Navin Field

………………………Detroit Tigers Weblog: From “Sock it to ‘em” to “Bless You Boys” to “Gum Time” and beyond…

May
29

Game 53

Posted by Chris
BallHype: hype it up!

Wire to wire?

No, this is not a story about the 1984 Tigers’ season.  It is about yesterday’s game.  The Tigers led from the get go in this one.  They scored three runs in the first inning, and that was all Armando Galarraga would need.  He ended up going 8 1/3 innings before even getting into a bit of trouble, and if he hadn’t given up a couple runs in the ninth, he would have likely gotten to pitch through the frame and get the shutout.  He only threw 104 pitches.

A couple things took place with the lineup that many fans on many message boards have been screaming for.  First of all, Brandon Inge played third base and made a couple plays look easy that Carlos Guillen has booted in recent games.  Unfortunately for this one, Guillen will likely be the third sacker in upcoming appearances.

Secondly, it looks like Marcus Thames will finally get his shot to show what he has to offer.  We’ve seen it before.  In 2006, Thames had a career year when he actually got to play in 110 games.  For some reason, however, he lost his starting job in 2007 with the acquisition of Gary Sheffield, and then no matter what happened, it looked like he would get blocked by younger, and to this point, less talented players.

This doesn’t really make sense because Jim Leyland will forgo defense at third base, supplanting Brandon Inge, for a better hitter.  He will forgo defense at center field when left-handed pitchers take the ball against the Tigers, supplanting Curtis Granderson for a better hitter against lefties (more on this later), and he will forgo defense at first base to let Miguel Cabrera get a bat in his hands.

For some reason, though, left field has always been a place where Leyland has gone for the better defender as opposed to the better hitter.  Matt Joyce did well, but cooled off, and he is, for the most part, unproven.  Clete Thomas covered center field well with Granderson gone, but he isn’t the power hitter anyone else that could take the position is.  Ryan Raburn is supposed to be better defensively than any left fielder we have out there, but he hasn’t show his skills with the bat as much as anyone that has played for the Tigers as long or longer than Thames.

But for some reason, Leyland likes to put the best defensive option in left.  Maybe it’s because of all the balls getting by Guillen that Inge would swallow up.  Or maybe it is because of all the balls that get through the hole at short because Edgar Renteria has limited range anymore.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Jim Leyland lets offense trump defense at any other position except the least important defensive position on the field.

Until yesterday.

Leyland finally decided to give Thames his shot.  With Sheffield out, there isn’t much more he could do to be honest.  He also decided to allow Granderson to start at leadoff against Joe Saunders, a lefty.

And what do you know, it worked…

Granderson singled to start the game, and two batters later, Thames homered, making the score 2-0.  The Tigers added another run in the frame and then scored two more in the fifth when Thames homered yet again.  Granderson ended up two for five and Thames had four RBI in the contest, making Jim Leyland look like a genius for at least one day.  The problem is, why wasn’t any of this done earlier?

Hopefully, the Tigers, who play the lowly Mariners in a three-game set starting tomorrow will catch a bit of fire on the backs of the new lineup.  Hopefully, they get back to .500 before the All-Star break.  Hopefully, it’s not too late to catch the division-leading White Sox who sit 6 1/2 games ahead of Detroit at this point.  It seems that Jim Leyland is too stubborn to make changes until all else has failed.  He moved Gary Sheffield in and out of left to no avail.  Sheffield started hitting and then came up lame running out a grounder.  What did he go on the disabled list for?  An oblique?  That doesn’t make any sense either.

If Sheffield had a hurt oblique, it was likely hurt before he came up lame on the grounder, but he was too stubborn to take himself out of the lineup.  Leyland, who at times, thinks this team is the 1997 Marlins and Sheffield is still 30 years old, figures the guy’s thirty-year-old body can fight through it.  Unfortunately, the year is 2008, and Sheffield is older than dirt.  The guy needs his rest, and it’s high time he gets it.  Remember, this guy was 20-20 last year, and could have gone 30-30 if it weren’t for late season injuries that he also refused to sit out for.  Maybe history repeats itself.

Well, if Sheffield can come back healthy, he deserves his chance, but if Thames is raking, it will make the decision all that much harder to make to put him back in the lineup.  If Thames hits ten home runs in the next three weeks and then Sheffield is ready to come back, the decision will be difficult to put Sheffield back in at designated hitter.

For anyone except Jim Leyland…

May
28

Game 52

Posted by Chris
BallHype: hype it up!

Jeremy Bonderman was unhittable.

Perfect through four innings (again), Bonderman really didn’t get into trouble until the sixth inning, but then he got a strikeout looking to end the threat.  He got through the seventh unscathed as well, and the Tigers nursed a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning on the shoulders of a Miguel Cabrera two-run home run that came way back in the second inning.

After the Cabrera home run, the Tigers got exactly one runner on base, and he was gobbled up in a double play.  Ervin Santana was that good.  But the Tigers had their two runs, and Bonderman, going into the eighth inning, had thrown only 77 pitches.

