Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tigers Maul Pavano, Bonine stops Twins

The pitching match-up for this one was not favorable. It was injury replacement 5th starter Eddie Bonine versus Tiger killer Carl Pavano. But we are constantly reminded that pitching matchups in baseball are overrated and tonight was another example. Bonine held the Twins to two runs in five innings and the bullpen kept the Twins scoreless the rest of the way as the Tigers topped the Twins 7-2. Credit also needs to be given to Zach Miner who continued his good pitching of late with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

The game did not get off to a good start for the Tigers. In the first inning, Bonine allowed four hits and a walk and Curtis Granderson misplayed a fly ball for the second straight night. With two runs in, the Twins had the bases loaded and one out, Bonine was laboring and there was already action in the Tigers bullpen. Then, all of the sudden, things got better. Delmon Young hit a hard shot on one hop to Placido Polanco and the Tigers second baseman started a double play. There is no telling how the game would have turned out if the ball had been hit a couple feet to the left or right. As it turned out, the Twins would not a score another run the rest of the night.

Pavano, who came into the game with a 1.40 ERA in five starts versus the Tigers this year, retired the Tigers 1-2-3 in the first. But when you face a pitcher as much as the Tigers have faced Pavano this year, sooner or later you'll figure him out. The Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the second and, unlike the last time they faced Pavano, they made good use of their base runners. Brandon Inge drilled a two run double to tie the score at two and Ramon Santiago lined a one out two run single to make it 4-2.

The Tigers loaded the bases again in the fifth and this time Magglio Ordonez delivered a bases clearing double to give the Tigers a 7-2 lead. That would be it for Pavano, the man who was acquired by the Twins before the deadline in part because of his success versus the Tigers.

The victory gives the Tigers a three game lead over the Twins and reduces the magic number to two. They can clinch their first divisional title since 1987 with a win tomorrow. It will be Nate Robertson versus Scott Baker at 1:00 PM.

Line-ups for Game 3

MLive has the line-ups for game 3:

Minnesota Twins
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Jose Morales, DH
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Detroit Tigers
1. Curtis Granderson, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 2B
3. Clete Thomas, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Magglio Ordonez, DH
6. Carlos Guillen, LF
7. Brandon Inge, 3B
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Ramon Santiago, SS

The big change is Aubrey Huff sitting versus right-hander Carl Pavano. Magglio Ordonez replaces him at DH and takes his 5th spot in the order. Clete Thomas is playing right field and batting third. Swapping Huff for Thomas is a good move as it improves their defense without hurting the offense. I'd rather not see Thomas batting third though. It would make more sense sense to have Ordonez third and Carlos Guillen fifth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dramatic Day Ends in Split

It's days like this which make me appreciate how difficult it must be to be a professional beat writer having to finish an interesting and coherent article by the end of game. It's difficult to write anything intelligent an hour after such an emotionally draining day of baseball. Never mind writing during the game. It would not be an exaggeration to say that today had all the drama of two playoff games.

I was unable to watch the first game at work but had the radio on in the background as I did my SAS programming. It was a tense frustrating game with the Tigers squandering several early scoring opportunities versus Twins starter Nick Blackburn. Blackburn settled down later and went 7 innings allowing just one run. In an equally impressive performance, Rick Porcello allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings in the biggest game of his very young life so far.

The game was tied one to one after nine but then the Twins became Twins in the 10th. They scored two runs on two singles, two walks, two sacrifices and most notably two wild pitches by the usually dependable Brandon Lyon. What is it about the Twins which brings out the worst in the Tigers? The Bengals made a bid in the bottom of the inning when Curtis Granderson belted his 29th home run to make it 3-2. The unbeatable Joe Nathan stopped them cold after that though.

It looked for a while like game two would be an easy one as the Tigers built up a 5-0 lead with Justin Verlander cruising through five. There is no such thing as an easy game against the Twins though. The Twins starting weaving their evil magic scoring two in the sixth and two more in the eighth. Jim Leyland left Verlander in to throw a season high 129 pitches. After a visit to the mound by Leyland with the score 5-4, Verlander retired Michael Cuddyer to end the eighth.

Granderson padded the lead in the bottom of the eighth with his second homer of the day and 30th of the year. The suddenly red hot Granderson now has 10 hits in his last 16 at bats.

