Friday, June 30, 2006

Oneonta Loses, Tigers Win, Thames Slugs

While the DetroitTigers were holding on to beat the Pirates 7-6 tonight, I was at the Oneonta Tigers game in Lowell, Massachusetts searching for the next Curtis Granderson. I was there with my 10 year old nephew Mattie who is becoming quite a baseball fan himself. I don't think we saw the next Granderson but we got a chance to see some of the recent Tiger draftees such as Ronnie Bourquin, Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore. Sizemore got a home run but Oneonta lost to Lowell (who featured rehabbing Wily Mo Pena) 4-2. One positive development was that Mattie was rooting for Oneonta over the home town Spinners. He has potential.

Looking at the box score of the big league game, I see that Kenny Rogers had his second straight shakey outing allowing 8 hits and 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings. It was only the second time in 17 starts this year that he failed to go 5 innings. He was in danger of blowing a 7-1 lead and left with the Tigers up 7-5. Roman Colon, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones pitched 4 2/3 innings of solid relief to preserve the victory. Offensively, Marcus Thames and Chris Shelton homered and Carlos Guillen added a two run triple to power the Tigers to their early lead. The Tigers have now won 17 out of 19.

Speaking of Marcus Thames, he is having of a remarkable year. His home run tonight was his 16th of the year and he leads the league in fewest plate appearances per home run at 12.8. Even more impressive is his league leading (among players with 200 or more PA) .646 slugging average. Thames' power is not even the biggest surprise. Even his biggest supporters suspected he might be an all or nothing slugger but he is also batting .304 with a .374 OBP. After ripping up AAA for two years, Thames finally got a chance to play this year with the injuries to Dmitri Young and he is making the most of his opportunity.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - June, 1976

The Mark Fidrych Diary will be a regular feature on Tiger Tales during the course of the spring and summer. This year is the 30th anniversay of Fidrych's magical rookie season in 1976 and, to honor the memory of that campaign, I will be writing a regular diary of his season from the perspective of a fan who doesn't know what lies ahead. I will update the diary once or twice a week during the season. I was 13 years old that summer so I have some vivid memories but I will also be using retrosheet.org and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight.

Entries for previous months can be found here: April, 1976 May, 1976

June 28

The Tigers were on national television tonight – Monday night baseball. It was Fidrych against Ken Holtzman and the Yankees. Tiger Stadium was packed with nearly 50,000 fans, half of them there to see The Bird who has become a big fan favorite in Detroit. It turned out to be one of the most amazing televised games I’ve ever seen.

The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning on a two run home run by Rusty Staub, The Yankees got one back in the second on a solo shot by Elrod Hendricks. It was 2-1 Tigers after 2 innings.

Then Fidrych and Holtzman settled down and cruised through the middle innings. At one point Fidrych retired 13 out 14 while Holtzman retired 15 of 17 (with one of the two base runners reaching on an error). It was still 2-1 Tigers after 6 innings.

TheTigers scored one run in the 7th on a solo homer by Aurelio Rodriguez. They added two more in the 8th on singles by Ron Leflore and Tom Veryzer, a ground out by Staub and a double by Alex Jounson. The Tigers won 5-1. Fidrych is now 8-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 8 complete games.

It wasn’t so much the 5-1 victory which made the game exciting though. It was the electric atmosphere. The crowd went crazy like I’ve never seen a regular season crown get. I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a post-season crowd get like that. I think the crowd got Fidrych pumped up because he was even more animated than the other times I saw him. And the crowd was with him on every pitch. The concentratrion and pinpoint control was still there though.

When the game was over, he shook every hand in sight including that of a policeman who was on the field for crowd control. The most amazing thing was that almost none of the 50,000 fans left when the game was over. They stayed and chanted “We want Mark” over and over. Finally, at the urging of teammates, he went back out and waved to the crowd. Although he seemed genuinely surprised by all the attention, he certainly enjoyed the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player look happier. I think the kid from Northboro, Massachusetts, who even avid Tiger fans knew little about until a month ago, just became a national star tonight. He seemed to thrive on the attention tonight. Hopefully, he continues to do so.

June 24

I went to see the Tigers play the Red Sox at Fenway Park tonight. Fidrych pitched against Rick Wise. There were over 26,000 fans on a beautiful summer night at Fenway.

The first three innings were scoreless and Fidrych allowed only one base runner, a single by Carl Yastrzemski. The Bird was doing his thing – talking to the ball, grooming the mound before the inning, congratulating infielders on good plays, extending his arm and aiming the ball towards the catcher before each pitch, etc. I heard one fan a couple rows in front of me saying that it was a bush league act. I, of course, enjoyed every minute of Fidrych’s routines.

