Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tigers Limp to Half-Way Point

You know it's a bad night for the Tigers staff when Don Kelly comes in to get the final out.  After being routed by the Mets 14-3 last night, the Tigers were out slugged 16-9 tonight.  Jim Leyland, who hates using position players as pitchers under any circumstances, finally had enough when reliever David Purcey was unable to get the third out of the ninth inning.  Kelly retired the only batter he faced - the right-handed hitting Scott Hairston - on a routine fly to center fielder Austin Jackson.  He seemed to tie up Hairston pretty good on what looked to be a curve ball.

You also know it is a bad night for the pitching staff when the Tigers get five home runs and still lose by seven runs.  Cabrera had two homers including a 450-foot three-run blast to center field in the sixth. Andy Dirks, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn hit solo shots.  The hitters kept trying to make a game out of it.  After falling behind 5-0 early, they cut it to 5-2 in the fourth.  A four-run sixth made it 8-6 at the time and a two-run seventh made it 10-8.

Unfortunately, every time the Tigers scored, the pitching staff would give it right back.  Starter Phil Coke was shelled, Al Alburquerque was uncharacteristically bad and Purcey was so awful he had to be relieved by Kelly. 

Half-way Point

As we head into the second half, the Tigers are 43-38 and tied for first place with the Indians.  You can credit the offense which is fourth in the American League with 4.6 runs scored per game.  sure Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn have been terrible but they also have 4 of the top 14 batters in the American League in terms of wOBA (explained here) - Cabrera (.433), Alex Avila (.392), Jhonny wOBA.       

Unfortunately, the run prevention is not keeping up with the production.  They have allowed 4.6 runs per game which places them 11th in the league.  Of particular concern at the moment is the starting pitching.  What looked like a strength in may (a 3.45 ERA for the starters) has turned sour in June (4.60 ERA)  Starting pitchers not named Justin Verlander have a combined 5.95 ERA in June.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Avila on Pace for Historic Season

There have been many outstanding catchers in the long storied history of the Detroit Tigers.  Player/manager Mickey Cochrane led the Tigers to a pennant in 1934 and a world championship in 1935.  Bill Freehan was an important cog of the great teams of the 1960's including the 1968 championship club.

Big Lance Parrish was a key figure on the dominant 1984 team.  The underrated Mickey Tettleton put up some great numbers for the power-hitting teams of the early 1990s. Finally, Pudge Rodriguez had a big year in 2004 and contributed significantly to the 2006 pennant winner.    

In the first half of this season, Alex Avila's numbers match up quite well with any of the above catchers.  The 25-year-old receiver is currently batting .304/.373/.545 with 10 home runs in 64 games as the Tigers primary catcher.  He leads all major league catchers in slugging (.548), OPS (.918) and wOBA (.395).

While his offensive contribution is obvious, he has also been solid defensively.  He has thrown out 39% of opposing base stealers which compares favorably to the MLB average of 28%.  He is fifth in the majors with a Total Zone of +4 meaning that he has saved the Tigers an estimated four runs over the average catcher by throwing out base runners and pitch blocking (avoiding passed balls, wild pitches).  Catcher defense will be discussed in more detail in a later post.

Avila is clearly having a fantastic season this year, but it might surprise some people how well his season stacks up to past Tigers catchers.  Now, we can't use a statistic such as OPS to compare players from different eras.  Otherwise a hitter like Freehan, who played in 1968, the year of the pitcher, would be at a disadvantage against Cochrane who played in a period of high-octane offense.

So, we will look across years using OPS+.  OPS+ is a batter's OPS adjusted for ballpark and league average.  The league average hitter has an OPS+ of 100.  Anything better than 100 is above average.  Anything less than 100 is below average.   Only about 10% of batters have an OPS+ of 135 or higher.  The left-handed batting Avila has an OPS+ of 156, which is really really good.  In fact, it places him sixth among American League batters regardless of position.

The table below shows that Avila currently has a better OPS+ than any Tigers catcher has ever put up in a full season.  Next on the list is York, who had a 151 OPS+ in his rookie year in 1937.  He was not a very good defensive catcher though and was only playing the position because he was blocked by future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg at first base.  Freehan took the third and fourth spots on the list with 145 and 144 in 1968 and 1967.  Tettleton, Cochrane, Rodriguez and Parrish also made the list. 