Fernando Rodney entered the game in the ninth with a 6-4 lead and things got very interesting. Spooky even. It would have been a one two three inning except for an improbable misplay (ruled a single) by the generally sure handed Placido Polanco. Then Nick Punto (who is seemingly involved in every Twins late inning horror show) hit what looked like a game ending fly ball to Granderson in center field but Curtis misjudged it badly. Two bad plays by two reliable fielders. This could only happen against the Twins.

Rodney finally got out number three (actually five) on a fly ball to Ryan Raburn. It was hit right two him but no Tiger fan felt safe until it was secure in his glove.

The doubleheader split kept the Tigers up by two games with two games to go in the series and five in the season. They are now guaranteed at least a tie going into the final weekend but they really need one more win in this series for it to be considered a success. It won't be easy with Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson facing Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. Tonight's win has me thinking optimistically again though.

Line-up for First Game

As you all know by now, game one of the series was postponed until noon today. Here is the Tigers line-up versus right-hander Nick Blackburn:

Curtis Granderson, CF
Placido Polanco, 2B
Clete Thomas, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Aubrey Huff, DH
Carlos Guillen, LF
Gerald Laird, C
Brandon Inge, 3B
Ramon Santiago, SS

Ordonez would have started last night versus Blackburn but apparently Leyland does not want him playing both ends of the doubleheader. I know people don't like to see Thomas batting third but I've gotten used to the fact that Leyland always bats a substitute in the same spot in the line-up as the player he is replacing.

It looks like Laird will be catching both games. If Leyland wanted Avila to catch one of the games, it would have been this one against the the right-hander. Lefty Brian Duensing pitches the nightcap.

In game 2, I imagine we'll see Ordonez, Marcus Thames, Ryan Raburn and Adam Everett replacing Thomas, Huff, Guillen and Santiago respectively.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Biggest Series Since 1987

The upcoming four game series versus the Twins is the biggest regular season series for the Tigers since 1987. Twenty-two years ago, the Tigers battled the Blue Jays for the American League East division title on the last two weekends of the season. It resulted in seven riveting games, each decided by just one run. The Tigers lost the first three but took the last four and clinched the division title on the last day of the season. It was probably the most exciting week of baseball I've ever experienced as a fan. Mike McClary is writing about that series in detail this week at The Daily Fungo.

We can only hope the series versus the Twins produces the same drama and results. Up by two games with seven to go, the Tigers can clinch the Central division title by taking three of four. If they split the series, they'll take a two game lead into the final weekend which would be a good position for them. If the Tigers win just one game, they'll be tied with the Twins. If the unthinkable happens and they get swept, they they will be two games out. Obviously they want to avoid the last two scenarios.

The first two games of the series are particularly important for the Tigers as their two hottest pitchers - Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander are going. The last two games will be started by Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson, who are basicaly emergency starters down the stretch. The Twins counter with their top four starters - Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. There are no aces there but all four have been solid.

The Twins lead the season series 9-5 but most of the damage has been done at the Metrodome where they have taken 7 of 9. In Comerica, where this series is being played, the Tigers have a 3-2 edge.

As for tonight's game, Blackburn enters with a 4.18 ERA and 89/40 K/BB ratio in 191 2/3 innings. He has allowed 1.13 homers per nine innings and is especially prone to the long ball on the road. He has been strong in in his last two starts holding opponents to just two runs in 13 1/3 innings. The Tigers mauled him in May at Detroit but he pitched a complete game versus the Bengals in July in Minnesota.

Rick Porcello has somewhat similar stats to Blackburn - 4.14 with an 80/49 ratio and 1.24 homers per nine innings. The biggest difference is Porcello's 55% ground ball rate versus 45% for Blackburn. Rick has faced the Twins three times this year - a very good game at home, a pretty good one in the Dome and a bad one at the Dome.

It all starts tonight at 7:05. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tigers Come Back To Rout White Sox

It didn't look good. Nate Robertson gave up 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings and Freddie Garcia held the Tigers scoreless on one hit for four innings. The Tigers were down 5-0 after four innings. We looked to the scoreboard for help but saw that the Twins were winning big over the Royals. The lead was going to be down to one game over the Twins.