The Tigers scored first in the 4th inning when Rusty Staub singled, Jason Thompson doubled and Alex Johnson grounded out. The Red Sox came right back in the bottom of the inning. Cecil Cooper led off with a triple and scored on a grounder to tie the game. Then Fred Lynn and Yaz hit back to back home runs and Fenway Park erupted. When things calmed down a bit, I heard the fan in front saying that Fidrych would get eaten alive the second time around the league. The score was 3-1 Red Sox after 4 innings.

The Tigers took back the lead in the sixth when Ben Oglivie singled, Staub doubled and Thompson hit a two run home run, his 9th of the year. That would be all Fidrych needed as he held the Red Sox scoreless the rest of the way. The Tigers added two more runs in the 8th to make the final score 6-3 Tigers.

Fidrych was excellent the last 5 innings allowing 0 runs on just 2 hits. He allowed 7 hits for the game. He is now 7-1 with 7 complete games and a 2.18 ERA (3rd in the league behind Bill Travers and Wayne Garland). The Tigers are now in 5th place with a 30-34 record and 9 ½ games behind.

June 20

Fidrych started against Bill Singer and the Twins today. The Twins line-up features one of my favorite players – Rod Carew. He has won 4 consecutive batting titles but is off to somewhat of a slow start this year batting just .309. Their leading hitter at this point is 25 year old Lyman Bostock who is batting .331.

After a scoreless first, Alex Johnson singled with one out in the second, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Aurelio Rodriguez. In the bottom half of the inning, Fidrych walked Larry Hisle and Steve Brye and then Jerry Terrell singled home Hisle to tie the game at 1-1.

The Tigers came right back in the third. With one out, Tom Veryzer and Dan Meyer got back to back singles to put runners on first and second. Then, with two outs, Jason Thompson hit a three run homer into the upper deck in right field to put the Tigers up 4-1. It was his 8th home run of the year. Thompson is starting hit for some good power lately as he has 4 home runs and 10 RBI in his last 5 games.

The Tigers scored again in the 4th when Bruce Kimm walked with two outs and came around to score on a double by Ron Leflore. That made it 5-1 Tigers. Leflore had 3 hits today and now leads the league in batting at .356.

In the bottom of the 6th, Butch Wynegar singled, Mike Cubbage walked and Brye singled home Wynegar to make it 5-2 Tigers. The walk was Fidrych’s 4th of the game. Ernie Harwell commented that Fidrych’s usual pinpoint control was not there today but he was getting the big outs with men on base.

In the top of the 7th, Leflore singled and Veryzer was hit by the pitch to start the inning. With one out, Singer balked the runners to second and third. Staub then hit a sacrifice fly scoring Leflore. Jason Thompson followed with a single for his fourth RBI of the game. That put the Tigers up 7-2.

In the Twins 8th, Fidrych retired the first batter on a grounder but then walked Cubbage and Hisle. Brye followed with a double to score a run to make it 7-3. Then, for the first time this year, Houk removed Fidrych from a start. The Bird walked 6 batters in uncharacteristic bout of wildness today. John Hiller came in to pitch and got out of the inning. He also pitched a scoreless 9th to give the Tigers a 7-3 victory.

Fidrych’s streak of 6 straight complete games came to an end but he is now 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA. He now has enough innings to qualify for the ERA leaders and he ranks second behind Bill Travers of the Brewers (1.85). The Tigers are 27-33. Here are the AL East standings:


Team

Record

Pct

GB

New York

37-22

.627

--

Cleveland

30-29

.508

7

Baltimore

30-31

.492

8

Boston

29-30

.492

8

Detroit

27-33

.450

10 ½

Milwaukee

24-33

.421

12


June 16, 1976

The Tigers played the Royals today and it was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych against Doug Bird. It would be a tough test for Fidrych as Kansas City came in to the game with a 7 game win streak and the best record (38-19) in the American League. They had the league’s best offense leading in runs scored with 313. The second highest total was 265 by the Rangers. The had a slew of individual batting leaders:


George Brett – 1st in batting average (.356) and triples (6)
Amos Otis – 1st in home runs (12), runs (45) and slugging (.527), 2nd in RBI (43)
Hal McRae – 1st in doubles (16) and on base percentage (.414), 2nd in batting avg (.355)
Freddie Patek – 1st in stolen bases (34)


That’s a really strong offense.