Table 1: Best offensive seasons for Detroit Tigers Catchers.  


Player
Year
PA
OPS
OPS+
Alex Avila
2011
246
.918
156
Rudy York
1937
417
1.026
151
Bill Freehan
1968
635
.821
145
Bill Freehan
1967
618
.839
144
Mickey Tettleton
1991
608
.880
140
Rudy York
1938
557
.995
140
Mickey Cochrane
1935
522
.902
138
Ivan Rodriguez
2004
575
.893
136
Mickey Tettleton
1992
654
.851
136
Lance Parrish
1982
529
.868
135

Now, most sabermetric writers would point out that Alex has an elevated BABIP and that he may be playing over his head. I'm not going to dwell on that here, but I will say that it's a long season especially at the demanding catching position. Avila is catching a lot and sometimes plays designated hitter when he's not behind the plate. So, it will not be easy for him to keep his numbers quite as high as they are now.

So far though, he is on pace for a historic Tigers season. 

Note: Some data for this post were extracted from Baseball-Reference.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Verlander Dominates Diamondbacks

After losing five out of their last seven games including squandering a four-run lead last night, the Tigers needed a big performance from their ace Justin Verlander tonight.  Once again, Justin responded with a superlative performance pitching the Tigers to a 6-0 shutout over the Diamomdbacks.  It was one of his most dominant performances ever as he struckout a career high 14 batters in eight innings.  He allowed just four hits and one walk and lowered his season ERA to 2.38

As is often the case, the fireballing right-hander saved some of his best stuff for late in the game.  After allowing the first two batters to reach in the eight inning, creating a runners on second and third and nobody out jam in the eighth, he proceeded to strikeout the side.  The Brooks Baseball Pitch f/x chart below shows that some of his fastest pitches came in that eight inning.  He averaged 95.2 MPH on his fastball, but reached as high as 99.5 MPH in his final frame. 



Verlander did not need much offensive support tonight, but he received plenty of it anyway.  The hitting hero was catcher Alex Avila, who knocked in four runs with a home run, a double and a single.  The young backstop did look silly in the eighth when he thought he had his second homer of the game, failed to run the bases at full speed and was thrown out at second.  At first glance it appeared that he may have been hurt, but it became clear that everything was fine when his teammates teased him in the dugout.

The win moved the Tigers back into a first-place tie with the Indians.  Verlander can't pitch every night, so they are going need some better starts from a struggling staff in upcoming games.  Brad Penny opposes Joe Saunders in the rubber game of the series tomorrow afternoon.

For tonight though, Mr. Verlander was a pleasure to watch and the final three outs of the eighth inning were breathtaking.  You can not help looking forward to his next start.

Leading the League in Triples and Homers

Curtis Granderson captivated Tigers fans with his quad twenty (20+ doubles, 20+ triples, 20+ homers and 20+ stolen bases) in 2007.  He is one of only four players in the history of the game to accomplish that feat.  I was looking at the American League batting leaders this morning and noticed that Granderson is currently tied for the league lead with six triples and is two behind Blue Jays masher Jose Bautista with 21 home runs.

One would think that not too many players would lead their league in both triples and home runs.  After all, home run hitters are generally big sluggers and triples hitters are usually speedsters and this power/speed combination is a rare thing to find in one player.  Perhaps more importantly, the spacious parks which are conducive to high numbers of triples are generally unfriendly to home runs.

So, I went to Baseball-Reference to see how many players have led the league in both triples and homers.  As seen in Tables 1 and 2 below, it has been done just eight times - twice in the American League and six times in the National League.  It might come to a surprise to some that the last hitter to reach this rare combo was Red Sox slugger Jim Rice in 1978.  He led the American League with 46 homers and 15 triples that year.  Some might not think of Rice as a a hitter who would get a lot of triples but he also had 15 in 1977 and 79 for his career.

