A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their back-to-back American League Central titles.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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Wednesday is a big day.
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Major League Baseball's postseason advertising campaign for this season is "Legends Are Born in October." The spot that MLB released on Wednesday features the home run by Magglio Ordonez that clinched the American League Championship Series sweep of the A's for the Tigers, sending them to the 2006 World Series. With the Tigers sitting atop the AL Central as of right now, it's perfect timing for a little flashback. (The music for the spot, if you're wondering, is "Written in the Stars" by Tinie Tempah, which will be used as the backdrop for memorable moments in this year's postseason.)
The moment, of course, is one of the most memorable home runs in Tigers postseason history, and marks the only postseason appearance by the franchise in the last 24 years.
Here's the clip:
(And just as a side note, I still think my headline that night — "Maggs to riches" — was the best in the state.)
If I told you that there's a contender in the American League Central Division that has — dating back to the day the divisional lead first changed hands, on June 14 — accumulated a 26-28 record, the presumption is that I'm referring to the Detroit Tigers, right? After all, the SECOND-HALF COLLAPSE (which must be typed in all caps, due to its severity) is ON ... or so I've been informed.
I'll give you another hint: The last time the division lead changed hands was on July 21. Since that time, that same team is 10-12. Tigers again, right?
Umm, nope. Both times, that's the record for the Cleveland Indians — the self-styled "WINdians" — who came into Thursday at 61-58, two games behind the Tigers (65-58) in the standings.
Well, there has to be SOME case for a collapse, right? Otherwise it wouldn't be a topic of conversation every 4.5 seconds.
OK, let's try these numbers: 28-26 since June 14 and 14-10 since July 21. WAIT A SECOND — those are both above the .500 mark, so there's no way they can be the Tigers.
Well, actually, those are both the records put forth by the Chicago White Sox (61-61), who've been steadily creeping up behind the Indians to make it a three-team race. So why did it take the Sox this long to get within 3.5 games of the Tigers? Well, in that five-week span between June 14 and July 21, the Sox were the only one of the three contenders with a losing record (14-16). Not really gaining ground — more like treading water.
OK, so now you want the numbers for the Tigers, so you can shout "SEEEEEEE!?!?!?!?!" at the top of your lungs, right?
Since first taking over first place on June 14 — the date that occasioned owner Mike Ilitch's surprise visit to the clubhouse — the Tigers are 28-28.
In the five weeks between June 14 and July 21 — when the divisional lead changed hands five times, and was in a virtual tie seven times — the Tigers went 15-16.
Since taking the lead on July 21 — for good, I'm sure they (and you) hope — they've gone 13-12.
The Tigers had a .533 winning percentage (49-43) before the All-Star break, and have a .516 win percentage (16-15) since. (Note: It was an identical .533 before Wednesday's 6-5 loss).
No. I'll agree. None of those records are impressive — for any of those teams.
[This post says almost the identical thing, just with slightly different marking points.]
That's why it's still a three-horse race. And why there's no "collapsing" going on. (If the Tigers suddenly go 10-29 over their remaining games, I'll give you all a special dispensation to use the terminology. Until then, no dice.)
You can call it a bad division if you want. Shoot, you can call it bad baseball.
I think I can pretty easily swallow both of those.
The worst-kept secret in the world, Chance Ruffin was announced Wednesday as the player-to-be-named-later in the trade-deadline deal with Seattle for Doug Fister and David Pauley.
Of course, the Tigers also gave up a pair of rookies, OF Casper Wells and LHP Charlie Furbush, as well as minor-league 3B Francisco Martinez. Wells, in particular, has been hot since the July 30 trade, hitting .341 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 12 games, matching or exceeding his 64-game totals with the Tigers in both categories. Furbush is 2-1 in three starts with the Mariners, but has a 4.76 ERA and a WHIP of 1.294.
Ruffin — considered a potential closer down the road — had a two-appearance cup of coffee with the Tigers in late July, posting a 4.91 ERA in 3.2 innings. He was the second of two supplemental-round picks in last year's draft, and could not be named in a trade until he'd been in baseball for one full year. Tuesday was the anniversary of his signing.
When you consider the two players — minor league pitchers Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros — given up for Delmon Young in Monday's waiver-trade with Minnesota, and the two Class A players — LHP Antonio Cruz and C Julio Rodriguez — sent to Kansas City for Wilson Betemit on July 20, and the Tigers have divested themselves of eight minor league prospects in the span of six weeks.
