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.

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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.

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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

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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.

The Monday Report: A-Jax’s Throw, Ron LeFlore’s Record and Mats Wilander’s Birthday

Welcome to the last full week of August. The Tigers enjoy a 4.5-game lead on the Indians today. The last time they led the A.L. Central by that many games was Sept. 16, 2009.

Leading Off: I’ve watched a lot of Tigers baseball in my time but I can’t recall a more exciting final out sequence as the one we saw on Sunday to preserve a 8-7 Tigers win. Austin Jackson’s flawless throw to Alex Avila. Rick Porcello seemed hell bent to surrender a seven-run cushion but thankfully the bullpen did enough to blow it entirely … The Tigers head to Tampa Bay for a four-game set … They also are looking for their first winning streak of more than three games since June 7 when they had a four-game winning streak snapped.

Around the Central: The White Sox crushed the Rangers 10-0 at U.S. Cellular Field; the Red Sox downed the Royals, 6-1, and the Yankees blanked the Twins, 3-0.

[callout title=The Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 4.5 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Rays — Justin Verlander (18-5, 2.31 ERA) vs. Jeff Nieman (8-4, 3.29 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Verlander has won each of his last six starts for the Tigers dating back to July 21, compiling a 2.36 ERA and 51 strikeouts during that stretch.

In nine career starts against the Rays, Verlander’s 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA.

With a win tonight, he would equal his career high in victories set in 2009. It would mark the fastest a Tigers pitcher won his 19th game of the season since Mickey Lolich did so in the club’s 114th game of the 1972 season.

On this date, Ron LeFlore swiped his 27th consecutive base as the Tigers beat the Twins, 7-3. He began the streak on July 16.

On this date in 1981, the Tigers acquired first baseman Ron Jackson from the Twins for outfielder Tim Corcoran.

On Aug. 22, 1997, The Tigers pounded the Brewers, 16-1, with the aid of 23 hits and an 11- run seventh inning. Bobby Higginson got five hits, while Travis Fryman and Tony Clark drive in four runs apiece.

Happy 35th Birthday to Jeff Weaver. Also celebrating today is Doug Bair; he’s 62.

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  • The Tigers are #10 in ESPN’s Power Rankings, up from nine last week. They trail the D-backs (who have one more win) and this week’s opponent, the Rays (#7).
  • Somehow I missed out on Dave Schoenfield’s reminiscing about Chet Lemon last week:

    If you’re too young to remember Chet Lemon, he was a superb ballplayer. He could them run down in center field — in fact, his 512 putouts with the White Sox in 1977 remains the American League record, not bad for a guy who had converted from third base as a rookie the year before. He hit .300 three times, had some power, drew some walks, got hit by 10 to 20 pitches a season. He did a lot to help his teams win.

    What Chet Lemon wasn’t very good at was stealing bases.

  • This is a topic that deserves more thought than I have time for today but am I the only one who thinks Miguel Cabrera has a profound lack of hustle on the bases, particularly out of the batter’s box?
  • SI‘s Joe Sheehan thinks the stars are aligning in the Tigers favor after sweeping the Indians:

    Jackson’s base-runner kill helped Jose Valverde escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam and convert his 37th consecutive save this season. The Tigers have fended off a series of challenges by the Indians, and after a trip to Tampa Bay get seven games against the Twins and Royals to stretch their lead before six more against the White Sox and Indians. That week may represent both teams’ last shot to keep the Tigers from making September a coronation.

  • Are the Tigers winning with other clubs’ talent?
  • Not a game goes by that I don’t wish the Tigers still had Placido Polanco batting second.
  • It doesn’t matter if the Twins send Jim Thome to the Indians before Aug. 31. The Tigers are set to face both clubs six more times this season so, they’re hosed either way.

Finally, Happy 47th Birthday to tennis hall of famer Mats Wilander who, in 1988, won the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open.

