Tigers Today: Opening Day 2013 | Tigers @ Twins 4:10 p.m ET

Leading Off: Today marks the 113th Opening Day in Tigers history. The Tigers are 52-59-1 in the previous 112 season openers.
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The Tigers are in first place. And so are the Twins. But the Rangers are not, and that’s always a good thing.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Twins | 4:10 p.m. ET | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Justin Verlander vs. RHP Vance Worley

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This is the seventh time the Tigers have opened the against the Twins, the first time since March 31, 2003 at Comerica Park. Previous openers:

Last year on Opening Day the Tigers beat the Red Sox 3-2. You might recall that Jose Valverde began his season the way it would end six months later: with a blown save. Before that, though, Justin Verlander was tremendous: eight innings of two-hit, shutout baseball: with seven Ks. Austin Jackson delivered the winning run in the ninth with a single to left.

Around the Central:

Today

Royals (Shields) @ White Sox (Sale), 4:10 ET

Tuesday

Indians (Masterson) @ Blue Jays (Dickey), 7:07 ET

Minutiae

Happy Birthday, Will Rhymes, 30; Rusty Staub, 69; and Ron Perranoski, 77.

Finally, no matter what our expectations are for the Tigers this year – or any other – they will never be lower than what we fans experienced 10 years ago. And to help us keep that perspective, this year we will be charting the 2003 Tigers right alongside the ’13 club. And watch as they go in distinctly different directions.

Enjoy the game.

2012 Top 10 Stories: #8 – The Black Hole at Second Base

Remember when Scott Sizemore was the answer to the Tigers’ second base question? After nearly five seasons of Placido Polanco’s wizardry at second, and in the number-two slot of the lineup, the Tigers tried to convince fans – and maybe themselves – that Sizemore could take over with gusto.

After 65 games spread across two seasons, Sizemore was dealt to Oakland and suddenly second base became a giant black hole. Again.

In 2010, Carlos Guillen and Will Rhymes both played more games at second than Sizemore, fully cementing the second-base-by-committee approach.

Last season, Ryan Raburn made his play for the job, appearing in 56 games at second and committing 10 errors in 201 chances. Backed by his usual second-half surge, he convinced the Tigers he could hold down the job full-time in 2012.

The assumption, naturally, was that Raburn would hit enough to mask some lead-gloved D. (The same was said of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jhonny Peralta.)

Except, he didn’t hit well enough to warrant a job anywhere on the diamond. Neither did Plan B, Ramon Santiago.

Combined, Plan A and Plan B hit .189.

That’s why, as the July 31 Trade Deadline inched closer, the Tigers were linked to every available second baseman in the majors: from Darwin Barney to Kelly Johnson to the man the landed on July 26 along with Anibal Sanchez: the prodigal son Omar Infante.

Having a full-time second baseman certainly settled the lineup but Infante look anything but settled at times, at least defensively after his arrival. He made nine errors in 267 chances over 61 games at second, At the plate, he hit .257: 80 points higher than Raburn and 50 more than Santiago.

Heading into 2013, Infante is the incumbent at second and in the final year of his contract. Given the slim pickings in the Tigers’ minor-league system, a solid first half could earn the 31-year-old Infante a contract extension and make him the second baseman for the foreseeable future … just as he was in 2001.

Go figure.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Tigers Prospects Dry Up After Arizona Fall League

Note: This article first appeared on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot blog today.

When the Tigers traded Scott Sizemore to the A’s over Memorial Day Weekend, it brought an abrupt and mildly startling end to his tenure as Detroit’s second baseman of the future. The Tigers, after all, anointed him as the heir apparent to Placido Polanco almost immediately after they lost Game 163 to the Twins in 2009.

Polanco was eligible for arbitration, which coincided with the Tigers’ momentary spending freeze, and soon he was back with the Phillies doing everything fans in Detroit had come accustomed to: steadiness in the field, reliability at the plate.

But back to Sizemore. The Tigers sent him to the Arizona Fall League – “a graduate school” for top prospects, according to the AFL Media Guide – in 2007 and again in ‘09 in what they undoubtedly expected to be a final tuneup before handing over the keys to second base to him for the foreseeable future.