In the Royals first inning, Dave Nelson led off with a single but was caught stealing on a nice throw by Fidrych’s personal catcher Bruce Kimm. Amos Otis followed with a double and then scored when Jason Thompson booted a George Brett grounder. Fidrych, who never seems to get rattled by fielding errors, escaped with no further damage and then set the Royals down 1-2-3 in each of the next 3 innings.



Meanwhile, Jason Thompson made up for his error when he hit his 5th home run of the year tying the score at 1-1 in the 2nd. Thompson hit another home run (his 6th) in the 4th inning to put his team ahead 2-1. It was really good to hear Thompson get those home runs because he was slumping. He had come in to the game batting only .216 and I was worried they would have to demote him to Evansville.



In the 6th inning, Nelson singled and this time successfully stole second. Nelson then advanced to third on a fly ball by Otis and scored on a Brett grounder. The score was tied at 2-2 after 6.


In the Royals 8th, Jamie Quirk doubled, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt by Buck Martinez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nelson. This made it 3-2 Kansas City. The Tigers failed to score in the bottom of the inning despite Ron Leflore’s 3rd hit of the game. Leflore is now third in the league in batting at .346.


Fidrych retired the Royals in the top of the 9th so the Tigers came up in the bottom of the inning still down by one. Mark Littell, who replaced Bird in the 6th after he left the game with a sore shoulder, allowed a leadoff single by Dan Meyer. Tom Hall relieved Littell and allowed a 430 fly ball by Rusty Staub. Otis caught it at the warning track but it was deep enough to advance Meyer to second base. Hall then retired Thompson on strikes for the second out. Marty Pattin replaced Hall and Alex Johnson greeted him with a sharp single to right to tie the game. He then stole second. Aurelio Rodriguez was then intentionally walked to set up a force at every base. Mickey Stanley pinch hit for Kimm and looped a single to right scoring Johnson. The Tigers had a 4-3 comeback victory.


It was the 6th straight complete game including two 11 inning games for Fidrych. It was also the 4th straight time he won when the Tigers scored in their last at bat. He is 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA and all of his wins have been one run victories. The Northboro native is on a roll!

June 11, 1976

The Tigers played the Angels today but before I get to that, I’ll talk about yesterday’s transactions. The Tigers traded Gary Sutherland to the Brewers for Pedro Garcia, another second baseman. Garcia is doing no better than Sutherland (they are both hitting about .200 with no power) but he is younger (26 years old) and has more potential. Garcia had a pretty good rookie year in 1973 hitting 15 home runs and a league leading 32 doubles but has not done too much since then. The new Tiger line-up will typically look like this:


Ron Leflore cf
Pedro Garcia 2b
Alex Johnson lf
Rusty Staub dh
Jason Thompson 1b
Ben Oglivie lf
Bill Freehan c
Aurelio Rodriguez 3b
Tom Veryzer ss


The Tigers also purchased Milt Wilcox from the Cubs. Wilcox was a great prospect for the Reds a few years ago but hasn’t developed as expected. The Tigers having nothing lose by trying to revive his career. He’ll be pitching for Evansville.


In the game today, it was Fidrych versus Nolan Ryan. Ryan is not having a great season so far (4-6 4.25) but everyone knows how dominant he can be when he’s on. It was a pretty big crowd tonight – over 36,000 for Polish American Night at Tiger Stadium.


In the Angels’ first inning, Bobby Bonds singled and stole second. Garcia then got off to a bad start as a Tiger by making an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Bonds came all the way around to score. Bonds is not hitting for as much power this year but he is still one of the most exciting players in the game. He’s supposed to be kind of a jerk but I’d love to see him on the Tigers. Fidrych settled down after the error and retired 13 in a row.



Meanwhile, Ryan had no trouble with the Tigers through the first 3 innings – 0 runs, 1 hit and 4 strike outs. In the 4th inning, Ryan struck out the lead off batter Garcia but he reached on a wild pitch. Johnson then struck out for the first out. Rusty Staub followed with a single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Then the rains came. First there was a 21 minute rain delay. The game resumed only long enough for Ryan to throw 3 pitches and a 34 minute rain delay followed. All the waiting seemed to throw Ryan out of his rhythm as he struggled with his control when he came back out. Thompson drew a walk to load the bases. Ben Oglivie then scored one run on an infield hit and another scored on an infield grounder by Rodriguez. It was 2-1 Tigers after 4 innings. In the fifth inning, Ryan walked 3 batters and another run scored making it 3-1 Tigers. Paul Hartzell replaced him in the 6th.



In the Angels’ 6th, Andy Etcherbarren and Bonds singled. Then Chuck Scrivener made an error on a grounder by Ron Jackson and Etcherbarren scored. Tommy Davis followed with a single to score Bonds. It was tied 3-3 after 6 innings but only one of the runs off Fidrych was earned. Fidrych did a good job recovering from the sloppy play behind him and the Angels did not score any more runs.


