Pauley.)

My guess is Dombrowski isn’t feeling any pressure because of Williams picking up Youkilis. He’s been dealing with him for 10 years in the A.L. Central. Any pressure is coming from the calendar, the lineup and perhaps the owner.

Tigers Look to Porcello to Repeat What Bonderman Accomplished in ’06 ALDS Clincher

Five years ago this week, the Tigers sent a young, often frustrating righthander to the mound in the fourth game of the American League Division Series.

With a win, no sure thing with the unpredictable starter, the Tigers would eliminate the Yankees and move on to the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s.

Twenty-three-year-old Jeremy Bonderman was the Tigers’ starter that chilly Saturday afternoon and he faced righty Jaret Wright, who’d gone 11-7 witha 4.49 ERA in 30 appearances (27 starts) for New York.

Tigers fans didn’t want to seem overconfident, but compared to the Yankee starters in the series’ first three games (Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson) Wright seemed like a notch above batting-practice quality.

That day, the Tigers staked Bonderman to a 3-0, second-inning lead on home runs by Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe. They tacked on five more runs by the end of the sixth. (Detroit chased Wright with two outs in the third after he’d surrendered four runs on five hits.) The late Cory
Lidle
allowed three runs in his inning-and-a-third of work.

But at the start of the day, all eyes were on Bonderman. Could he handle the big stage, an elimination game against a New York lineup that Jim Leyland dubbed “Murderer’s Row and then Cano” and prevent a trip back to the Bronx for a decisive Game 5?

Could he ever.

Continue reading Tigers Look to Porcello to Repeat What Bonderman Accomplished in ’06 ALDS Clincher

Tigers Roster Set … and a Tad Upsetting

In 1984, the Tigers made the no-brainer decision to leave southpaw reliever Sid Monge off the playoff roster. Monge had an undistinguished half seaon with the Tigers after being picked up off waivers from the Padres — 1-0, 4.25 ERA in 19 games.

He didn’t pitch enough in the regular season and, left hander or no, he wasn’t going to appear in the ALCS or World Series. And God knows we didn’t want him to.

This morning we learned that another seemingly no-brainerish decision — to leave Brad Penny off the ALDS roster — was, in fact, not made. What the …? Jim Leyland hasn’t, and likely won’t, offer much to the media to chew on in the way of rationale for this decision.

Here’s the most obvious question: In what scenario, a Game 4 start, long relief, middle relief, would any Tigers fan feel comfortable seeing Penny on the mound? Speaking for myself: None.

Jason Beck reports on his blog:

Both Rick Porcello and Brad Penny are on the roster. One of them is expected to start Game 4 is necessary (sic). The other will work out of the bullpen.

Would I feel better seeing David Pauley? It depends. If it’s relief, absolutely. And would I feel more confident in Porcello starting Game 4? Ditto. (But if there’s a rainout between tonight and Game 4, are we still to believe that Justin Verlander won’t make that start?)

And what about Ryan Perry? Can the Tigers afford his baffling inconsistency in the postseason?

So what we’ve got are four pitchers — the three P’s: Penny, Porcello, Perry, and Max Scherzer — on the ALDS roster that make us wonder if the good version or bad version will show up.

I have no problem with the position-player decisions, even backup catcher Omir Santos. There’s no way Leyland is going to lose a playoff game — or series — by having to put Brandon Inge or Don Kelly behind the plate. No chance. I think Santos makes sense.

But the real news here is Penny. I’m afraid that if we see him in this series we’re going to long for Sid Monge.

Dave Schoenfield weighs in on both A.L. Division Series rosters on the SweetSpot blog.

The Friday Breakfast: Adios to the Twins

There’s no shortage of joy when the Tigers face the Twins for the final time during a season. Yes, 2009 included – outcome notwithstanding. And just think, a week from now we can say the same about the White Sox.

[callout title=The Friday Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 8.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

Magic Number: 12

Today’s Game: Tigers vs. Twins – Brad Penny (9-10, 5.13 ERA) vs. Kevin Slowey (0-4, 5.31 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Penny

Penny enters his start this evening having lost four of his last six decisions dating back to July 23. He has compiled a 6.85 ERA over the eight-start stretch.

He’s 2-2 with a 6.31 ERA in seven career starts against the Twins. In 2011, he’s 0-2/7.13.

Penny posted a 4-6 record and 4.54 ERA in his previous 17 starts at Comerica Park.

Notes on Slowey

Slowey’s making his eighth career start and ninth career appearance against the Tigers. Career versus Detroit he’s 5-0, 4.93 in eight games (seven starts).

He started the season in the Twins bullpen, making six relief appearances, posting a 4.91 ERA; He’s 0-4 with a 5.55 ERA in four starts this season.

Slowey’s last start against Detroit was a win on June 30, 2010 at Target Field, allowing one run on four hits in 6.0 innings with one walk and four strikeouts as the Twins won 5-1 over Andy Oliver.

[/callout]

Leading Off: The Tigers enter tonight’s game against the Twins having won 16 of their last 20 games dating back to Aug. 19, an .800 winning percentage – which leads the majors during that stretch … Detroit’s hitting .333 with runners in scoring position dating back to Aug. 11, second-best in the A.L. clubs over that period. The Tigers lead all clubs with a .284 batting average with RISP this season.

Around the Central: The White Sox and Indians are, theoretically, beating each other up this weekend in a four-game series in Chicago. The Sox took the first game last night, 8-1. The Royals are in Seattle this weekend, in a battle of clubs churning toward 90 losses. The M’s won last night, 4-1.

With a win tonight, Penny would join Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to become the first quartet of Tigers pitchers with 10-or-more wins in the club’s first 144 games of the season since Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman did so in the first 144 games of 2006.

Keeping that thought for a moment, right now Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Penny have combined for 58 wins. (Trust me, I’d much rather include Doug Fister in this year’s numbers, but Penny’s been around for the whole year.) In 2006, Verlander (17), Rogers (17), Bonderman (14) and Robertson (13) combined for 61. And in 1984, Jack Morris (19), Dan Petry (18), Milt Wilcox (17) and Juan Berenguer combined for 65. Does the ’11 foursome have enough wins in them between now and Sept. 28 to meet or pass the ’84 rotation?

On this date in 1970, commissioner Bowie Kuhn handed Denny McLain his third suspension of the year, this one for carrying a gun, plus other unspecified charges, and ended McLain’s season with a 3-5 record.

Happy 28th Birthday to Edwin Jackson, and a Happy 41st to Dan Miceli.

Finally, happy birthdays to Adam Sandler (45), Cliff Robertson (88) and Topol (76).

Have a great weekend.

The End of Denny McLain’s Career Began in 1966

A couple weeks ago, friend of the Fungo Lynn Henning wrote why it made sense to give Justin Verlander an extra day of rest heading into the three-game weekend series against the Indians.

In the column, Henning pointed to specific examples in Tigers history where heavy workloads resulted in truncated careers – among them Mark Fidrych.

Here’s the gist:

[L]et’s talk about some past Tigers history that might help put the Verlander decision in better perspective.

(snip)

Denny McLain won 31 games in 1968 — the only man in the past 77 years to have done so — and 24 the following season.

He won two Cy Young Awards during those two seasons. He won Most Valuable Player in 1968.

He pitched a combined 661 innings — no misprint — during those two campaigns.

He was 25 years old at the end of the ’69 season.

He won 21 games, total, the remainder of his career. His arm had been fried during those two colossal seasons.

I knew pitchers 40 years ago regularly went deep in games and threw a lot of pitches, but McLain’s output in 1966 was staggering.

On Aug. 29, 1966, McLain threw 229 pitches in the Tigers’ 6-3 win over the Orioles. He gave up eight hits, walks nine and struck out 11 Orioles to notch his 16th win. According to the Baseball Reference.com box score, McLain faced 43 batters in the game.

He was just 22 at the time.

In that game, McLain set the Orioles down in order only one time, the bottom of the second. In every other inning he faced, on average, about five hitters per inning.