But then a little ground ball by Reggie Willits turned into an infield single.  The next pitch was another single to left, and the Angels had runners on first and second with no one out.  Macier Izturis bunted back to Bonderman, and he made his only play, at first base, and the tying run was in scoring position.

Then Jim Leyland came and got Bonderman, and with him left the Tigers chance to win the game.

It’s hard to go against Leyland, but it seems like every decision he makes this year ends up being the wrong one.  It’s not his fault, it just comes down to dumb luck.  Like pitching Freddy Dolsi a third inning two nights ago, or leaving in Verlander or Rogers or Robertson one inning too long, or taking out Verlander or Rogers or Robertson one inning too early.  It doesn’t matter what Leyland does, the decision ends up hurting the Tigers.

True, there is no way to tell what would have happened if Bonderman had been left in the game.  But Bonderman had gotten the next two hitters, Gary Matthews and Vlad Guerrero, every time he had faced them so far in the game.  He was pitching a shutout, and he deserved the chance to get through the jam–especially since he had thrown only 83 pitches at the time.

Leyland saw it the other way, and for a brief moment, it looked like he might be right.  Francisco Cruceta came in and got Matthews looking on four pitches, but then he let in a run with Guerrero batting on a ball in the dirt, and then walked him on the next pitch that didn’t even get to the plate.  That brought up Garret Anderson.

Anderson lined the second pitch he saw to right field and the game was tied.  The next batter flew out to left and the inning was over.  The game was 2-2.

The Tigers could not score in the ninth as Santana still had faced the minimum of 24 batters since allowing the Cabrera home run, and then the Angels came up and won the game on a couple of walks by Aquilino Lopez and then a walk-off RBI single by Matthews, his first hit of the game.

So, two nights in a row and two walk-off losses for the Tigers.  What is interesting is that two nights ago, Bobby Seay, the left-handed specialist, walked in the winning run with Garret Anderson at the plate.  This time, Anderson singled in the tying run in the ninth inning with a right-handed pitcher throwing.

Seay threw only four pitches a night ago, all balls, and it allowed the Angels to score.  Apparently, that was too many, or he jumped into Jim Leyland’s doghouse mighty quickly because the obvious decision would be to go to Seay with Anderson at the plate again in the eighth.  If Seay gets Anderson, Jones comes out for the save in the ninth.  If Seay walks Anderson again, the bases are loaded and another pitcher could come in to face the next Angels batter with the Tigers still in the lead.  Seay wasn’t hittable a night ago, he just couldn’t quite get the ball into the strike zone.  He may have been effectively wild if given the chance.

But that didn’t happen.  Cruceta was allowed to pitch to Anderson, and Anderson lined a single that tied the game.   The ninth inning really didn’t matter unless the Tigers could get through it without giving up any runs.  As long as Santana was on the hill, they wouldn’t even get another baserunner…

May
27

Game 51

Posted by Chris
BallHype: hype it up!

Another solid outing from Kenny Rogers…

Gets wasted…

Rogers held the first-place Angels in check with seven shut out innings.  The bullpen threw in four more, but the Tigers offense, the same that scored 54 runs in its previous two series, could not muster even a single crossing of the plate.

If Kenny Rogers was good, John Garland was lights out.  Though Garland walked three, he never really got into even a bit of trouble.  Rogers gave up five hits and walked just the one batter, but Garland, who actually gave up more baserunners than Rogers, struck out five Tigers to help keep them at bay.

The Tiger hitters still continue to be befuddled by good pitching.  Either they make good pitchers look great, or all these pitchers are stepping it up and blanking the Tigers with their best stuff of the year.  One thing is for sure, the hitting can’t take the full blame, some of the brunt of it has to go to the pitching keeping them off balance.

But there it is.  The Tigers were shut out for the eighth time in less than one third of a season last night.  On this pace, they will be shut out 25 times this season.  For a team that fields a .300 lifetime batting average on a given night, it is inexplicable.

The fact of the matter is that the Tigers went the first sixth of the season with the inability to get into a pitcher’s duel.  In the second sixth, they have gained the ability to get into one, but they have barely shown the ability to win one.  A month ago, Armando Galarraga was the only one showing the stuff to give the team a better than average chance to win.  A month later, pretty much every start has been good, but the hitting is hot and cold in a snap of the fingers.

Gary Sheffield came up lame running out a ground ball, and though he was 0 for 2 in this one, he had started to show some signs of life after being cold for April and most of May.  It’s unfortunate that it looked like he was starting to get healthy, but it may be the best thing for him.  If he goes on the disabled list, hopefully he will be humble enough to take a week-long rehab stint and try to get some of his power back.  If he could gain some confidence at the plate, look out.  If he, on the other hand, is okay after a couple of days, maybe he has learned to take what the pitchers give him.

The biggest news in last night’s game was the Tigers inability to get a hit after Garland left.  Okay, they had one hit.  Yes, one hit in the last five innings against three relievers.  For a team that should score 900 runs, they sure didn’t look like one last night.