Then the Tigers began to chip away. Miguel Cabrera hit a solo shot in the fifth to make it 5-1. Miguel then added a two run single in the sixth to close the gap to two at 5-3. Meanwhile, rookie Alfredo Figaro kept it close by holding the Twins scoreless for 2 2/3 innings. That's a performance which should not be lost in the wildness that followed.

Then came the sixth inning featuring the most beautiful sequence of at bats all year. With Carlos Guillen on first after a single and one out, the fun started:
  • Gerald Laird hit a ground ball single to left.
  • Adam Everett hit a ground ball single to left. Runs Scores. Tigers down 5-4.
  • With RHP Freddie Garcia still inexplicably on the mound, slumping Curtis Granderson hit a sharp single to center. Run scores. Game tied 5-5.
  • Placido Polanco drilled a single to right. Run scores. Tigers up 6-5.
  • Magglio Ordonez dropped a single into right. Run scores. Tigers lead 7-5.
At the time, it looked like the Tigers most glorious comeback of the year and it's one of those pennant race events we'll probably look back on if they win the title. That, of course, was before they turned a dramatic comeback victory into a rout. They added four more runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth for a 12-5 victory. These were the highlights:
  • The Tigers got 20 hits, their highest total of the year. An amazing 19 of them came after the fourth inning.
  • Cabrera had 4 hits and 4 RBI giving him 100 for the sixth straight season.
  • Granderson had three hits in the last three innings and all of them were well hit. It was a refreshing sight to see from the struggling leadoff man.
  • Polanco and Laird added three hits apiece and Ordonez had two.
The Twins beat the Royals 11-6 to remain two games in back of the Tigers but the Twins have to face Zach Greinke tomorrow. Meanwhile the Tigers will put Edwin Jackson up against rookie Daniel Hudson. So, the matchups are in the Tigers favor.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brandon Inge Gets the Save

Brandon Inge made a diving catch of a soft broken bat liner off the bat of Jhonny Peralta with a man on first and two outs in the bottom of ninth to save a 6-5 victory for the Tigers tonight. The Tigers had a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth but the Cardiac kitties of 2009 don't like to win easy. Bobby Seay gave up a run in relief of Justin Verlander without retiring a batter in the eighth to make it 6-3. Brandon Lyon got them out of that mess but the game wasn't over yet. After retiring the first two batters in the ninth, Fernando Rodney then gave up a two run homer to Shin-Soo Choo and suddenly it was 6-5. Travis Haffner followed with a single to center setting up the Inge play.

Justin Verlander was not quite as dominant as his 11 strikeouts look on paper but he allowed just two runs in seven innings. He struggled a bit with his control and labored through a 37 pitch third inning where he gave up the two runs but settled down after that. Verlander now has 256 strikeouts which is the fifth highest total for a Tigers pitcher in the history of the franchise. His 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings is easily an all-time best for a Tigers starter. No other Tiger has had as many as nine per nine innings.

The hitting hero for the second straight night was Carlos Guillen who went 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. That gives him six hits and five RBI in his last two games. Carlos has a .945 OPS in 157 at bats since returning from his shoulder injury.

The victory gave the Tigers a sweep of the Indians and increased their lead over the idle Twins by three games. Now, it's on to Chicago for a three game weekend series versus the White Sox.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guillen, Tigers Crush Indians

The Tigers have not had too many easy victories this year. Even when they are going well, the games are usual nail biters. Despite the fact that they came into the game 10 games over .500, they had scored fewer runs than they had given up for the season. Tonight, they finally broke out for 11 runs on 15 hits and demolished the Indians 11-3. It was the first time since August 15 when they clubbed the Royals 10-3 that they had reached double figures in runs.

Ever Tigers starter had a hit tonight but the most impressive performance of the night came from Carlos Guillen. Not only did the Tigers switch hitter smash two homers and a double, but one of the homers and the double came when Guillen was batting right handed. That is noteworthy because Guillen has been unable to swing the bat right-handed since returning from his shoulder injury.

Miguel Cabrera had a big night collecting two hits including his 31st homer. He also scored three runs and knocked in three. Other Tigers with multiple hits were Clete Thomas, Placido Polanco and Ramon Santiago with two apiece.

