Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - September, 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 May June July August

October 3, 1976

The Tigers finished their season with a 5-2 victor over the Brewers today. The winning pitcher was Dave Roberts who finished with a record of 16-17. The Tigers ended up 74-87 and in 5th place 24 games behind the division winning Yankees. This was a 17 win improvement over last year when they went 57-105.

The Bird ended up 19-9 with a league leading 2.34 ERA in 250 innings. He also led the league with 24 complete games in 29 starts. The leading Tiger reliever was John Hiller who pitched 121 innings pitched over 56 games. He finished with a record of 9-6 with 13 saves and an ERA of 2.38.

Ron Leflore finished among the top ten batters with a .316 average. He was second in the league in steals with 58 and scored 93 runs. He should be an exciting player for years to come. Rusty Staub batted .299-15-96 in his first year with the Tigers. He led the team in RBI. He finished 4th in the league in on base percentage, an obscure but interesting stat. Jason Thompson led the team in home runs with 17. He only batted .218 but he’s just 22 and should have a great future.

October 2, 1976

The Tigers played the Brewers today at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I was able to watch the game on TV as it was on the Saturday Game of the Week. They always have the Tigers on The Game of the Week when the Bird is on the mound. His opponent was Jim Slaton. This was Fidrych’s last game of the year as the season ends tomorrow.

The Tigers scored first in the 2nd inning when Bruce Kimm walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a grounder by Pedro Garcia. It was 1-0 Tigers after 2 innings.

In the 5th inning, Garcia walked, went to third an a single by late season call-up Marvin Lane and scored on a sacrifice fly by Rusty Staub. That made it 2-0 Tigers.

In the 7th inning, the Tigers scored 2 more runs to go up 4-0. Garcia doubled and scored on a single by Staub. Staub went to second on a passed ball and scored on an error by Robin Yount.

The Brewers scored their only run against Fidrych in the 9th on singles by Yount and George Scott and a sacrifice fly by Darrell Porter. The final score was 4-1 Tigers.

Fidrych finished his incredible rookie season with a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. He currently leads the league in ERA and complete games with one day left in the season.

September 28, 1976

The Tigers played a doubleheader against the Indians today. The Bird pitched in the first game against hard throwing but wild Jim Bibby. Fidrych got 6 days rest between starts due to a couple of rained out games this week.

The Tigers scored 2 runs in the 4th inning to take the lead. Willie Horton homered with one out to make it 1-0. Jason Thompson then singled, went to second on an error and scored on a single by Bruce Kimm making it 2-0 Tigers.

In the 5th inning, Dan Meyer hit a 2 out single, stole second and scored on a single by Rusty Staub. Staub scored on a double by Willie Horton to make it 4-0 and this was the final score.

Fidrych pitched one of his best games of the year – a complete game shutout on 5 hits and 1 walk. Perhaps, the extra rest was good for him. He is now 18-9 with a 2.39 ERA, 23 complete games and 4 shutouts.

The Tigers ended up with a split of the doubleheader as the Indians took the second game by a score of 6-1.

September 21, 1976

The Bird pitched against Rick Waits and the Indians tonight. Fidrych had not been having a great month so I was really hoping for a strong start as I listened to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey broadcast the game.

The Tigers gave Fidrych an early lead when they scored 2 runs in the first inning. Rusty Staub walked and Willie Horton singled to put runners on first and second with two outs. Mickey Stanley then got a two run double.

In the 7th inning, Phil Mankowski led off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on a single by Mark Wagner. Ben Oglivie then hit a two run homer to make it 5-0.

Meanwhile, Fidrych pitched shutout ball for 7 innings before running into trouble in the 8th. He loaded the bases on a single by Tommy Smith and two walks before anybody was out. Rick Manning followed with two run single to make it 5-2. Fidrych managed to get out of the inning with only one more run scoring on a grounder by Larvell Blanks. The score was 5-3 after 8 and that was how it ended.

As usual, Fidrych went the distance for his 22nd complete game. He is now 17-9 with a 2.48 ERA. He has 2 or 3 games left.

September 17, 1976

The Bird faced the Red Sox and Luis Tiant tonight. It was on TV here in Massachusetts so I got a chance to see it. It wasn’t a pleasant night though as Fidrych got knocked out in the 3rd inning after giving up 7 runs. It’s usually fun to watch Tiant but not when he’s beating the Tigers.

About the only highlights for the Tigers were a couple of home runs. Willie Horton hit a 2 run homer in the 4th to make it 7-2 at the time. It was his 13th homer of the year. Ben Oglivie added his 14th homer in the 8th inning making it 8-3 which was the final score.

Fidrych is now16-9 with a 2.46 ERA. Vida Blue has now taken the league lead with a 2.45 ERA. Fidrych seems to be tiring down the stretch.

Fidrych was quoted in The Boston Globe this morning as saying that he has been offered a basketball scholarship by the Detroit University. He said: “I was pretty good in basketball in high school. I might take it if they have a good auto mechanics course.”

September 12, 1976

The Tigers and Yankees played a doubleheader before 53,000 fans in Yankee Stadium today. The first game featured Fidrych and Dock Ellis. The second game was a matchup between rookie Ed Glynn and Ed Figueroa.

In the 4th inning of game 1, the Tigers scored when Rusty Staub walked, Alex Johnson singled to left and Mickey Stanley singled to center.

The Tigers made it 2-0 in the 6th when Willie Horton reached on an error by Willie Randolph, Ellis balked and Mickey Stanley singled.

In the 7th inning, Mark Wagner led off with a walk and then Ben Ogilivie homered to make it 4-0. It was Oglivie’s 13th home run of the year.