The Daily Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

BreadcrumbsWelcome to the weekend.

Leading Off: The Royals or the Tigers’ bullpen, depending on your point of view, did their best to ruin another terrific outing by Rick Porcello – but neither was up to the task. The Tigers came back, after leading 3-0, to win 4-3 in 10 innings. Daniel Schlereth (1-1) earned the win in relief for Detroit, while Jose Valverde notched his 31st save … Porcello went 6 1/3 allowing seven hits and three runs. He was pulled in the seventh and Jim Leyland explained why … With last night’s win the Tigers are 7-3 against the Royals this season and now 27-27 on the road this season.

Around the Central: Michael Young and Rangers spoiled Ubaldo’s debut with the Indians, defeating Cleveland 8-7 in 11 innings, the five-games-under-.500 White Sox beat the 10-games-under-.500 Twins 5-3 at Target Field.

[callout title=The Morning Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 4 games up on the Indians.

Today’s Game: Justin Verlander (15-5, 2.24 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (3-4, 5.05 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. ET | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Verlander enters his start this evening versus the Royals leading the American League with 178 strikeouts and a .186 batting average against, while he is second with 15 wins and 6.02 hits per nine innings, third with a 2.24 ERA and fourth with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.8 walks per nine innings.

He’s 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 18 starts during his career against Kansas City (7-2 with a 1.62 ERA at Kauffman Stadium). He leads active pitchers since the start of the 2006 season with 12 wins, a 2.31 ERA and 110 strikeouts versus the Royals.

With seven more strikeouts, Verlander will match Denny McLain for ninth place all-time in franchise history.

On this date in 1938, the Tigers fired manager Mickey Cochrane.

On Aug. 6, 1947, Skeeter Webb of the Tigers pinch runs for Fred Hutchinson against the Indians and scores. Detroit bats around, and Webb lifts a flyball that scores a run in the nine-run eighth. Stubby Overmire wins, 13-6, in the first game of a doubleheader. Detroit sweeps, winning the nightcap, 7-5 behind Hutchinson.

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More on JV’s Mastery: Buster Olney today writes that Verlander has started to consider adding another pitch to his arsenal: a split-finger fastball.

The suggestion amused Avila. Verlander, after all, already has refined four pitches – his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. “The way he’s been pitching this year,” Avila said, “he’ll throw almost any pitch in any count.”

That’s no lie. Hitters’ batting average against him in the 2-0 (and beyond) hitter’s counts? .171, that’s third in the bigs behind Cole Hamels (.170) and Ricky Romero (.157).

Against 3-1 and beyond counts he ranks tied for eighth overall (with Matt Cain and Matt Garza) with a .161 average against.

Betemit: The 46-percent Solution? When the Tigers traded for Wilson Betemit last month the hope was that he’d be an upgrade at the plate over his predecessor, Brandon Inge. Sure, he’s hitting .281 in his 12 games in Detroit but in 39 at bats he has 18 strikeouts. Even Inge was better than that (60 strikeouts in 215 at bats, or 27 percent.)

The Odds are Good; the Goods are Odd. As of this writing, Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers’ playoff odds at 80 percent … or to be more specific: 80 percent to win the division, 0 percent to win the Wild Card spot. Sadly for Indians fans, BP has them with the third-best odds (6.9 percent). The White Sox are second with 11.5-percent. Take heart, Twins fans. BP says your club still has a 1.6-percent chance of taking the division.

Draft-pick Signings: The Tigers today announced they’ve agreed to terms with two players selected in the June draft: shortstop Brandon Loy from the University of Texas (fifth round) and righthanded pitcher Chad Smith from the University of Southern California (17th round). The Tigers now have agreed to terms with 30 of the club’s selections from this year’s draft.

Finally, Happy 39th Birthday to outfielder Duane Singleton who appeared in 18 games for the dreadful 1996 Tigers. He hit .161 with 15 strikeouts in 61 plate appearances.