The win reduced the Tigers magic number to nine games and temporarily increased their lead to three games over the Twins. However, the Twins lead the White Sox 8-6 in the ninth inning so it looks like they will get back to 2 1/2 games by the end of the night. TheTwins have an off day tomorrow so the Tigers have a chance to pick up a half game. The pitching match-up is favorable for the Tigers - Justin Verlander versus Carlos Carrasco who has a 9.64 ERA in three games with the Indians.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jackson Pitches Tigers Over Indians

Last week, Jim Leyland said that Edwin Jack was pitching without his ammunition. By that, he meant that Jackson has not had his best stuff recently. Specifically, he has lacked command of his slider and has not exhibited the control he had earlier in the season. Then, pitching coach Rick Knapp mentioned on Sunday that Edwin has been possibly been tipping his pitches and that they have worked with him on fixing the problem.

Tonight, Jackson pitched seven shutout innings and led the Tigers to a 3-1 victory So, did they rectify whatever was wrong with him? Possibly, but it wasn't a dominating performance - 7 hits, 3 walks and just two strikeouts. Still, it was an improvement for a pitcher who had a 4.79 ERA since the all-star break and a 6.12 ERA in September entering the game.

As usual, Edwin's teammates did not make it easy for him as Indians starter Aaron Laffey held them to one run - a solo homer by Ryan Raburn in the third - in 6 2/3 innings. The Tigers added two more in the top of the eighth on two walks, a double by Miguel Cabrera and a sacrifice fly by Marcus Thames.

The insurance runs came in handy as the Tigers bullpen had an adventurous bottom of eighth inning. Bobby Seay put two men on base before yielding to Brandon Lyon with one out. Lyon then walked two batters with the second one forcing in the the lone Indians run. Thankfully, Fernando Rodney had a relatively quiet ninth to preserve the victory. That makes 34 saves in 35 opportunities for Fernando.

It's never easy for the Tigers. Is it? The White Sox are not helping either. After losing 7-0 to the Twins last night, they are down 8-6 in the eighth inning tonight. If the Twins hold on to win, they will remain 2 1/2 games back in the American League Central division race. The magic number to eliminate the Twins is now 10.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bye Bye Metrodome

Yesterday's game was probably the most frustrating loss since the 2006 World Series and it set up the biggest game of the season today. The Twins, winners of six in a row, had a chance to complete a sweep and cut the the Tigers lead in the American League Central to one game. It would probably be the last game the Tigers will ever play in the God forsaken Metrodome and they needed a win badly.

Nate Robertson was not who you wanted to see on the mound for the biggest game of the year but he got the job done. He made it through five innings, allowing two runs of five hits and three walks. He got big outs when he needed them and also had six strikeouts.

Robertson left with a 4-2 lead and passed the torch to Zach Miner. Miner is another pitcher you don't want to see on the mound in a big game at Minnesota but he also accomplished what he needed to do. He worked two scoreless innings and left with a 6-2 lead which would be the final score. Bobby Seay and Fernando Rodney each pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the victory.

The Tigers were held to two runs in the first two games of the series and even yesterday, when they got 12 hits and left a bunch of men on base, they did not hit the ball very hard. They finally broke loose today with six runs. They tied the game at one when Guillen tripled of the baggy in the fourth. After falling behind 2-1, the Tigers then scored three in the fifth on a walk and four singles. Finally, they scored two in the eighth highlighted by a Ryan Raburn homer.

The only way the Tigers will ever play in the Metrodome again is if the Twins force a one game playoff. The Twins would be awarded home field advantage if they maintain their lead in the season series. They are currently up 9-5 so it would take a Tigers sweep of the four game series versus the Twins in the final week in order to erase the deficit. Since, the combination of the Tigers sweeping the Twins and blowing a three game lead is highly improbable, a one game playoff would almost surely be in the Metrodome.

Hopefully, we have seen the last of the stadium with its cement like turf, a baggy for a right field wall and a white roof. It's bad for baseball and seemingly worse for the Tigers than other team. Ever since 1987 when the Tigers lost to the inferior Twins in the playoffs, that place has been a nightmare for the Tigers and their fans. As bad as it was to see Donald Kelly lose the ball in the roof yesterday, it's the kind of event we've grown to expect when playing at Minnesota. It's going to be a refreshing site to see the Twins play outdoors in Target Field starting in 2010.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tigers Lose Game One Versus Twins

The much anticipated series got off to a bad start tonight as four Twins pitchers - Brian Duensing, Jose Miljares, John Rauch and Joe Nathan - shutout the Tigers on five hits. The starter Duensing, who held the Athletics scoreless for seven innings in his last start, was strong again today before being removed with one out in the seventh.