Bobby Seay was the other headline.  In his last few appearances, he has not looked good.  Basically, it has been since Clay Rapada went on the DL.  If Seay can’t step it up as the team’s left-handed specialist with Rapada out, it could end up spelling doom for the Tigers, if they aren’t doomed already.

So there they are, nine games under .500 and 7 1/2 games out of first place.  They have two more against the Angels as well.  Hopefully, they can get some runs in the series.  With pitching going the way it is, they shouldn’t need many, but they’ll need at least one…

May
26

Game 50

Posted by Chris
BallHype: hype it up!

Same ol’, same ol’…

The Tigers blow up for nineteen runs, and then score one in the next game.  Yes, they scored twleve, nine and nine against the Mariners last week, but after scoring nineteen by the fifth inning, they couldn’t score but one in the next twelve.

There are still good things to take away from this one.  The pitching was great.  Justin Verlander went seven strong, gave up only the one run, and left with a tie game after seven innings.  He also threw 120 pitches, which means he is finally likely stretched out and ready to have an amazing June.

Unfortunately, Francisco Cruceta was horrible and the Tigers lost the game.  The Tigers are starting to show the need for Joel Zumaya and Fernado Rodney now more than ever.  The starting pitching has been pretty good for the last thirteen or fourteen games, but, in their losses, either they don’t score, or the bullpen gives it away, or both.

The problem, now, seems to be the problem that everyone thought they were going to have at the start of the season.  Gary Sheffield went 2 for 4, and has brought his batting average to an almost-respectable .216.   The starting pitching has been good.  The hitting seems a bit on-again, off-again, but you can’t be too upset at 54 runs in six games.  What really could end up being this team’s Achilles heel is it’s bullpen.

Clay Rapada hit the DL, Denny Bautista hit the DL.  Add in Rodney and Zumaya, and you’ve got trouble.  Bobby Seay didn’t look good in his last outing, and when a team has Dontrelle Willis in the bullpen, something must be going on…

On a good note, Freddy Dolsi looks solid, but so did Bautista and Rapada and Seay and Lopez, but they don’t have enough innings under their belts to really be able to believe in them.  If Zumaya and Rodney can come back and Bautista and Rapada can again be healthy and Jim Leyland can pick and choose his bullpen, it may be a godsend.

The best thing about this season is all the experience a bunch of young pitchers are getting, especially Francisco Cruceta, Bautista, Dolsi and Armando Galarraga.  Seay will have to step it up as the left handed specialist because of the Rapada departure to the DL, but when all cylinders start firing for this bullpen, leads should be safe.

And the leads should be getting bigger as the hitters are starting to do their jobs.  Sheffield has raised his batting average 42 points in a week and he still only has one home run this month.  If the Tigers can continue to hit, get the starting pitching they have been getting and the bullpen gets to where it could be in a month, they can win some games and get back into this race.

If they would just stop meeting teams that are peaking…  Tonight, of course, it’s the first place Angels…

May
25

Game 49

Posted by Chris
BallHype: hype it up!

The Tigers scored two runs…

… In the first inning.

The Tigers scored four runs…

… In the third inning.

The Tigers scored six runs…

… In the fourth inning.

The Tigers scored seven runs…

… In the fifth inning.

…and then they took the night off.

Hard to be upset in this game, but the Tigers had more scoring chances in innings six through nine and they looked like the team that would get up early 5-0 and then sit down just to lose 6-5.  Luckily, they had more to work with and they got better pitching.

Nate Robertson had a quality start and Aquilino Lopez bounced back brilliantly, striking out four in two and two-thirds innings of relief.  The only real down note, other than a boring last four innings, was Robertson’s inability to put up zeroes after the Tigers scored the big runs.

But he battled out of those innings, and he only gave up the three runs.  The Tigers one through four spots in the batting order combined for eleven hits, and the game was over before it started.  But the Tigers haven’t scored in four innings, and it seems like every time they do this, they lie down for a while.  They can’t afford to keep doing that.  The White Sox keep winning, and though Cleveland looks like they are coming back to the Tigers, the White Sox stay about six games ahead.  It is starting to look like Chicago’s division to lose.

But the Tigers still have about a dozen games against every team in the division, so there is noise to be made.  What they can’t do is lose a bunch in a row again.  They have to win more than they lose in every five game stretch from here on out to have a shot.  There are 113 games left, and 63-50 likely won’t cut it, they will have to win close to 70 games.

But sit back and enjoy the day, they deserve it, but they have work to be done later.  They can’t have another performance where they don’t show up after a big win.

Gary Sheffield looked good again.  He has hits in his last four or five games, and he had three RBI and two runs scored in this one–all without an extra base hit.  If the Tigers keep taking what the pitchers give them, they have a good chance to score double-digit runs every night.

But usually what happens in a situation like this is that they score a bunch of runs, think they are Mike Tyson facing Buster Douglas the next day and try to get the knockout with each punch.  They need to look at the linescore.  They had only five extra base hits to score the 19 runs, and if you take Magglio Ordonez out of it, they only had two.  This ability to manufacture most of their runs is the reason they scored so many.

So they go for a series win today.  It would be nice to follow a sweep of a bad team with a series win against a good team…