Table 1: Players Who Led the American League in Both Triples and Homers

Year
Player
Team
HR
3B
1955
Mickey Mantle
New York
37
11
1978
Jim Rice
Boston
46
15

Table 2: Players Who Led the National League in Both Triples and Homers

Year
Player
Team
HR
3B
1880
Harry Stovey
Worcester
6
14
1891
Harry Stovey
Boston
16
20
1902
Tommy Leach
Pittsburgh
6
22
1904
Harry Lumley
Brooklyn
9
18
1928
Jim Bottomley
St. Louis
31
20
1955
Willie Mays
New York
51
13

Prior to Rice, Hall of Fame outfielders Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays led the American League and National League respectively in both categories in 1955. Because they both possessed great power and speed, Mantle and Mays are less surprising than Rice.

All the others on the list played before 1930 when triples were more plentiful and homers more rare and often inside the park. The least known name on the list even to those who follow the game's history closely is probably Brooklyn Superbas outfielder Harry Lumley. The Judge hit nine homers and 18 triples as a rookie in 1904.

Granderson is a long way from leading the league in anything this year. He is always a threat to lead the league in triples, but the home runs will be a little more difficult, even playing in cozy Yankee Stadium. If he continues to hit the long ball though, it will be an interesting item to follow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inge Back, Worth Sent Down

Third baseman Brandon Inge (Mononucleosis) is done with his rehab and will be back with the Tigers on Friday.  Utility infielder Danny Worth has been optioned to Toledo to make room on the roster.  Inge will likely get the lion's share of the at bats at third base for the Tigers, but may not play every day if he's still ailing or if he doesn't hit.  He is batting a meager .211 with a .565 OPS. 

Inge's replacement Don Kelly hit better than Inge had been hitting prior to his stint on the disabled list. For the season, Kelly is hitting .264 with a .682 OPS.  Kelly has been just OK defensively, but Inge is also not the rangy defender he once was.  All this adds up to Kelly playing a couple days a week at third and maybe more if Inge continues to fail at the plate. 

Kelly could also see time at second base if Ryan Raburn keeps up his horrendous season-long slump.  Raburn is batting .204 with an alarming 74 strikeouts in 211 at bats. Unfortunately, the fact that Kelly is out-hitting two starters tells us more about the struggles of Inge and Raburn than it does about Kelly.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tigers Salvage One Game from Dodgers

The Tigers beat the Dodgers 7-5 today for their only win of the three-game series at Dodger Stadium.  For the fourth time in five games, a Tiger starter failed to get a quality start.  This time it was Rick Porcello who allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings.  It sounded on the radio like he ran into some bad luck, but that's what happens when a pitcher can't get batters to swing and miss very often.  Porcello has allowed 14 runs in 7 2/3 innings in his last two road starts and now sports an unattractive 4.50 ERA for the season.

The amazing Al Alburquerque did a great job bridging the gap between the fifth and eighth innings.  He allowed no runs on no hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings.  He also added four strike outs to give him an absurd total of 44 K in 26 1/3 innings for the season.

The game got very scary in the bottom of the ninth when closer Jose Valverde loaded the bases.  The game ended on a leaping grab by Austin Jackson in deep center field.  Jackson did not start the game, but had come in as defensive replacement.     

Most of the offense came via the long ball as Casper Wells, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Don kelly all went deep.  The Tigers now have 72 homers on the year which is good for sixth in the American League.

Inter-league Woes

After five years of winning records in inter-league play, the Tigers have been uncharacteristically bad versus the National League this year:

2006 15-3
2007 14-4
2008 13-5
2009 10-8
2010 11-7
2011 3-6

What's the reason for this?  It could be that they are catching teams at the wrong time.  It has not helped that the last six games have been on the road in two rather extreme parks. Coors Field is, of course, a great hitters park and Dodger Stadium is one of the better pitching parks. 

One poster on MotownSports theorized that losing the designated hitter hurts more this year than in the past because they are finally getting production from the position.  Of course, that doesn't explain the lousy starting pitching.   