Joe Nathan got his 30th save in 30 opportunities lifetime versus the Tigers. This was one was not particularly easy as he walked pinch hitterAlex Avila and allowed a double to Curtis Granderson before retiring Aubrey Huff on a soft liner to the mound to end it.

For the most part though, the Tigers looked helpless at the plate tonight as they have too many times this year. How bad has their offense been? They are 11th in the American League with 670 runs scored for the season. Their 252 runs since the all-star break is 13th in the league.

Rick Porcello pitched a decent game tonight allowing three runs in six innings. He allowed a two run homer to Michael Cuddyer in the fourth to make it 2-0. He then allowed another tally in the sixth on doubles by Jason Kubel and Delmon Young. Unfortunately, he got no offensive support at all.

It's a bigger series for the Twins than the Tigers but this was a frustrating start to the series never the less. The Tigers lead which climbed to seven games less than two weeks ago has now been reduced to three. And they still have two more games in the Metrodome - thankfully the last two they will ever play there. I still think the Tigers will be in good shape if they can just take one game in this series. That would leave the Twins three games down with just just three home games to go. The Tigers winning a game in Minnesota is far from a guarantee though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tigers Win One for Ernie

The big story tonight was, of course, Ernie Harwell. There was a nice tribute for Mr. Harwell after the top half of the third inning. They showed a brief video of his career and then the legendary broadcaster addressed the Tigers fans for perhaps the last time. As you might expect, Ernie's speech was not about himself but about the Tigers fans. It was simple, unscripted and from the heart. The entire speech can be found in Tom Gage's article at the Detroit News. A clip is shown below:
"In my almost 92 years on this earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey -- and the blessed part of that journey is that it will end in the great state of Michigan.... I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit, I love the way they face life, the family values they have, and you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all. No question about that".
There was a big game being played tonight as well. The Tigers were trailing 3-0 in the third with left-hander Lenny Dinardo on the mound and it didn't look good. But you knew they had to win it for Ernie. The Tigers needed some instant runs.

The runs didn't quite come instantly but they scored two in the fourth thanks to some sloppy Royals infield defense, an RBI single by Curtis Granderson and an RBI double by Adam Everett. The Royals played defense like a committee that inning. The Tigers added two more in the sixth on RBI singles by Everett and Placido Polanco. This put the Tigers in front 4-3

It was good that Granderson did not stand there like the house by the side of the road against a southpaw tonight. Instead, he singled twice and contributed to both rallies.

Injury replacement starter Eddie Bonine pitched five innings allowing three runs. The bullpen was stellar as Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney combined for four scoreless innings. Lyon was especially impressive. Entering the game in the eighth inning with runners on first and third and nobody, he managed to escape without a run crossing the plate.

The 4-3 victory was a rather big win tonight because the Twins had won earlier to close the gap four games. The Tigers will attempt to win the series tomorrow afternoon with Edwin Jackson facing Zach Greinke.

Thank you again, Mr. Harwell.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Walkoff ROE

The Tigers captured their seventh walk-off win of the year tonight on what looked liked like an inning ending double play ball. With the score tied at five in the bottom of the 10th, Alex Avila hit a routine ground ball to the right side. Blue Jay's first baseman Lyle Overbay grabbed it and threw to second for the force but shortstop Marco Scutaro could not handle the throw and Brandon Inge (who had reached on a walk and was on second base when the play started) scampered home with the winning run.

It was a typical Tigers offensive attack tonight as they struggled to score against a pitcher - David Purcey - with an ERA close to 7.00. Like so many times this season, they did their scoring late in the game. Down 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Scutaro made his first big blunder when he misplayed a Curtis Granderson grounder. Alex Avila followed with a pinch hit single. Aubrey Huff then got his biggest hit as a Tiger when he blasted a pinch homer to right to tie the game at five.

Justin Verlander has been the Tigers top pitcher this year but he often has one bad inning and tonight that was the sixth. He threw five shutout innings and took a 2-0 lead into the sixth but was then torched for five runs on six hits in one inning. Verlander left after seven innings weith the Tigers trailing 5-2.

