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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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Leyland stays loyal to his guys, keeps Penny on postseason roster

Tigers manager Jim Leyland is nothing if not loyal.

You can see that from the decisions to keep Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge in around, in the hopes that they’d be useful later on in the regular season. They were, as it turns out.

And you can see that from the decision to keep fifth starter Brad Penny on the playoff roster.

“I'm very proud of this decision. I really think in the end I think this is what we stand for. Brad Penny took the ball every five days. He pitched 180 innings. You can say what you want about his statistics, whatever. He pitched 180 innings for the Detroit Tigers this year in the number five spot. 180 innings and won 11 games,” Leyland said in Friday’s press conference. “That’s pretty good for a fifth starter. I think you have to do things right, and I think he deserved to be on this roster.”

Leyland’s thought is that Penny could come in handy as either a spot starter, should weather mess with the series schedule, or as a long reliever. Max Scherzer is scheduled to start Game 3 at Comerica on Monday, while Rick Porcello is scheduled to start Game 4 on Tuesday.

Not only have both struggled at times this season, neither has ever pitched in the postseason, as well. Penny has, compiling 23 career innings over eight appearances — including four starts — for the Marlins and Dodgers.

The rest of the Tigers staff had 32 2/3 innings combined headed into Friday’s Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

“I just believe you have to stick with people. If you believe in people, you stick with them. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean you’re right all the time, you’re not,” Leyland said recently. “Somebody said I stick up for my players to a fault. Well, I hope I take that to my grave.”

Game 1 ALDS lineups/match-ups — Tigers at Yankees

Who: Tigers (95-67) at Yankees (97-65)
When: Friday, 8:37 p.m.
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
TV: TBS
Brian Anderson with Ron Darling and John Smoltz
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270)
Dan Dickerson and Jim Price

DETROIT TIGERS:
(Career stats vs. Sabathia in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.286, 4-for-14, 1 HR)
Magglio Ordonez, RF (.268, 19-for-71, 3 HR)
Delmon Young, LF (.125, 3-for-24)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.563, 9-for-16, 2 HR)
Victor Martinez, DH (.240, 6-for-25, 2 HR)
Alex Avila, C (.143, 1-for-7)
Ryan Raburn, 2B (.174, 4-for-23)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (.059, 1-for-17)
Brandon Inge, 3B (.190, 11-for-58)

Justin Verlander, RHP
2011 regular season:
24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251.0 IP, 250K, 0.920 WHIP
2011 vs. Yankees: 0-0, 2 GS, 4.50 ERA, 12 IP, 1.583 WHIP
Career vs. Yankees: 4-3, 10 GS, 3.97 ERA, 56.2 IP, 1.500 WHIP
Career posteason: 1-2, 4 GS, 5.82 ERA, 21.2 IP, 1.662 WHIP

NEW YORK YANKEES
(career vs. Verlander in parentheses)
Derek Jeter, SS (.357, 10-for-28)
Curtis Granderson, CF (.167, 1-for-6, 1 HR)
Robinson Cano, 2B (.174, 4-for-23)
Alex Rodriguez, 3B (.190, 4-for-21, 1 HR)
Mark Teixeira, 1B (.136, 3-for-22, 1 HR)
Nick Swisher, RF (.167, 8-for-48, 3 HR)
Jorge Posada, DH (.333, 7-for-21)
Russell Martin, C (.400, 2-for-5)
Brett Gardner, LF (.375, 3-for-8)

CC Sabathia, LHP
2011 regular season:
19-8, 3.00 ERA, 237.1 IP, 1.226 WHIP
2011 vs. Tigers: 0-1, 4.15 ERA, 13 IP, 1.615 WHIP
Career vs. Tigers: 15-12, 4.54 ERA, 202 IP, 1.292 WHIP
Career postseason: 7-4, 13 GS, 4.66 ERA, 77.1 IP, 1.565 WHIP

Season series: Tigers won, 4-3
Results at NY: L, 6-3; L, 10-6; W, 10-7

Tigers' postseason roster revealed

Here's the document we've all been waiting for.

The Tigers released their postseason roster for the American League Division Series, and the only real surprise was carrying a backup catcher (Omir Santos) and all five starters, including both potential starters for Game 4, Brad Penny and Rick Porcello. Penny, if you'll recall, has more postseason experience than almost the rest of the Tigers pitching staff combined.

Here's the breakdown:
STARTING PITCHERS (5):

Justin Verlander, RHP
Doug Fister, RHP
Max Scherzer, RHP
Rick Porcello, RHP
Brad Penny, RHP
(one will be used out of the bullpen, most likely Penny)

RELIEF PITCHERS (6):
Al Alburquerque, RHP
Joaquin Benoit, RHP
Phil Coke, LHP
Ryan Perry, RHP
Daniel Schlereth, LHP
Jose Valverde, RHP

CATCHERS (3):
Alex Avila, L
Victor Martinez, S
Omir Santos, R

INFIELDERS (5):
Wilson Betemit, S
Miguel Cabrera, R
Brandon Inge, R
Jhonny Peralta, R
Ramon Santiago, S

OUTFIELDERS (6):
Andy Dirks, L
Austin Jackson, R
Don Kelly, L
Magglio Ordonez, R
Ryan Raburn, R
Delmon Young, R

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Postseason predictions, forecasts

OK, so I guess it's time to actually put my predictions in print.
Here is an excerpt of what we ran in our Tigers playoff preview section:

POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
YANKEES:
Season series — 4-3 Tigers. Both teams won just once in the opponent’s ballpark, but the season series was over by May 5. A lot of things have changed for both squads since then.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers: Leading the American League in home runs and second in scoring, the Yankees are built perfectly for their bandbox ballpark, with a lefty-dominated lineup that takes advantage of the jet stream out to right field. Worse yet, the Tigers no longer have a lefty in their starting rotation to counter that. In a short series, where depth is less important, you’d have to think that would favor the Yankees, who may have the best one-through-nine lineup in baseball, led by Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
Why it shouldn’t scare the Tigers: Once you get past CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ most effective pitcher has been rookie Ivan Nova, who gets by thanks to one of the highest run support totals in the big leagues. The Yankees are incredibly reliant on their offense, and aren’t good in close games like you’ll get in the playoffs. That should favor the better pitching staff. Yes, the Yankees won games started by Justin Verlander in each regular-season series, but that was ‘April Verlander,’ not ‘About-to-win-Cy-Young Verlander.’ Max Scherzer twice beat the Yankees, who scored just 10 runs in a four-game series at Comerica in May.
Prediction: Tigers in 5

RANGERS:
(can only face in ALCS)
Season series — 6-3 Tigers. Detroit may have started to turn around its early fortunes with a pair of walk-off wins against the defending AL champs in mid-April, then taking two of three in Arlington, Texas, in early June put the Tigers on the brink of taking the AL Central lead for the first time.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers: The Yankees may be the best power-hitting team, but the Rangers are the best hitting team, period. Led by Michael Young and last year’s MVP, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre, the Rangers are hitting at a .282 clip as a team, and their pitching is good enough, especially after dealing for bullpen arms at the deadline. Alexi Ogando has all three of the wins against the Tigers — nearly unheard of for a non-divisional opponent these days — but the former reliever hasn’t been as good as his All-Star start of late.
Why it shouldn’t scare the Tigers: Detroit can slug with any team, and has proven that it can outslug even the Rangers. Outside of the powerful Ogando, Texas’ lefty-heavy rotation doesn’t present all that much of a scare for the Tigers’ righty-heavy lineup. The Tigers had a losing or .500 record against everybody in the AL West but the best team.
Prediction: Tigers in six, with a lot of 6-5, 8-6 scores.