Perry is Back

The Tigers have optioned lefty Adam Wilk to Toledo and have recalled Ryan Perry from the same club.  No decision has been announced regarding Brandon Inge's return as of yet, but there is a possibility that he will also be back for the weekend series versus Arizona in Comerica Park.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Verlander Solves Coors

The Tigers looked very bad in the first two games versus the Rockies at Colorado.  Neither Rick Porcello nor Phil Phil Coke were able to solve the Rockies in the first two games of the series.  The usually unflappable Porcello, perhaps intimidated by the high altitude of Coors Field, did not seem to be himself in game one.  Phil Coke simply couldn't get the ball over the plate in the second game.  Not only that, but the whole team seemed out of sorts with sloppy base running and fielding in the first two games.

So, the Tigers once again needed Justin Verlander to come to the rescue in game three and, as usual, their ace did not disappoint.  He pitched his fourth complete game of the season leading the Tigers to a 9-1 rout.  The Tigers right-hander struck out only five batters, but allowed just four hits and walked nobody.  The only run came on a solo homer by Rockies third baseman Ty Wigginton.

Verlander is having his most consistent season to date as he seems to be avoiding the one bad inning which hurt him on occasion in the past.  With 15 Quality Starts (six or more innings and three of fewer earned runs) in 16 games, Verlander leads the majors with a 93.8 Quality Start percentage.     

While Justin is striking out batters at his career rate (8.2 K / 9 IP), he has been especially good at not allowing base runners this year.  He has shown better control walking 1.9 per nine innings compared to 2.6 in 2009-2010.  Similarly, his hit rate is down to 5.7 per game, down from 7.9 over the last two years.  The result is a league leading WHIP of 0.85.

The Tigers supported Verlander with some heavy hitting today.  Brennan Boesch had three hits, including his tenth homer to pace a 13-hit attack.  Miguel Cabrera (a homer and a double), Alex Avila and Don Kelly each chipped in with two hits.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Avila Playing Third Tonight

Jim Leyland has been hinting the last few days that he might try Alex Avila at third base during the upcoming inter-league matchups at Colorado and Los Angeles.  The official line-ups are in for tonight's game and Avila is indeed the third baseman:

Austin Jackson CF
Brennan Boesch LF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez C
Magglio Ordonez RF
Alex Avila 3B
Jhonny Peralta SS
Ryan Raburn 2B
Rick Porcello P

The other noticeable difference in the line-up is that everybody after lead-off hitter Austin Jackson has moved up a spot starting with Brennan Boesch in the second position.  Miguel Cabrera will be batting third which guarantees he will up in the first inning.  I like the new batting order and hope it continues beyond the next two series.  I see no reason for Brandon Inge, Donnie Kelly or Danny Worth to bat anything other than ninth. 

One thing that's not likely to last is Avila playing third base.  I think Leyland just wants to make sure that he keeps the bats of Avila and Martinez in the line-up even without the use of the designated hitter in National League parks. Inge is scheduled to return in a week or so and he will probably be the full-time third baseman again if healthy.

Is Avila at third a good idea?  An infield of Cabrera, Ryan Raburn, Jhonny Peralta and Avila is pretty risky with ground ball machine Rick Porcello on the mound.  On the other hand, Colorado is probably a good place to experiment with Avila at third, since there are not a lot of tight low-scoring games at Coors Field.  So, I think it's a good idea for this series, but maybe not for a more pitcher-oriented park. 

 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tigers Take Series from Indians

Summer officially starts next Tuesday, but the weather is heating up, the NHL playoffs are over and the Tigers are in a pennant race.  So, it feels a lot like summer.  The Tigers beat the Indians 6-2 this afternoon to take the three-game series two games to one.  The win put them one game over Cleveland in the American League Central Division.

Jhonny Peralta broke a two-two tie with a solo home run in the fourth inning off of Indians starter Mitch Talbot.  Ryan Raburn followed with his sixth home run of the year to make it 4-2.  Raburn tends to heat up with the weather and a typical second half from him would really give the Tigers a boost.  He's got a long way to go before we can say that his slump is over though.  His .237 June batting average is more than double his .113 mark of May, but still not good.