The Tigers scored 2 more in the 8th to make it 6-0. Chuck Scrivener reached on an error, went to second on a passed ball and scored on a triple by Wagner. Meyer then singled to score Wagner.

It was The Bird’s third shutout of the year and he improved his record to 16-8. Since he probably still has 4-5 starts left, he has a chance to win 20 games. He also lowered his league leading ERA to 2.24.

In game 2, the Yankees defeated the Tigers 3-1 to gain a split. Ed Glynn, who allowed just 1 run in 6 innings in his debut last week, pitched another good game today. He allowed 3 runs (2 of them earned) in 8 innings. He was a little wild allowing 5 walks but overall it was a good start against a tough Yankee team. He is a pretty good prospect so I’m looking forward to his next start.

September 8, 1976

In yesterday’s game, The Bird was hoping to bounce back from his worst start of the season. He was up against the dreaded Orioles and was facing a tough opponent in Wayne Garland who entered the game with 15-6 record and a 2.75 ERA. There were only about 16,000 fans in Tiger Stadium for this one. I don’t know whether the novelty of The Bird is wearing off or whether it’s because school has started. At any rate, it turned out to be a very sloppy game.

The Orioles scored a run in the third on a double by Lee May and errors by Jason Thompson and Chuck Scrivener.

The Tigers came back with 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Ron Leflore struck out but was safe at first on a wild pitch. Rookie Phil Mankowski, who was called up from Toledo at the end of August, singled and Ben Oglivie was hit by the pitch to load the bases. The first run scored on a wild pitch. Then, after Rusty Staub was walked intentionally to re-load the bases, Thompson walked to force home a second run. Dan Meyer then hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1 Tigers.

The Orioles tied the game 3-3 with 2 runs in the 5th. The runs scored on singles by Bobby Grich and Reggie Jackson, a ground out by Ken Singleton, and a double by Tony Muser.

In the Orioles 7th, an error by Mark Wagner contributed to 2 unearned runs. Grich led off with a single, Jackson reached on Wagner’s error and May singled to load the bases. The go ahead run scored on a sacrifice fly by Muser and another run scored on a single by Doug DeCinces. This gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead and that would be the final score.

It was not The Bird’s best game (he allowed 11 hits) but there were 4 errors behind him and only 2 of the 5 runs were earned. The loss dropped Fidrych to 15-8. He did manage to regain the American league ERA lead at 2.34. Vida Blue and Bill Travers are tied for 2nd at 2.38. Fidrych will face the division leading Yankees at New York on Sunday.

September 3, 1976

Fidrych faced the Brewers tonight at Tiger Stadium. Jerry Augustine was the Brewers starter. It turned out to be the worst start of the year so far for The Bird.

The Brewers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. The highlight of the inning was a 2 run double by Mike Hegan. Hegan, a back up first basemen/outfielder, came into the contest batting a modest .247-4-18 in 58 games but this would be a game he’ll likely never forget.

Hegan hit a solo home run in the 3rd to make it 5-0 Brewers. In the 4th, the Brewers scored 4 more runs to knock Fidrych out of the game and took a 9-0 lead. Again, Hegan got the big hit. This time, it was a three run triple giving him 6 RBI for the day and leaving him a single short of the cycle.

Hegan singled off Bill Laxton in the 6th to complete the cycle. It was the first cycle in Milwaukee Brewer history. With the game hopelessly lost at that point, I was actually rooting for him to get the cycle just because it’s such a rare event. I was also hoping he would add to his big day later in the game. However, he flied out and walked in his last two at bats to finish the day 4-5 with 6 RBI.

The final score was 11-2 Brewers. It was the first in 15 home starts that Fidrych failed to pitch a complete game. He gave up 9 runs (7 of them earned) on 8 hits and 3 walks in 3 2/3 innings. The loss dropped The Bird’s record to 15-7 and raised his ERA to 2.35. Bill Travers of the Brerwes now leads the league with a 2.34 ERA. We can only hope this was just a bad game and not a sign that Fidrych will run out of gas down the stretch.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Ugly Loss for Tigers

The Tigers lost to the Royals 9-7 in 11 innings tonight and it was not pretty. They came into the game with a 14-1 lead in the season series against the Royals. They jumped out to a 5-0 lead after 3 innings thanks, in part, to a couple of solo homers by Curtis Granderson. It looked like another easy victory against the team with the worst record in baseball but it was not to be. They were still in front 5-0 in the 5th but, from that point on, they slowly let the game slip away. Wil Ledezma allowed 2 runs in the 5th. Jason Grilli gave up 1 in the 7th. Joel Zumaya surrendered another in the 8th. Finally, Todd Jones allowed them to tie it 5-5 in the 9th.

The Tigers had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th when they loaded the bases with one out. However, Pudge Rodriguez swung at the first pitch and hit a weak fly ball to shallow center. Surprisingly, Gene Lamont sent Brent Clevlen home but Joey Gastright threw him out by a mile. I thought it was a strange decision by Lamont but he apparently hoped to catch the Royals by surprise.

The Royals broke the game open in the 11th when they got 4 runs on 3 homers off Jamie Walker. It wasn't quite over yet though. Carlos Guillen got a bases loaded single in the bottom of the 11th to make it 9-7. Then Rodriguez hit into an inning ending doubleplay. And the ugly loss was complete. I'm going completely on memory but Pudge sure seems to hit into doubleplays in crucial situations quite often. Not to mention weak first pitch pop-ups.

The good news tonight was that the White Sox eked out a victory over the Twins. That one started to get scary too as the White Sox nearly blew a 4-1 lead in the 9th. It got down to 4-3 with the bases loaded but Bobby Jenks struck out Phil Nevin to end it. So, the magic number for the division title is down to 2 games.