Did I mention he was only 22?

Three days later, on Sept. 1, McLain faced the Indians in Cleveland and again went the distance, facing 39 batters. He retired the side 1-2-3 twice in the game but otherwise had a similar pattern to his previous start. (The Tigers won, 4-2.)

[callout title= McLain By the Numbers]

13-4 – McLain’s record in the first half of 1966

7-10 – His record in the second half

.214 – Opponents’ batting average against (lefties hit just .199 off him in ’66)

21 – The number of starts McLain made (out of 38) on three-days rest

1.13 – His ERA in the one start he had on two-days rest (one ER over eight innings)

6.16 – His ERA in the first inning

2.52 – His ERA in the ninth inning

8 – The number of starts to begin the season in which McLain pitched seven or more innings

[/callout]

On Sept. 6, McLain pitched nine innings, allowed 11 hits, two runs and struck out six, in an 8-2 win over Washington at Tiger Stadium. He faced 38 Senators hitters in this game, his 18th win.

McLain’s 1966 campaign concluded with him making three starts in the span of eight days. On Sept. 23, he didn’t make it out of the third inning, surrendering eight earned runs on seven hits.

Three days later he went eight innings, allowed one run on four hits against 30 Angels batters on the way to his 20th win.

On Oct. 1, the next-to-last day of the season, McLain would pitch 3 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on seven hits. He took the loss, his 14th, 5-2 to the A’s.

Fourteen and a third innings in three days. Totals like that can certainly make it a bit easier to appreciate today’s pitch-count obsessed mindset in baseball.

All told, McLain threw 264 1/3 innings in 1966. Forty years later, a 23-year-old Verlander threw a comparatively meager 186 innings – and there was talk then that he was approaching overworked status.

There’s no chance the Tigers would put such a ridiculous workload on Verlander – or, in a more apt comparison, Rick Porcello, and Lynn Henning’s column makes a good case for why pitch counts matter, even though I admittedly roll my eyes when I hear them mentioned during games.

And a closer look at a season from 45 years ago explains Denny McLain’s precipitous fall from a 31-game winner at the age of 24 to the loser of 22 games three years later, and his departure from baseball when he should have been entering his prime.

Labor Day Leftovers, SweetSpot Style

In case you missed it, ESPN.com’s SweetSpot blog has featured a nice collection of Tigers-focused posts over the past few days:

  • Dave Schoenfield lists his unsung heroes, among them is Jhonny Peralta:

    I’ve sung Peralta’s praises on several occasions, but everyone just keeps talking about this Verlander guy. All Peralta has done is hit over .300 with power and played surprisingly well on defense. He’s been the best shortstop in the AL.

  • In case you missed it on Thursday, ESPN ran “What’s important in September” list for each American League team. Here was my contribution about the Tigers:

    The pressing issue for the Tigers in September is finding a consistent rotation behind Justin Verlander. At times, Detroit’s starting five — or at least four of five (sorry, Brad Penny) — has looked sturdy enough to be a scary proposition for a Division Series opponent. At others, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have looked dreadful and scare only Tigers fans. If trade-deadline prize Doug Fister can continue the trend of his past three starts (21.2 IP, 2 ER, 15 hits, 1 walk and 18 strikeouts), the Tigers will feel considerably better about October.

  • Joe Janish from the Mets Today blog examined the Tigers/Diamondbacks/Yankees trade from 2009 and sees all three teams as winners:

    Though none of the players the Tigers received are having an MVP-caliber year, it’s fair to say the deal worked out well for them as well. After all, they are currently leading the AL Central by 6.5 games, with roughly one-sixth of the team’s 25-man roster filled by players obtained in that deal — including their starting center fielder and their No. 2 starting pitcher.

  • Ben Jedlovec writes Austin Jackson was the best on defense in August.

    Austin Jackson led baseball with 11 Defensive Runs Saved in the month of August, and his 17 Defensive Runs Saved this season is tied for third among all center fielders. Robinson Cano tied for the infield lead with 7 Runs Saved on the month.

That is all.