Max Scherzer allowed just two runs in 5 2/3 innings but left with the bases loaded after 111 total pitches.  Traditionalists may like Scherzer's 9-2 record, but he has not pitched as well as his record indicates and continues have trouble pitching deep into games.  He has a 4.32 ERA and has allowed five of more runs five times.  It will be important to get just a little more consistency out of him the rest of the way. 

The Tigers got some good work from their bullpen this afternoon.  Al Alburquerque got out of the six inning bases load jam with a fly out and went on to pitch 1 1/3 scoreless innings.  He recorded two more strikeouts and now has 15.5 K per nine innings.  Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde followed with a scoreless inning apiece.

Brennan Boesch bashed three singles to raise his season batting average to .290.  He is hitting .393 with nine extra base hits in 61 June at bats.

Who will Play Third?

The Tigers now go on a six-game inter-league road trip to Colorado and Los Angeles.  Thus, they will have no designated hitter for a full week.  So, that means that one of their catchers - Alex Avila or Victor Martinez  - will have to sit every day.  Or does it?  Manager Jim Leyland hinted that he might use Avila at third base.  Kurt Mensching of Bless You Boys discusses the possibility, but decides that it probably won't happen.

I am a big believer in the importance of defense and am normally against playing players out of position.  However, when the alternatives are utility men Donnie Kelly and Danny Worth, I wouldn't mind seeing Avila play a couple of games at third.  He won't be there every day, but I think we might see him play a game or two over there.

One player who won't be at third base for either series is Brandon Inge.  He is recovering from mononucleosis and started his rehab in Toledo tonight. However, they want him to take it slow and he'll be there for at least six games.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Gem for Verlander

The Tigers blanked the Indians 4-0 tonight behind the brilliant pitching of Justin Verlander.  The Tigers' ace threatened to toss his second no hitter of the season and third of his career, but fell five outs short.  With one out in the eighth inning, Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera stroked a clean single to center field to break up the no no.  Justin had to settle for a two-hit complete game shutout.  He also struck out a season-high twelve batters and walked just one.  It was a truly dominating performance by Mr. Verlander.

The Tigers scored all the runs they would need in a three-run third.  The runs scored on on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Miguel Cabrera, a single by Andy Dirks and another sacrifice fly by Alex Avila.  Dirks (3 singles) and Austin Jackson (2 singles) paced Detroit's 11-hit attack.

One thing the Tigers did not do tonight was get an extra base hit.  This ended a streak off 66 games with at least one extra base hit going back to the beginning of the season.  It was the longest streak to start a season for the Tigers since 1919, the first year for which complete records are avialable.  The previous team record was 51 by the 1986 Tigers.  The longest streak in the majors was 143 by the 1996 Indians. 

 The Tigers are now in sole possession of first place for the first time this season.  Game two of the series is tomorrow night with Brad Penny facing Fausto Carmona.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ordonez Returning to Tigers

Magglio Ordonez's rehab stint at Toledo is done and he'll be back with the Tigers for their make-up game versus the Rays Monday night.  Right-handed pitcher Enrique Gonzalez has been outrighted to Toledo to make room on the roster.

The first question is whether Ordonez is fully healthy and ready to hit in the majors.  He had been on the disabled list due to a weak ankle and has not played in the majors since May 10.   He batted just .172 with four extra base hits in 99 at bats for the Tigers.  He claims that he is healthy and able to drive the ball now.  He batted .297 with two homers and a double in 37 at bats for the MudHens.  I think he'll hit well for the Tigers if he can stay healthy, but am skeptical  about the "staying healthy part".

The other question is where he will bat in the line-up.  There is a possibility that Jim Leyland won't want to disrupt Brennan Boesch's hot streak by moving him out of the third spot in the order.  In that case, Ordonez might bat sixth in back of Victor Martinez.  The manager is typically loyal to veterans though, so he'll probably bat Ordonez in his customary number three position.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tigers Tied for First

The Tigers pounded the Mariners 8-1 tonight to move into first place for the first time all year.  More accurately, they are tied for first with the reeling Indians who were shutout by the Yankees 4-0 today. 