Notes

With his 2 home runs tonight, Granderson continues to quiet his critics in the final month. After enduring an awful slump during July and August, Granderson has had a powerful September. He has 6 home runs, 14 extra base hits and has slugged .552 for the month. He is slugging .440 for the season. It's been an up and down first full season for Curtis but he seems to making an important adjustment down the stretch.

Ledezma allowed 2 runs in 5 innings in his final game of the regular season. After a lost season in 2005, the 25 year old lefty made some nice progress this year. After posting a 2.52 ERA and 66/23 k/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings for Toledo, he had a 3.58 ERA in 60 1/3 innings for the Tigers, much of that in the fifth starter role. He won't start in the playoffs but should make the post-season roster as a reliever. His future is still up in the air but it's looking a lot better now than it was a year ago.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tigers Lose Home Run Derby

The Tigers lost to the Blue Jays 7-4 tonight in a game which was dominated by the long ball. There were 7 home runs in the game, 4 by the Blue Jays and 3 by the Tigers, and all but one (the final Blue Jay run) were scored on home runs. All of the Blue Jay homers came off of Nate Robertson who gave up 6 runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings.

This was likely Robertson's last start before the playoffs. If so, he would finish the season with a 3.84 ERA which is a big improvement over 4.90 in 2004 and 4.48 in 2005. Unfortunately, he was plagued by poor run support for the 2nd straight year and finished with a very unrepresentative 13-13 record. I'm sure he won't mind if I remind everyone that won/loss record is not the best measure of pitching performance.

Despite tonight's loss, the Tigers remained a game in front of the Twins and lowered their magic number to 3 games. Remember, if they finish in a tie with the Twins, they will win the division title by virtue of their better head to head record. The Twins lost to the Royals 6-4 tonight. The Yankees pounded the Orioles 16-5 to go a game up on the Tigers in the race for the league's best record.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tigers Edge Blue Jays

I just tried to post a re-cap and it got eaten up somehow and it's late now so I'll just say that the Tigers beat the Blue Jays 4-3. For the rest of the re-cap, I'll direct you to Billfer. Jeremy Bonderman allowed only 1 unearned run in 6 innings to lower his season ERA to 3.99. I got home late and missed half the game but Billfer was not impressed with Bonderman's stuff tonight despite the results. Internet fans seem to freak out about everything Bonderman does but Billfer is as level headed as they come, so I'll take his word for it.

Verlander to be Skipped

Jim Leyland announced today that Justin Verlander will skip his scheduled weekend start in order to rest for the playoffs:

"He's tired," Leyland said. "We'll give him a little extra time."

The fatigue, both he and Verlander cautioned, is more of a general feeling than any sort of tired arm. Yet, wherever he's tired, he's shown it over his last few starts. He had back-to-back fifth-inning exits with six runs allowed against the Rangers and White Sox on Sept. 13 and 19 before his five innings of two-run ball were enough for a victory over the Royals on Sunday.

Leyland also said that he has a post season rotation in mind but won't reveal it yet:

Plus, by resting him, they leave him open to pitch just about any game of Detroit's upcoming Division Series. Leyland said he has a postseason rotation order in mind, but he didn't want to reveal it Tuesday other than to confirm it'll be a four-man rotation. It's not hard to figure out who the starters are from there, but the order is trickier.
With Verlander being tired and Jeremy Bonderman pitching on Sunday, my guess would be Kenny Rogers-Nate Robertson-Bonderman-Verlander

Sunday, September 24, 2006

TIGERS CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT

On October 12, 1987, the Tigers lost 9-5 to the Minnesota Twins and were eliminated from the playoffs. The Tigers lost that series 4 games to 1 after a poor performance especially by the pitching staff. Fans went into the off-season disappointed but they did witness one of the greatest pennant races in the history of the game that year. They made up 3 1/2 games in the final 8 days of the season by winning 4 dramatic one run games against the division leading Blue Jays in the final 2 weekends. It was easy to rationalize that the team had nothing left for the playoffs after the highly emotional stretch drive. Plus, most of us envisioned more playoff opportunities in the near future.

Little did we know that the Tigers would go into an 18 year drought where they would fail to make the post-season. Not only that but, in most years, they would come nowhere close to contention. Indeed, they played some of the worst ball in the history of the sport. Many fans got to the point where they were so hopeless they questioned whether the team would ever win again. Finally, on September 24, 2006, nearly 19 years after their last playoff exit, they clinched a spot in post-season with a 11-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Last night, the Tigers scored 10 runs in the first inning of a 15-4 rout of the Royals. Today, they followed up with a 9 run second inning and cruised to another easy victory. Craig Monroe was held hitless in yesterday's onslaught and made two outs in the first inning alone. Today, he led off the second inning with a double and then blasted a 3 run homer in his second at bat of the inning. They had 13 batters in the inning which included 4 singles, a double, 2 homers, 2 walks and an error. For the game, the Tigers had 11 hits including 3 by Monroe and 2 apiece by Ivan Rodriguez and Matt Stairs (who hit his first homer as a Tiger).

The recipient of all the run support was Justin Verlander who held the Royals to 2 runs on 6 hits in 5 innings of work. Verlander finished with 17 wins and a 3.63 ERA and will likely win the Rookie of the Year award. Jason Grilli, Jamie Walker, Zach Miner and Andrew Miller each pitched 1 inning to close out the victory.

The final out was recorded when Miller, who was 2 years old in 1987, struck out Angel Sanchez. And the long long awaited celebration has begun in Detroit.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Book Review: Little League Big Dreams

I've been very focused on the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball this summer but recently I found time to enjoy the book Little League Big Dreams by Charles Euchner. In Euchner's last book, The Last Nine Innings, he used the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks as a springboard for a detailed look at Major League Baseball. In Little League Big Dreams, he employs a similar approach. This time, the 2005 Little League World Series is used as a backdrop for a discussion of Little League Baseball. Specifically, he gives a detailed account of a game which is developing into a profession as much as a pasttime for many youngsters all over the world.