Fortunately Fu-Te Ni, Jeremy Bonderman, Ryan Perry and Bobby Seay pitched combined for three shutout innings to keep it close. Fernando Rodney was unavailable tonight as he was serving the first game of a two game suspension for throwing a ball into the stands last week.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tigers Finally Win

There were a lot of reasons why the Tigers lost five games in a row to the Royals and Blue Jays this week. You could point to starters not pitching deep into games, sloppy defense, and too many strikeouts and double plays with men on base. The common thread in all five games though was failure of the bullpen. In 14 1/3 innings over five games, the Tigers relievers posted a 11.30 ERA and every reliever played a role in the disaster. If you want to see the gory details, Billfer has them had DTW.

Today, Rick Porcello left the game with a 4-2 lead after six innings and it was once again up to the bullpen to hold it. This time, the bullpen came through as Zach Miner, Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney each pitched a perfect inning. Hopefully, this is a sign that this week's bullpen implosion was only a blip and that things will fall in place going forward.

Rick Porcello also pitched well today allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in six innings. In nine starts since the beginning of August, the 20 year old right-hander has a 3.40 ERA. After struggling with his command at times earlier in the year he has walked just 11 batters and given up four homers in his last 50 1/3 innings.

Curtis Granderson batted seventh against a left-hander for the second time this series. He went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and his batting average for the season dropped to .249 overall. He now has a .486 OPS versus left-handers and a .908 mark versus right-handers which I'm pretty sure is the biggest platoon split among regulars in the majors. His inabilty to hit lefties has become a major problem seems to be getting worse rather than better.

The seemingly obvious solution to the Granderson dilemma would be platoon him but there is no obvious platoon partner. Offensively it would be Raburn but an outfield of Raburn, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen is a disater defensively and not something I want to see on a regular basis. Defense has been an important part of the team's success this season and they can't afford to have three relatively weak outfielders with fly ball pitchers like Jarrod Washburn and Justin Verlander on the mound. I do think they need keep batting him low in the order against lefties. I'd also like to see them pinch hit for him more late in the game.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tigers Swept by Royals

It's been happening all year. The Tigers go on a winning week thanks to some timely hitting late in games and some cardiac saves by Fernando Rodney. It looks like they are about to take off and separate themselves from the rest of the A.L. Central. Then they have a road series against a beatable team and they go completely flat.

It happened again. After winning six in a row, including a dramatic three comeback sweep of the Rays, the Tigers went to Kansas City to face the last place Royals. The Tigers did very little right the whole series and came away empty losing 7-5 on Tuesday, 5-1 on Wednesday and 7-4 today.

The bullpen failed them in each game. On Tuesday, they had a 5-4 lead in the seventh but Bobby Seay and Ryan Perry could not hold it. Yesterday, they never had the lead despite six innings of one run ball from Verlander. The bullpen didn't help though turning a one run deficit into a five run gap. The culprits this time were Seay and Fernando Rodney. Today, they had a 4-3 lead in the sixth before Zach Miner threw it away.

Their offense was typically frustrating as well. Last night, reliever Robinson Tejeda made a rare start and held the Tigers to three hits in six shutout innings. Today was a different kind of frustration. They banged out 15 hits but helped out the Royals by hitting into five double plays.

The good news is the Tigers now go back home to Comerica (where they are 45-22) for seven games versus the Blue Jays and Royals. They also still have a 5 1/2 game lead over the second place Twins and 6 over the third place White Sox, two teams which are struggling to play .500 ball. The Tigers are not putting this thing away but they are still in good shape.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tigers Sweep Rays on Inge Slam

It's gotten to the point where late inning heroics are now expected of the Tigers. For the third straight game, the Bengals staged a late rally to beat the Rays in Tampa this afternoon. Today was Brandon Inge's turn to be the star. The Tigers third baseman crushed a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to lead the Tigers to a 5-3 comeback win over the Rays.

The ninth inning rally started with a one out walk to Miguel Cabrera. Marcus Thames, pinch hitting for Aubrey Huff, followed with another walk on a 3-2 count. Magglio Ordonez then singled to right field loading up the bases for Inge. Inge blasted his homer to left field on a 2-2 pitch to put the Tigers ahead.

