Monday, July 26, 2010

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice. Please.

When the Tigers 7-game home stand began a week ago tonight I was thinking Detroit was only one quality pitcher (Roy Oswalt, anyone?) away from the AL Central title. In fact, I was hoping I’d run into Detroit General Manager Dave Dombrowski in the Press Box (which you sometimes do) just so I could ask him, quietly, under my breath even, “”Oswalt? Roy Oswalt? Don’t he win you the Division?” before he walked away from me. Honestly, that’s how close I thought the Tigers were: One front line starting pitcher away from the division title and the playoffs and all that it entails.

By early Sunday evening, only 6 days later, I figured the Tigs were toast even if they had gotten Oswalt, which, in the interest of accuracy, they had not.

From that Monday night to that Sunday twilight—in less than a week—what had been, arguably, the best 3-4-5 hitting combination in baseball, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch was history and half the Detroit infield was, too: The Tigers lost both their third baseman Brandon Inge and their second baseman Carlos Guillen to extended stays on the Disabled List in the same time frame.

Too much, too fast.  Too many quality players gone for the Tigers to contend any more, I thought.

And on a related and indeed on an even more important note, Detroit had lost 9 of 11 games and was a mere dozen offensive outs away from making that grim toll 10 of 12 in a game in which they trailed Toronto 4-0 heading to the home half of the sixth.

But, the boys fooled me yesterday.  Maybe they can fool me some more.

I thought they were a lock to lose that game to Toronto but they came across with a couple in the 6th on, like, the one-millionth big hit of the season by Cabrera and then won it in the 8th when Ryan Rayburn—embarrassed by bouncing into a rally-killing double play in the 5-3 loss the hung on Detroit earlier in the day by the Jays—cleared the loaded bases with a double to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead. They won 6-5.

So it was 3-4 on the home stand and two games out of first when all was said and done and all in all it could have been much, much worse. Of course, you also think about it and you figure the Tigers really could have gone 6-1. They lost the first game of the home stand in 12 when they had the ballgame won in 11 had Johnny Damon scored from second on a single by Boesch. They lost the game Saturday to the Jays by a run when they had chances to win, and on Sunday in the first game Detroit had the bases loaded with one out in a tie game in the eighth and failed not just to score the go-ahead run, but failed to put the ball in play at all.

Tonight, heartbreak in Tampa: Max Scherzer was a strike away from taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning when he allowed a grand slam to former Tiger Matt Joyce that looked like it was fair by a foot, perhaps less. The bases had been loaded on 2 walks and the rarely-called Catcher’s Interference. And that was that. The Tigers offense didn’t muster a hit all night long against Matt Garza and instead of a double no-hitter which really would have been big news, instead we get another no-hitter thrown in the Majors which is getting to be a bit routine in this summer of 2010. Congrats to Garza, the first Ray nee Devil Ray ever to toss a no-hitter. For the Tigers, 6 wins now in their last 25 road games (.240) which is most assuredly not going to get it done. Detroit falls 3 off the pace in the Central race with 3 more to play in Tampa before a trip to Fenway over the weekend.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fundamentally Unsound

The Ernie Harwell Media Center

Comerica Park Detroit, MI

(Sunday, July 25, 2010) -- The Detroit Tigers sustained a season-ending injury here Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

It happened when Magglio Ordonez—second on the Tigers in home runs (12) and RBI (59)—fractured his right ankle sliding into home in a vain attempt to score the game-tying run from first base on a double to right by Miguel Cabrera.

Ordonez is done for 6-8 weeks and, likely, so too are the Tigers.

As usual, the whole thing was eminently preventable and, as usual, there is blame aplenty to go around. The “what-ifs” abound and astound:

If Cabrera (what was he thinking?) had simply hit the ball 5 feet further it would have gone into the right field seats and Ordonez would have trotted around on the homer. If, when they built this baseball stadium they had not made the ill-advised decision (what were they thinking?) to recess the wall 10-15 feet in the right field power alley, again, the ball Cabrera hit would have gone into the stands and Ordonez would have scored in the manner described above. If Detroit third base coach Gene Lamont (yeah, what was he thinking?) had realized that his man was 15-feet out if he sent him and had held up the stop sign instead of the “go-for-it!” windmill, Ordonez stops at third and never slides into home base and never snaps his ankle.

All of which is to be duly noted, but the truth of the matter—and it sounds cruel to say it since he was the one who had to endure the pain—is that most of the blame must go to Ordonez himself. I’m sorry, but it was a simple slide. I don’t know about Mags, but I know they started to teach me how to slide when I was about 8. Sure, it’s a little scary at first, but you get used to it, and they keep on teaching you how to slide until you are done playing organized ball. In my case, that meant high school, by which time I could pull off a pop-up slide with the best of them. (Your pop-up is one of several types of slides and is useful in case there is an errant throw as it leaves you ready to bolt for the next base and carries the additional benefit of looking cool as hell.) Sliding is an elemental, a fundamental part of playing baseball. Seeing a player—especially one of your top players not to mention one of the highest paid players in the game—injure himself perpetrating a routine and run-of-the-mill hook slide is infuriating. Infuriating in the way you feel when you see a player at the Major League level who can’t bunt. Only in the instant case instead of failing to move the runner(s) along, your whole season is ruined. That’s all.

