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

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Upton Abbey – S2E1 – April Showers

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As planned, ALDLAND conducted a show of force during the Braves’ home-opening week, making our presence felt during game three of each series, which were played against the Mets and Nationals.

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Although Atlanta lost that game and the series to the Mets that Thursday night, the game was a sign of things to come for the Braves. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Season Two Preview

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Upton Abbey is our Atlanta Braves series, now in its second season. B.J. and Justin Upton are off to rough starts, but overall, the state of Upton Abbey is strong. Tune in all season long right here on ALDLAND.

The Braves are opening at home this week with series against division foes New York and Washington. They started the season on the road in Milwaukee and Washington, going 4-2 on that trip, dropping just one game in each city.

Atlanta’s young, ascendant starting pitchers were the story heading into the season. That talent vanished with still-shocking swiftness, duplicate round-two Tommy John surgeries, and other injuries clearing out the bulk of the rotation. Still, the remaining starters, led by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, have looked pretty good so far. Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game, so that’s something that will help reassure a young, trembling group of starters. Reliever Luis Avilan’s hamstring injury, suffered this week, is cause for concern, but you’re getting the theme pretty clearly at this point.

The main non-injury offseason personnel event was the departure of free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees. While the still-raw Evan Gattis (and the wily Gerald Laird) may be able to replace some of McCann’s hitting, we should pause here to note the likely dropoff when it comes to the glove. From 2008-13, McCann was the best catcher in baseball in terms of pitch framing; Laird and fellow Braves backup catcher Ryan Doumit were among the ten worst over that period.

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ALDLAND will be at Turner Field for two games this week. Tonight, Commodawg and AD will catch the rubber match in this opening series with the Mets. On Sunday, Physguy comes to town to join AD for the third game of the Nationals series. Stay tuned here and on twitter for the freshest insights and hottest updates.

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Related
Preseason BP Nuggets
A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
From Barves to Burbs: What’s Happening to Baseball in Atlanta?

[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

News broke last night that the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, the team’s second major move of this young offseason. (They traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month.)

In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent Detroit Steve Lombardozzi Jr., a utility player; Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever; and Robbie Ray, a left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said that Krol “can step right into our bullpen and has the potential to be a No. 1 lefthanded reliever,” and he called Lombardozzi “one of the best utilitymen in baseball.”

It’s tough for me to evaluate this trade, because I’ve never heard of Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray. I’m far from a league-wide expert on players, but that may be an evaluative statement, however. I know Dombrowski has committed to moving Drew Smyly into a starting role, but I thought it would be Rick Porcello, or perhaps Max Scherzer, who departed to make room for Smyly. The decision to move Fister surprised me, and although I don’t know anything about Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray, I can’t help feeling like Detroit got too little in return for the very solid Fister.   Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

A very special edition of the ALDLAND podcast this week as blog founder AD joins us to talk NBA free agency and the MLB all-star game. Marcus and I revisit some of our MLB picks from the start of the season and AD makes his own.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

A Song of Bryce and Fire

imagesAD has been writing about his new favorite team lately in the popular column Upton Abbey.  Since I can’t allow him to praise the Barves unchecked, I will now write a semi-regular-ish column on their division rivals, the Washington Nationals.  So now you get three columns on teams you (probably) don’t care about.  But you should read all of them so you can get some culture and have something to talk about with your co-workers at the ol’ water cooler.

This past weekend saw a series between the scorching hot Bravos and the hot-but-not-scorching-hot Washington Nationals.  The series did not go so well for Washington, as they got swept and only looked competitive in the first game.  I attended the Saturday game with noted blog subject Bad Jeremy, who is almost as big of a Braves fan as AD.  The game was a 3-1 Braves victory that saw the Nats do very little in the way of making offense and the Braves do slightly more.  Evan Gattis carried the Braves, hitting a two run homer that caused Bad Jeremy to get out of his seat and flex at all the Nats fans in the surrounding area.

The highlight of the game was, as always, the Presidents’ Race.  George Washington jumped out to a big lead early on with Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson trailing behind.  Newcomer William Howard Taft was nowhere to be found, and everyone in attendance wondered where he was.  The answer to that question was soon revealed, as Taft emerged from the right field bullpen to join with Teddy in beating up George Washington.  Apparently there was some beef between Presidents 26 and 27 and President 1.  Who knew?  Jefferson and Lincoln continued past, neck and neck, until Jefferson went into his kick and won what was one of the more exciting Presidents’ Races in recent memory.

Despite being swept by the Barves, the Nats have looked good early on and seem like they are more than capable of making it to their second postseason in franchise history this year.  They have some great young arms in Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzales, not to mention the bats of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.  This weekend’s series could very well be a preview of the 2013 NLCS (where the winner will go on to get swept by the Seattle Mariners in the World Series).  Stay tuned for more of A Song of Bryce and Fire, and also for a Mariners column with the working title of King in the North(west).  Baseball, huh?  How about it?

Capitol Punishment: Nationals flaunt double jeopardy, biology, the odds

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It’s tough to find genuine outrage in sports for at least a few reasons, including things like the general absurdity of the NCAA, the silly off-field behavior of athletes, and the fact that the labor market for sportswriters, who have to drum up content on a frequent and regular basis, may be the only one with a supply more flooded than the legal profession, but last year I admittedly hammered the Washington Nationals in a podcast for their colossally stupid decision to bench their best pitcher for the remainder of the season and playoffs in September on the basis of some arm-preservation notion. Rehashing that issue will only inflame my ulcer, so I’m going to skip it.

But now Washington has decided that it’s “World Series or bust“?? Why now? That is some Nattitude of a degree heretofore unseen. Why wasn’t last year World Series or bust? What has happened to Strasburg’s arm in the offseason that it now is ok to work him until his shoulder explodes, all in the pursuit of a championship, that did not exist last season?

As I said last fall, there’s no guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs in a given year. There are too many variables in baseball’s long season. Washington was hot and had maybe the best batch of young stars, but they decided to call off the dogs and play for a championship next year. This isn’t the Colts resting their starters in Week 17 or a golfer laying up for a safer wedge approach; it’s like the Colts forfeiting their first playoff game or the golfer just packing it in and saying, “See you at the next tournament.” There was a World Series to be won in 2012, and there is a new and distinct one to be won in 2013. If you’re willing to go “World Series or bust” in 2013 with the same players you had in 2012, why wouldn’t you go all out then, too?

I hope the Nationals lose every game.

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…

ALDLAND Podcast

Hello ALDLANDers!  Lots to talk about today, including Felix Hernandez’s historic performance for the Seattle Mariners, which saw him notch the 23rd* perfect game in major league history.  Also on the table are discussion of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, and the antics in the Red Sox clubhouse, not to mention our recap of the Olympics.  So join AD and me for a half hour of discussion and good times.

*You know why this asterisk is here.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

2-4-1 Beers with Bryce Harper and Sir Charles

When a certain Nashville restaurant decided to stop being an obvious organized crime front and take the business above board, one of the succession of attempted ventures in the space was a sports bar so desperate for customers it was almost giving away beer. The question was, is “two-for-one” beer the same thing as half-off beer, and if not, which is preferable?

Anyway, you need not choose, because here in a single post are two quick hits about beer and guys who don’t want any of it. First up is the now “viral” (HT: Laura) Bryce Harper:

Straight up Gongshow.

Next is a guy we hope isn’t viral, even if his late-night driving errands suggest he’s at an increased risk:

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to revoke the Round Mound’s knighthood.