Brandon Lyon easily nailed down the save for the second straight game. I wouldn't read too much into Lyon being used as the closer twice in two days though. I think Jim Leyland was just resting Rodney who had pitched four games in six days including a 35 pitch outing on Friday night. Lyon is not a bad second option though as he has held opponents scoreless in 19 of his last 20 appearances.

Rays starter Wade Davis was very impressive in his MLB debut starting off the game with four consecutive strikeouts. He then allowed a homer to Huff but nothing much after that. He pitched seven innings striking out nine and allowing just that one run. His bullpen could not hold the lead though.

Tigers starter Edwin Jackson worked eight inning and 126 pitches allowing three runs on six hits and three walks. Jackson has not been as dominant in the second half as he was in the first half but has been keeping the team in the game in almost every start.

With today's victory, the Tigers have won six in a row and have a seven game lead over the second place Twins. What looked like a close race that would go down to the wire a week ago is now looking more like a run away for the Tigers.

Where does Rodney Rank Among Tigers Relievers?

Fernando Rodney has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Tigers and a key to the team's first place standing in the American League Central division this season. In fact, his 3.28 Win Probability Added (WPA) ranks third in the American League behind Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon.

The WPA statistic attempts to measure a reliever's contribution to his team's victories by determining how each batter the pitcher faced altered the outcome of the game. For example, a reliever who enters a game with a one run lead in the ninth inning and retires the side will contribute more to a win than a pitcher who comes in with a nine run lead and retires the side. For more information on the calculation of WPA, see this earlier post. The WPA statistic can be found at Fan Graphs for all players back to 1974.

How has Rodney's season ranked among Tigers relievers since 1974? The top 15 WPAs for Tigers relievers are shown in the table below. Rodney is eighth on the list and the best since Joel Zumaya in 2006.

The rest of list is filled with pitchers who conjure up some good memories. Not surprisingly the top WPA was achieved by Willie Hernandez in his MVP and Cy Young award winning 1984 season. Hernandez saved 32 games in 33 innings and compiled a 1.92 ERA but what made him stand out the most was his 140 1/3 innings pitched. He is a good example of how the closer role has changed in the last few decades. The following pitchers appeared multiple times on the list: Auerilio Lopez (1979, 1980, 1983), Mike Henneman (1987, 1990, 1991), Todd Jones (1997, 2000) and Doug Brocail (1998, 1999).

Table: Top WPAs for Tigers Relievers: 1974-2009

Pitcher

Year

IP

Sv

ERA

WPA

G. Hernandez

1984

140.1

32

1.92

8.58

A. Lopez

1979

127.0

21

2.41

6.19

M. Henneman

1991

84.1

21

2.88

4.53

J. Hiller

1978

92.1

15

2.34

3.89

J. Zumaya

2006

83.1

1

1.94

3.47

T. Jones

1997

70.0

31

3.09

3.41

F. Rodney

2009

60.2

32

3.41

3.28

A. Lopez

1980

124.0

21

3.77

3.26

D. Brocail

1999

82.0

2

2.52

3.04

A. Lopez

1983

115.1

18

2.81

2.87

T. Jones

2000

64.0

42

3.52

2.76

D. Brocail

1998

62.2

0

2.73

2.65

D. Tobik

1982

98.2

9

3.56

2.58

M. Henneman

1987

96.2

7

2.98

2.57

M. Hennemann

1990

94.1

22

3.05

2.48

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Tigers Win Fifth in a Row

The Tigers came from behind to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-6 tonight for their fifth consecutive victory. he win guaranteed them their second consecutive road series win against a strong team. They, of course, took two of three from the Angels at Los Angeles last week. The Bengals remain six games ahead of the Twins and seven games ahead of the White Sox in the race for the American League Central division title.

Armando Galarraga made his first start since being sidelined by an inflamed elbow but had nothing tonight. He was shelled for six runs on four hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings. Fortunately the bullpen was tremendous with six pitchers combining for 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

The most encouraging pitching performance of the night came from Jeremy Bonderman making his first Major League appearance since his miserable June 8th start versus the White Sox. He looked much better tonight allowing just a bunt single and a walk and recording two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings of relief. Jeremy was throwing 91-92 MPH according to MLB Game Day (up from 87 last June) and his slider seemed to have more bite.