Detroit lost third baseman Brandon Inge to a broken hand (hit by a pitch) earlier this week and an inning or so after Ordonez left last night’s game, second baseman Carlos Guillen was lost to a pulled leg muscle.

That meant that in the first of the two games being played here today against Toronto, the Tigers had a .203 hitter, Ryan Rayburn, hitting third in a batting order which featured five rookies. The thing of it was, the Tigers still had a good chance to win the game. It was tied at 3 in the 8th and Detroit had the bases loaded with only one out, but two of those rookies, Scott Sizemore and Jeff Larish, struck out and that was that. Then, Jose Valverde (and why he was in there in a 3-3 tie I do not know) gave up a two-run homer to Lyle Overbay in the top of the 9th and the Blue Jays had a 5-3 win. It had been 41 appearances for Valverde since his last home run allowed dating all the way back to the second game of the season at Kansas City. He’d been money since then. But that’s just the way things have gone this weekend here at the ballpark.

The fans are filing in for the second of these two games against Toronto today…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All in All, It Could Have Been Worse

The Tigers ended their 7- game losing streak Wednesday night with a 4-1 win over Texas and moved back to within 2.5 games of first-place Chicago as the White Sox, three outs away from an 11-inning, 1-0 series sweeping win at Seattle, instead permitted the M’s to score twice in the bottom of the 11th to pull out a 2-1 Seattle victory.

So, when you look at what could have happened, the Tigers got out of this mess—this mess being their season’s-longest losing streak—in much better shape than they realistically could have hoped would have been the case.  If Minnesota hadn’t beaten the White Sox a couple of times over the weekend, and had the Mariners not come back the way they did, Detroit could well have wound up 5.5 games out of first, not two-and-a-half.

I was very much impressed (again) by 25 year-old Max Scherzer tonight.  You could make the case that since he returned from a “you’re not pitching well enough to stay up here right now so go down to Triple A Toledo and get your act together” demotion in May, Scherzer has been the best starter Detroit has got.   He was seven innings strong tonight, 123 pitches strong tonight.  His finest moment came in the 4th when he allowed a leadoff triple and stranded the runner right there where he was. 

The Tigers got a huge 2-run homer early from the bat or whatever it is that Gerald Laird has been holding in his hands when he steps into the batters box.  That would be the crude wooden implement which has produced for Laird a batting average which so far has yet to go north of .200 this season.  (Laird entered the season with a career BA of .247., for the record.)

The Tigers added a pair of add-on runs in the 7th and then, after Scherzer gutted his way out of a two-on with one out scenario in the 7th with the final few of those 123 pitchers, Phil Coke threw gas in the 8th, dismissing the Rangers on 12 pitches, fanning two of his three hitters.  Jose Valverde, El Papa Grande himself, finished ‘em off in the 9th, although not in the 1-2-3 dominant style to which we have become accustomed.  Valverde gave up a shutout-spoiling run without permitting a hit.

Toronto’s coming to town next for four starting with a daytimer tomorrow.  They’ll be tough.  The Blue Jays have won 48 games this year.  Detroit has won 49.  Get the picture?

See you down at the ballpark!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Case You Miss the World Cup...

I don't know why I forgot about this while the World Cup was being played but I did.  But, perhaps you miss the football so here you go.  I find this to be as entertaining (perhaps more so even, but I don't want to get into a"thing" with anybody):

See you at the pitch!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Leyland by Half

So what we’ve got here is a chart which is going to tell you the nature of the fix we now find ourselves in.  What is revealed here is a simple fact: No Tigers team managed by Jim Leyland has ever won more games in the second half of a season than it did in the first half.

Somebody mentioned to me a while back that Leyland’s teams always seem to worse down the stretch than they do coming out of the gate and when I thought about it, I realized that the speaker was probably correct.  So, I did what the Old Professor Casey Stengel always said you could do.  I looked it up. 

Remember the way the Leyland’s Tigers blew their10-game lead in the division in ‘06 had to settle for the wild-card spot to make the playoffs?  That team was 76-36 (.679) on August 7.  The 2006 Tigers finished 95-67 (.586), which means it played .380 ball the rest of the way after hitting that 40-games-over-.500 plateau on a record of 19-31! (Play .380 ball over the course of a full season, and what you get is a team that finishes 61-101.)

How about ‘07, when Detroit had the best record in baseball at the all-star break, 52-34, and played sub-.500 ball after the break?  In fact, that 2007 club was 60-40 (.600) on July 25 and in first place by a game and a half and went 28-34 (.452) the rest of the way and finished 8 games out in the AL Central.

Here are the raw numbers for Jim Leyland’s Tigers teams, broken down by full-season results and by halves (Games 1-81 and Games 82-162*):


* Yes, we know.  The Tigers played 163 games last year cause they had to play that extra game against the Twins to see who’d make the playoffs.  The Tigers lost, most likely because the game was played during the second half of the season.