Within days of the 2009 AFL season, Sizemore’s ankle was broken as he attempted to turn a double play and his fall league experience went kaput. It didn’t stop the Tigers from hoping that he could recover in time for spring training.

Fast forward to May 27 when he was dealt to Oakland for David Purcey (himself an AFL graduate) and the book was closed on Sizemore’s career in Detroit: 65 games, a .223 average, .605 OPS and a mere three home runs. Not legendary stuff and certainly nowhere close to Polanco’s track record.

Continue reading “Tigers Prospects Dry Up After Arizona Fall League”

Saturday Snacks: Guillen’s Rehab, Verlander’s Toughness and Kiss My Grits

A busy week at the office often translates into a slow week of posting on the Fungo. Thanks to Nick for picking up the slack.

Here are some random tidbits I’ve collected the past few days:

  • So Carlos Guillen is now a Mud Hen and will see more time at second base. If you’re Will Rhymes how are you feeling. He was selected to the International League’s mid-season all-star squad. I wonder why the Tigers don’t give him more of a chance given the woes at second

  • From Buster Olney on Friday:

    How Verlander beat the Mets:

    A. He was tough in tough spots. Verlander wasn’t as dominant as he’s been the rest of the month, but the Mets couldn’t muster much in the clutch. The Mets were 2-10 with four strikeouts with men on base, including 0-5 with runners in scoring position.

    B. He loved being outside. Of the 120 pitches Verlander threw, 73 were on the outside part of the plate or wider. That is the most outside pitches Verlander has thrown all season and his most since throwing 76 on June 16, 2010.

    Per ELIAS, Justin Verlander became only the fifth pitcher to go 6-0 or better with an ERA below 1.00 in a calendar month since 1984. His stellar 0.92 ERA is only fourth on this list. Randy Johnson, Hideo Nomo and Rick Reuschel had better ERAs than Verlander in their undefeated month.

  • As maddening as the Tigers’ offense can be at times, it’s astounding to see where they rank heading into play tonight: third in batting average (.268), fourth in slugging (.421), fifth in on-base percentage (.335) and sixth in runs (381). And, even thought they’ve played three more games, the Tigers have scored 33 more runs than the Indians.

  • Speaking of Buster, this morning he ranked “the-non-all-star All-Stars”, among the Victor Martinez:

    He spent some time on the disabled list early in the year, and immediately began killing the ball when he returned, and this year, he’s hitting .430 with runners on base, .332 overall.

  • Given the aforementioned second-base woes, it sure would’ve been nice if the Tigers could’ve made a move for Mark Ellis or somehow included him in the Scott Sizemore trade. What’s that you say? Carlos Guillen is owed $13 million this season? Never mind.

Finally, 64th Happy Birthday to Larry David and Happy 74th to Polly Holliday, who often told Mel to kiss her grits on “Alice.”

Monday Mankowskis: Optimism, Jackson’s Woes and Bonus Baseball Cards

This is one of those rare and delightful days of spring in which I get to flip back and forth between a Tigers West Coast game and a Wings playoff game. April in the D, indeed.