Thanks to the work of the bullpen, the Tigers had a chancee to claw back and they took advantage of it. They were down 6-3 after six innings but scored three in the seventh to tie it and two in the eighth to go ahead. The seventh inning rally was highlighted by a two run homer by rookie cather Alex Avila and an RBI single by Placido Polanco (who also homered in the first inning). The eighth inning runs scored on a bases loaded pinch hit single by Marcus Thames and a suicide squeeze by Adam Everett.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Harwell News Saddens Tigers Community

The news that legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell has incurable cancer has saddened the entire Tigers community. It certainly puts a damper on a pennant race, likely the last one that the 91 year old Mr. Harwell will witness. Just about every Tigers fan has fond memories of listening to Ernie on warm summer nights and I'm no exception

I grew up as a Tigers fan in Massachusetts before internet, cable TV, satellite radio and all the other modern inventions which make it so much easier to follow any team from any city. Therefore, Ernie was my primary link to the Tigers throughout my childhood. I would go to sleep listening to Ernie just about every night of my youth and beyond from opening day to the end of the season. I would not have remained a Tigers fan all these years without him. Thousands of other Tigers fans share similar stories about the most beloved Tigers figure in the last five decades.

Harwell seems to be remaining strong and in good spirits through his ordeal as indicated by his quotes such as this one in a Detroit Free Press article:
"I'm not saying goodbye, I'm here," Ernie said on Friday with characteristic spunk. "I plan to live life to the fullest until it's over. In fact, I'm heading out to lunch in a few minutes, and I'm going to have some ice cream. Maybe even some macaroni."
Of course, we would not expect anything less from Mr. Harwell. It's sad to learn that Ernie is apparently mortal but we can take solace in the fact that he has lived a long life and a great life. And he's not done yet. The man who taught so many young fans about the Tigers and about baseball is now teaching us lessons about dealing with life's ultimate challenge.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fan Scouting Report - 2009

For the seventh year, Tom Tango is conducting his fan scouting report on fielding skills. The results of this survey are a very valuable resource so I'm encouraging all knowledgeable fans who watch a lot of Detroit Tigers games to participate. The survey asks fans to rate the fielding skills of players on their favorite teams just based on observation. You will be asked not to use any stats at all and also not to vote based on what somebody else told you. Just use your own eyes as if you were a scout. The results were very interesting and informative last year but a large sample size is needed in order for them to be useful again this year. Some of the results appear in the Bill James Handbook which comes out every November. So, I urge all of you to complete the ballot.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tigers Ten Games Over .500

(Edited at 11:45 PM. Thanks for the correction by commenters)

The Tigers beat the Indians 4-2 tonight to improve their record to 71-61. It's the first time they have been ten games over .500 since June 25. The Tigers also increased their lead to 4 1/2 games over the Twins who lost a heart breaker to the White Sox this afternoon. The White Sox scored four runs in the top of the ninth for a 4-2 come back victory. I saw the last couple of innings and it felt really strange to be rooting for the White Sox and not being annoyed by Hawk Harrelson.

Rick Porcello was very efficient tonight throwing just 80 pitches in 7 plus innings and walking nobody. He allowed just two runs on five hits including a home run by Travis Hafner leading off the eighth inning. As usual, the 20 year old right-hander used his devastating sinker tio induce a lot of ground balls. Eleven outs came on grounders including one double play. Rick still leads the American League with a 55.6 ground ball percentage.

Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney combined to pitch two scoreless innings to preserve the win. That's two straight games that the trio has worked though so we may not see them tomorrow afternoon. The Fausto Carmona versus Nate Robertson matchup might feature a lot of hitting so maybe we'll see the September call-ups in action at some point.

Magglio Ordonez paced the nine hit Tigers attack with three singles and is now batting .369 with a .982 OPS in 88 plate appearances since August 1. He doesn't play every day and Jim Leyland picks spots where he will maximize his offensive output but Magglio has still been valuable over the past month. Pacido Polanco added two hits and is now batting .312 since July 29.

The Tigers were helped by a horrendous Cleveland defense tonight. The Indians made five errors including three by third baseman Jhonny Peralta and allowed two unearned runs. It was the most errors in one game by the Indians since 1998.

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