Max Scherzer rebounded from three consecutive poor starts to hold the Mariners to one run on four hits in seven innings.  In his three previous starts, he had allowed 19 runs and saw his ERA climb to 4.68.  He went through a similar bad stretch last year, but was one of the best pitchers in baseball once he got going.  Hopefully, he can do the same this year.

The Tigers got to rookie Michael Pineda for six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings.  This was the first time he had given up more than four runs in any start.  He came into the game with a sterling 2.33 ERA.

As has often been the case lately, the Tigers had several big offensive contributors.  Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Victor Martinez had three hits apiece and Johnny Peralta added his ninth home run.  Two of Jackson's hits were triples making him the second Tiger this week to hit two triples in a game. The other, of course, was Alex Avila on Thursday night.  Jackson getting a pair of three baggers was a little less surprising.

The Tigers now lead the series 2-1 and will try to win it tomorrow when Rick Porcello faces Felix Hernandez.      

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tigers Can't Solve Mariners Pitching

With the Indians trailing the Yankees 11-3 late in their game, the Tigers probably had a chance to move into a first place tie tonight.  However, the Tigers were were unable to get it done losing to the Mariners 3-2.   The quartet of Eric Bedard, Chris Ray, David Pauley and Brandon League held the Tigers to just five hits tonight. 

It was the kind of game you would have expected from the Tigers bats earlier in the season.  The way the Tigers have been hitting as of late though, you had the feeling they would eventually break loose.  Victor Martinez belted a two-run homer to right field to give  them a brief 2-1 lead in the fourth, but that would be it.    


Other than the Martinez homer, the only highlight for the Tigers was another strong effort from a couple of young relievers.  Southpaw Charlie Furbush pitched a scoreless eighth to lower his ERA to 1.72.  Then the amazing Al Alburquerque picked up two more strikeouts in a scoreless ninth.  The 25-year-old Dominican now has 37 k's in 20 2/3 innings.  That gives him 16.1 K/ 9 IP, a rate that has never been achieved by any pitcher over a full season. 

It's now going to be tough for the Tigers to win the series as they face rookie sensation Michael Pineda tomorrow night and last year's Cy Young Award winner Feliz Hernandez on Sunday.  The Tigers will counter with Max Scherzer and Phil Coke. 

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Verlander, Avila, Boesch Carry Tigers Past Mariners

after a successful road trip to Chicago and Texas, the Tigers kept the momentum going with a 4-1 win over the Mariners at Comerica Park tonight.  The Tigers have now won 9 of their last 11 and are just a game behind the idle Indians.  Highlights of tonight's victory are listed below.

Justin Verlander pitched eight innings allowing just one run on five hits and struck out a season-high 10 batters.  The Tigers ace has pitched at least 6 innings in all of his 14 starts and has allowed more than 3 runs just once.  That gives him a league-leading Quality Start Percentage of 93% (13 out of 14). 

Alex Avila crushed two triples into the gap in right-center field making him the third Tigers catcher since at least 1919 to get two triples in one game.  The others were Lance Parrish in 1980 and Brad Ausmus in 1999.

Brennan Boesch continued his hot hitting with a double and a homer.  In 8 games this month, Boesch had hit .424 with 4 homers and 2 doubles.  Ive been skeptical of Boesch, but I think I'm finally coming around with this recent surge. 
 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Boesch, Tigers Outslug Rangers

Brennan Boesch had his biggest game of the year as the Tigers outslugged the Rangers 13-7 tonight.  Swingin' Brennan paced an 18-hit Tigers attack with a career high five hits, including a pair of homers, a double and two singles.  After batting just .186 in May, the streaky Boesch is 10 for 21 so far in June.

Other Tigers with multiple hit games were Austin Jackson with three and Miguel Cabrera and Danny Worth with two apiece.  In addition, Andy Dirks hit his third homer in 15 games and Alex Avila hit his 9th of the year. 

The Tigers needed a lot offense tonight because Max Scherzer was off his game once again allowing five runs on eight hits in five innings.  He has now allowed 19 runs in his last three starts to raise his season ERA to 4.68.  He went through a similar stretch last year, but quickly turned it around after a brief trip to the minors.  Another trip to Toledo is not likely this year, but he needs to get going fast as they aren't going to score 13 runs very often.