While Cruz, Rodriguez and Nelson were probably nothing more than organizational players, the other five were all among the organization's best youngsters. The preseason rankings of one website (BlessYouBoys.com) had the five all among Detroit's top 20 prospects — No. 5 (Martinez), No. 6 (Ruffin), No. 10 (Wells), No. 13 (Furbush) and No. 20 (Oliveros).
All but Martinez had at least one appearance in the majors this season.
You can look at that as a LOT to give up in 42 days, or you can look at it like the Tigers got a starting pitcher, a starting outfielder, a key reliever and a part-time infielder for the stretch drive in a pennant race. Depends on if you're glass half-full or glass half-empty.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned into two everyday players for the Tigers.
Despite the excitement when the Tigers traded for Betemit, he’s played in only 17 of 25 games since the deal. Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn have both started in that spot in the other games. Kelly was in the starting lineup at third for Wednesday's game.
Manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday that he felt Betemit — hitting .316 and slugging .474 as a Tiger — is a better player when only used as a part-time starter, rather than playing every day.
Brandon Inge, who was designated for assignment and sent to Toledo to work on his swing, has said it was promised that he’d return when the rosters expand on Sept. 1. Leyland said Wednesday that he was considering using Inge against left-handers in September.
Like it or not, Verlander won't start against Indians on Sunday
A week ago, Jim Leyland jiggered with his rotation a bit, skipping Brad Penny for a start to get Justin Verlander on the mound during the three-game series in Cleveland.
[Here's an impressive breakdown by one Tigers fan (@spacemnkymafia on Twitter) of the potential pitching matchups the rest of the way.]
Thanks to the off day tomorrow (Thursday), he could do the same thing this time through the rotation: sit someone else, so Verlander — who'll have his normal rest in by Sunday — could throw in the series finale vs. the Indians.
But he won't. Even though Verlander offered.
"We felt like we could probably pick a couple spots to do that (give extra day), with the amount of innings he has. I don’t really know the answer. There’s all kinds of theories on that. Normally, if it works out all right, you can say it’s the rest, if it doesn’t work so well, maybe you can say the six days got him out of his rhythm. But I don’t believe in any of that. I think what you do is just (use) common sense. He’s pitched a lot, and I think you need to pick your spots, try to help him a little bit," Leyland said before Verlander's start Tuesday night.
"He’ll get six (days) this time, and I think he’ll get six one more time before the season’s over. ... At the start of this, when we figured all this out, we figured out so he could get Cleveland three out of four times, depending on what happens at the end."
Call it stubborn, or call it practical, he's not going to do it, for a couple reasons:
1) Verlander's innings are mounting. After Tuesday's 7.2 IP, he's got an MLB-high 202.2 innings thrown, currently 12 more than anyone else — almost two full starts' worth, despite only one more start in the books. "If you're good, you're going to throw a lot of innings," Leyland said a while back, "and if you're not as good, you don't throw as many. That's just the way it works."
Right now, Verlander is on pace for more than 260 innings, the most in the AL since 2003, and 20 more than his career high of 240 in 2009, which led the majors. The average single-season workload for an MLB starter is currently just slightly less than 205.
2) Don't rob Peter to pay Paul. Don't get me wrong: Like I wrote before, the Tigers have to play their best against their in-division rivals. But the Indians aren't the only AL Central team the Tigers need to be afraid of. The White Sox were a half-game behind the Indians after winning Tuesday night's 14-inning affair.
"I think the other thing you gotta realize is that you’ve gotta win games, you’ve got to beat a lot of teams. It’s not just Cleveland. It’s not just Chicago. It’s Minnesota. It’s Oakland. It’s Tampa. It’s Baltimore. We’ve gotta win games. That’s what it boils down to," Leyland said. "Kansas City, they’re real dangerous right now. They’re playing a bunch of young guys with a whole bunch of talent that are loosey-goosey and having a good (time). We’ve gotta win games, no matter who you play, and who you pitch."
As it is, Verlander is scheduled to throw in both September series vs. the Indians, including the one at Comerica Park that concludes the regular season — unless, of course, the Tigers have it wrapped up before then. According to my (admittedly flawed) calculations, he'll pitch twice more against the Indians and Twins, and once each against the Rays, A's and Orioles.
