Flying Tigers: Closing Time?

Detroit sought The Answer once before, late in his life, but he brought only questions. Now, Joe Nathan is supposed to be Detroit’s answer to the clown show that was 2013 Jose Valverde. Through one third of the season, though, Joe is looking a lot like Jose.

Before Detroit canned him for the last time, Papa Grande pitched 19.1 innings for the 2013 Tigers. To date, Nathan has pitched 20.2 innings for the 2014 Tigers. Their numbers are eerily similar:

josenathan

(Click to enlarge. Numbers from BaseballReference.)

Last year, the team cut Valverde loose in the middle of the season, handing the closer job to the very capable former eighth-inning man, Joaquin Benoit. Could something similar happen this season? Joba Chamberlain has firmly grasped the eighth-inning reins at this point, and he could shift into the closer, perhaps once Joel Hanrahan is ready for big-league action. If Brad Ausmus doesn’t at least start to experiment with his approach to the ninth inning, though, Anibal Sanchez, who has lost two gems in one week due in large part to Nathan’s mistakes, may take matters into his own hands.

[Cross-posted at Bless You Boys. -Ed.]

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Previously
Flying Tigers: Closing the Book on 2013 – 6/2
Flying Tigers: Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter
 – 5/7
Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max
 – 4/29
Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28

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: Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta

When the top team in the National League and all of baseball traveled to Motown for a three-game series against one of the American League’s best, I promised ALDLAND would be on site as the Tigers closed out April in the D. The following is my report from the weekend.

Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Jet Set (Sigh?)

papa jetAirships are away in the Detroit Tigers empire as I write. After a crash landing at the final destination of the team’s only West Coast trip, the Tigers limped back to the Motor City, and promptly (indeed, retroactively) placed Octavio Dotel, who has been pitching without a functioning elbow since Oakland, on the disabled list. In immediate need of bullpen reinforcements, GM Dave Dombrowski & Co., air traffic controller furloughs be damned, revved up the sky fleet. The first move was to bring the franchise’s top relief prospect, Bruce Rondon, in from Toledo, something that admittedly is unlikely to require the services of a jet airliner. But then! Wheels up! Jose Valverde is on a flight to Detroit RIGHT NOW! The town and team turned on the once-perfect (49-0!) reliever after a down year last season, but now, in their need, redemption? The front office is mum for now, but the implication from Valverde’s comments this evening is that, at the end of his short-term minor league contract, he will sign a one-year contract with the club in Detroit.

What does all of this mean for a should-be frontrunner floundering in third place in the weak AL Central with a .500 record? Even though it’s early, and fans of baseball teams that struggle early love to rail against “small sample sizes,” we can set aside results and other numbers and acknowledge that the bullpen was working way too hard this month, and two fresh, if unsteady, arms are sure to provide at least temporary relief for a staff that seems like it could use a collective deep breath. For Rondon, my hope is that he’s ready for the big leagues. For Valverde, I just hope he has enough left to allow the coaches to use him in a way that helps the team. That may be ending this jet-set flourish with something of a sigh, but let it be, in part, a sigh of relief as you remind yourself that at least it wasn’t Brennan Boesch’s birthday flight that landed at DTW this evening.

Keep reading to find out who else will be on a flight to Detroit this week…

Bay of Cigs: A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger

Buster Olney reports:

Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers have reached agreement on a new contract that could exceed $202 million, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Verlander’s deal, which would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the game, is for seven years and worth $180 million, sources said. A vesting option for an eighth year could push the deal to $202 million.

Verlander, who would have been eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 season, had recently said he wouldn’t discuss a new contract if a deal didn’t get done by the end of spring training.

Verlander celebrated with a baby tiger (above). Additional details are not known.

In other pitching news, the team sent relief prospect Bruce Rondon back to the minors and announced they’ll begin the season with a “closer-by-committee” approach. The seven-member committee reportedly does not include Rick Porcello, who was listed as part of Detroit’s starting rotation. As mentioned last time, I was a bit concerned that management might give him the relief job, but since then, Jonah Keri assuaged my fears about that prospect,

and yesterday’s announcement makes it look like that possibility will not come to pass. Still, it would be nice to have one go-to guy who is reliable, even if he isn’t quite the unicorn on a waterslide that was 2011 Jose Valverde. Look to people far more qualified than I to say whether GM Dave Dombrowski, a personnel master of the first order, can bring in someone capable of holding down the job. For now, though, I think Dombrowski has earned a weekend off after locking up Verlander for the meaningful future.