The book examines many aspects of Little League Baseball of which should be of interest to players, parents, coaches and others involved in the game. Euchner covers many topics including an excellent history of Little League Baseball and the Little League World Series, the commercialization of the sport, detailed accounts of the preparation teams do leading up to the World Series and the social environment that teams experience at Williamsport.

He brings to light some disturbing trends in Little League Baseball which readers may or may not have observed in their own experiences. He talks of coaches that lead teams through hours of rigid and grueling practices in pursuit of the goal of the World Series. He writes of unhealthy emotional pressures imposed by coaches and parents on 10-12 year old boys. He suggests that many arms have been ruined for life by coaches who allow youngsters to pitch more innings than their young bodies can handle.

While he does spend much time revealing the negative side of the sport, he also reminds us of the benefits of the game for many youth. This includes learning the game of baseball as a participant, making new friends, and gaining an understanding of the importance of teamwork. Little League Baseball is still a great organization for many even if it is becoming too much of a business for some. In fact, one of the themes of the book seems to be a quest for the preservation of the beneficial aspects of Little League Baseball in the face of the growing professionalism of the sport.

Like The Last Nine Innings, Little League Big Dreams is a book that will educate and entertain both casual and sophisticated baseball fans. I recommend it to parents, coaches and anybody else who has an interest in Little League Baseball.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tigers Top Royals 7-3. Guillen for MVP?

The Tigers defeated the Royals 7-3 tonight to extend their lead over the second place Twins to 1 1/2 games. The Twins lost to the Orioles 7-3 in their game. The Tigers magic number for qualifying for the playoffs is now at 3 pending the outcome of the White Sox game versus the Mariners. As I type this, the White Sox trail 8-6 in the 7th inning. It's looking like the Tigers could clinch their first playoff spot since 1987 this weekend.

Tonight's game versus the Royals was closer than the final score indicated. The Tigers took the lead 4-3 in the 6th inning on a two run home run by Sean Casey and it stayed that way until they added 3 insurance runs in the 9th. Casey's home run followed a leadoff infield hit by Ivan Rodriguez. The Mighty Casey has not shown too much power since joining the Tigers so this was a pleasant surprise. The other big hitter for the Tigers was Carlos Guillen who tripled, doubled, singled and walked in 4 plate appearances.

On the pitching side, Wil Ledezma was a little sloppy tonight walking 3 batters and making an error but he kept the team in the game allowing 3 runs (only 1 earned) on just 4 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the hits, a 6th inning double by Shane Costa which knocked him out of the game, was hit hard. ZackMiner got the final out of the 6th. Joel Zumaya came into the game in the 7th with a one run lead and held the Royals scoreless for 2 innings. Zumaya was his usual excellent self but was a little more efficient than usual throwing only 19 pitches, 12 for strikes. Jones closed it out in a non-save situation by pitching a 1-2-3 9th.

MVP Consideration for Guillen?

The underrated Carlos Guillen is having an excellent season batting .313/.394/.523. There has been quite a bit of talk on Tiger message boards concerning the possibility of MVP consideration for Carlos Guillen. After all, his rate stats compare quite favorably to Derek Jeter (.338/.413/.481), the consensus favorite to win the award. Jeter gets on more but Guillen has more power. Neither is having a great season defensively. Jeter as usual is not showing much range although he has been steadier than Guillen who has had trouble throwing.

I think the biggest difference between the two is that Jeter has been a little healthier and played more full games. This is reflected in Jeter's 120.5 runs created versus 99 for Guillen. Still, Guillen is having an outstanding season and has really been the only Tiger who has been consistent offensively all year long. I don't think he will or should win the MVP but I definitely think he deserves some consideration.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tigers Lose But Remain in First

The Tigers lost to the Orioles 4-3 today in a make-up for an earlier postponement. Luckily, they got a little help from the Red Sox who shut out the Twins 6-0 tonight. With both teams losing tonight, the Tigers kept their slim half game lead in the AL Central. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the 3rd place White Sox pending the result of the White Sox game versus the Mariners tonight. As I type, the Mariners have a 5-0 lead in the top of the 8th inning.

Nate Robertson was not too sharp today but spent his 6 inning stint working his way out of jams. He allowed 5 hits and 5 walks but only 2 runs. He left with with 3-2 lead in the 7th. Unfortunately, Fernando Rodney was unable to work out of a jam in the 8th. He allowed a single, a hit batsman and a two run double by Melvin Mora as the Orioles took a 4-3 lead.

On the offensive side, the Tigers took a 3-0 lead after 3 innings but failed to score in the final 6 frames. Curtis Granderson led off the game with a double and scored on Magglio Ordonez's 5th home run of the week and 24th of the season. Granderson added his 16th home run, a solo shot, in the third. For the month, Granderson is batting .307/.342/.533 and Ordonez is hitting .329/.355/.616. It's great to see those guys breaking out of their slumps because they will be crucial players down the stretch and in post-season.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tigers Take Series from White Sox

The Tigers won the rubber match of their three game series versus the White Sox 6-2 tonight. Jeremy Bonderman did his best Kenny Rogers imitation for 5 innings allowing no runs on just 1 strikeout and a lot of grounders including two double plays. One of the double plays came with 2 on and nobody out in the second. Joe Crede hit a one hop rocket to Brandon Inge who snared it, touched third and threw to first to complete the twin killing. It was another fine play by Inge who had a good night all around.