On the other side, Hartzell was mowing down the Tigers and it was still a tie score after 8. In the Tigers’ 9th, Dan Meyer popped to third for the first out. Leflore reached on an infield hit. He was then picked off but was safe at second on a throwing error by Hartzell. Garcia moved Leflore to third on an infield grounder. Leflore finally scored on an infield hit by Johnson. The Tigers won 4-3. It was the 3rd straight time the Tigers won the game in their last at bat in a Fidrych start.


It might have been the rain but this was a really sloppy game all around. Nevertheless, it was the 5th consecutive complete game for Fidrych. He has not needed a reliever in any of his starts so far. He is now 4-1 1.84. I know it’s still early and he might have trouble the second time around the league but this is getting exciting. The Bird could be for real.

June 8, 1976

The Tigers beat the Royals 3-1 today as Dave Roberts got a complete game victory. Jason Thompson hit a two run homer, his 4th of the year. Thompson is down to .218 after a hot start. Hopefully, this will get him going again. The Tigers are now 22-27 in 4th place 7 ½ games back. They are only 1 ½ behind the 2nd place Orioles.


The big news of the day happened off the field. First, Willie Horton was placed on the disabled list with a knee problem that hs been bothering him for a long time. Horton’s bat will be missed as he’s batting .299-7-33. The good part about this though is that it will mean more at bats for Dan Meyer and Ben Oglivie.


The other big move of the day was Joe Coleman (2-5 4.86) being sold to the Cubs. Coleman has been pretty lousy for two years so I’m glad to see him go. This team needs to keep getting younger. Fidrych will now be a regular member of the 4 man rotation which is awesome news. Here is the rotation:


Dave Roberts 5-4 3.01
Vern Ruhle 4-2 4.74
Ray Bare 3-4 3.92
Mark Fidrych 3-1 2.03


Finally, the Amatuer draft was held today and the Tigers chose Pat Underwood from Kokomo HS in Indiana with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Floyd Bannister was taken first by the Astros. Both of them are supposed to have amazing talent. Here are some of the other top picks by the Tigers:


2. Alan Trammell
3. Scott Johnson
4. Dan Petry
5. Jack Morris
6. Lawrence Douglass
7. Ozzie Smith


I really don’t know anything about these guys. Hopefully, it will be a good draft for them because they need young talent badly.


June 5, 1976

Fidrych started his 4th game today and once again he had a tough opponent. The Rangers’ starter was Bert Blyleven who was making his first start since being acquired in a 6 player deal with the Twins earlier in the week. Just like, Fidrych’s previous starts, this one was a pitching duel.

The first two innings were scoreless but the Rangers broke through for two runs in the 3rd. Jim Sundberg led off the inning with a single to center. Gene Clines followed with a single to left. Greg Prior then moved the runners over two 2nd and 3rd with a sacrifice bunt. Mike Hargrove grounded to second to score Sundberg. Finally, Toby Harrah doubled to right scoring Clines and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead after 3 innings.

The 4rd and 5th innings went quietly and it was still 2-0 Rangers after 5 innings. In the 6th, Chuck Scrivener drew a lead off walk for the Tigers. Dan Meyer singled to right moving Scrivener to third. Rusty Staub then hit hinto a 4-6-3 double play but Scrivener scored. The Tigers were down 2-1 after 6 innings.

Nobody scored in the 7th. In the 8th, Alex Johnson grounded out to second for the first out but then Scrivener singled to left. Danny Meyer followed with a single to center to advance Scrivener to third base. Staub then singled to right to score Scrivener. The score was tied 2-2 after 8 innings.

In the 9th, Aurelio Rodriguez singled with one out but was left stranded. Fidrych retired the Rangers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. So, the game went into extra innings with Fidrych and Blyleven still pitching. Staub reached first on a walk in the 10th but again the Tigers stranded a runner. Fidrych pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the 10th. He had now retired 11 batters in a row.

In the Tiger 11th, Ben Oglivie led off with a single to center. Blyleven struck out Jason Thompson for the first out. Aurelio Rodriguez reached on an error by third baseman Roy Howell and Oglivie went to third. Bruce Kimm then hit a grounder to third. The Brewers tried to turn two instead of coming home but all they could get was the force at second base as Oglivie scored. The Tigers now led 3-2 going into the bottom of the 11th.