RAYS:
(Could face in ALCS)
Season series — 6-1 Tigers. The Tigers swept the Rays in Comerica — albeit in a split series, due to a rainout — then went to Tampa and took three of four in what manager Jim Leyland called the biggest series of the season.
Why this matchup should scare the Tigers: Tampa has the best starting pitching in baseball, with David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Neimann, James Shields and Wade Davis. On top of that, the Rays are one of the hottest teams in baseball, having made up a nine-game deficit in the Wild Card standings to overtake Boston on the final day of the regular season.
You hate having to face those "team of destiny" types.
Why this matchup shouldn’t scare the Tigers: Detroit may be able to match Tampa pitcher-for-pitcher, especially in a short series, and has a far better offense. The Tigers were able to take three of four from the Rays on the road, despite only scoring 11 runs in the series.
Prediction: Rays in seven, with a lot of 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 scores.

NLDS predictions:
Phillies vs. Cardinals: Philadelphia in three
Brewers vs. Diamondbacks: Arizona in five

NLCS prediction:
Phillies vs. Diamondbacks: Philadelphia in six


Why the Tigers can win it all:
The Tigers may have the two hottest pitchers in baseball over the last month and a half, in Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. Since Aug. 16, the duo have gone a combined 14-0 with a 1.61 ERA (20 ER, 111.2 IP), 106 strikeouts and 12 walks.
“I think we're ... a team that nobody really wants to face. We've got kind of that good group of talent. We hit the ball well, we play good enough defense and we pitch well,” Verlander said.
Add in a bullpen that’s been doing its best work of late, and a set-up/closer combination in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, and you’ve got the pitching end of it covered.
The offense ain’t half bad, either.
Miguel Cabrera has been on a tear in September, putting himself in a position to win his first-ever batting title, while Victor Martinez has made opposing managers pay for pitching around the Tigers’ cleanup hitter. Both have more than 100 RBI on the season, while Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have more than 80 each.
The Tigers also have gotten a ton of contributions from secondary sources.
“Sometimes those guys pick you up and when guys like that pick you up, that’s the best tonic in the world, for me,” manager Jim Leyland said. “When (Ramon) Santiago hit the game-winning home run against Kansas City, that uplifted Cabrera and Martinez and all the big boys. That's when you know you really got something going. When Ingey (Brandon Inge) hit the home run, hit the home run in his first at-bat back, or Donnie Kelly hit a couple big home runs, that's the tonic that really gets your team going. The big boys are consistent, they’re going to be there all the time. But when those other guys do stuff like that, I don’t use the word magical, but that’s the best kind of tonic you can have, to be honest with you.”
Percentage-wise, the Tigers are almost as good on the road this year as they are at home, meaning that home-field advantage won’t be the end of the world to them.

Why they might not:
The Tigers don’t have a ton of playoff-tested players on the roster, and three of the projected starters — Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello — have never pitched in the postseason (although Porcello did start Game 163 in 2009). While Fister and Verlander have been a lethal combination, Porcello and Scherzer have been inconsistent this season. Both have had bright spots, but both have also been shelled, at times. Add in the fact that the two rank in the top 10 in the majors in run support — something that you can’t count on, come playoff time — and you might start to see a chink in the Tigers’ pitching armor.
Saying the Tigers' defense isn't great isn't going out on much of a limb. Aside from Austin Jackson, who has saved a handful of games with his incredible catches in center field, and possibly Alex Avila behind the plate, the Tigers don't have what you'd consider a "plus" defender at any other position on most days. A leaky defense cost a much better defensive club the World Series in 2006, if you'll recall.
The Tigers have done very well in close games, but don’t have an offense that’s particularly suited to playing it close to the vest. Situational hitting is a strength, but speed is not, as Cabrera and Martinez are among the league leaders in grounding into double plays.
Verlander and Valverde have both logged a huge workload for their respective roles, and fatigue could be a factor.

ALDS GAME 1: Yankees at Tigers live chat

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The postseason plan for covering the Tigers

Amazing how much things change in five years.

When the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2006, as a newspaper group, we sent two or sometimes three writers to every game, home and away. Since then, we — like the Tigers — went through some bad economic times that forced readjustments in our payroll.

We don't have the staff we used to. We certainly don't have the budget we used to. When our parent company — Journal Register Co. — went through bankruptcy, one of the first cuts was the travel budget. And we saved a ton of dough with the decision, believe me. It saved jobs, so no one complained (too loudly, at least).

As a result, though, I won't be traveling to New York for the American League Division Series. Trust me, I'd be there if I could. But I won't be. To channel my inner Jim Leyland, "That's just the way it is."

But I just wanted to make sure that's understood before we start things. Any coverage I do for potential Games 1,2 and 5 will be from here in Michigan. Trust me, though. I'll still be writing. I'll still be doing live chats (stay tuned for updates on where to find those). I'll still be on Twitter. I'll still be sending SMS messages out (check out the sidebar at the right to see how to sign up for those).

I just wanted to make that point for the sake of fellow journalists who are in the trenches in New York, digging out all the quotes, and for Tigers fans who'll inevitably ask me questions, as if I'm there.

Having gotten that out of the way, here's the schedule for the series:

NEW YORK YANKEES (97-65) vs. DETROIT TIGERS (95-67)
GAME 1, Friday, 8:37 p.m. — Tigers (Verlander) at Yankees (Sabathia) — TBS [LIVE CHAT]
GAME 2, Saturday, 8:37 p.m. — Tigers (Fister) at Yankees — TBS
GAME 3, Monday, 8:37 p.m. — Yankees (Scherzer) at Tigers — TBS
GAME 4, Tuesday, time TBD — Yankees at Tigers* — TBS
GAME 5, Thursday, time TBD — Tigers at Yankees * — TBS
* — if necessary

Be sure to pick up a copy of The Oakland Press on Friday to get your copy of the preview section (at right).

Here are the Tigers' postseason odds, courtesy of Bodog:
Odds to win the AL Pennant: 13/4
Odds to win the World Series: 7/1
Odds to face Arizona or St. Louis in the WS: 28/1
Odds to face Milwaukee in the WS: 18/1
Odds to face Philadelphia in the WS: 11/2

Tigers rank fourth in MLB.com's final Power Rankings.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Injuries may start to force decisions for Tigers' playoff roster

For the whole homestand, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said nearly every day: "I'm going to try to get Wilson Betemit in tomorrow."

And every tomorrow, he's been missing from the lineup, with his sore left knee still ailing. Monday, Leyland finally admitted that his plan to get Betemit a few tuneup games before the playoffs had hit a hitch.

"He's not right. That's not good, no," Leyland admitted. "I'm worried about Betemit. I'll just leave it at that."

UPDATED: Wilson Betemit was in the Tigers' lineup for Tuesday's game. Presumably, if he plays Tuesday and Wednesday, that would be enough of a warm-up for the playoffs. We'll see how he feels afterward.

Leyland also admitted that his other ailing veteran infielder, Carlos Guillen, who has a grade-1 (least severe) calf strain, probably won't be ready for the start of the American League Divisional Series on Friday. That's probably less surprising, since Leyland had been preaching patience over the weekend, saying those kind of injuries require time and little else to heal.

"Let me put it this way: It's very unlikely he'll be ready for the first round. I do not think he'll be ready," Leyland said. "Now, that's not to say that he couldn't be added later."

While Guillen was thought to be one of the guys on the bubble for one of the last two position player spots, Betemit was probably considered a no-brainer a week or so ago. If he's unavailable, that opens up another spot for one of the shrinking list of bubble guys.

And if the Tigers don't need to carry backup catcher Omir Santos as insurance against Victor Martinez being unable to catch — "Victor could catch tonight, if I wanted him to," Leyland said over the weekend — then probably all three of the remaining bubble guys may make it.

If Betemit can't go, utilityman Don Kelly would probably move into the left-handed portion of the platoon with Brandon Inge that Betemit had previously occupied. That would probably necessitate carrying an extra outfielder, like Andy Dirks.

And it probably also means that reserve infielders Danny Worth and Will Rhymes are probably going to be carried, too. Those two don't really limit the Tigers' versatility too much, as Kelly can still be switched to any other position (except shortstop), and Ryan Raburn can play both on the infield and in the outfield.

The bullpen questions are starting to clear up a little bit, too. Al Alburquerque came through his planned workload (an inning, a day off, then back-to-back outings) just fine, so it's assumed he'll be in the postseason 'pen.

More than likely, that leaves the Tigers selecting two of the following three: RHP Ryan Perry, RHP David Pauley, LHP Duane Below.

Leyland said no firm decisions were made in Monday's organizational meeting, but the deadline to turn in the postseason rosters hasn't been set yet, due to the uncertainty of the Wild Cards in both leagues.

The skipper did indicate that, all things being equal (i.e. if a decision was a 50/50 coin flip), then previous playoff experience might play into it.

"But remember, I always talk about talent, not experience," Leyland finished.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

JV for MVP? I'm not the only one who'd vote that way, given the chance

Well before Justin Verlander took the hill Saturday night, for the 34th time this season, in search of win No. 25 — making him the first in MLB since Hazel Park native Bob Welch won 27 for Oakland in 1990 — people were talking about the lanky Virginian for not only Cy Young, but for the American League MVP.

I finally weighed in on the topic for Sunday's editions. (For full disclosure, I do not have an MVP vote, although I am a BBWAA member. I vote for the AL Rookie of the Year this season.)

I'm hardly the first to sound off on the topic, however.

A ton of national columnists have already made their preference known — either for or against.

He was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, with the letters "MVP," followed by the subheadline: "At least he should be. There's no doubt he's the Red Sox' and Yankees' worst October nightmare."

Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote about how magic the number of 25 wins would be to his candidacy.

MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince noted that the acronym MVP stands for Most Valuable Player — not just position player — and Verlander's a player, too.

ESPN's Buster Olney has said he's backing Verlander, while his colleague, Jayson Stark, argued why Verlander deserves it, as well.

The stories weren't all supportive of the argument.

Yahoo's Jeff Passan said that people shouldn't hold their breath for it to happen — because Verlander wasn't.

The New York Times' Neil Paine admitted the MVP votes are likely to go elsewhere.

FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal didn't discount Verlander's candidacy, but said he didn't like the "groundswell" of support he sensed in support of the pitcher.

How do other players feel? A number of pitchers from the last 20 years — including John Smoltz — say no.

Bob Gibson, the last pitcher to win the MVP in the National League back in 1968, says yes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tigers postseason roster starting to take shape

After Tuesday's meeting of the minds in Kansas City, Tigers manager Jim Leyland indicated that he'd probably go with 11 pitchers (one fewer than normal) on the playoff roster, allowing the team to carry one extra position player.
There are quite a few of those 25 spots still up for grabs a little over a week away from the start of the American League Division Series. But, like Leyland said all the way back in spring training, when he was facing some tough calls for the Opening Day roster, that's a good problem to have.

Here's my rather informal look at who to expect on the postseason roster:

POSITION PLAYERS: 14
WRITTEN IN INK:
These are the no-brainers, the guys who are guaranteed spots on the roster, and probably on the field every day, too. (6)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Alex Avila, C
Victor Martinez, DH/C
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Austin Jackson, CF
Delmon Young, LF

Don't really need to say much about any of these guys, do I?

PENCIL THEM IN: These are the guys who are pretty good bets to make it, based on experience, versatility or both. (6)
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Don Kelly, 3B/1B/LF/RF/C/RHP
Ramon Santiago, 2B/SS
Wilson Betemit, 3B/2B
Brandon Inge, 3B/C
Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF

Magglio's about the only guy here who couldn't play another position in a pinch (discounting, of course, DH). Kelly's almost certainly in because he can be a defensive replacement all over the field. Santiago's played his way not only into near-certainty status for the playoff roster, but probably into a spot where he'll get some starts, too. I'm willing to bet the Tigers carry both Betemit and Inge, and continue to play the matchups, with Inge likely getting the nod in a defensive situation. Raburn's on his usual tear, following up a .323 average in August with a .393 average in September.

THE QUESTION MARKS: These guys are — more than likely — competing for the final two spots. (Pick 2)
Andy Dirks, OF
Carlos Guillen, 2B/1B
Omir Santos, C
Danny Worth, INF
Will Rhymes, 2B

OK, here's where the decision-making comes in. These guys offer some versatility, or at least some security, but not much else. If Martinez can't catch in the postseason (and he's unlikely to test it before the end of the regular season), then Santos' chances increase quite a bit. If Guillen can't come back from his most recent injury (a strained calf) before next Friday, it may make this decision that much easier, too. I'm sure the Tigers would like to have his bat available as a pinch hitter, but ...
That leaves Dirks, who is hitting just .179 since his return from Toledo with the September call-ups, and a couple of backup infielders in Worth and Rhymes, one right-handed stick, and one lefty. All three are potential pinch runners, especially on this team, which is pedestrian at best on the basepaths.
My bet? Dirks and Santos (unless Guillen makes a quick recovery).

PITCHERS: 11
WRITTEN IN INK:
These are the four playoff starters, plus the locks for the bullpen. (7)
Justin Verlander, RHP
Doug Fister, RHP
Max Scherzer, RHP
Rick Porcello, RHP
Jose Valverde, RHP, Closer
Joaquin Benoit, RHP
Phil Coke, LHP

No matter what, Verlander will start Games 1 and 5. Period. The Game 2/3 starters will probably depend on opponent and venue. If the Tigers have home field, I'd look for Scherzer to get the start at Comerica, with Fister going to the mound in a place like Fenway, where grounders are golden. Porcello has almost certainly outperformed Brad Penny for that last spot in the postseason rotation — but I've been surprised before. Valverde's been steady all year long, and Benoit and Coke have been the ringleaders of the bullpen's second-half resurgence.

PENCIL THEM IN: These are the guys who are pretty good bets to make it. (2)
Daniel Schlereth, LHP
Al Alburquerque, RHP

You could almost say — given the righty-heavy starting rotation and back end — that Schlereth may be a shoo-in, too. And I probably can't argue with that, considering he's been a lot better since a midseason stint in Toledo. If he's healthy, Alburquerque is probably a safe bet, too. He was supposed to throw in Tuesday's game, just to make sure all his forearm and hip strain are behind him.

QUESTION MARKS: Basically six guys in the running for two spots (Pick 2).
Ryan Perry, RHP
David Pauley, RHP
Brad Penny, RHP
Luis Marte, RHP
Duane Below, LHP
Jacob Turner, RHP

Leyland said that Turner was "done" after getting a start on Thursday — Fister will follow Scherzer in relief Wednesday to allow them to line up for the postseason — so you can probably rule him out of this discussion. It could be a ruse, I suppose, but the Tigers have been getting ready to shut him down for a while.
That leaves four righties and a lefty. You don't need long-reliever types in the postseason, usually, so that may rule out Pauley, but Below might get a reprieve, since he's left-handed.
You really never know what you're going to get with Ryan Perry, but he's been better since his second stint at Toledo this summer. Marte was brought up for his strikeout-inducing curveball, but hasn't entirely replicated his minor-league numbers, and probably is a long shot to be on the postseason roster, considering his inexperience.
That leaves Penny.
The likely odd-man-out in the rotation squeeze, you have to wonder if the Tigers would carry the 33-year-old to pitch out of the bullpen, especially considering that his 23.0 career postseason innings pitched isn't that much less than all the rest of the Tigers pitchers combined (32.2). Those not named Verlander only have 11 combined postseason innings. Saying that Penny's been rough in his last five outings (6.86 ERA) is being kind, but he has given the Tigers a chance to win at least two of those. His postseason resume isn't pretty when you look at the starting numbers — four starts, 1-2 record, 13 ER in 18.1 IP — but he had three scoreless relief appearances for the Marlins in 2003, and two earned runs in an inning of relief in the 2006 NLDS for the Dodgers. Oh, yeah, and he has a World Series ring, after beating the Yankees twice in the 2003 Series. He may not have endeared himself to Tigers fans, but he's been the steady veteran presence that the Tigers wanted him to be when they signed him to a one-year deal in the offeseason.
My prediction: Perry and Below.

Tigers trying to get over Mendoza line

The Detroit Tigers (89-64) come into the two-game road series with the Royals holding a one-game advantage over the Texas Rangers for home-field advantage in the first round, and trailing the Yankees by 3.5 games for home-field throughout the American League playoffs.

The scrappy Royals have the second-best record (6-10) of any AL Central opponent against the Tigers this season, having split the recent four-game set at Comerica Park. Until the recent split in Oakland, the Tigers had won 9 of 10 series, with only the split keeping them from a clean sweep. The Tigers will be facing right-hander Luis Mendoza, who pitched all of this season at Triple-A Omaha.

Here are the lineups/matchups for Game 1 of the series.

Detroit Tigers (89-64):
(Career vs. Mendoza in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (1.000, 1-for-1)
Don Kelly, 3B (.000, 0-for-1)
Delmon Young, LF (n/a)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.500, 1-for-2, 1 HR)
Victor Martinez, DH (n/a)
Alex Avila, C (n/a)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (n/a)
Andy Dirks, RF (n/a)
Ramon Santiago, 2B (.000, 0-for-2)

Starting pitcher:
Brad Penny
, RHP
2011 season: 10-10, 5.07 ERA, 1.532 WHIP
2011 vs. KC: 1-0, 8 IP, 0 ER, 0.625 WHIP
Career vs. KC: 3 GS, 1-1, 2.70 ERA, 16.2 IP

Kansas City Royals (67-87):
(Career vs. Penny in parentheses)
Alex Gordon, LF (.333, 1-for-3)
Melky Cabrera, CF (.250, 2-for-8)
Eric Hosmer, 1B (.000, 0-for-3)
Jeff Francoeur, RF (.333, 4-for-12, 1 HR)
Mike Moustakas, 3B (n/a)
Johnny Giavotella, 2B (n/a)
Mitch Maier, DH (n/a)
Salvador Perez, C (n/a)
Alcides Escobar, SS (.000, 0-for-3)

Starting pitcher:
Luis Mendoza
, RHP
Had his contract purchased Saturday from Triple-A Omaha, where he was 10-3 as a starter, 12-5 overall.
2010 season in MLB: 0-1, 4G, 0 starts, 22.50 ERA, 3.250 WHIP
Career vs. DET: 0-1, 19.29 ERA, 2.1 IP (Mendoza gave up 5 ER in 1.2 IP in the third game of last season, pitching the eighth and ninth in a 7-3 loss.)

FOX Sports Detroit play-by-play man Mario Impemba tweeted out an update on the upcoming pitching rotation, saying that rookie Jacob Turner will pitch Thursday, Justin Verlander will pitch Saturday and Max Scherzer/Doug Fister will split Wednesday's game.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Verlander tries for win No. 24, Tigers go for split in Oakland

While the Tigers clinched the American League Central title late Friday night, there are still some goals — team and personal — to play for.
Justin Verlander is going for his 24th win of the season against the A's, trying to become the first MLB pitcher since Atlanta's John Smoltz in 1996 to do so. The last American League pitcher to win 24 or more games was Bob Welch in 1990 for Oakland. No Tigers pitcher has won 24 games since Mickey Lolich in 1971, in the era of the four-man rotation.
For the Tigers, there's still a chance to hold onto home-field advantage in the first round (the Tigers are a game ahead of Texas), and still a chance to get home-field through the AL Championship Series (the Tigers are four games behind the Yankees).

Game time: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: FOX Sports Detroit
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270)

DETROIT TIGERS (88-64):
(career vs. Moscoso in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.333, 1-for-3)
Don Kelly, 3B (n/a)
Delmon Young, LF (1.000, 1-for-1)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.400, 2-for-5)
Victor Martinez, DH (.667, 2-for-3)
Alex Avila, C (.000, 0-for-1)
Carlos Guillen, 2B (.750, 3-for-4)
Andy Dirks, RF (n/a)
Ramon Santiago SS (n/a)

Starting pitcher:
Justin Verlander
, RHP
2011 season: 23-5, 2.36 ERA
Career vs. Oakland: 10GS, 4-5, 3.00 ERA, 56.2 IP

OAKLAND A'S (69-83):
(career vs. Verlander in parentheses)
Jemile Weeks, 2B (n/a)
Scott Sizemore, 3B (n/a)
Coco Crisp, CF (.368, 7-for-19)
Josh Willingham, LF (.333, 1-for-3)
David DeJesus, RF (.302, 13-for-43)
Carter, DH (n/a)
Allen, 1B (n/a)
Kurt Suzuki, C (.300, 6-for-20)
Eric Sogard, SS (n/a)

Starting pitcher:
Guillermo Moscoso
, RHP
2011 season: 8-8, 3.44 ERA
Career vs. Tigers: 0-1, 3G, 1GS, 8.00 ERA, 3 HR, 9 IP

Most recent pitchers with 24 wins:
(those with more than 24 have the total in parentheses)
2002 Randy Johnson, Arizona
1996 John Smoltz, Atlanta
1990 Bob Welch, Oakland (27)
1988 Frank Viola, Minnesota
1986 Rogers Clemens, Boston
1985 Dwight Gooden, New York Mets
1983 Lamarr Hoyt, Chicago White Sox
1980 Steve Carlton, Philadelphia
1978 Ron Guidry, New York Yankees (25)
1974 Catfish Hunter, Oakland (25)
1974 Ferguson Jenkins, Texas (25)
1973 Ron Bryant, San Francisco
1972 Steve Carlton, Philadelphia (25)
1972 Gaylord Perry, Cleveland
1971 Mickey Lolich, Detroit (25)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Miggy abstains from Tigers' champagne shower

As I surmised when the question came up recently of whether Miguel Cabrera would join in the Detroit Tigers' champagne celebration after they clinched the American League Central, the answer would be self-evident.

Either he would, or he wouldn't. It really wasn't a question that needed to be asked and answered, because it would be on display for all to see, eventually. And it was.

When the FOX Sports Detroit cameras panned around the Tigers' champagne-soaked locker room Friday night almost all the familiar faces from the franchise were evident, from the players to the front office to the training staff.

But Miggy was nowhere to be found.

Oh, he was there. He talked to MLB.com's Jason Beck for a video, as well as MLIVE's Chris Iott and CBSSports.com's C. Trent Rosecrans for their stories.

But by all reports, he was sporting only a bottle of water.

And good for him.

Not that he needs (or wants) my approval. But it's always good to see someone doing well in a battle as hard as dealing with an addiction — especially when you have to do it on a very public stage, as he is.

Like I said before, it was his call. Glad he made it with such ease and grace. Far more satisfying to pass along positive stories, rather than the disappointing ones we started the season with.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tigers could be popping corks soon — but should they? It's their call in the end

Corks could be popping and champagne flowing by later tonight — the wee hours of Friday morning, that is.

The Detroit Tigers, having reduced their magic number to two, could clinch as soon as the end of Thursday night's games, if the Indians lose to the Texas Rangers, and they beat the Oakland A's. Both happen, and they're in.

And the first divisional title in 24 years is surely worth celebrating. You'd expect — as you do in all these situations — that the champagne is already on ice.

But here's the rub where the Tigers are concerned — do they plan their celebration differently because of Miguel Cabrera, who has had alcohol-related problems in the past? Do they go with non-alcoholic champagne, instead? Do they sip grape juice in deference to their teammate?

Maybe.

Or Miggy could do what Josh Hamilton — another noted, MVP-caliber baseball player who's had substance abuse issues — did last year when the Rangers clinched the American League West title. Hamilton, who like Cabrera, has a companion/guardian who helps him steer clear of problem situations (Miggy's is former big-leaguer Raul Gonzalez), kept himself out of a tempting situation last fall by staying in the trainer's room while his Rangers teammates celebrated in the clubhouse. He skipped the rest of the celebration to meet a previous engagement as a speaker for a fan gathering the park.

"I'm excited and what happened yesterday as far as the guys celebrating in here, that's part of it," Hamilton told ESPN-Dallas the next day. "It's not for me. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have liked to have been in here with them. I just felt like it was in my best interest if I didn't participate. But it's amazing that it just so happened to work out that we clinched the same day they are having Faith Day and I'm speaking out there."

That could happen in Cabrera's case, too. He could decide to absent himself. Or the Tigers organization may have a plan for the proceedings that none of us are privy to, just yet.

But I'm not sure they'll be willing to tell, if asked about it. The Tigers organization, citing Cabrera's privacy, have been very guarded and closed-mouthed about Cabrera's situation all season long.

Don't take that as a criticism. It's not. It's merely an acknowledgment that Cabrera is not as open to talking about the situation as Hamilton appears to be. Nor are the Tigers.

And that's fine. Different people. Different personalities. Different levels of comfort with talking about the situation.

It just means that the perfectly valid questions may go unanswered, if asked. Probably met with a lot of "No comment" and "Next question." And that's perfectly fine, too. Like most of us were inclined to say back in the spring, what matters most is what's best for Cabrera, and what's best for the Tigers.

And, in the end, that's their call, not ours.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

UPDATED: Tigers clincher will be televised

Amazing how quickly things can change.
Just a few weeks ago, we were wondering if this American League Central wouldn't be a nail-biter of a race down to the final three-game series of the regular season, with the Tigers and Indians facing off at Comerica. Had to make sure that ace Justin Verlander was lined up to pitch in that series, remember?

Then, once the Tigers got insanely hot, and the magic number slowly crept (actually hurtled would be a better term) toward single digits, a few of us tried our hand at the odd math involved in a three-way race, trying to predict when the Tigers might actually clinch their first AL Central title ever. (Yep, to review, the Tigers' LAST title was in the AL East, 24 years ago. And I was a sophomore in high school.)

The best guess that we could put on it was that the Tigers might be able to clinch at the earliest by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. More likely than not, it would come either in a three-game visit to Oakland or a two-game set at Kansas City, especially if one of the two teams chasing them got hot — ala the Twins of old.

Then, all of a sudden, people began to remember that one of two games on the schedule that were never intended to be televised also fell in that stretch: Saturday's 4:05 p.m. start in Oakland. Scheduled by the A's as a day game — a 1:05 start Pacific Time, or 4:05 Eastern — it falls within FOX's exclusive broadcast window. A similar situation happened with ESPN for the Tigers' rain-induced Sunday doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox in May.

Once it became clear that might be a very, very meaningful game for the Tigers, a concerted behind-the-scenes effort — like happened in May — was made to get it put on the air. There were reports Wednesday that it would be broadcast on FOX 2, rather than the Tigers' normal broadcast partner, FOX Sports Detroit. The broadcast schedule on the Tigers' website has also listed "FOX" for the carrier for most of Wednesday afternoon and evening.

But there's still been no direct confirmation from the Tigers. FOX Sports Detroit confirmed on Twitter early Thursday afternoon that MLB On FOX had helped broker a deal to get the game on the air in Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. [HERE is the full story from FOX Sports Detroit on the decision.] The Tigers confirmed it with a release shortly thereafter.

At this point, however, the point may be entirely moot. The Tigers are doing their level best to meet the earliest possible clinch scenarios, pushing their win streak to a ridiculous level, coming from three runs down to win with a pair of pinch-hit home runs in the ninth. The 12-game win streak is the franchise's longest since the World Series year in 1934. (Which is a year before my dad was BORN!)

Thanks to Wednesday's come-from-behind win — and the Indians' 9-1 loss to Texas later in the night — Tigers' magic number dropped to just two, meaning that it would take just one more win by the Tigers and one loss by the Indians to set champagne corks a-popping. It might be all over by Saturday.

By continuing to push the pedal to the floor, and ignoring everything going on around them, the Tigers have taken any suspense out of the situation.

"I will say one thing: Up to this point, we're not backing in," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters after Wednesday's game.

No. Not even a little bit.

They could be the second team (after the Phillies) to clinch a playoff berth, and the first to clinch a division title.

They could be faster to clinch than either the 1984 or 1968 teams, which they've already passed for the longest win streak.

"This team is special," starting pitcher Brad Penny said on Twitter Wednesday night.

[NOTE: In making the announcement of the broadcast of Saturday's game, FOX Sports Detroit also noted that, should the Tigers clinch on Saturday, the network would break into regularly-scheduled programming to show the locker room celebration.]

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Tigers go for win No. 12 in a row vs. White Sox (Sept. 14)

Game time: 2:10 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Detroit
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270).