The Indians lost again tonight so the Tigers are just 1 1/2 games back now.  Tomorrow night, it will be Rick Porcello versus Rangers lefty Matt Harrison in game two of the series.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Raburn Helps Tigers Slam White Sox

The Tigers beat the White Sox 7-3 this afternoon and took the weekend series two games to one.  With the Indians getting swept the Rangers this weekend, the Tigers are now just 2 1/2 games behind.  Cleveland has now lost 9 of 12 and the White Sox and Twins have been playing poorly all year.  The American League Central is there for the taking and I think the Tigers are in great position to seize it, despite their shortcomings.  

The Tigers took control of today's game with a six-run fourth highlighted by a Ryan Raburn grand slam.  Chris Hannum of Motor City Bengals points out that the Summer of Raburn may have started. Ryan now has a modest five-game hitting streak with only three strikeouts in those games.  That's certainly nothing to get excited about by itself.  However, his track record suggests that he can be a dangerous second-half hitter.  So, there is hope that this is the start of something good.   

The Tigers bullpen, which was very shaky for much of the first two months, has been much better as of late.  Brad Penny only pitched five innings today allowing three runs, but the bullpen contributed four shutout innings.  The amazing Al Alburquerque pitched the sixth and seventh, Joaquin Benoit the eighth and Jose Valverde the ninth.
    
Alburquerque now has 35 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings giving him 16.01 K per 9 innings pitched.  How good is that?  According to Baseball-Reference, only one pitcher in the history of the game has finished a season with a higher ratio in 20 or more innings pitched.  Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel had 17.42 K/ 9 IP in 20 2/3 innings in 2010.  The highest ratio in a full season was by Carlos Marmol of the Cubs with 15.99 K/9 IP in 77 2/3 innings last year. 

Many Tigers fans including myself panicked when Benoit allowed 11 runs in 6 appearances between April 27-May 16.  However, he has not allowed a run in his last eight appearances.  

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Verlander and Cabrera Lead Tigers Over White Sox

Before Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth inning tonight, it had been a frustrating series for the Tigers and their fans.  Last night, they had 16 base runners but managed only four runs in a 6-4 loss.  In the first first eight innings tonight, the Bengals had 14 batters reach base versus Edwin Jackson and two Chicago relievers but plated only two runs.  It seemed like they should be dominating this game, but instead it was tied at two after eight. 

Austin Jackson then led off the ninth with a triple off of reliever Jesse Crain.  Nobody out and a man on third.  Surely they should score here but we remembered the first 17 innings of the series and feared the worst.  Donnie Kelly followed with a weak pop out to shortstop.  Brennan Boesch then struck out and two were down with Jackson still on third.

Cabrera was up next.  He's been intentionally walked a lot in this situation in the last couple of years.  Not so much recently though, not with the way Victor Martinez has been hitting behind him.  So, the big guy got his chance.  Crain got two quick strikes on Miguel and it looked like another scoring chance would go by the boards.  However, Cabrera belted a 1-2 pitch to left field for his 12th home run of the year and the Tigers were up 4-2.

The Cabrera blast was one of the biggest moments of the Tigers' season so far but there was still work to be done. Closer Jose Valverde frightened us by walking lead-off batter Alex Rios in the bottom of the ninth.  He then retired the final three though for his 15th save of the season.

Ace Justin Verlander, who came up big in his last appearance versus the Red Sox, had another big assignment tonight against the Pale Hose.  He pitched eight innings allowing two runs, with the only tallies coming on a two-run homer by Gordon Beckham in the fifth. He did have to work out of a couple of jams.  He allowed the first two batters to reach in the fourth but got out of it with a strikeout and a double play ball.  He also worked out of a first and third one-out situation in the eighth.

The only other Tiger runs came in the first inning when Brennan Boesch hit a towering shot to right for a two-run homer.   Boesch later added a single and a walk.  The only other Tiger with multiple hits was Jackson who had two singles to go with his triple.    

The win left the Tigers just 3 1/2 games behind the now slumping Indians.  The final game of this series comes tomorrow afternoon with Brad Penny facing Jake Peavy. 

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