Don't get me wrong, though. Verlander would like THREE more starts against the Indians, something he lobbied for after Tuesday's win.
"You know, a couple starts in a row, I haven't felt fantastic, but it's coming down to the last few starts here, so I just wanted to go in there and let him know that if he wanted me to go on five days, I'm more than willing, and I think I'm over that little hump that I went through, and I feel really good right now," Verlander said. "So I just gave him that option. He declined."
Tigers sign two more draft picks before Monday's midnight deadline
The Tigers agreed to two more draft picks before Monday’s midnight deadline, giving them 33 signed from this year’s draft: high school shortstops Tyler Gibson (15th round; Stradford Academy, Macon, Ga.) and Brett Harrison (18th round; Green Valley HS, Henderson, Nev.).
Gibson is another of the team’s bonus babies, as the Tigers reportedly gave him$525,000 to forgo his scholarship to Georgia Tech, nearly five times MLB’s recommended total for the slot, and close to what the Tigers gave their top pick, second-rounder James McCann ($558,000). Gibson’s father, Craig, is the coach at Mercer University. Harrison, who was committed to play for the University of Hawaii, may play third in the Tigers organization.
The highest pick not to sign was 21st-rounder Scott Squier, a high-school lefty from Greenway HS in Phoenix.
None of the local prep players drafted by the Tigers came to terms with the team: Blaise Salter (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) and Jimmy Pickens (Birmingham Brother Rice) will play at Michigan State, while Greg Fettes (Madison Heights Lamphere) will play at Kentucky and Brett Impemba (Macomb Dakota) will play at Oakland University.
Tigers waste no time naming PTBNL in Delmon Young trade
Even though they had until October to send the "player-to-be-named-later" to Minnesota to complete Monday's deal for Delmon Young, the Detroit Tigers got it over far sooner, tabbing Lester Oliveros as the final piece.
The 23-year-old reliever posted a 5.63 ERA in nine games with the parent club this season, and just 3-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 32 minor league appearances. The Tigers had already sent Single-A pitcher Cole Nelson to Minnesota when the deal was announced.
Young was 2-for-4 in his Tigers debut Monday, homering in his first at-bat with the team. He's on a one-year, $5.38M contract which carries him through the end of this season, but is not eligible for free agency until 2013.
Whether or not he becomes a long-term fixture for the team, the cost — two minor-league pitchers, not among their top-tier prospects — of the waiver trade was not prohibitive.
With both GM and president Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland entering the final year of their contracts in 2011, this year had a "win-or-else" feel to it all along for the Detroit Tigers' organization.
That threat — real or inferred — was lifted Monday, when the organization announced contract extensions for its two most visible faces, giving Dombrowski a four-year extension, through 2015, and upping Leyland one more year.
“Dave has built a solid foundation for this organization and assembled competitive teams that give us a chance to win year in and year out. We have a lot of confidence in his continued leadership of the Detroit Tigers,” owner Mike Ilitch said in a press release. “I am pleased Dave has agreed to continue to lead our organization.”
The owner also acknowledged the leadership of Leyland, who took the Tigers to a World Series in his first season in Motown, the franchise's first trip to the postseason in 19 years, and the first fall classic appearance in 22. The Tigers haven't been back since, however, despite a payroll amongst the highest in baseball. Most observers figured there would be a housecleaning if they didn't get to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, at bare minimum among the coaching staff.
“I know Jim shares our desire to deliver a winner. We’re pleased to have him continue leading the Detroit Tigers on the field,” Ilitch said.
While extensions were also granted to all of Dombrowski's chief lieutenants — vice presidents Al Avila, David Chadd, Scott Reid and John Westoff — Leyland's crew does not get that same added security. While the Tigers currently have the second-largest divisional lead in Major League Baseball, there still could be an overhaul if the team does not make the playoffs.
The coaching staff already had one change made midseason, when the Tigers let pitching coach Rick Knapp go just before the All-Star break.
Still, Leyland has said he doesn't mind a year-to-year contract basis, to make sure he doesn't get himself in a situation like he did in Colorado, where he lost the desire to manage. So far, that hasn't happened here.