After being staked to a 4 run lead, Bonderman ran into trouble in the 6th allowing home runs to Juan Uribe and Tadahito Iguchi to make it 4-2. Jermaine Dye followed with a one out single. At this point, Tiger fans were very afraid of one of those one inning meltdowns which sometimes plague Bonderman. Seeing Jim Thome at the plate and Paul Konerko on deck didn't make anybody feel any better. Many screamed for a relief pitcher. But there would be no relief pitcher and there would be no more runs as Bonderman struck out Thome and got Konerko on a grounder to end the inning.

The bullpen took over in the 7th. Joel Zumaya pitched 2 scoreless innings striking out 3 along the way. Todd Jones pitched the 9th and allowed 2 runners with one out. Leyland was concerned enough to have Mike Maroth warming up just in case. However, Jones got Tiger killer Joe Crede to ground into his third double play of the game to end it. After the final out, Rod Allen appropriately shouted: "He Gawn"!

Offensively, the Tigers did a little bit of every everything against previously sizzling Jon Garland and 3 relievers. They scored 2 runs in the 3rd on an infield hit by Marcus Thames and doubles by Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson. They got 2 more in the 5th on consecutive singles by Inge, Granderson and Rodriguez and a sacrifice fly by Sean Casey. Hot hitting Magglio Ordonez (4 homers this week) and Rodriguez capped the scoring with solo homers in the final 2 innings.

The Tigers now have a 6 game lead over the White Sox with 10 to go. Tiger fans can now concentrate on a very tough divisional race. The Twins beat the Red Sox 8-2 tonight to remain a half game behind the Tigers. As for the White Sox, They Gawn!

Tomorrow, the Tigers go to Baltimore to play a make-up game against the Orioles. It will be Nate Robertson against Kris Benson. The Twins will try to complete a sweep of their 3 game series against the Red Sox at Boston. That one will feature Johan Santana and Josh Beckett.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gammons to Return to Work

ESPN is reporting that Peter Gammons, who suffered an aneurysm in June, is going to make an appearance on ESPN tomorrow night:

Gammons, who suffered a brain aneurysm in late June, will be on the 6 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter and the 7 p.m. ET edition of Baseball Tonight. He will report from Fenway Park.

Gammons isn't returning to work full-time. An ESPN spokesman said that future appearances will be scheduled as Gammons is comfortable.

This is some of the best news of the year. As I said back in June, I have been a big fan of Gammons for about 30 years. With the exception of Ernie Harwell, nobody in the media has influenced my life as a baseball fan more than Gammons. I learned a lot about the game from him when he wrote for The Boston Globe back in the 70s and 80s. Baseball is not quite the same without him around.

Catching Up

I fell behind on my commentary this weekend due to my Cooperstown trip. So, I'll give my thought on some of the recent happenings. First and foremost, it's great see the Tigers doing some hitting again (except for tonight). In their last 4 games they scored 35 runs and some of the hitters who slumped during the 11-23 stretch played key roles:

  • Curtis Granderson - 6 for 18 with a double, a triple and a homer.
  • Magglio Ordonez - 5 for 15 with a double, 3 homers and 5 RBI.
  • Brandon Inge - 6 for 15 with 2 homers and 8 RBI.
  • Sean Casey - 7 for 14 with a double and a homer.
I said last week that they needed a few players to break out of slumps more than they needed Placido Polanco back and that seems to be happening.

Speaking of Polanco, after all the conflicting stories over the weekend, I'll no longer try to guess when he'll return. He did explain that his statement about being out for the season was made out of frustration and that he now expects to be back before the season is over. I think the impact of his absence has been greatly overstated by the local media. However, since Jim Leyland continues to play Neifi Perez over Omar Infante every day, I'd like to see Polanco back in the line-up sooner rather than later.

My first reaction to the Matt Stairs acquisition was a positive one. Considering that they got him for free, I figured he would be a good cheap pinch hitter for the stretch drive. After seeing that he has become the regular designated hitter against right-handers though, I'm no longer very happy with the move. I'd much rather see Thames playing every day. Thames has batted only .196 since July 1 but he does have 10 homers over that period. Stairs, on the other hand, has batted .232 with just 4 homers since July. Stairs is left-handed but he's not doing very well against any pitchers right now. On the season, Thames and Stairs have OPS's of .889 and .758 respectively against right-handers. I don't really see the advantage of playing Stairs.

As for tonight's game, Freddie Garcia and the White Sox shut out the Tigers 7-0. Garcia gave up just 1 hit and 2 walks in 8 innings and has allowed just 5 base runners in his last 2 starts. Justin Verlander, on the other hand, failed to make it through the 5th inning for the second straight start. He has been quite inconsistent the last several weeks and seems to be tiring a bit. The Tigers still look good for at least a wild card birth as they hold a 5 game lead over the third place White Sox with 11 games to go. However, the Twins cut the division lead down to a 1/2 game with their 6-2 win over the Red Sox tonight.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cooperstown Trip

After enduring the Tigers' month long slump, I spent the weekend in the beautiful town of Cooperstown, NY. I believe this was my 5th trip to The Hall of Fame and, as I always, I enjoyed it very much. It was the first trip to the Hall for my girl friend Simona. She is not much of a baseball fan but she liked the town and even learned some of the names of a few historic Tigers.


For those who have not been to the HOF, I highly recommend it. It's a large musuem and you could spend a day in there without seeing the same thing twice. My favorite room is the timeline room which starts in the 1800's and goes all the way into the 21st century. They have all kinds of memorabilia - pictures, newpapers, lockers, equipment, clothing and other items from every decade of baseball's existence. Another favorite room is the theatre which is designed like a miniature ballpark.