If Leyland’s teams performed at their first-half rate (.570) for the entire season, they’d win 92 games a year.  At their second-half clip (.479), they’d win 78.

And now the Tigers have opened the second half (technically not the halfway point as Detroit played 86 of their 162 games this season prior to the All Star break) by getting themselves swept in a 4-game series at Cleveland.  Yes, Cleveland:  The last-in-the-division Indians who were 20 games under .500 before the Tigers showed up. 

So, welcome to the second half.  History tells us that this is not going to go well. 

But there is this:  Look at the chart again.  You will notice one oddity.  The Tigers had the exact same record after 81 games this year that they had last year and while, yes, Detroit failed to make the playoffs last year, it was by the narrowest possible margin and still wound up being pretty exciting.  All in all. 

The Texas Rangers—recently themselves swept in a four game series against a last place team, except it happened to them at home against the team, Baltimore, with not just the worst record in their division but indeed the worst record in the entire American League (oops, I mean) Major League Baseball—come to town Monday night for the first of three. 

We’ll see you down at the ballpark.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Inches From Disaster

We had a tremendous storm come through around 6:30 or so.  Winds looked to me like they were hitting 70 mph or so.  I was downtown at the Bingo Tent helping with the big fundraiser for the Farmington High Music Department when I got a text from Jeannie asking me to come home.  A huge tree on our neighbors lawn had come crashing down into our yard.  It dented the second story a bit, some damage to the gutters and such but I think the house pretty much came through in good shape all in all.  Laura was home at the time entertaining a few of her fellow Falcom Marching Banders and it could have been nasty.  So, nobody hurt and no property damage and we all feel pretty lucky.  They tell me it was loud.

Baseball's back on tonight following the All Star break and I've been watching the Red Sox swing back into action.  Tim Wakefield's knuckler ain't knuckling too good and Texas had 6 runs on the board by the time their 8th hitter had come to the plate.  It's 7-0 now and Wakefield has thrown all of 34 pitches and here comes Boston manager Terry Francona out of the dugout and that will be that.

The Tigers open the second half tomorrow in Cleveland but will be watching the game out of Minneapolis tonight as the Twins host the White Sox.  A winny by Minny will put the Tigs back into a first-place tie in the AL Central.

It will be an interesting second half for Detroit.  The Tigers have a lot of games to play against those tough teams from the AL East: 4 at New York, 7 against Tampa Bay (4 there), 8 against the Blue Jays and 3 at Boston (here's hoping it will be Wakefield's turn in the rotation for one of them!)

Additionally, the Tigers have a ton of games, 20 of them, versus the teams they are battling for the division title and mind you to make the playoffs this season you are going to have to win this division because the wild card team is coming out of the east for sure.  Detroit has 14 games left against first-place Chicago (8 at home) and 6 to play versus third-place Minnesota.

Gotta go.  That Twins/White Sox game is coming on...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hello Again, and Goodbye

This is what it’s all about, gang.  We’re back in the saddle, back in the Press Box and, as there is of course NO CHEERING in the Press Box, we just watched in silent wonder  as Miguel Cabrera blasted a home run with a man on and a man out in the bottom of the 9th to tie this here ballgame against the lowly Baltimore Orioles and so, just when it looked like Detroit might blow a game to the worst team in baseball (the Orioles came into play tonight at 25-57), Miggy hits a bomb and we’re into the 10th.  All in all, very exciting stuff.

A note on the passing of Bob Probert yesterday of an apparent heart attack at 45.  I talked to a lot of guys who played against Probie and they all said the same thing: When he was coming to get you, be it in the corner or in the middle of the ice, his eyes were as cold and as dead and as utterly lacking in emotion as a shark’s.  These men—paid to be brave for a living—were scared witless by this.  The thing is, whenever I saw those eyes they were either twinkling with joy after a win or flashing anger after a loss or belying the embarrassment he felt as a result of his latest off-ice transgression of which, to be sure, there were many.  Too many.  But Probie always treated me great and as I wrote yesterday--and as I believe to be true--even on a team with a player as great as Steve Yzerman, Bob Probert was, here in Detroit, the most popular Red Wing.  Hands down.  This town loved the guy.  I will share with you something someone who knew Bob Probert way, way better than I had to say about him after I mentioned that even now I can see Probie in my minds’ eye, grinning that missing-his-front-teeth grin of his.  Just a kid goofing around in The Room:

Rich, I hear and feel ya..he'd be grinning a couple tooth missing smile and just let out.."ahah, what's up Rich man?!" never expecting an answer or a smile...but always getting the latter. A gentle giant, a monumental friend and teammate, and a tortured but beautiful soul. Let any man judge him that walked his one ever has.

The death of Bob Probert has hit me hard.  Just as the death of another Red Wing, Willie Huber hit me hard when he passed away at 52 a week to the day before Probert died.  God bless them both.

Johnny Damon just hit it out.  A two-run blast to right to win this one for Detroit 7-5 in 11.  A great ballgame on a not-so-great night.