Sept. 18, 1984: Tigers Clinch American League East Title

On this date in 1984, the Tigers clinched the American League East title, beating the Brewers 3-0.

Randy O’Neal pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out six. As he often did, Willie Hernandez earned a two-inning save, his 30th of the year.

Tom Brookens hit a solo homer off Brewers’ starter Bob McClure. Lance Parrish drove in Detroit’s other two runs.

If you want to take a deep dive into the ’84 club, pickup a copy of Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish! from Amazon.com. (Disclosure: I wrote the bios of Rusty Kuntz, Johnny Grubb, Chet Lemon and Carl Willis that appear in the book.)

Valverde Another in Long Line of Infuriating Tigers Closers

I’m sick of hearing about Jose Valverde‘s 49-for-49 save streak last season. We all know how that was constructed: with far too many saves that looked like Saturday afternoon’s harrowing win against the Royals.

A lot has been written about Valverde’s intensity being dialed down a notch – or, apparently, disconnected altogether – when he’s in non-save situations. After the Tigers escaped with an 8-7 victory which should’ve been an 8-4 W, Valverde told reporters, “I wasn’t throwing my fastball for strikes. I don’t know what’s going on.”

[callout title=WHIP Posted by Recent Tigers Closers]
2001: Matt Anderson. 1.32 WHIP, 22 saves

2002: Juan Acevedo. 1.22 WHIP, 28 saves

2004: Ugueth Urbina. 1.29 WHIP, 21 saves

2005: Fernando Rodney. 1.27 WHIP, 9 saves

2009 Rodney. 1.46 WHIP, 37 saves

2010 Valverde. 1.16 WHIP, 26 saves

2011 Valverde. 1.18 WHIP, 49 saves

And in case you were wondering, Todd Jones posted his best WHIP (1.26) in his eight seasons with the Tigers in 2006. And for his part, Valverde amassed his best WHIP (1.16) in 2010, his first in Detroit.[/callout]
Whatever the man’s excuse, it got me thinking again about how the Tigers, unlike other A.L. Central clubs, haven’t had a lights-out closer in the same realm as Joe Nathan and, for a shorter but no less irritating stretch, Bobby Jenks.

Nathan has owned the Tigers since 2004 when he came to the Twins from the Giants. In 59 games against Detroit, Nathan is 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA and 35 saves in 59 appearances; plus, he has 74 strikeouts in 60.2 IP and a 0.907 WHIP. (He’s saved more games against one other club, 37 versus the Royals in just an inning less.) In his A.L. career, including his time with the Rangers this year, his WHIP is 0.952, not to mention a 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Now, on to Jenks. The Tigers mustered a bit more offense against him from 2005-10: 2-1, 2.68 ERA, 22 saves in 39 appearances; 44 strikeouts in 40.1 IP and a 1.091 WHIP. No, he wasn’t automatic, but darn close.

So I decided to look up Tigers closers with the best – or most Nathanesque – WHIP over the past 40 years, trying to find somebody – anybody – who came close to scaring opposing hitters late in the game.

Here’s what I found on Baseball-Reference.com: only two Detroit closers finished with a WHIP under 1.0 since 1972:

  • 1981: Kevin Saucier. 0.959 WHIP – 13 saves, 49 IP, 23 K
  • 1984: Willie Hernandez. 0.941 WHIP – 32 saves, 140.1 IP, 112 K
  • 1985: Hernandez. 0.90 WHIP – 31 saves, 106.2 IP, 76 K

That’s it for the shutdown closers.* Of course, Tigers relievers have posted stellar if not Nathan-
like performances in the past 40 seasons. Here are a few notable examples:

  • 1973: John Hiller. 1.021 WHIP, 38 saves, 125.1 IP, 124 K
  • 1977: Steve Foucault. 1.090 WHIP, 13 saves, 74.1 IP, 58 K
  • 1978: Hiller. 1.072 WHIP, 15 saves, 92.1 IP, 74 K
  • 1988: Mike Henneman. 1.05 WHIP, 22 saves, 91.1 IP, 58 K, 1.05 WHIP

*In the case of Hiller and Foucault, those were the days when closers routinely pitched two or three innings (sometimes more), so it’s clearly not apples-to-apples with today’s one-inning specialists.

All this is to say, outside of Hernandez in 1984 and ’85 and Hiller in 1973, the Tigers have not had an automatic guy in the ninth inning.

I think it’s safe to say we expected Joel Zumaya to be in the Joe Nathan/Mariano Rivera galaxy by this point of his career. Now we’ll have to wait and see if Bruce Rondon is the hammer we’ve been wait for.

In the meantime we’ll have ride the ninth-inning rapids with Valverde and hope that near-disasters like Saturday’s are the exception, not the rule.

Yeah right.

The Labor Day Breakfast

Happy Labor Day and a warm salute to the working men and women of the U.S. A special hat-tip to my Dad who helped build so many structures around Detroit — including the Ren Cen.