DETROIT TIGERS (86-62):
(none of the Tigers have ever faced White Sox rookie Dylan Axelrod)
Andy Dirks, CF
Ramon Santiago, SS
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Carlos Guillen, 2B
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Don Kelly, RF
Omir Santos, C

Starting pitcher:
Brad Penny
, RHP
2011 season: 10-10, 5.19 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
2011 vs. White Sox: 3-0, 3.80 ERA, 23.2 IP

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (73-74):
(stats vs. Tigers starter Brad Penny in parentheses)
Juan Pierre, LF (.306, 11-for-36)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (.231, 3-for-13, 1 HR)
Paul Konerko, 1B (.417, 5-for-12)
A.J. Pierzynski, C (.077, 1-for-13)
Dayan Viciedo, DH (.333, 1-for-3)
Alex Rios, CF (.619, 13-for-21)
Alejandro De Aza, RF (.333, 1-for-3)
Brent Morel, 3B (.571, 4-for-7, 1 HR)
Gordon Beckham, 2B (.400, 4-for-10, 1 HR)

Starting pitcher:
Dylan Axelrod
, RHP
2011 season: 1 GP, 2.0 IP in MLB debut on Sept. 7.

Tigers vs. White Sox
2011 season series:
12-5 (7-2 at Comerica, 5-3 at U.S. Cellular)

TIGERS PLAYOFF PUSH
Magic number:
4
American League Central lead: 12.5
Games behind Yankees for AL's best record: 4.5
Games ahead of Rangers for ALDS home-field advantage: 2.0
Win streak: 11 (first time since 1968 — last 12-game win streak: 1934)

BRAD PENNY, after last outing:
"The sooner we can clinch this thing, the better.
We’re playing as good as anybody in baseball right now, and now’s the time to be to be doing that. We got real hot at the right time, and hopefully we can stay that way.
I think our goal was to win a division, and anybody who puts a uniform on wants to play in a World Series. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but the sooner we can clinch this thing, the better, so you can set your rotation up for the postseason."

Tigers release 2012 schedule

The Detroit Tigers announced their 2012 schedule on Wednesday, and will open the season at home on April 5 against the Boston Red Sox, as part of a six-game homestand against the BoSox and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Other notable home series include: The New York Yankees twice (June 1-3 and Aug. 6-9) and a four-game set against the Los Angeles Angels (July 16-19), which — barring a postseason meeting this season — will be the rematch from this year's contentious showdown between aces Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. The Angels return to Comerica on Aug. 24-26, and the Tigers go to Anaheim on Sept. 7-9.

Interleague series include a home-and-home set with the Pittsburgh Pirates (May 18-20 at Comerica, June 22-24 at PNC Park), a home set against the Colorado Rockies (June 15-17) and a three-game matchup between good managerial friends Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa when the St. Louis Cardinals visit (June 19-21).

Key road series include two trips to Boston (May 28-31 and July 30-Aug. 1), a pair of National League Central visits to the Reds (June 8-10) and the Cubs (June 12-14).

Here's the full 2012 schedule on the Tigers' website.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lineups for Sept. 13 vs. White Sox

Detroit Tigers (85-62):
(Career stats vs. Floyd in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.222, 2-for-9)
Will Rhymes, 2B (.750, 3-for-4)
Delmon Young, LF (.300, 9-for-30, 1 HR)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.257, 9-for-35, 1 HR)
Victor Martinez, DH (.357, 10-for-28)
Alex Avila, C (.100, 1-for-10)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (.310, 9-for-29, 2 HR)
Wilson Betemit, 3B (.333, 3-for-9)
Andy Dirks, RF (.167, 1-for-6)

Starting pitcher:
Justin Verlander
, RHP
2011: 22-5, 2.44 ERA, 229 IP, 232 K, 0.908 WHIP
Vs. White Sox: 11-10, 4.31 ERA, 170 IP, 122 K
at U.S. Cellular Field: 4-6, 12 G, 4.62 ERA, 90 IP, 66 K
Vs. White Sox in 2011: 4-1, 3.47 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 34 K
Win streak: 10

White Sox (73-73):
(Career stats vs. Verlander in parentheses)
Juan Pierre, LF (.276, 8-for-29)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (.244, 10-for-41, 1 HR)
A.J. Pierzynski, DH (.277, 18-for-65, 3 HR)
Dayan Viciedo, 1B (.000, 0-for-3)
Alex Rios, CF (.200, 5-for-25)
Alejandro De Aza, RF (.000, 0-for-3)
Tyler Flowers, C (.333, 1-for-3, 1 HR)
Brent Morell, 3B (.273, 3-for-11)
Gordon Beckham, 2B (.227, 5-for-22, 1 HR)

Starting pitcher:
Gavin Floyd
, RHP
2011: 12-10, 4.35 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Career vs. Tigers: 6-1, 3.51 ERA, 97.1 IP, 1.408 WHIP
Vs. Tigers in 2011: 1-0, 3.55 ERA, 2 GS, 12.2 IP

American League Central lead: 11.5 games
Magic number to eliminate White Sox: 5
Magic number to eliminate Indians: 6
Winning streak: 10 games (longest since 1968)

Game time: 8:10 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Detroit
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Starters for tonight's Tigers/White Sox game (Sept. 12)

Time: 8:10 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Detroit
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270)

DETROIT TIGERS (84-62):
(career stats vs. Danks in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.200, 2-for-10)
Magglio Ordonez, RF (.609, 14-for-23, 2 HR)
Delmon Young, LF (.306, 11-for-36, 2 HR)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.211, 4-for-19)
Victor Martinez, DH (.261, 6-for-23, 3 HR)
Alex Avila, C (.333, 1-for-3)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (.219, 7-for-32)
Ryan Raburn, 2B (.211, 4-for-19, 1 HR)
Brandon Inge, 3B (.217, 5-for-19, 1 HR)

STARTING PITCHER:
Rick Porcello
, RHP
2011 overall: 13-8, 4.87 ERA, 1.40 WHIP overall
Career vs. White Sox: 1-4, 7.46 ERA, 1.46 WHIP

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (73-72)
(career stats vs. Porcello in parentheses)
Juan Pierre, LF (.333, 5-for-15, 1 HR)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (.250, 4-for-16, 1 HR)
Paul Konerko, 1B (.467, 7-for-15, 1 HR)
A.J. Pierzynski, C (.182, 2-for-11)
Dayan Viciedo, RF (n/a)
Alex Rios, DH (.235, 4-for-17, 2 HR)
Alejandro De Aza, CF (n/a)
Brent Morel, 3B (.000, 0-for-2)
Gordon Beckham, 2B (.500, 3-for-6, 1 HR)

Starting pitcher:
John Danks
, LHP
2011 overall: 6-11, 4.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Career vs. Tigers: 3-4, 4.12 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Tigers season series vs. White Sox: 10-5 (7-2 home, 3-3 road)
AL Central lead: 11.5 (over second-place White Sox)
Magic number: 7*
* — combination of Tigers wins and losses by the second-place team that ensure a Tigers postseason berth.
Tigers win streak: 9
(Last time done: 1984. Last 10 game win streak: 1968)

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lineups/matchups for Tigers vs. Twins, Sept. 11

Detroit Tigers (83-62):
(career vs. Diamond in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.333, 1-for-3)
Magglio Ordonez, RF (.250, 1-for-4)
Delmon Young, LF (.000, 0-for-3)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1.00, 3-for-3)
Victor Martinez, DH (.500, 1-for-2)
Ryan Raburn, 2B (.667, 2-for-3)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (.000, 0-for-3)
Brandon Inge, 3B (.500, 1-for-2)
Omir Santos, C (n/a)

Starting pitcher:
Doug Fister, RHP (7-3, 3.17 overall; 4-1, 2.64 ERA with Tigers)
Career vs. Twins: 0-4, 4.10 ERA (Has not faced MIN as a member of Tigers)

Minnesota Twins (59-86):
(career averages vs. Fister in parentheses)
Jason Repko, RF (.000, 0-for-2)
Trevor Plouffe, SS (n/a)
Joe Mauer, DH (.000, 0-for-8)
Danny Valencia, 3B (.125, 1-for-8) (late scratch)
SUB: Luke Hughes, 3B (n/a)
Chris Parmelee, 1B (n/a)
Joe Benson, CF (n/a)
Rene Tosoni, LF (n/a)
Matt Tolbert, 2B (.000, 0-for-5)
Drew Butera, C (n/a)

Starting pitcher:
Scott Diamond, LHP (1-3, 4.56 ERA)
Career vs. Tigers: 0-1, 5.68 ERA in one start

Tigers vs. Twins in 2011: 13-4
at Comerica: 6-2
at Target Field: 7-2

Playoff push:
Magic number: 9
Win streak: 8
Divisional lead: 9.5

Links to Saturday's coverage:
NOTEBOOK: Tigers need Scherzer to find consistency in delivery for playoff drive
GAME STORY: Tigers walk-off again, keep pedal to the metal to avoid drama of '09
COLUMN: The top 10 most memorable moments of the Tigers season to date
VIDEO: Brandon Inge and Max Scherzer talk about another walk-off win

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Leyland tells Penny to pick up the pace

To say that Brad Penny is "deliberate" in his pace on the mound would be an understatement.

Perhaps the slowest worker among all the Tigers' pitchers, his exaggeratedly slow pace has merely been more noticeable with the addition of Doug "Get Ball, Throw Ball" Fister to the rotation.

It's surely something that every fan has noticed. And it's something that his manager has now spoken to him about.

"I talked to him a little bit in Cleveland about maybe picking up the pace a little bit, just to see if it helps. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be my fault," the manager said before Penny's start against the Twins Friday, noting that he doesn't know if the suggestion will be successful.
"I think sometimes, the longer you take before you throw it again, sometimes you outthink yourself. Get it back, look in for the sign, and throw it. Now, is it going to be that rapid (of) a pace? I can’t swear to that. But hopefully it’ll be a little quicker than it’s been.

"I don’t know that it’s going to help. We need him to pitch good tonight, whether he takes all day to do it. If he pitches good, that’s fine with me."

For Penny, who's in contention for the Tigers' fourth spot in the playoff rotation, a solid outing is a necessity in more ways than one. He's lost four of his last six decisions, dating back to July 23, and has a 6.85 ERA over that stretch.

In fact, according to HardballTalk.com, he has the fifth-worst ERA in the majors (6.49) since the All-Star break.

It's also a necessity for the playoff momentum of the Tigers (81-62), who have won six straight to pare their magic number down to just 12 with 19 games to go.

The theory, of course, is that a starter who works fast keeps the defense on its toes behind him.

"That’s a double-edged sword. Because if you tell somebody to throw it before they’re ready, and it’s not successful, then ..." Leyland trailed off. "I’ve always said it’s like a good or bad movie: If you go to a bad movie, and it’s slow, you leave. If you go to a good movie, and it’s long, you stay."

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Lineups for Sept. 9 vs. the Twins

Lineup for the Detroit Tigers (81-62):
(averages vs. Kevin Slowey in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-7, .286)
Magglio Ordonez, RF (4-for-16, .250)
Delmon Young, LF (n/a)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-16, .313, 2 HRs)
Victor Martinez, DH (6-for-12, .500)
Alex Avila, C (1-for-2, .500, 1 HR)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (5-for-23, .217)
Wilson Betemit, 3B (1-for-4, .250)
Ramon Santiago, 2B (2-for-6, .333)

Starting pitcher:
Brad Penny (9-10, 5.13 ERA)
This year vs. Twins: 4 GS, 0-2, 7.13 ERA, 24 IP, 30 H, 19 ER, 14 K, 9 BB
Per HardballTalk.com, Penny has the fifth-worst ERA in baseball since the All-Star break, at 6.19.

Lineup for Twins (59-84)
Ben Revere, CF (2-for-7, .286)
Trevor Plouffe, 2B (2-for-9, .222)
Joe Mauer, C (2-for-9, .222)
Jason Kubel, DH (6-for-18, .333, 1 HR)
Danny Valencia, 3B (4-for-11, .364, 1 HR)
Chris Parmalee, 1B (n/a) — made MLB debut Sept. 6
Joe Benson, RF (n/a) — made MLB debut Sept. 6
Rene Tosoni, LF (2-for-4, 1 HR) — made MLB debut April 28
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, SS (2-for-5, .400) — made MLB debut April 1

Starting pitcher:
Kevin Slowey (0-4, 5.31 ERA)
This year vs. Tigers: Has not faced Tigers in 2011. He's 2-0 career vs. Detroit, with a 3.09 ERA in two starts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?

Three weeks ago Friday, the Detroit Tigers fan base was collectively holding its breath, as the Cleveland Indians had cut the Tigers' American League Central lead to 1.5 games. Especially nerve-wracking was the thought that the two teams were about to face off, and Tigers ace Justin Verlander was not going to throw.

A sweep of the Indians that weekend, followed by a sweep of the then-surging Chicago White Sox, followed by a road sweep in Cleveland this week, and the Tigers fans are preparing for the postseason.

That's what happens when you win 16 of 20 games — and five of six series, splitting the other — in that same three-week span. When your "magic number" shrinks to 12 with 19 games left, websites like ESPN.com start listing your playoff chances at 99.5 percent.

And your franchise starts getting ready to host postseason games.

The Tigers announced Thursday that tickets for the Tigers' potential postseason appearance — the franchise's third in a quarter century — will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. The tickets (limit six per customer) will only be available online (www.Tigers.com) or by calling 866-66-TIGER.

Major League Baseball's postseason is scheduled to start Friday, Sept. 30. The Tigers go into Thursday's games holding a half-game lead over the Texas Rangers for home-field advantage in the American League Division Series. Whichever of those two teams finishes ahead of the other in the overall standings will host the Wild Card team (nearly a foregone conclusion that it will be the second-place team from the AL East), while the other team visits the AL East champion.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Highlights from the Tigers' magical comeback, walk-off win

If you haven't heard the calls (or seen the highlights) from last night's comeback win over the White Sox, here's the link to the MLB.com video.

For my part, I'm glad they added Dan Dickerson's calls from WXYT-FM because, quite frankly, Matt Vasgergian's call on FOX's national TV broadcast flat-out sucked. Sounded like someone kicked his dog — anticlimactic and awkward to boot.

At least Dickerson's call reflects the drama of the moment, in what may turn out to be a very key night in the Tigers' drive toward the postseason.

From Ryan Raburn, who hit the game-tying two-run homer:
"Besides two years ago, in Game 163, that was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time, just the way it ended, and the way it played out. I was telling some of the guys, if you don’t get pumped up after that, there’s something wrong with you. Because that was just an unbelievable game right there."

From Jim Leyland, who's got more than 1,500 games under his belt as a manager:
"It was a helluva win. A dramatic win. I don’t know that I’ve been involved with many — if any — exactly like that. Boom, a two-run homer to tie it. Boom a homer to win it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been involved in one exactly like that. ... Things happen pretty quick, as you saw. We’re winning, and that’s all you can say about it. ... We had two good at bats by two guys capable of hitting the ball over the fence at the end, and they both did it. It doesn’t happen very often."

From Miguel Cabrera, who hit the no-doubt walk-off to win it:
"It’s all about win(ning) games. We win games when we score runs. Every game for us right now is a playoff game."

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Avila the Tigers' candidate for Heart and Hustle Award

As worn out as he surely was, Alex Avila probably didn't feel like he was hustling too much in August; after all, he got just two games off in the month.

Clearly, he was, however, as he was tabbed the Tigers' Player of the Month, hitting .360 with seven doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 18 RBI in 26 games. (Unsurprisingly, Justin Verlander was named the Pitcher of the Month, going 5-0 with a 3.12 ERA.)

Avila will be getting another award on Saturday, as former Tiger Willie Horton will present him with the award honoring him as the Tigers' selection for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's Heart and Hustle Award. One nominee from each of the 30 teams will go into the final competition, and the winner of the award for the year will be announced on Nov. 3.

Previous winners include: David Eckstein (2005), Craig Biggio (2006, 2007), Grady Sizemore (2008), Albert Pujols (2009) and Roy Halladay (2010).

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Today's lineups from Tigers vs. White Sox

Today's Tigers lineup:
(Batting avg. vs. Floyd in parentheses)
Austin Jackson, CF (.000, 0-for-6)
Andy Dirks, RF (.333, 1-for-3)
Delmon Young, LF (.259, 7-for-27)
Miguel Cabrera, 1B (.250, 8-for-32, 1 HR)
Victor Martinez, DH (.346, 9-for-26)
Alex Avila, C (.125, 1-for-8)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (.333, 9-for-27, 1 HR)
Carlos Guillen, 2B (.385, 10-for-26, 1 HR)
Wilson Betemit, 3B (.286, 2-for-7)

Brad Penny, RHP (9-10 overall, 5.07 ERA; 3-0, 2.89 vs. ChiSox)

Today's White Sox lineup:
(Batting avg. vs. Penny in parentheses)
Juan Pierre, LF (.324, 11-for-34)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (.100, 1-for-10)
Paul Konerko, 1B (.333, 3-for-9)
A.J. Pierzynski, C (.091, 1-for-11)
Dayan Viciedo, DH (has not faced)
Alex Rios, CF (.611, 11-for-18)
Alejandro De Aza, RF (has not faced)
Brent Morel, 3B (.750, 3-for-4)
Gordon Beckham, 2B (.429, 3-for-7, 1 HR)

Gavin Floyd, RHP (12-10 overall, 4.36 ERA; 1-0, 1.17 ERA vs. Tigers this season; 6-1, 3.31 ERA vs. Tigers in career)

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Al Alburquerque elated to be headed back to the field

DETROIT — Al Alburquerque is happy to be back to throwing a baseball.

Shoot, at this point, he’s happy to be doing anything.

After being struck in the head by a ball hit during batting practice four weeks ago in Baltimore, the rookie reliever is finally headed back on the field.

He’ll head to Toledo tonight, and pitch an inning for the Mud Hens on Saturday, then he expects to be back with the Tigers on Sunday.

“I’m excited to get back and help my team, you know?” Alburquerque said in the Tigers’ clubhouse Friday, after taking part in the team photo.

It’s a happy conclusion to what was initially a scary incident. Alburquerque was warming up on the field when he was struck in the side of the head — just inches from his temple — by a ball hit by the Orioles’ Robert Andino. Alburquerque went down head-first, as teammates and training staff rushed to his side. [Watch the video HERE]

“I know nothing. All I know is I play catch, and when the ball hit me, my friend say ‘Heads up!’ but the ball hit me already. I feel weird and everything. I start crying, you know?” said Alburquerque, who acknowledged that the ball struck him “very good” in the head.

The 25-year-old was rushed to the hospital for a CT scan, which showed some internal bleeding. Once he was released, he was driven back to Michigan by a member of the equipment staff.

He was placed on the seven-day disabled list, but Dr. Andrew Russman, a MTBI (mild trauma brain injury) specialist, recommended he be kept from any physical activity for another week or more. That enforced inactivity ate at him, as he was left alone in his apartment while the Tigers took a seven-day road trip to Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

“It was hard. I listen to him, you know? He’s the doctor. He know better than me,” Alburqueque said. “I want to play, I want to help my team, but if he say I need a rest, I need to listen to him.”

He was finally cleared to resume baseball activities this week, and has already thrown two side sessions.

“That’d be huge for us. We need another righty down there,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But you just don’t know how that’s going to play out. He hasn’t been out there for a while. There’s always a concern when a guy hasn’t faced hitters, so we want him to go face hitters, rather than just pitch a simulated game. I don’t think that would be good for him, and I don’t think that would be good for our hitters.”

Either way, Alburquerque is excited to be returning.

“The pitching coach (Jeff Jones) tell me I have to play catch with him now,” he joked. “Sometimes it happens, you know? I be lucky to play again. I say ‘Thank you, God’ for the opportunity to play, and hopefully come back good and try to help my team.”

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{Photo credit: Getty Images}

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September call-ups arrive

We all knew that Jacob Turner would be coming up on Sept. 1 to make a spot start in the rotation.

The rest of the potential call-ups were a little more up in the air, though.

Thursday, the Tigers announced that they were bringing Carlos Guillen back from his Triple-A rehab assignment, as well as adding Will Rhymes and Andy Dirks from Toledo, along with Double-A pitcher Luis Marte.

It will be the big-league debut for Marte, an undersized right-hander who purportedly has one of the best curveballs in the organization. He was 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA at Erie this season (23 games), striking out 68 and walking just 18 for an amazingly low WHIP of 0.887.

Rhymes started the season as the Tigers' second baseman, then went down to Toledo on May 3, after hitting just .221 with one extra-base hit and two RBI in 20 games. He was back with the big-league club for less than 24 hours three weeks ago, called up as a fill-in on the roster when Guillen went on the disabled list, then sent back down to clear room on the roster for trade acquisition Delmon Young. Rhymes hit .306 with Toledo this season, earning a spot on the International League team in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

Dirks was up with the big-league club for most of the season, making his MLB debut in mid-May and proceeding to hit .256 with six home runs. His late-August demotion was merely a numbers game, as the club needed to find room to recall Brandon Inge from Toledo.

Guillen was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 13 with a sore wrist. He was in Toledo this week on a rehabilitation assignment. He finished 5-for-11 in three games there this week, notching three doubles.

The club also could call up infielder Danny Worth and catcher Omir Santos after the Mud Hens' season ends on Tuesday. Since both had fill-in stints with the Tigers in the last 10 days, by rule they cannot be called up again until the end of the minor league season (barring another injury replacement scenario).