  • It’s always interesting to see how even a small winning streak can stir optimism among Tigers faithful. To wit: this past weekend’s series in Oakland. Buoyed by wins in the first two games, I was completely confident the Tigers could — would! — come back in Saturday night and Sunday games. A week prior (against the Royals at home) I had no such optimism. All in all I’m feeling good about their chances in Seattle, and not just because they’ll miss Felix Hernandez.
  • On a tangentially related topic, we’ve taken a few jabs this week at Fungo Intergalactic Headquarters over a perceived sense of doom and gloom expressed by yours truly and my profound lack of wisdom. I don’t pretend to have an always-objective (or even rational) view of the Tigers and my opinions on specific players (Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Will Rhymes) seem to irk Fungo readers. If you’ve read this site over the past six years, you know I view this as an outlet to discuss the Tigers and consider it a single point in time — that is, Raburn, for example, might drive me nuts with his iron-gloved D, but I’ll give him his due when he earns it. (As of this writing, Raburn is hitting .231 and 1 for 4 in the game against the Mariners.)
  • What to do about Austin Jackson? You have to wonder how long the Tigers will let his numbers and confidence nosedive, especially with Casper Wells sitting on the bench as a capable replacement, before they send him to Toledo. Sure, Wells is hitting just .250 but that’s 90 points higher than Jackson. Don’t the Tigers have to at least consider, even if only for a couple of weeks, providing Jackson with a mind-clearing session or two with Mud Hens’ hitting coach Leon Durham?
  • I suppose you have to think that if Jackson heads south on 75 then Rhymes can’t be too far behind, not with Scott Sizemore hitting .375 for the Hens.
  • A friend at work has been sending me home with boxes and binders filled with her husband’s baseball card collection. He collected them as a kid but never really had much affinity for the cards or baseball in general. So, they’re leaving it up to me and my friend Len Gutman to sift through the cards — most of them from 1984 through 1993 — and see if there’s anything of value. My reward? In addition to the joy of a trip down memory lane, I’m able to keep any Tigers cards I find in the collection. So far I’m making out like a bandito. My coworker’s hubby isn’t making out too poorly either; so far he’s got two Barry Bonds rookie cards and one Pudge Rodriguez card. More to come on this gold mine.

Finally, in addition to Miguel Cabrera, today’s the birthday of Rick Moranis. He’s 58.

Sunday Snacks: April in the D Edition

ChipsA few overdue thoughts as I work the previous-channel button on my remote, switching between the Tigers and Wings games.

  • When a few specific things occur, I know for certain the baseball season is in full bloom — eight games in or not. Two of these things have already taken place in the past 24 hours: the Tigers lose to the Royals and Ryan Raburn makes at least one bone-headed play in the field.

  • Speaking of the Wings, if they end up playing the Coyotes in the first round, I’ll have to endure lame Detroit jokes in the media out here.

  • Did the Tigers really lose to Bruce Chen? Bruce Chen?

  • Slowly — very slowly — I’m gaining confidence in Alex Avila. He was miserable in the opening series in the New York but I suppose that can be chalked up to nerves, right? Since then he’s hitting .357 (entering today, that is).

  • I definitely love seeing Will Rhymes as the Tigers’ regular second baseman. You have to wonder if Scott Sizemore is following him and thinking, “what do I have to do to get back on the radar?”

  • Did you notice that Robbie Weinhardt is now wearing Jeremy Bonderman‘s old uniform number, 38? No matter the number on his back, I feel 100-percent more comfortable when Weinhardt enters a game than I do Brad Thomas or Ryan Perry.

  • Happy 47th Birthday to Eric King. In two stints with the Tigers (1986-88, ’92), he appeared in 128 games for the Tigers as a starter and bullpen guy, posting a 25-20 record, 16 saves and a 4.23 ERA.

  • Manny Ramirez. As the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan once said on the old Tony Kornheiser radio show, “Ramirez will never be confused with a member of Mensa.”

  • I’ve heard from many of you about the next episode of the podcast. Hang with us. Ian and I have had trouble aligning calendars — the trouble coming from my end — but we’ll be back soon. Promise.

Finally, happy 82nd birthday to actress Liz Sheridan, who played Jerry’s mom on “Seinfeid.”

Thoughts on Today’s Cuts

Second baseman Scott Sizemore was sent to Triple-A Toledo today.

Scott Sizemore said he was disappointed about being cut today by the Tigers. It has to be even more disappointing for a player who, by most accounts, was reestablishing himself as a promising big leaguer this spring only to lose the job to a guy (Will Rhymes) who didn’t runaway with the job.

As much as I like Rhymes — and loved having him on the podcast last fall — I still believed Sizemore would emerge as the Opening Day starter.

Clete Thomas’s demotion wasn’t as surprising as Robbie Weinhardt’s. All spring long we heard about how Weinhardt would be a key component in the Tigers’ bullpen.

Poor Clete. If he could hit like Brennan Boesch, he’d probably be on the 25-man roster.