Fidrych went out there one more time to face three tough batters in Mike Hargove, Toby Harrah and Jeff Burroughs. Hargrove flied to right, Harrah grounded to second and Burroughs flied to center. That made it 14 Rangers retired in a row by the Bird and the Tigers had a 3-2 victory in 11 innings.

It was Fidrych’s 4th straight complete game, the last two going 11 innings. He is now 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Houk has still not committed to Fidrych remaining in the rotation but it would be pretty hard not to give him regular starts now. There is no word on when he’ll pitch next. The Tigers went 5-2 this week and they are now 21-25 and in 5th place 6 ½ games out.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Another Shutout for Tigers

The last time Justin Verlander pitched, I commented on how he had been having problems with his control in the month of June. He had no such trouble today as he allowed 0 walks and 3 hits and collected 7 strikeouts in 8 innings of a 5-0 Tiger shutout over the Astros. As more evidence of his control today, Verlander threw 97 pitches and only 30 of them were balls. He retired the last 13 batters he faced in perhaps his most dominating performance as a Tiger.

The Tigers' 10 hit attack against struggling Andy Pettitte was paced by Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez and Brandon Inge who had 2 hits apiece. Pettitte was not helped by his defense as middle infielders Chris Burke and Eric Bruntlett made errors which led to 3 unearned runs.

Analysis

It was the second consecutive shutout for the Tigers against the Astros. They now have a Major League leading 11 shutouts. The Padres are second in the majors with 8. The second American League team is the Indians with 7. The Tigers are also lead the majors in ERA by a wide margin. Their 3.45 ERA is almost a half run better than the Padres. The second best AL team is the Athletics at 4.16.

The Tigers have now won 16 out of 18 but the White Sox also won again today so their lead in the AL Central is still 2 games. The Twins also won again today to remain 11 games back despite having won 15 out 16.

The AL continues to dominate the NL in interleague play. With a few games still to be decided tonight, The AL has a 119 to 71 lead. That's a .626 winning percentage for the AL. The leaading AL teams in interleague play are:

Boston 12-1
Detroit 12-2
Minnesota 12-2
Seattle 12-2
Chicago 11-2

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tiger Blank Astros

I got home late and missed much of the game today but I caught the end of it. The Tigers shutout the Astros 4-0 as Nate Robertson outdueled Roger Clemens. The Tigers broke a scoreless tie when they scored 3 runs in the bottom of the 7th. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen walked with one out. Dan Wheeler then replaced Clemens and allowed a two run double by Craig Monroe, the second run scoring on a throwing error by shortstop Adam Everett. Another run scored when Brandon Inge reached on a Morgan Ensberg fielding error.

Robertson pitched 7 innings allowing 3 hits and 6 walks and lowered his ERA to 3.14 which is 3rd lowest in the league. Robertson narrowly escaped in the 7th after his own throwing error allowed Preston Wislson to get to third with nobody out. He proceeded to get the Astros 1-2-3. Joel Zumaya also created a problem for himself by allowing the first two runners to reach in the 8th. He also retired three in a row to get out of it. Todd Jones, who has settled down a lot the last few games, pitched a perfect 9th to finish it off.

The Tigers have now won 5 in a row and 15 out of 17. The White Sox are just as hot though winning 12 of 14 and are still just 2 games out. The poor Twins have won 14 out of 15 but can't close the 11 game gap they built for themselves with their slow start.

Peter Gammons Hospitalized

Peter Gammons was hospitalized after suffering a brain aneurysm today. He underwent surgery at a Boston area hospital and is expectded to remain in intensive care for 10-12 days. The complete story can be found in the Boston Globe.

As a lifetime Massachusetts resident, I have followed Peter Gammons for most of my life as a baseball fan. A lot of fans just know him as an analyst on ESPN but he had a lifetime as a journalist before he started working on television. He was the Red Sox beat writer back into the 7os and was the originator of the first baseball notes column in 1980 while still writing for The Boston Globe. He is my favorite sports writer and analyst of all time and I learned a lot about baseball from him when I was younger. So I'm hoping for a quick and complete recovery.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tigers Sweep Cards

The Tigers completed a three game sweep by defeating the Cardinals 4-1 today as over 40,000 fans packed Comerica Park for the 3rd straight day. Jeremy Bonderman pitched another excellent game today allowing just 1 run on 7 hits while striking out 8 in 7 innings of work. He now has a 1.77 ERA for the month of June. His game log is shown below:

Table: Jeremy Bonderman’s Starts in June

Date

Team

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

6/3

BOS

7.2

4

2

2

2

6

6/9

@ TOR

6

6

3

2

3

6

6/14

TB

8

6

1

1

1

12

6/19

@ MIL

7

4

1

1

3

12

6/25

STL

7

7

1

1

1

8

Total

5 games

35.2

27

8

7

10

44


Bonderman was backed by some outstanding fielding by Brandon Inge. Inge made a diving stop on a ball hit down the third base line by Gary Bennett in the fourth and then threw to first from his knees to get the out. In the fifth inning, Inge made another diving stop on a ball hit down the line by Albert Pujols. Inge could not make the throw this time but he did rob Pujols of a probable extra base hit and RBI which would have broke the tie. Bonderman also got support from Jim Leyland who comes out to the mound to talk to Bonderman in tough spots more than another pitcher. Each talk seems to be followed by an inning ending out. It happened again today a couple of times.