As you might expect, the Yankees are the most visible team in the HOF with Babe Ruth and others popping up everywhere you look. However, the Tigers are among the best represented teams in the museum. Ty Cobb shows up a lot and they also like the Tigers of the 1930s and 1980s.

By the way, for those of you who are concerned about Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson not being in the Hall of Fame, both of them are exhibited numerous times. The only place you won't see them is in the plaque room which is probably the least interesting room in the HOF. You can also forget about Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire getting banned. They're both in there already. As for the Tigers, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris are in there.

The town itself is probably the best part of the trip. You might expect it to look like a tourist town with a McDonalds and Burger King on every block but there are actually no fast food outlets to be found and very few franchises of any kind. Instead, you'll see a town that looks like something out of the 1940s with old buildings, small businesses and no traffic lights (I think there is actually one in the whole town).

The best part for baseball fans is that the center of town is all baseball. Every store and restaurant has some kind of baseball name and is filled with baseball photos, pictures and memorabilia. Then there is Doubleday Field which opened in 1939 and looks like it hasn't been renovated at all since then. It's another must see location for those who like baseball history.

If you are bringing someone who is not a baseball fan, there is scenic Lake Otsego with parks and boating activities. There is a summer theatre and an opera house, both of them beautifully located. There are also a number of museums including the The Farmer's Museum and the James Fenimore Cooper Art Museum.

But back to the Hall of Fame. As promised, I communicated with Ty Cobb. He said that modern day ballplayers are a bunch of sissies who never could have survived in his day. However, he says the Tigers will be in the playoffs though and I'm not going to argue with Ty.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Off to Cooperstown

I'm off to Cooperstown for the weekend to visit the Hall of Fame and to see one of my favorote towns. I'll look for Ty Cobb and Charlie Gehringer and ask them what's wrong with theTigers. I'll be back Sunday night. If anybody wants to talk about the Orioles series, feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tigers Routed By Rangers

The Tigers split the series with the Rangers after losing 11-3 tonight. They have now failed to win any of their last 8 series'. For the 4th straight time, they won the first game of a series only to lose the rest of the series. This was only a 2 game series but the pattern was the same.

As usual, the Tigers did not hit tonight but this time the pitching was bad too. Justin Verlander was tagged for 6 runs on 10 hits and failed to make it through the 5th inning. mike Maroth and Jason Grilli were also hit hard. The only positive was Andrew Miller's scoreless 7th inning. Gary Matthews Jr. did the most damage as he hit for the cycle and only neded 6 innings to do it. It was the first cycle for an opposition in Comerica Park history.

The Tigers continued their feeble offensive attack getting 7 hits including just one extra base hit. Surprisingly, the extra base hit was a two run double by Sean Casey. It was Casey's first RBI and only his 4th hit of the month.

After the game, I heard an ESPN analyst saying that the Tigers were not scoring runs because they strike out too much and don't manufacture runs. This is why I rarely watch ESPN anymore. They had been striking out and not manufacturing runs when they went 76-36 too. They are not scoring runs now because their entire offense is a mess from top to bottom. They are not hitting for average. They are not drawing walks. They are not hitting for power. Their stats for the last 34 games are .246/.293/.391 and their only consistent hitter has been Carlos Guillen. Those are awful numbers. This is not something which is going to remedied by bunting and hitting grounders to the right-side. They need to get 3 or 4 guys hitting a lot better immediately.

In other action, the Twins lost to the Athletics 1-0. Francisco Liriano started the game but re-injured his left elbow. He is out for the season and possibly a lot longer than that. I had a feeling they were rushing him back too quick. The White Sox blanked the Angels 9-0 behind a one hitter by Freddie Garcia who was perfect for 7 2/3 innings. The Tigers are now 1 1/2 up on the Twins and 3 up on the White Sox. It's starting to get frustrating but I still believe they are not this bad and will snap out of their slump. The Orioles are up next for three games. Their cushion is pretty much gone and they can't afford to lose another series to a below .500 team.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Guillen Powers Tigers

With the big lead down to 1 1/2 games, the Tigers no longer have much room for error. Every game is like a playoff game now. The Pennant Race is on. It didn't look like they would get this one in, as it rained most of the day in Detroit, but they game got started after a short delay. It continued to rain during much of the game and the conditions were not very good but it was completed with no further delay.

It was another good pitching, sluggish hitting night for the Tigers but fortunately this time they had just enough offense to win it 3-2. Carlos Guillen had 2 solo home runs including a walk off to right field in the 9th. The walk off is another one of those events that will be long remembered if they hang in there and make the playoffs. Expect a lot of emotional moments - hopefully more good than bad over the next few weeks.

The only other Tiger run scored on a solo shot by Marcus Thames. They only had 3 other hits so it wasn't exactly the kind of performance that makes one confident that the hitting drought is over. Kurt over at Mack Avenue Tigers charts and discusses the slumping offense. Like all the rest of us, he does not know how it happened. Hitting problems or not, right now they are in a very tight race and they need victories any way they can get them.

Kenny Rogers pitched another fine game tonight pitching his usual 7 innings, this time allowing just 2 runs. He got a lot of help defensively including 3 assists from Craig Monroe. Fernando Rodney pitched 2 perfect innings to get the win.

Injury Update

According to radio 1270 in Detroit, Joel Zumaya has tendonitis in his right wrist. He received a cortisone shot today and will be out of action until at least Friday. They can't afford to have him out for very long so let's hope for a quick return. Zumaya's injury was the reason Rodney was forced to pitch 2 innings tonight.

The same station also reported that Placido Polanco may be back for the White Sox series next week.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Real Numbers Versus Projections

Before the season started, I took forecasts from three popular projection systems listed below:

I entered projections from these three systems into a spreadsheet and calculated the averages for Tiger hitters and pitchers. When the season was at the half-way point, I compared the stats at that time to the pre-season projections and found that the majority of players were outperforming their projections. Now, with Tigers mired in a terrible slump at the 144 game mark, I thought it would be a good time for an update. Are they still doing better than their projections? To keep it simple, I use OPS for hitters and ERA for pitchers. The results are tabulated in the tables below. Here are the highlights:


  • Carlos Guillen (+.082), Brandon Inge (+.033) and Marcus Thames (.095) are all performing above their projected OPS.
  • Curtis Granderson (-.052), Placido Polanco (-.114), Ivan Rodriguez (-.033), Magglio Ordonez (-.039), Chris Shelton (-.064) and Dmitri Young (-.113), are significantly below their projected OPS.
  • Craig Monroe (.005) is both pretty close to his projection.
  • Kenny Rogers (-0.62), Nate Robertson (-0.66), Mike Maroth (-1.26), Zach Miner (-0.78), Justin Verlander (-0.79), Fernando Rodney (-0.41), Joel Zumaya (-2.80) and Jamie Walker (-2.10) are all performing better than their projected ERA.
  • Todd Jones (0.35) is performing a little worse than his projected ERA.
  • Jeremy Bonderman (0.10) is pretty close to his projected ERA.

The last time I looked at this, there were 5 batters performing above their projections and 3 below. Now, there are only 3 hitters performing above their projections and 6 below. Given their month long hitting slump, this is not surprising.


On the other hand, most of the pitchers are still performing better than their projections as was the case in July. The only one that was performing above his projection in July who isn’t now is Jeremy Bonderman. Again, none of this is a surprise.



Table 1: Projected OPS Versus 144 Game OPS


Player

Proj. OPS

81 Game OPS

Actual-Proj

Granderson

0.808

0.756

-0.052

Polanco

0.798

0.684

-0.114

Rodriguez

0.784

0.751

-0.033

Ordonez

0.841

0.802

-0.039

Guillen

0.812

0.894

0.082

Shelton

0.873

0.809

-0.064

Monroe

0.792

0.797

0.005

Inge

0.731

0.764

0.033

Thames

0.795

0.890

0.095

Young

0.813

0.700

-0.113


Table 2: Projected ERA Versus 144 Game ERA


Player

Proj. ERA

81 Game ERA

Actual-Proj

Rogers

4.53

3.91

-0.62

Bonderman

4.08

4.18

0.10

Robertson

4.50

3.84

-0.66

Maroth

4.68

3.42

-1.26

Verlander

3.98

3.19

-0.79

Miner

5.33

4.55

-0.78

Jones

4.12

4.47

0.35

Rodney

3.60

3.19

-0.41

Zumaya

4.78

1.98

-2.80

Walker

4.13

2.03

-2.10

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Twins Rout Tigers

The Tigers were demolished by the Twins 12-1 today. There's not much you can say about a game like this. Their hitting was bad. Their pitching was bad . Their fielding was bad. Neifi Perez kniocked in their only run.....

They lost the series 3-1 and have now won just 10 of their last 32 games. Their 10 1/2 game lead is down to 2 over the Twins. The White Sox are 3 1/2 games out after losing to the Indians 5-2 today. It's getting frustrating but somehow they are still in the lead. All we can do is look at their name at the top of the standings and hope that they break out of their team wide hitting slump very soon.

AL Central Division Standings


W

L

PCT

GB

Detroit

86

58

.597

-----

Minnesota

83

59

.585

2

Chicago

82

61

.573

3 1/2

Cleveland

68

74

.479

17

Kansas City

54

90

.375

32

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tigers Get Boofed

Boof Bonser and the Twins bullpen shut down the Tigers 2-1 tonight in what amounted to yet another anemic offensive display by the Tigers. The Tigers managed only 5 hits and 2 walks against Bonser, Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan who combined to retire the last 17 batters. The only Tiger with 2 hits was Pudge Rodriguez.

Nate Robertson pitched shut out ball for 7 innings and allowed just one earned run. An Omar Infante error on a possible double play ball contributed to the 2 runs in the 2nd inning. As usual Robetson did a fine job working out of difficulty - a 2 on no out jam in the 2nd and a bases loaded jam in the 5th. According to The Hardball Times database, Robertson has stranded 74.8% of his base runners this year. That is 7th best in theAmerican League. Justin Verlander leads the league at 79.9%.

Joel Zumaya loaded the bases in the 8th with one out thanks, in part, to a horrible call by second base umpire Larry Vanover. Vanover called Mark Redmond safe on an obvious force out at second. I expected Jim Leyland to explode but I think he stayed calm in order to keep Zumaya from getting worked up. Apparently it worked as Zoom retired the last 2 batters easily. I almost never complain about umpiring because I strongly believe bad calls even themselves over the course of a 162 game season but I don't think the unpiring has been very good this series. I'll leave it at that.

The Tigers lead had dwindled to 3 games over the Twins and 3 1/2 over the White Sox who held on to beat the Indians 10-8 tonight. It won't get any easier for the Tigers offense tomorrow when they face Johan Santana. Hopefully, the slumping Jeremy Bonderman gets himself straightened out has one of his dominant games tomorrow.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Twins Take Game 2

The Tigers lost game 2 of the big series 9-5 tonight. They took a 4-2 lead in the 5th inning when 4 straight hits led to 2 runs. It was all down hill from there though. After two fine starts against the Angels and Yankees, Ledezma did not have it tonight. He allowed 2 runs in the 2nd on 4 straight singles after 2 were out. He allowed 3 more runs in the 5th and left after 4 1/3 innings.

It was still 5-4 in the 6th but then the Tigers had one of those Metrodome innings. After retiring the first 2 batters, Andrew Miller walked the bases loaded. He was replaced my Zach Miner and things got really ugly at that point. An infield hit, an error by Inge and a chopper down the first base line led to 4 Twins runs to break the game open.

The lead over the Twins is back down to 4. The 2nd place White Sox are 5 games out pending the result of their game with the Indians. The Indians scored 3 runs as I've been typing this (or at least since the last time I checked) to take a 6-5 lead in the 9th. So, if the Indians can hang on to the lead, the White Sox would fall to 5 1/2 games back. So let's all root for the Indians.......And now The White Sox just won it in the bottom of the 9th on a walk off homer by AJ Pierzinski. Oh well.

Two Returns

Carlos Guillen returned to the line-up as the shortstop today and went 1 for 3 with a walk. He did made a weak throw to first in the 6th inning which bounced 3 times on the turf and allowed Torii Hunter to reach safely. It seems like he he did not plant himself well perhaps because of the hamstring. problem. Still, it's great to see him back in the line-up and Neifi Perez out of the line-up. Omar Infante played second and continued his hot hitting with a 2 for 4 night.

Mike Maroth pitched for the first time since May 25 and pitched 2 scoreless innings of relief. With Ledezma's poor performance tonight, I would think there is a possibility that Maroth might get the start the next time around.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tigers Take Opener from Twins

The Tigers opened a huge 4 games series versus the second place Twins in the Metrodome with a convincing 7-2 victory tonight. This series is the biggest of the year so far and probably the biggest since their late season collapse in 1988. The Tigers came into the series with a 4 game lead over the Twins meaning the Twins had a chance to tie them up with a sweep. The 4 game lead was the smallest margin since July 18th when they led the White Sox by 3 1/2 games. Adding to the urgency was the fact that the Tigers were in a 9-19 slump and had scored just 3.6 runs per game during that span.

Fortunately the Twins have also been struggling offensively averaging 2.7 runs a game over 10 games prior to this series. Justin Verlander took advantage of that with a solid 7 inning performance allowing 1 run on 8 hits. The only run scored on a solo homer by Michael Cuddyer in the 7th. Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect 8th and Todd Jones allowed an unearned run in the 9th.

On the offensive side, the Tigers touched up Scott Baker and Matt Guerrier for 12 hits including 4 home runs and 2 doubles. It all started when Curtis Ganderson homered to lead off the game. Marcus Thames, now the regular designated hitter after the release of Dmitri Young, hit a two run shot in the second to give them all the runs they would need. Thames now leads the team with 25 home runs in just 311 at bats. That's 1 homer per 12.4 at bats which is one of the top 10 ratios in the league for players with at least 300 at bats. Ivan Rodriguez and Omar Infante added solo blasts in the 7th and 9th innings repectively. Infante had 3 hits on the day.

It was a big game and the Tigers responded by dominating both offensively and defensively. It was the kind of victory that gets fans believing once again that they are headed for the playoffs rather than the collapse some have been talking about. With the White Sox 9-1 loss to the Indians tonight, the Tigers are now 5 games up on the Twins and 5 1/2 games up on the Sox with 21 games to go. Tiger fans can rest just a little easier tonight.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tiger Hitting Woes

With today’s 10 inning 5-4 loss to the Mariners, the Tigers have now gone 9-19 since August 8 and have seen a 10 game lead reduced to 3 ½ as I write this. What has been the problem? The injury to Polanco? The recent mediocre pitching by Bonderman? Less than stellar fielding after outstanding defense in the first 4 months? Those things have contributed to the prolonged slump but just about everybody knows the primary problem has been lack of offense. They have scored just 101 runs during the 28 game period. That’s an average of just 3.6 runs per game after averaging 5.3 runs in their first 112 games. That’a a big difference.


As illustrated by the table below, the inability to produce runs has been a team effort. Not including today’s game, their batting line for the period has been .246/.291/.381 which immediately explains why they aren’t scoring. The only regulars with an OPS above .710 are Carlos Guillen (.901) and Craig Monroe (.767) who,of course, has enhanced his value with his late inning heroics.


The rest of the starters have struggled mightily. Leadoff hitter and first half fan favorite Curtis Granderson has hit an anemic .181/.222/.309. Middle of the order hitters Dmitri Young (.232/.264/.348), Magglio Ordonez (.260/.295/.410) and Ivan Rodriguez (.234/.265/.298) have also contributed very little. Sean Casey (.265/.307/.349) and Neifi Perez (.156/.206/.156) have proven to be unproductive trade acquisitions. It has been a brutal team batting slump for sure.



Meanwhile, Jim Leyland has seemed reluctant to use two of the better hitters during the period - Omar Infante (.346/.382/.481) and Marcus Thames (not getting on base but leading the team in slugging at .524). Is the Tiger manager depending too much on proven veterans while ignoring some of younger players? With today’s release of Young, Thames will almost surely get more playing time. I would also like to not see Perez in the line-up anymore and I wouldn’t mind seeing Shelton get some at bats over Casey as well.


They’ve got a very big 4 game series coming up against the Twins at Minnesota this weekend. If they aren’t careful, they could come out of the series in second place. Guillen may be back which would be a boost but they need more than that. They need to get their offense going and it needs to happen fast.



Table: Tiger Batting Stats from August 8 – September 5


Player

AB

BA

OBP

SLG

Monroe

103

.243

.301

.466

Ordonez

100

.260

.295

.410

Rodriguez

94

.234

.265

.298

Granderson

94

.181

.222

.309

Guillen

86

.326

.389

.512

Casey

83

.265

.307

.349

Inge

81

.235

.311

.346

Young

69

.232

.264

.348

Infante

52

.346

.382

.481

Thames

42

.214

.283

.524

Perez

32

.156

.206

.156

Totals

911

.246

.291

.382

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