Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Gem for Jackson

Edwin Jackson pitched perhaps his best game of the year today blanking the Orioles for eight innings in a 3-0 victory.  Jackson allowed just two hits - a two out single by Nick Markakis in the fourth and a lead off double by Ty Wigginton in the eighth.  The double posed the only major scoring threat of the game for the Orioles but Edwin retired the the next three in order to get out of it.  The 26 year old right-hander also struck out seven and walked just one.

The table below shows just how remarkable Jasckson's improvement has been this season.  Comparing the pre-2009 and 2009 columns, we see that Jackson has cut his ERA by more than half (5.15 versus 2.30).  They biggest key for Jackson has been his dramatic decrease in walks (4.5 versus 2.2) and this has caused him to more than double his strikeout to walk ratio (1.4 to 3.2).  His home run rate is also way down (1.1 to 0.6).  Based on these numbers, you could make the case that Jackson is twice as good this year compared to his career.  I also added his 2008 numbers to the table to show that his improvement from 2008 to 2009 is almost as dramatic as that using his career numbers.  

Table: Edwin Jackson's 2009 vs. past years

Stat

Pre-2009

2008

2009

IP

456

183 1/3

74 1/3

ERA

5.15

4.42

2.30

K/9

6.1

5.3

6.9

BB/9

4.5

3.8

2.2

K/BB

1.4

1.4

3.2

HR/9

1.1

1.1

0.6


I heard some fans saying that the Tigers should walk Luke Scott (5 homers in this series and 10 homers in 10 games versus the Tigers) every time up.  Others said the Tigers should drill him with a pitch.  Jackson did much better than either of those scenarios by retiring him all three times including two strikeouts. 

Jackson needed a strong game today as the Tigers could not do much against Orioles starter Jason Berken who allowed just one run in seven innings in his second Major League start.  The run came on a homer by Curtis Granderson, his team leading 13th of the year.  They later scored two runs off the Orioles bullpen on RBI doubles by Jeff Larish (two hits and a walk) and Clete Thomas.  

Fernando Rodney preserved the win with a scoreless ninth.  He now has 10 saves in 10 opportunities.  The Tigers finished up May with a 17-11 record and now head home home for six games versus the Red Sox and Angels.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Clete Answers Luke

Luke Scott continued his devastation of Tigers pitchers tonight with his fifth homer in three games. Even Justin Verlander could not stop Scott who blasted a game tying two run homer in the bottom of the sixth off the Tigers ace. Scott now has 1o homers in 35 at bats against the Tigers the past two years.

This time the Tigers had an answer for the Orioles designated hitter though. Clete Thomas put Detroit back in front with a solo shot to left center leading off the seventh against Orioles reliever Matt Albers. Clete also homered to center field in the third and just missed another in the eighth when he had to settle for a double off the top of the left field wall. His three RBI were the difference in the Tigers 6-3 victory.

Justin Verlander was not quite as sharp tonight as he had been in recent outings. Justin pitched four shutout innings before running into trouble in the fifth. Much heralded rookie catcher Matt Wieters lead off the fifth with a triple which sent Curtis Granderson crashing into the center field wall. The Orioles followed with three consecutive singles to score Wieters and to load the bases. Verlander managed to escape the inning with no further damage by starting out a one two three double play and striking out Nick Markakis. He then allowed that homer to Scott in the sixth.

The Tigers received another strong effort from their bullpen tonight. Joe Zumaya, the third pitcher of the seventh inning, came in with two runners on base and struck out Melvin Mora to end it. He then struck out the great Luke Scott on three pitches leading off the seventh and proceeded to get the Orioles one two three. Fernado Rodney survived a lead off single in the ninth to secure his ninth save in nine opportunities.

The Tigers had some other hitting stars tonight besides Thomas. Magglio Ordonez got three more hits tonight - a double and two singles - to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. The streak has lifted his batting average from .225 to .285. Granderson started the Tiger scoring with a home run in the second inning and later singled and scored.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Luke Scott Killing Tigers

When Carlos Quentin left a game with a Plantar Fascia injury earlier this week, I needed to replace him on my fantasy team. There wasn't much available but I noticed that Luke Scott was coming off the disabled list so I decided to give him a shot. It was just a minor move and I wasn't planning on holding onto him very long. All he has done in three games is blast five homers and drive in 12 runs.

Scott has given the Westford Roadrunners a boost but unfortunately it has come at expense of the Detroit Tigers. The Florida native hit two homers versus Armando Galarraga last night and two more versus Dontrelle Willis tonight. This isn't the only time he has been guilty of slaying Tigers though. He is an incredible 18 for 31 with nine homers against the Tigers since becoming an Oriole last year.

Meanwhile, the Tigers bats were sytmied by a rookie pitcher for the second straight night. Last night, Dave Hernandez stopped them in his Major League debut. Tonight, it was 23 year old Brad Bergesen who held them to two runs over eight innings. Last night, the Tigers frustrated Jim Leyland by leaving ten men on base. They solved that problem tonight by not getting on base very much. They got seven hits but failed to draw a walk and there were not very many hard hit balls.

It might not seem like it but Magglio Ordonez has a 15 game hitting streak. He collected three more singles tonight and is now batting .362 (21 for 58) during the streak. He still is not hitting for much power with just six extra base hits (all doubles) and a .466 slugging average during the streak. He is at least getting on base though and hopefully the power will come back next.

Their ace Justin Verlander will go tomorrow in a game where they could really use a stopper. Specifically, they need him to stop Mr. Scott. Justin's opponent will be be Jeremie Guthrie who has been struggling this season. The match-up looks good but the Tigers will need to score some runs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Porcello, Tigers Win Again

Rick Porcello continued his excellent month of May today as he pitched six strong innings of the Tigers 8-3 victory over the Royals. Porcello allowed just two runs on four hits and a walk and added four strikeouts. The home run he allowed to Mark Teahen was the first Rick has surrended this month. The twenty-year-old rookie now has a 1.50 ERA, a 20/10 K/BB ratio and one homer allowed in 30 innings this month. Not surprisingly, the Tigers have won all five games he has started this month.

After collecting just four hits in his previous 26 at bats, Josh Anderson lead off today and went four for five. Miguel Cabrera hit a homer and continues to lead the league with a .374 batting average. Placido Polanco went two for four with his first homer of the season knocking in three runs. Magglio Ordonez extended his hitting streak to 12 games and has batted .340/.421/.460 over that period.

The victory gave the Tigers a two to one series win over the Royals and they now lead the the AL Central by four games over both Kansas City and Minnesota. They now go to Baltimore for a four game series to close out the month of May.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Verlander Cruises, Bats Wake Up

The Tigers crushed the Royals this Memorial Day afternoon 13-1 behind another strong performance by Justin Verlander and a 19 hit attack. Justin continued his domination of the American League this month with seven shutout innings, eight strikeouts and no walks. In has last six games, Justin has a 0.86 ERA and a 52/10 strikeout to walk ratio in 42 innings.

Verlander was a little more efficient today than he has been in some starts throwing 96 pitches, 66 of them for strikes. After throwing an average of 119 pitches in his last four starts, he was removed after less than 100 pitches today with a 9-0 lead. It was good to see Jim Leyland take him out a little early today, especially after seeing that 133 pitching out by Edwin Jackson last week.

The bats woke up today after being pretty much shut down by the Rockies over the weekend. They scored multiple runs every other inning - two in the first, two in the third, three in the fifth, two in the seventh and four in the ninth. The 19 hit explosion was highlighted by the following:
  • Miguel Cabrera - 4 hits including 2 doubles
  • Curtis Granderson - 3 hits, a double and a walk
  • Brandon Inge - 3 singles
There was a change in the batting order today as Leyland made the enevitable move of Clete Thomas from the third spot. After going 2 for 24 in recent games, Clete collected two hits in five at bats in the seventh spot today. Magglio Ordonez was inserted back into the third hole and got a single in four at bats plus a walk.

The Tigers increased their lead in the American League Central to four games with today's win. Game two of the series features the near unhittable Zack Greinke (0.82 ERA, a 73/12 K/BB ratio) versus Edwin Jackson (2.55, 48/16) tomorrow night.

Improved Defense Helps Tigers

Much was made of the Tigers pitching problems last year and with good reason.  However, fielding was just as big of an issue and they finished near the bottom on several defensive measures.  They finished 24th in Major League Baseball in Defensive Efficiency Ratio (percent of balls in play converted into outs) at .685  Even more telling was their -39.1 runs below league average on Ultimate Zone Rating (26th in baseball).