Bonderman did not get much support from his offense however, at least not while he was in the game. Starting pitcher Sidney Ponson allowed just 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks over the firt 7 innings. The one run came when Ivan Rodriguez doubled and scored on a single by Magglio Ordonez in the 4th. The score was 1-1 after 7 innings.

The big Tiger rally did not come until the 8th. Alexis Gomez led off with a bloop single against Ponson. Vance Wilson sacrificed Gomez to second. Brandon Inge then beat out an infield hit moving Gomez to third. As he did last night, Tony LaRussa brought in a lefty (this time it was Randy Flores) to pitch to the left-handed Curtis Granderson and again the move did not work.
Granderson smashed a double over center fielder Jim Edmond's head to score the go ahead run. Inge was thrown out at the plate. Placido Polanco doubled and Ivan Rodriguez singled to add two insurance runs. Todd Jones pitched a quiet 9th to seal the victory.

I watched the game with my father again today. He can gloat about his team with the best of them but all he could say after this series was: "Congratulations. The Tigers have an outstanding team." A tour around internet news sites, blogs and message boards shows that he is just one of many around the country who now believes that the Tigers are for real. Pennant fever has gripped Detroit and fans around the country know it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Tigers Come Back to Top Cards in Ten

The night got off to somewhat of a disappointing start as I learned that MLB Extra Innings was not going to broadcast the game. Thus, I turned to MLB.COM which meant viewing the game on a small rather fuzzy computer screen. It's funny how I've gotten so accustomed to watching any game I want that I forget what is used to be like a few years ago when my only option in Massachusetts was to listen to most of the games on the radio.

It didn't look good for the Tigers for most of the game as ace Kenny Rogers gave up 6 runs in 5 1/3 innings. He didn't pitch that poorly but the Cardinals scratched for runs on seeing eye singles, three sacrifice flies and even a rare Rogers throwing error in the first inning. Conversely, the Tigers were not getting runners home converting 15 base runners into only 4 runs in 8 innings off of Jeff Suppan, Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper. It was 6-4 Cardinals after 8 innings.

But this is the 2006 Tigers and they were not done yet. Jason Isringhausen came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th for the Cardinals. Curtis Granderson (now batting .329/.427/.524 for the month of June) led off with an infield hit, his fourth single of the game. Isringhausen then struck out Placido Polanco for the first out of the inning. Next up was Marcus Thames - hitless in his previous 4 at bats. Thames proceeded to hit a dramatic two run homer to left center field to tie the game at 6-6. Magglio Ordonez followed with a double but they couldn't score him so the game went into extra innings.

Joel Zumaya retired the cardinals in order in the top of the tenth. Isringhausen remained in the game and got the first two Tigers in the bottom of the inning. Tony LaRussa then brought in lefty Tyler Johnson to pitch to the left-handed Granderson. The move backfired as Granderson reached base for the fifth time by working a walk. Polanco followed with a double to the gap in right center field giving the Tigers a 7-6 victory. Fuzzy little computer screen or not, it was another exciting victory in this improbable 2006 season in which the Tigers now have 50 wins with a week to go in June.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Father and Son Watch Tigers Beat Cardinals

It was a big night for the Panas family tonight. My father has been a huge Cardinal fan for most of his life which includes the 1934 World Series betweem the Tigers and Cardinals. As you've probably figured out by now, I have been an equally big Tiger fan for most of my life. For the first time since the 1968 World Series when I was 6 years old, my father and I were able to watch a Tigers/Cardinals game on television in an interleague match-up. I got the better of the father/son rivalry tonight as the Tigers outslugged the Cardinals 10-6 before a sell out crowd at Comerica Park.