Leading Off: The Tigers completed a deliciously emphatic sweep of the White Sox last night, 18-2. Alex Avila collected four hits, Miguel Cabrera teed off big-time with a double, homer and four runs driven in, and Max Scherzer was terrific in his seven innings of work: five hits, six strikeout and no walks. Andy Dirks also drove in four (but who didn’t?) with a homer and a single.

[callout title=The Labor Day Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 6.5 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Indians – Doug Fister (6-13, 3.26 ERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (2-1, 5.56 ERA) | 1:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Fister

Fister is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA – including a victory over the Indians on Aug. 20 – since joining the Tigers. He’s 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA in four outings versus Cleveland this season.

Notes on Jimenez

Jimenez has given up four runs over 13 innings in his two most recent starts after being smoked for 21 runs in 21 innings through his first four appearances with the Indians.

[/callout]

Around the Central: The Indians beat the Royals 9-6 and the Angels beat the Twins, 4-1. Today the Twins and White Sox play a day-night doubleheader, and the Royals visit the A’s.

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Lemire looks at what it takes for a big-league pitcher to lose 20 games — a mark which the Orioles’ Jeremy Guthrie is close to reaching; yesterday he lost his 17th. Naturally, the article looks at Brian Kingman and Mike Maroth, the last two pitchers to lose 20.

Losing 20 games is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for the game’s worst pitchers. For a pitcher to lose 20, there must be a delicate balance of conditions: He can’t be so good that he’s winning games on his own, while he can’t be so bad that he loses the faith of the manager and front office, plus the offense can’t provide meaningful run support. A 20-game loser must be good enough that the team wants to continue giving him the ball. Kingman and Maroth were both in their first full major-league seasons, yet weren’t returned to the minors for more seasoning.

Leftovers from 20: The Postgame’s Eric Adelson wrote about Justin Verlander’s chances for reaching 300 wins, and why JV doesn’t much care for the conventional wisdom:

He doesn’t care for the statistician’s math. And he doesn’t care for history’s math. He knows 20-game winners are rare these days and, therefore, winning 300 in a career is a milestone most people view as unlikely.

(snip)

And still, to those who say it can’t be done, he says, pssshh.

“I disagree with that,” Verlander says, his eyes wide. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Happy 46th Birthday to Rob Richie.

Forty years ago today the Tigers tied a major-league record by using six pinch hitters in an inning (the seventh), but lose 6-5 to the Yankees.

On this date in 1984, Cal Ripken made a first-inning error to let in the game’s lone run as the Tigers beat Orioles, 1-0. Juan Berenguer gets the win and Willie Hernandez picked up his 28th save. Mike Flanagan goes the distance in the loss. Detroit’s magic number is 15.

Finally, Happy 82nd Birthday to Bob Newhart, one of my all-time favorites.

The Daily Breakfast: July 27, 2011

A good Wednesday to you.

The Leadoff: Adam Dunn gave the White Sox 2-0 with a moon shot off Justin Verlander, so Verlander simply fanned him the next three times up. Detroit’s ace gutted out eight innings for his 14th win of the season, 5-4 over Chicago. The Tigers chipped away at the Sox, withstood another blast by Paul Konerko and watched Wilson Betemit drive in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Around the Central: The Indians lost to the Angels 2-1, the Red Sox trounced the Royals, 13-6, and the Twins outlasted the Rangers in Arlington, 9-8.

[callout title=The Rundown]

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

There are four days left until the trade deadline.

Today’s game: Birthday Boy* Max Scherzer (11-5, 4.35 ERA) vs. John Danks (3-8, 3.92 ERA)| 2:10 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1

*Scherzer’s 27 today.

On this date in 1938, Hank Greenberg, who had hit home runs his last two at bats the day before, homered his first two times up to tie the major-league record of four in a row. Greenberg had a record-setting 11 two-home run games during the season.

In 1958, the Tigers and Phillies swapped catchers with the Tigers picking up minor leaguer John Turk and cash for Jim Hegan.

Ten years later, Denny McLain shut out the Orioles, 9-0, for his 20th win of the season for the first-place Tigers. McLain is only the third pitcher in the 20th century to win his 20th this early: the others were Rube Marquard on July 19, 1912 and Lefty Grove on July 25, 1931. His record is 20-3.

[/callout]

Who Wants the Central?: According to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, no one wants to win the division. But …

In a race this chaotic, the schedule can make a difference. While the Tigers are finished playing Boston and New York this season, the White Sox welcome the Red Sox and Yankees to Chicago for seven games starting Wednesday. As for the feisty Indians, they have 10 games against Boston, Texas and Detroit in early August. That’s their sink-or-swim stretch.

“It’s a weak division,” said a National League personnel man, “but I’ve liked the Tigers all year. Never underestimate a team with a good offense and an ace [starter]. You just don’t have long losing streaks.”

Discuss.

As Bad as It Gets: By now we all know that Paul Konerko wages war on the Tigers’ pitching staff every time he faces Detroit. After watching him launch another homer on Tuesday night I had to see what his career stats are agains the Tigers. Heading into play last night, Konerko had logged 196 games against Detroit and has put together this line: .291 average, 40 home runs, 133 RBI and a .872 OPS.

Papa Grande’s Streak Marches On: Jose Valverde converted his 27th consecutive save to begin the season on Tuesday at Chicago. His 27 straight saves are the second-longest save streak in Tigers history. Willie Hernandez converted 32 straight save opportunities April 6-Sept. 23, 1984.

Miscellany: On this date in 1940 Bugs Bunny made his debut in the Warner Bros. animated cartoon “A Wild Hare.”

Finally, happy trails to Kris Draper. I’ll miss watching #33 next season — and especially during the playoffs.

All-Star Game Notes and Non Sequiturs

Sometimes I want to rail on Major League Baseball about the lameness of so many things it does — the vapid celebrity softball game, the interminable Home Run Derby, the “this-time-it-counts” angle on the All-Star Game — but then I realize it’s probably me just getting old.

  • The Tigers’ collection of All Stars is the largest since 1985 when the club sent six players to the Metrodome for the game managed by Sparky Anderson. Here’s a look at the largest classes of Tigers All Stars since 1984 and the team’s record that season:

1984 (104-58)
Willie Hernandez
Chet Lemon
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

1985 (84-77)
Willie Hernandez
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Dan Petry
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

2007 (88-74)
Carlos Guillen
Magglio Ordonez
Placido Polanco
Ivan Rodriguez
Justin Verlander

2009 (86-77)
Curtis Granderson
Brandon Inge
Edwin Jackson
Justin Verlander

Clearly, the better the Tigers were, the more players they sent to the All-Star Game. For a long time though, the Tigers were a team that had little to offer the American League manager. From 1996 through 2003, Detroit sent a single player to the game. In some cases the pickings were particularly slim (see 2002).

1996 (53-109)
Travis Fryman

1997 (79-83)
Justin Thompson

1998 (65-97)
Damion Easley

1999 (69-92)
Brad Ausmus

2000 (79-83)
Todd Jones

2001 (66-96)
Tony Clark

2002 (55-106)
Robert Fick

2003 (43-119)
Dmitri Young

Ugly, no?

  • I still think it’s remarkable that Alex Avila is the starting catcher in tonight’s game. Whoda thunk it, especially after a dreadful Opening Day series against the Yankees when Avila looked about as lost as a player can look. I guess that’s why, as Rod Allen says, you play the games. Jason Beck has a nice piece recapping the Tigers’ All Stars’ respective experiences in Phoenix.
  • The water is so far past being under the bridge, but isn’t it still a bit weird to see Curtis Granderson starting in the All-Star Game … as a Yankee?
  • Six years ago today in the Home Run Derby at Comerica Park, Bobby Abreu destroyed the records for a single round, the championship round and the grand total for all three rounds of the derby by hitting 41 homers into every part of yard. The Phillies outfielder went deep 24 times in the first round, tacks on six more in the second round and finishes with 11 more in the championship round.
  • Looking ahead to the pitching matchups for this weekend’s series against the White Sox:

Friday | 7:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Justin Verlander (12-4, 2.15 ERA) vs. Gavin Floyd (6-9, 4.59 ERA)

Saturday | 4:10 p.m. FOX/1270 & 97.1
Max Scherzer (10-4, 4.69 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (5-7, 4.30 ERA)

Sunday | 1:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Brad Penny (6-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (4-2, 4.83 ERA)

Finally, on this date in 1979 the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers when more tha5,000 fans refuse to leave the field during Disco Demolition Night. I wrote about it on the 30th anniversary.

The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition

pumpkin.jpgEach October, I’m astounded to learn that Halloween is the second-largest retail holiday of the year. I’m not a fan of Halloween, though I do like the occasional, or frequent, Kit Kat.

It’s a treat to be able to watch the World Series on Halloween, though the Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria sightings are undoubtedly the “trick” part of the equation.

  • In our highest vote-gettin’ poll of the season, Fungo readers were emphatic on what the Tigers’ next offseason move should be: target Nationals’ slugger and free-agent-to-be Adam Dunn.

    Twenty-four percent (148 voters) of the 628 readers casting votes selected Dunn as their top choice. Here are the runners up:

    • Sign Jason Werth (16%, 103 Votes)
    • Sign Victor Martinez (15%, 97 Votes)
    • Trade for a starting pitcher (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Pickup Jhonny Peralta’s option (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Sign Magglio Ordonez (12%, 73 Votes)
    • Other (5%, 31 Votes)

    Thanks to everyone who voted and a special thanks for those that left comments. It was a great discussion. Keep those comments rolling in.

    Continue reading “The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition”

Tigers Today: September 7, 2010

BallBatGrass.jpgTigers’ Record:

68-70, 3rd Place; 13 GB

Today’s Game

Tigers vs. White Sox | 7:05 p.m. ET – Comerica Park | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.61 ERA) vs. Freddy Garcia (11-5, 4.82 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

White Sox 5 – Tigers 4 (10 innings)

Continue reading “Tigers Today: September 7, 2010”