They made a point of upgrading their defense during the off-season moving Brandon Inge to third and acquiring shortstop Adam Everett among other things.  A quarter of the way through the season, their defense has improved dramatically so far.  Their Defensive Effeciency is up to .705 which is 8th best in the majors.  According to Ultimate Zone Rating, they have saved 14.4 runs better than average.  If they keep it up, that is a 53.5 run improvement over last year which is huge.  

Adam Everett has not worked out quite as they hoped defensively but they have improved significantly every place else so far.  The Table below shows their improvement on Ultimate Zone Rating by position.  you can see that they are actually 2 runs worse at shortstop this year so far.  However, Brandon Inge replacing Carlos Guillen/Miguel Cabrera at third base has led to an increase of 17.7 runs saved.  Not far behind is the outfield which has steppep up by a combined 29.3 runs over 2009.  An improved Curtis Granderson in center field is part of the difference.  Josh Anderson has been reponsible for much of the improvement in left field and Clete Thomas has been an upgrade over Magglio Ordonez in right field when he has played.

One caveat is that individual defensive statistics are not very reliable over a quarter of season.  For that reason, I used the +/- statistic found at BillJamesOnline as a check (It's a pay site so you won't be able able to see the numbers without a subscription).  That statistic backs up the UZR results fairly closely except that it sees no improvement for Polanco.  It had him ranked pretty high last year already (+11 runs saved above average).    

Table: Tigers Ultimate Zone Rating by Postion

Pos

2008

2009*

Change

1B

-4.1

+1.5

+5.6

2B

+0.4

+5.8

+5.2

SS

-0.8

-2.8

-2.0

3B

-14.0

+3.7

+17.7

LF

-4.5

+4.8

+9.3

CF

-6.2

+4.5

+10.7

RF

-4.5

+4.8

+9.3


* Through May 24 (42 games)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Streak Ends at Seven

Todd Helton belted a home run on a 3-0 pitch from Andres Galarraga in the sixth inning to put the Rockies in front 4-3. The way the Tigers have been going, we expected the Tigers to come back but it never happened. Cabrera walked in the sixth with two outs but Jason Marquis then struck out Magglio Ordonez. Gerald Laird got a two out double in the seventh but failed to score. Ordonez and Jeff Larish walked against closer Huston Street in the ninth but Laird struck out to end the game. So, the Tigers lost 4-3 and the seven game winning streak is over. The good news is the that the Royals were blanked by the Cardinals for the second straight game 5-0 and remain four behind the Tigers.

Armando Galarraga was a little better tonight but still not very good. He allowed four runs on six hits, including four four for extra bases, in 5 1/3 innings. Dexter Fowler tripled and scored in the first and Chris Iannetta and Todd Helton each slugged solo homers later. On a positive note, Brandon Lyon looked sharp in two innings of perfect relief.

Miguel Cabrera got the Tigers on the board with a solo homer, his ninth of the year, leading off the second inning. They scored two more to tie the game at three in the fifth inning on singles by Ordonez, Ryan Raburn and Laird. That would be the end of the scoring though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seven in a Row for Tigers

The Tigers opened up their inter-league schedule with a 4-3 victory over the Rockies tonight. It was their seventh win in a row on a home stand which has propelled them into first place 3 1/2 games ahead of second place Kansas City. This is their longest winning streak since they won seven in a row between June 17-24, 2007. They won eight in a row between April 29 - May 28 the same year.

Rick Porcello was solid again tonight allowing one run on six hits and two walks in six innings of work. As usual, the Tigers limited his pitch count as he was removed after throwing 86 pitches. He continued to show improved command of his curveball tonight. After posting a 6.23 ERA in four April games, he has a 1.12 ERA in his four May starts. One of the keys has been his ability to keep the ball in the park this month. He has yet to surrender a gopher ball in May after six last month. His 53.6% ground ball percentage is fourth best in the league but that is something he did in April as well.

Fernando Rodney was not available to pitch tonight after pitching in five consecutive games so Joel Zumaya had to close with a 4-1 lead in the ninth. He struck out the side but did not make it easy in between. He walked his first batter of the season - Brad Hawpe - to open up the inning. He then allowed a one out two run homer to Seth Smith making it 4-3. He allowed two more runners to reach before striking out Dexter Fowler to end the game. Ryan Perry had set him up with two scoreless innings allowing just a walk.

The Tigers once again displayed some stellar defense. Brandon Inge made two more excellent plays bare handing a grounder and also running pretty deep into left field to catch a pop fly. Josh Anderson helped Porcello get out of a third inning jam with a perfect throw to the plate nailing Todd Helton. Miguel Cabrera then started a nice double play helping Porcello get out of another mess in the sixth.

As has happened many times this year, much of the offense was provided by the bottom part of the order. Sixth batter Brandon Inge blasted his team leading 12th homer in the fourth. Gerald Laird and Roman Santiago added two hits apiece from the eighth and ninth spots. Placido Polanco also added two hits.

The Tigers are now a remarkable 43-12 versus National League teams since 2006.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Willis Stuns Rangers

It was Dontrelle Willis against the Rangers - one of the top hitting teams in baseball. I wasn't expecting much and missed the first four innings because I was running a 5K tonight. When I got back to my car, I turned on the radio and was very surprised to discover that the Tigers were leading 3-0. My first thought was that he was probably walking batters and that is was a sloppy four innings. As I listened further, howver, I learned that he was pitching a terrific game and he continued to do so.

Dontrelle allowed two base runners in the first and that would be it until he walked Andruw Jones with one out in the seventh. Willis retired 17 batters in a row in between. According to game day he was not throwing as fast as his first game versus the Twins as his fastball was mostly in the high 80s and rarely topped 91. He was staying ahead of batters and getting outs though. In all, he threw 6 1/3 innings allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out five. It was only one game but it was very encouraging performance for a pitcher who many thought would never get over the control problems that plagued him all last year.

Willis was supported by some strong defense tonight, something we've seen a lot from the Tigers lately. Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge and Josh Anderson all chipped in with fine plays. He was also backed by 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief pitching from Brandon Lyon, Bobby Seay, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney.

This night belonged to Dontrelle though. For more on Willis, check out J. Ellet Lambie's article.

Wilkin Ramirez Coming to Detroit

A source close to the Tigers is reporting that the Tigers will be calling up Wilkin Ramirez to replace Magglio Ordonez who was placed on the bereavement list yesterday. The 23 year old outfielder was batting .316/.385/.487 with 14 stolen bases at AAA Toledo. He was 12 for 22 with four homers in has last six games. With a crowded outfield of Curtis Granderson, Ordonez, Clete Thomas, Josh Anderon and Ryan Raburn and Marcus Thames and Carlos Guillen coming back eventually, it's not likely that this will be a permanent call-up. However, Wilkin should at least get his feet wet in the Rangers series as I doubt a top prospect is getting called up to sit on the bench.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Sweep for Tigers

It's been a week of sweeps for the Tigers. They took three from the Indians last weekend, lost three to the Twins during the week and then completed a three game sweep over the Athletics today. The first two games of this series were routs - 14-1 on Friday night and 9-1 on Saturday night. Today would be more difficult as Armando Galarraga gave up five runs and was chased from the game in the first inning. The Athletics added another in the top of the second off of Zach Miner making it 6-0.

The way the series has been going though, you had the feeling the Tigers could come back and they did. They exploded for four in the second, four in the third and three in the fifth on the way to a 11-7 victory. You might think a game like this would feature a bunch of RBI from Miguel Cabrera but the slugging first baseman went 0 for 5. Instead, their two light hitting shortstops combined to go 7 for 7 with four extra base hits, five RBI and 5 runs scored. Ramon Santiago had the offensive game of his life going 4 for 4, with a triple and a homer driving home four runs. Adam Everett, playing second base for the resting Placido Polanco, went 3 for 3 with two doubles.

Everett and Santiago were supposed be a cheap shortstop tandem specializing in defense this year. However, they have been pleasant surprises offensively. Everett is batting .306 with 7 doubles in 85 at bats while Santiago has batted .352 with 7 extra base hits in 54 at bats. With some of the hitters at the top of the line-up struggling, the two middle infielders have given a significant boost to the offense.