“I want to thank Mr. Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski for the support and confidence they have shown in me and I look forward to managing the Detroit Tigers in 2012," the manager said in a press release of his own. "Also, my many thanks go out to generations of Tigers fans who have supported the Tigers through the good times as well as the tough times. I’m proud to take the responsibility to assure Mr. Ilitch, Dave and our many fans that we will never fall short of doing everything we can to maintain the pride of our organization and our fans.”
Valverde matches Hernandez, but Jose is no Guillermo
With a save in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, Tigers closer Jose Valverde matched the franchise Willie (Guillermo) Hernandez with his 32nd consecutive successful save. Hernandez, of course, was a perfect 32-for-32 in the World Championship season of 1984.
So am I writing this to say that Valverde should be a Cy Young/MVP candidate.
When you look at the rest of Valverde's numbers in comparison to Hernandez, they pale.
Valverde's ERA is a full run higher (2.92 to 1.92). Hernandez finished 68 games — Valverde is on a pace for 73 — but pitched 140.1 innings. If Valverde does indeed get to 73 games finished, he'll probably bury the single-season team record for saves (42, Todd Jones, 2000) with close to 50, but he'll only have 75 or so innings pitched.
And he won't come close to Hernandez's WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.941 — Valverde's is currently 1.297 — or his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.11 — Valverde's is 1.73.
But don't take this to mean that I think Papa Grande isn't valuable to the Tigers.
Again — hardly.
He's blown a total of three saves in 61 chances. Yes, he's been a roller-coaster in non-save situations, but he's been money when the save is on the line.
And that brings us to the other issue: Money.
Aside from the first-round pick it cost them to sign him, Valverde has cost the Tigers $6.9 million last year, and $7 million this year. He's got a club option for $9 million for next season, something the Tigers would be wise to pick up. Or if that's too much to invest in a guy who will be 34 on Opening Day, they might want to start renegotiations.
Either way, there's no one in the Tigers' system currently who's ready to be the closer of the future. Joel Zumaya is unsigned for next year, and hasn't pitched in more than a year, anyway. One former first-round pick, Ryan Perry, has been up-and-down — both literally and figuratively — and is currently in Toledo trying to work through his control issues. Another first-round pick, Chance Ruffin, could be the player-to-be-named-later in the trade-deadline deal with Seattle, and has only 15 innings pitched above the Double-A level to date, anyway.
Until someone else steps up to be an internal solution, the Tigers need to keep Valverde around — especially since it's not like they're going to get anyone on the open market for much less than the $9 million price tag they already have Valverde for in 2012 — if they want him.
A face in the crowd — literally. Gigapan technology, merges with sports, Facebook
If you went to the Tigers' Negro Leagues Weekend game on July 16, you'll be interested in this. Even if you didn't, you might, just because the technology is cool.
Here's a link to a picture taken with a Gigapan (gigapixel panoramic) camera from center field at Comerica Park. The overall image, made up of hundreds of tiny images, is spectacular, but it gets even better if you click with the magnifying glass over a specific section.
You can click down to a person-by-person level, and find yourself (or anyone else) in the crowd. Merge it with a social medium like Facebook, and you can allow people to tag themselves in the crowd (if you pan over the press box area, I'm in the center, with my head down, writing in my scorebook).
Check it out, and let us at The Oakland Press know what you think (email@example.com). Our company may invest in this technology to bring these sorts of photos to you more regularly.
Join us for a live chat for today's game between the American League Central leading Detroit Tigers (59-51) and the AL West leading Texas Rangers (61-50). Brad Penny (7-8, 4.89 ERA) will be pitching in his 15th day game of the season, facing Alexi Ogando (10-5, 2.88 ERA), who's already beaten the Tigers twice this season.
Tigers lineup: Andy Dirks CF, Don Kelly 1B, Brennan Boesch LF, Miguel Cabrera DH, Victor Martinez C, Carlos Guillen 2B, Wilson Betemit 3B, Ryan Raburn RF, Ramon Santiago SS.
Matthew B. Mowery covers the Detroit Tigers for The Oakland Press. He has also been the college writer and lead sports copy editor for the paper. Prior to his arrival in Pontiac in 2006, Mowery previously worked at The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant, The Alpena News and the Midland Daily News. He's covered every possible corner of the sports world, from preps to pros, from tennis to Lions training camp for The Associated Press.