The game was billed as a pitching duel between Justin Verlander and Chris Carpenter but it did not turn out that way. As has been the case for most of June, Verlander was not at his best tonight. He allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings of work before yielding to Fernando Rodney in the 7th. The table below shows how Verlander has struggled this month compared to April and May:

Table: Monthly Splits for Justin Verlander

Month

G

IP

H/9IP

BB/9IP

K/9IP

ERA

HR/9IP

Apr-May

10

67

7.80

2.15

5.24

2.55

0.94

June

5

28.2

10.36

4.71

5.96

5.34

1.26

Total

15

95.2

8.56

2.92

5.45

3.39

1.03


His ERA has increased from 2.55 in April and May to 5.45 in June. It's been pretty obvious to any attentive observer that Verlander's control has not been as sharp this month and the walk rates per 9 innings (2.15 in April and May versus 4.71 in June) illustrate the problem clearly. His hit and home run rates have also increased this month. Hopefully, these growing pains are only temporary and he'll get back on track in the near future.

The good news was that Chris Carpenter was worse than Verlander as he gave up 7 runs on 9 hits in 7 innings. The Tigers had several hitting heroes:

  • Curtis Granderson – a leadoff home run in the first (his 11th of the year), a double and 2 RBI.
  • Magglio Ordonez – two singles and 2 RBI.
  • Marcus Thames – a double, a single and an RBI.
  • Brandon Inge – a team leading 16th home run, a single and 3 RBI.

Not surprisingly, the big hitter for the Cardinals was Albert Pujols who went 4 for 4 including his Major League leading 26th home run in the 9th inning off Todd Jones. Since Pujols is a big favorite of both father and son, his big night was something we both could enjoy even if only one of us was happy with the final result.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Another Gem for Bonderman, This Time They Win

Jeremy Bonderman lost a tough one versus the Devil Rays last week allowing 1 run in 8 innings while striking out a season high 12 batters. In that one, the Tigers went on to lose the game in extra innings. Bonderman pitched another beauty tonight but it looked for a while like it might be a similar result. He shutout the Brewers through the first 6 innings striking out 12 again and allowing just 2 hits. Unfortunately, Brewers starter Doug Davis held the Tigers scoreless on 3 hits through 7 innings. Then Prince Fielder (facing the team for whom he used to occasionally take batting practice as a 12 year old) led off the bottom of the 7th with a home run to put the Brewers in front 1-0. Bonderman proceeded to load the bases but got out of the inning with no further damage. Bonderman seems to be better lately at not allowing the big inning (see table below).

In the top of the 8th, Brandon Inge led off by bunting down the first baseline against reliever Matt Wise. The pitcher's throw was wild and Inge made it to second when the ball bounced past the first baseman Fielder. The next batter Gomez, pinch hitting for Bonderman, attempted to sacrifice Inge to third with a bunt down the third baseline. This time third baseman Korey Koskie threw low to first base and Inge raced around third to score when Fielder had trouble picking the ball up. Four batters after Inge's Nook Loganesque trip around the bases, Magglio Ordonez smashed a two run double to right field scoring Gomez And Placido Polanco (who drew a rare walk) and giving the Tigers a 3-1 lead.

Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones (who seems to have settled down a bit after an awful week) pitched a perfect 8th and 9th innings to preserve the 3-1 victory. The Tigers have now won 9 of 10 as they continue to breeze through baseball's weaker teams.

Table: Jeremy Bonderman’s Starts in June

Date

Team

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

6/3

BOS

7 2/3

4

2

2

2

6

6/9

@ TOR

6

6

3

2

3

6

6/14

TB

8

6

1

1

1

12

6/19

@ MIL

7

4

1

1

3

12

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Tigers Rout Cubs for Sweep

The wind was blowing out at Wrigley today and the Tigers took advantage of it in a big way. They tied a team record by smashing 8 round trippers as they blasted the Cubs 12-3 and completed a three game sweep of the weekend series. Oft injured Mark Prior made his first start of the season and was greeted rudely by the Tigers who scored six first inning runs on home runs by Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen and Chris Shelton. It turned out that all the runs in the game would be scored as a result of home runs. The complete Tiger home run parade is listed below:

Granderson (10)
Wilson (2)
Guillen (9)
Thames (14)
Shelton 2 (14)
Inge 2 (15)

Tiger starter Kenny Rogers dealt with the wind by keeping the ball on the ground. In 8 innings of work, he got 19 outs on ground balls including two double plays. He allowed just 2 runs (on solo home runs by Henry Blanco and Aramis Ramirez) on 4 hits, a walk and one hit batsman. It was his 200th career win and league leading 10th of the year. More importantly, he lowered his ERA to 3.17 and is now sixth in the league.

Analysis

There was a lot of grumbling by fans during the off-season about the acquisition of a 41 year old pitcher but Rogers has been a tremendous free agent addition to this point. Although, he has been a bit stronger than expected, this season is no fluke. In 14 out of 17 years, Rogers has had an ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and park) better than league average. The only question with him is how long he can keep it up at his age. He sure isn't showing any signs of age yet this year.