The bad news, of course was Galarraga's continued troubles. After a strong April with a 1.85 ERA in four games, he has completely imploded in May. In four starts, he has allowed 21 runs on 23 hits and 12 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His complete lack of command leaves me wondering whether there is something physically wrong. Injured or not, I can't imagine Jim Leyland can give him too many more chances if he keeps getting shelled. When Jeremy Bonderman is finally ready to pitch in Detroit - probably later this month - Galarraga could be the one removed from the rotation if he doesn't show some improvement.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tigers Pound Athletics Between Rain Showers

The Tigers led 9-1 after four innings when the second rain delay started three Athletics outs short of an official game. Tigers fans feared a postponement would wipe out an easy victory. Ryan Raburn's grand slam and Magglio Ordonez's three hits would be erased and Edwin Jackson would lose a chance for a victory. Of course, the Athletics would have been happy to have their four errors removed from the books. After an hour delay, however, the game continued and the Tigers finished off a 14-1 rout.

Jackson returned when the game resumed and pitched three more innings to get his third win of the year. I was a bit surprised Jim Leyland left him in so long with a big lead after having sat for so long. Edwin pitched seven innings allowing one run on six hits and zero walks. It was his first start without a walk since 2004 and the first time he had ever gone more than five innings in a game without walking a batter. He has walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings this year after entering the year with 4.5 walks per nine innings. That's an amazing transformation if he keeps it up.

None of the Tigers lost their hits and they added more after the delay. Brandon Inge hit the second Tigers grand slam of the game in the sixth inning. It was the third time the Tigers had hit two grand slams in a game and the first since Jim Northrup hit two by himself in 1968. Clete Thomas, Miguel Cabrera added three hits apiece.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tigers Swept Out of Minnesota

Justin Verlander was dominant again today striking out 13 batters in 6 1/3 innings before leaving the game with a 5-0 lead and two men on base. Much like last year, the bullpen could not hold a lead today. Bobby Seay allowed both of Justin Verlander's runners to score and four of his own as the Twins plated six runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-5 lead which they held for the remainder of the game. Zach Miner also contributed a walk and a hit to the fire.

Verlander now has struckout nine or more batters in each of his last four games for a total of 44 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. For the season, Justin has a Major League leading 69 punch outs in 50 1/3 innings. That is 12.3 K per 9 IP for the season. Eric Cioe over at Motownsports compiled some more stats on Verlander

The Tigers offense struggled for most of the game except for a five run sixth which at the time looked like a very good cushion. They scored on an RBI double by Ramon Santiago (playing second base for the resting Placido Polanco), a two run double by Magglio Ordonez (back in the third spot today) and a two run single by Clete Thomas.

The Tigers entered April with an 11-10 record and four teams within a game of first place in the AL Central. After a stretch of 12 games against divisional opponents, the Tigers are still a game above .500 at 17-16 and the AL Central is still bunched up with the same four teams all within two games of first place. They beat up on the Indians the last two weeks taking five of six but went 1-4 versus the Twins and lost a game to the White Sox. next up is a nine game homestand versus the Athletics, Rangers and Rockies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Crede buries Tigers

It was a wild game that the Tigers had plenty of chances to win but in the end they couldn't beat the evil combination of Joe Crede and the Metrodome. Tiger killer Crede used to slay the Tigers as a White Sock. Tonight, he hit a walk off grandslam as a Twin. The Twins win 14-10 in 13 innings. Here are some notes:

The reason Brandon Lyon pitched the final three innings tonight was because the only two relievers left were Ryan Perry (who threw 42 pitches yesterday) and Nate Robertson who I just learned is injured. I don't know the nature or extent of the injury but Lucas French will apparently be called up from Toledo to take his place.

The Tigers went ahead in the top of the 13th when Curtis Granderson tripled and scored on a balk. Grandy bluffed a steal of home momentarily freezing Twins reliever Jesse Crain and causing the balk.

Dontrelle Willis made his return to the majors and got tagged for four runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. it wasn't a good performance but he did look better than last year. After throwing in the high 80s in many games last year, it was encouraging to see him throw in the mid 90s several times tonight. He also threw strikes at a more reasonable rate - 53 out of 87 pitches and just two walks. Still, the results were not very good.

Jeff Larish got a start against the left-hander Glen Perkins. He did get a home run in the four run seventh but that was against right-hander Matt Guerrier. He also received two walks in the game. Clete Thomas also got another start tonight and went one for six. Larish and Thomas seem to be winning the battle for playing time over Josh Anderson who has done very well as a role player. It could be that with Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez slumping (declining?) badly this year that Jim Leyland is looking for guys with more upside than Anderson who could take over as regulars.

Brandon Inge broke out of a 3 for 25 slump with three hits including a homer.

Miguel Cabrera had just one hit tonight - a three run homer in the seventh which put the Tigers ahead 9-7 at the time. He also walked twice as the Twins pitchers worked him very carefully.

Joel Zumaya relieved Bobby Seay in the seventh with one out and a 1-2 count. That was a very unusual move but it did not appear to be precipitated by an injury. He got through the seventh but allowed a game tying two run pinch hit homer to Jason Kubel in the eighth. Those were the first runs of the year allowed by Zoom.

Leyland was booted from the game after debating with the umpires over an odd situation involving Magglio Ordonez. Magglio was called out on strikes in the seventh and protested the call. Homeplate umpire Paul Schrieber put his arm on his back and tried to direct him towards the dugout. That's something I've never seen before and Leyland had a right to be upset.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Another Shutout for Tigers

When the Indians have played the Tigers in recent years, there have not been a lot of pitchers duels but we've seen two of them the last two nights. On the heels of a dramatic 1-0 victory last night, the Tigers blanked the Indians 4-0 tonight behind the much improved Edwin Jackson. It was a scoreless tie for six innings before Indians starter Fausto Carmona tired in the seventh allowing two runs. The Tigers then added two more in the eighth to give a comfortable cushion for their bullpen. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney each pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the win. The Tigers now have back to back shutouts for the first time since July 27-28, 2006 versus the Astros. The starting pitchers in those games were Justin Verlander and Nate Robertson.

A couple of Tigers pitchers, who have showed dramatically better control this season, continued to throw strikes tonight. Edwin Jackson walked just one and struck out seven in seven innings. The hard throwing right-hander now has an unprecedented for him 35/11 K/BB ratio in 45 innings for the season. His 3.2 K/BB ratio is more than double his 1.4 career ratio coming into the season. Similarly, his 2.2 walks per nine innings is less than half his 4.5 career rate. Not surprisingly, his 2.60 ERA is also about half his career ERA of 5.15. I was very skeptical when they picked him up but I'm being proven wrong. This man is a very different pitcher this year up to this point.

Joel Zumaya allowed one hit but no walks in the eighth and has now allowed no runs and no walks in six innings this season. Coming into the season, he had walked 5.2 batters per nine innings. Fernando Rodney was actually a little wild tonight and walked a batter but it was only his second walk in 11 innings this year. Last year, he walked 6.75 batters per nine innings and has a 4.6 rate for his career.

With Carlos Guillen still on the DL and the slumping Magglio Ordonez getting a day off , the Tigers had to claw for runs again. They scored their first run in the seventh when Carmona walked Curtis Granderson and Jeff Larish, Brandon Inge sacrificed and Gerald Laird hit a grounder to short with the infield back. The second run scored when Ramon Santiago stroked a single up the middle. They added two more in the eighth on an RBI triple by Larish and an RBI single by Inge.

They will go for a sweep tomorrow with Rick Porcello on the mound. They are currently in second place a game behind the Royals.

Friday, May 08, 2009

New Tigers Blogger

There is a new Tigers blogger on the block. J. Ellet Lambie writes a blog called Hazaa - The J. Ellet Lambie Blog. In his latest post, he gives a detailed summary of the first sixth (27 games) of the Tigers season. He plans to do five more similar summaries during the season along with regular updates.

Granderson's Leap Saves Verlander Gem

It was a classic pitcher's duel between Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander tonight. Lee left after eight allowing just one run. Verlander was dominant for eight innings and had a 1-0 lead going into the ninth. Justin walked the lead off man and then forced him at second on a grounder back to the mound. Then up came Grady Sizemore who blasted a long fly to center which looked like a two run game winning homer. But Curtis Granderson ran back, climbed the nine foot wall, reached his glove over the wall, grabbed the ball and pulled it back for a spectacular game saving catch. Grandy had robbed the rival star center fielder by making one of the best plays in a crucial situation I've ever seen.

It would have been a shame had Verlander lost the game as he tossed a gem, probably the second best game of his career behind the no hitter in 2007. Not only was it a rare complete game shutout but he allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out 11. Justin now has back to back double figure strikeouts for the first time in his career and his 31 strikeouts in three games is also a career best. The Major League strikeout leader (with 56) also received some earlier help from his defense. Ryan Raburn made a diving catch in left field in the fifth and Adam Everett made a diving stab starting a double play in the seventh.

The Tigers scored their only run with some small ball in the eighth. Granderson walked with one out. He then stole second on a failed hit and run attempt by Placido Polanco. Polanco eventually grounded out sending Grandy to third. Finally, Clete Thomas hit a soft roller to second which looked like the final out but rookie second baseman Luis Valbuena double pumped and the hustling Thomas beat it out. That run turned out to be all they needed. Just barely.

I've been watching games since 1968 but this is one of the best I've ever seen. It was a great pitcher's duel with a thrilling finish. It's one we'll be talking about for the rest of the year and probably longer. Tonight is why we all love this game.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Leyland is a Genius Tonight

My first thought when I saw the new line-up today was that it was good to see Carlos Guillen on the disabled list. My second thought was: Clete Thomas third and Curtis Granderson fifth? What is Leyland thinking? Leyland looked smart right away when Thomas's double highlighted a one run rally in the first. They scored five more in the second aided by two rare Twins errors. The third man in the line-up got another big hit - this one a triple. Thomas later doubled and walked for a three for four night. The Tigers went on to rout the Twins 9-0.

As impressive as the offense was, the pitching was even better. Rick Porcello went seven scoreless innings allowing just four hits and three walks. Most notably, he got 15 of the 21 outs on ground balls including three double plays. His change-up was looking quite sharp tonight. Nate Robertson and Juan Rincon mopped up and preserved the shutout.

Miguel Cabrera continued his hot hitting with a single, double and a monstrous 440 foot blast to left field. He is now batting a league leading .406 for the season.

Guillen to DL, Radical New Line-up

Carlos Guillen has been placed on the 15 day disabled list with a sore shoulder and Jeff Larish and Clete Thomas have been recalled from Toledo. Clay Rapada was optioned to Toledo. Jim Leyland also has a crazy new line-up tonight:

Josh Anderson LF
Placido Polanco 2B
Clete Thomas RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Curtis Granderson CF
Magglio Ordonez DH
Brandon Inge 3B
Gerald Laird C
Ramon Santiago SS

I don't know if this is a one night deal designed to spark the offense or whether it will be line-up during Guillen's absence. It's certainly a strong defensive unit but the order does not make a lot of sense to me. As Billfer points out, Curtis Granderson batting fifth behind Miguel Cabrera puts one of the fastest runners in back of one of the slowest in Cabrera. It also means fewer at bats for Curtis. If Leyland had to move him out of the leadoff spot, why not have him bat third ? instead of Clete Thomas? Thomas was batting just .236 at AAA this year.

I don't know if Anderson will get on base enough to be good leadoff hitter but he currently has a hot bat so I'm not surprised they are trying him there. Ordonez moving down to the sixth spot makes sense given his early season slump. This is something that Leyland never would have done in the past.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Verlander Dominates, Tigers Take Series

Justin Verlander has had excellent stuff all year and it was just a matter of time before he started getting results. Today, he out dueled the Indians Cliff Lee as the Tigers defeated the Indians 3-1. Verlander allowed just one run on two hits in seven innings, striking out 11 and walking three along the way. Today's strong performance came on the heels of an equally impressive game versus the Yankees the last time out. Justin now leads the league with 45 strikeouts and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Tigers bullpen preserved the victory with two scoreless innings. Especially impressive was a perfect ninth from Fernando Rodney who now has six saves in six opportunities. Fernando has not been dominant but has benefitted from much improved control so far and has allowed just one walk in ten innings.

Joel Zumaya came on to get the last out of the eighth with two men on base. When the season started, I wasn't counting on Zumaya for anything given his health history but he is already playing an important role. Zoom is another pitching who is having success by avoiding walks - no walks and no runs in five innings so far.

Offensively, Brandon Inge blasted his eighth homer of the year in the second inning tying him with Curtis Granderson for second in the league. Granderson broke up a 1-1 tie with an RBI double in the seventh inning giving him two consecutive game winning hits. His 155 extra base hits since 2007 is best in the American League.

Miguel Cabrera did not participate in the scoring but got three more hits today to raise his batting average to .393. That is second in the league to Kevin Youkilis.

The victory gave the Tigers a series win over the Indians this weekend. The Tigers had a rather sloppy week filled with errors, batting slumps and bullpen implosions but they managed to go 3-3 and they have a share of the lead in the crazy American League Central. Of course, four teams are within a game of first place. Next up is a two game series at home versus the Twins.

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