Flying Tigers: Trade Deadline Explosion

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In developments that can only be described as shocking, the Tigers executed a last-minute trade for pitcher David Price, sending Austin Jackson to Seattle and Drew Smyly to Tampa. (Seattle also sent Nick Franklin to Tampa.) The trade was finalized while Detroit was in the middle of a game both Smyly and Jackson had started, and Jackson had to be pulled off the field when the deal was done.  Continue reading

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Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Forget what you know

This year’s Detroit Tigers are far from perfect, but they’re off to a good start on the strength of their starting pitching and the bats of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, (increasingly) Victor Martinez, and (once again) Austin Jackson.

The weak link– the bullpen– has been both very obvious and very weak. Hoping for some addition by subtraction, the club sent onetime-closer Jose Valverde down to the minors, and a more focused “closer-by-committee” approach has emerged, centering around Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly, with an emphasis on not misusing Phil Coke.

One of the criticisms of manager Jim Leyland is that he likes to have go-to players to fill defined roles, and nowhere is this more applicable than in his handling of relief pitching. In short, Leyland wants to have one guy be his guy when it comes to closing out games in the ninth inning. His unwillingness to deviate from that approach has had exceedingly frustrating consequences when The Closer is someone less effective than the likes of a Craig Kimbrel or, say, a 2011-vintage Valverde. (This is especially true because the Tigers have trouble scoring late in games. If the bullpen blows a lead late, this team is unlikely to mount a comeback.) Even though fans would like to see Leyland be a bit more nimble with the way he utilizes his personnel, some of his attitude surely has rubbed off on them. The fans want to have someone who can be The Closer too.

Buster Olney launched a thousand blog posts with his suggestion that current Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon might make a good fit in Detroit. Papelbon has a great reputation as a closer, and, as Buster writes, “there are no questions about whether he could handle October,” which is where the Tigers’ expectations reside.

Team owner Mike Ilitch has shown little resistance to spending money on this iteration of the team, which means that the large contract that’s scaring other teams away from Papelbon is unlikely to be an issue in Detroit.

My opinion is that, if the Phillies are willing to part with Papelbon without demanding much beyond the absorption of his contract, the Tigers should get him. If his steady hand can turn these cardiac kitties into some cool cats come playoff time, it’ll be worth it.

That said, it probably is worth taking a look at how Papelbon would stack up with his new teammates if he were to catch a ride to Motor City this season.  Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Run distribution, science(!), and the liklihood of a Detroit comeback

We’re a dozen games into the season and the Tigers, with a few hiccups, are off to a respectable 7-5 start. Despite the day/Pacific time starts and my living outside the Tigers Radio Network, I’ve been able to keep decent track of these first few series and, while mindful of small sample size they represent, I was beginning to notice something concerning.

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The DET Offensive: Explode!

We may finally be getting an idea of how good the 2012 Detroit Tigers can be. After carrying a five-game winning streak into the All Star Break, the Tigers now have won thirteen of their last fifteen. The current run includes taking two of three in Baltimore and three of four at home against the Angels. Most recently, it includes a series sweep of division rival Chicago, putting Detroit a game and a half into first place in the division. And there was much rejoicing. While everyone would acknowledge there’s still plenty of room for improvement, the team finally is clicking on both sides of the plate at the same time, scoring an average of five and two-thirds runs per game while surrendering just three and a half. If not for a heart-breaking loss to the Orioles in the thirteenth inning and a 13-0 destruction of now-traded youngster Jacob Turner at the hands of the Angels, Detroit would’ve been riding a fifteen game winning streak. More than anything (and “anything” includes Miguel Cabrera’s 300th career homer), it feels good to see this team climb the mountaintop and get into first place. They’ll have to fight to stay there, but so long as Austin Jackson keeps sparking two-out rallies and the bottom of the order keeps hitting multi-run home runs, I think they’ll be able to handle it.    Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Interleague Play

It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.

The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.

Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.

On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.  Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Recipe for a Slumpbuster

When your baseball team is in a bad way like the Tigers have been, what can they do to get out of the collective slump? It’s a question as old as baseball, but if you’re playing in the AL Central anytime between the 1990s and the present day, the return path to winning ways runs through Kansas City. If you can get them to come over to your place, all the better. Mix in young Rick Porcello’s righting ship, add a pinch of Victor Martinez’s happy return to the clubhouse (if not the playing field), and extract Delmon Young’s unproductive toxicity. Score five runs in the first inning. Allow that to rise into a 9-0 lead. Let settle over the remaining five innings into a 9-3 victory.

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Tigers win Game 5, series against Yankees, 3-2

Here's your Game 5 winner

The Detroit Tigers hung on to beat the New York Yankees in a decisive fifth game last night, advancing to the ALCS, which starts Saturday night in Arlington, TX.

I questioned Jim Leyland’s personnel decisions before and during the game, but they turned out to be exactly the right moves. Keep reading…