Yesterday, I pointed out that Placido Polanco has been breaking out as of late. Another player who is showing signs of life is Chris Shelton. Shelton had really been slumping since his amazing start and he seemed to be getting worse and worse. He recently went through a 14 game stretch where reached base only 10 times and batted .137. After today's 3 hit 2 home run game, he has reached base 10 times in the last 4 games. Hopefully, this is a sign that he has figured something out and will start hitting more consistently.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Tiger Blog

Eddie Bajek and Brian Bluhm, who you may know from Motown Sports, have started a blog called Detroit Tigers Thoughts. You can expect to see a lot of Detroit Tigers player development discussion on this blog. Both writers have a solid knowledge of the Detroit Tiger organization from AAA to to the rookie league and they also follow the amateur draft closely among other things. Right now, they are featuring a couple of good articles on Humberto Sanchez and Chad Durbin.

Tigers Pound Cubs 9-2

The Tigers beat the Cubs 9-3 today to take a 2 game lead in the weekend series. Justin Verlander apparently was not too sharp today. He gave up only one run but allowed 10 hits and 3 walks in 5 2/3 innings against the weak hitting Cubs. It was only the third time this year he failed to pitch 6 innings. The game was blacked out due to the Fox game of the week but radio broadcaster Jim Price said he did not have a good curve today. His breaking stuff is tremendous when it's working but it hasn't always been there this year. A recurring blister problem has been part of that but I'm not sure if that was the case today. Verlander got some help from Wil Ledezma who entered the game in the 6th with the bases loaded and got Juan Pierre to pop up to end the inning. Ledezma wound up retiring all 4 batters he faced.

The story of this game though was the Tiger bats. The hitting star was Carlos Guillen who had a single, a double, a home run and three RBI for the day. Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez added three hits apiece. They had 14 hits as a team. The 3 hits by Polanco was a continuation of his improved hitting as of late. In his last 10 games, he has batted .326/.367/.543. This is great to see because he got off to a really slow start and they definitely need his bat.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tigers Mauling Weak Competition

I didn’t get a chance to watch or listen to today’s afternoon game. It seems as if all the games I’ve been unable to watch lately have involved Zach Miner and, in the last couple games, it seems as if I may have missed something good. After holding the Blue Jays to 2 runs in 6 innings on Saturday, he came right back today and allowed 2 unearned runs on 3 hits and a walk in 7 innings against the Devil Rays. Miner, who was not on the Tiger 40 man roster this winter, had fallen off my radar somewhat but his performance this season for both Toledo and Detroit has been encouraging so far. Wil Ledezma (in his first appearance) and Fernando Rodney each pitched a scoreless inning of relief to seal the 6-2 victory.


Analysis


The Tigers took 3 of 4 from the Devil Rays this week which leads me to my next topic. Does it seem as if the Tigers have been beating up on weak teams this season while struggling against strong ones? As the table below shows, the Tigers have gone just 12-14 (.462 winning percentage) against teams that are currently above .500 for the season. Conversely, they have gone 31-10 (.756 winning percentage!) against teams with records below .500.



Not surprisingly, most of the top teams in the American League this year have done substantially better against winning teams than stronlosing teams but the Tigers have the biggest margin of all the teams. They have played .294 percentage points better against the sub-500 teams. The second biggest gap is Oakland at .210. Strangely, the White Sox have played worse against losing teams than winning teams.


Beating up on the weak sisters of the league while somewhat holding their own against the top teams has obviously worked for the Tigers to this point as they have the best overall record in the league. The final column shows the number of games remaining against above .500 teams. The Tigers play 40 more games against winning teams and 55 games against sub-500 teams. If they maintain the same winning percentages, they’ll win 105 games. That’s not likely mostly because I can’t see them playing .756 ball all year against the sub-.500 group. The formula is working out really well so far though.


Table: Records of Top AL Teams Versus Teams with Winning and Losing Records


Team

Overall

Record

Record Versus Winning Teams

Record Versus Losing Teams

Difference

In Win %

Games Left Vs.

Winning Teams

Detroit

43-24

12-14

31-10

+.294

40

Chicago

40-25

14-7

26-18

-.076

40

New York

37-27

20-18

17-9

+.128

38

Boston

36-27

17-18

19-9

+.193

40

Toronto

37-29

15-16

22-13

+.145

46

Oakland

35-31

13-18

22-13

+.210

47

Texas

35-31

17-21

18-10

+.196

42

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