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Previously
Bay of Cigs: The Departed – 3/14

Bay of Cigs: The Departed

Last baseball season, I kept a Detroit Tigers diary here called “The DET Offensive,” a nod to all of the offensive firepower Detroit added in the offseason, primarily in the form of Prince Fielder. This season, the return of Victor Martinez and the acquisition of Torii Hunter make the Tigers even more of a threat with the bat. Their biggest question headed into the year is at the closer position. Jose Valverde had a perfect season two years ago, but he dropped off significantly last year, and GM Dave Dombrowski sent him packing as a result. Phil Coke filled in at that position quite admirably during the playoffs, but for whatever reason, he isn’t being considered for it as we head into the 2013 season. Instead, management seems to be waffling between minor league sensation Bruce Rondon (intriguing) and Rick Porcello (GAHHHHH!).      Continue reading

The DET Offensive: World Series Edition

The Tigers are in the World Series! As I wrote to reader and White Sox fan chikat this week, the AL Central ended the way we all thought it would, with Detroit in first place, and Chicago and the rest of the ragtag divisional band lining up behind them. The journey from game one to game 162, though, as documented here from the Tigers’ perspective, did much to raise doubts about what was once thought to be a foregone conclusion. When Detroit, after losing Victor Martinez– an offensive leader on the field and an emotional leader in the clubhouse– to a season-ending injury in the offseason, signed Prince Fielder, they had upped the ante in a big way. For reasons I explained at the time of the Fielder signing, the window on a Tiger World Series victory had been accelerated and focused on the immediate next few seasons, beginning with the present one. For a variety of reasons, enunciable and otherwise, I had pegged next year in my mind as the year this Detroit team would play for a world championship. But here they are, facing off against the San Francisco Giants, who are just a year removed from defending their own World Series title.

I don’t think the Tigers are a year early. I do think they have more confidence in themselves than I do, as evidenced by that prediction and by some of the things I’ve written about them this season. I also think that baseball, for all of its extended, plodding slowness, is a sport of fleeting opportunity at least as much as the other, faster-paced games we play on a major level. (Brendan and I criticized the Washington Nationals for ignoring this fundamental premise when they shut down their ace this season.) There’s no reason to shy away from this moment or otherwise treat it as a test run or bonus opportunity, and this Tiger team has a variety of means by which they can and should seize this opportunity to bring Detroit its first World Series championship since 1984 and its second since 1968.

Keep reading…

Slaughterhouse Monday

While I was in Chicago, I got into a discussion with a reader about whether high school was too early to read Vonnegut. While the results of that conversation were inconclusive, this post is unequivocally too late. So it goes.

Week three of college football and week two of the NFL definitely stand as prime territory for some on-field slaughters, and this past weekend did not disappoint in that regard. First, Vandy took the Presbyterian Blue Hose to the woodshed in Nashville, where the Commodores claimed their first win of the season by a 58-0 mark behind new starter Austyn Carta-Samuels. It was the Vanderbilt running game, nonexistent last week against Northwestern, that shone this Saturday, when Zac Stacy took the first Vanderbilt play from scrimmage 86 yards to the house and never slowed down.

There was no shortage of lopsided scores around the country Saturday, including Clemson’s 41-7 takedown of in-state team Furman, the expected Arkansas defeat at the hands of Alabama, 52-0, and other top five blowouts, including LSU’s (63-14 over Idaho), Oregon’s (same score, over Tennessee Tech), and Florida State’s (52-0 over Wake Forest). Not all of said slaughters were so favorable for teams this space likes to track, particularly including Notre Dame’s 20-3 takedown of Michigan State in East Lansing, for which there is no excuse. I’m glad I couldn’t watch it.

The NFL wasn’t especially compelling this weekend, even though a number of games on Sunday afternoon came down to the wire, technically speaking. The main NFL topic this week is likely to be the Monday night game, which has already seen its share of storylines, including multiple Peyton Manning interceptions early and an apparent lack of control by the scab referees.

To round out the slaughter theme, of course, we go to the Motor City, where the Tigers continue to lose, first on a blown save by Jose Valverde against the mighty Cleveland Indians, and then in a make-up game this afternoon against the inexplicably division-leading White Sox.

We Almost Lost This Jam

What’s that you want? Some new music in this spot with a sports connection and a socially conscious tilt? Fine. Here’s a brand-new video from a current act named after a NASCAR driver that’s hip to sports and modern rock.

Bdoyk turned me onto these guys, and I’m becoming a fan of their personality as much as their music. Their new video, which features scenes from the city they call home, actually is a reworking of a 1977 Gil Scott-Heron bit described as follows:

The most popular cut on the album, “We Almost Lost Detroit,” which shares its title with the John G. Fuller book published in 1975, recounts the story of the nuclear meltdown at the Fermi Atomic Power Plant near Monroe, MI, in 1966. This song was also contributed to the No Nukes concert and album in 1980.

The Tigers almost lost their season opener against Bdoyk’s Bosox yesterday when the perfect-in-2011 Jose Valverde blew his first save opportunity of the 2012 season and ensured that reigning MVP-Cy-Young-winner Justin Verlander didn’t get his first opening-day win in his fifth consecutive attempt, but the home team pulled out the victory in a Gamecast-hindered bottom of the ninth by scoring on the much-touted (be real: what in Boston sports isn’t “much-touted”?) Alfredo Aceves.

Paragraph-long sentences. Hyphens. The Jam: