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

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:

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(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: April in the D

As briefly mentioned at the end of the last post, ALDLAND will have a presence in Detroit this weekend, where the Tigers will host the Atlanta Braves for three games, beginning tonight.

After twenty games, the Tigers can’t seem to get themselves above .500, and the early ride has been bumpy.

Yesterday afternoon’s game was particularly rough. After allowing just one earned run, starter Justin Verlander left the game with a lead on the scoreboard and a sore throwing-hand thumb. Rookie reliever Bruce Rondon, making his first major-league appearance, promptly gave up that lead, and then the ball. Phil Coke entered and, through a series of walks of varying intentionalities, put Detroit behind. Darin Downs relieved Coke and immediately gave up a grand slam. The supposedly hard-hitting Tigers, who have a way of not scoring late, plated no runs from the fifth inning on through the tenth, when they lost.

As anyone reading Upton Abbey knows, the Braves are red-hot. The consensus best team in baseball, Atlanta is off to a 15-6 start, and they’re hitting home runs like crazy. I haven’t taken a close look at their runs/inning distribution, but it sure seems like they can hit for power both early and late.  Keep reading…

Bay of Cigs: WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances

Sometimes the Tigers can’t win for winning. Detroit opened the 2013 season on the road in chilly Minneapolis with a 4-2 victory, a win for ace Justin Verlander, and a save for closing committee chairman Phil Coke.

So you know it isn’t just me, independent sources call Verlander “the best pitcher in baseball.” Independent sources also have a way of being wet blankets, which is what the Wall Street Journal was when Continue reading

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

Detroit Sports Report: “I’m having a conversation with my brain”


As baseball returns, we remember with fondness Ernie Harwell’s opening of spring.  (HT: NPR; It’s Always Sunny in Detroit)

Having relocated outside the Tigers’ Radio Network, I’m not sure if I’ll be equipped to do another Tigers diary like I did last year. (Brendan is planning a Mariners’ diary for this season, which should be a fun lens for observing Felix Hernandez’s elbow explode.) For now, tune in for some irregular updates on the Motown sports scene.

  • Phil Coke meets his brain: MLive’s Chris Iott finally succeeded in arranging a corporeal meeting between Tiger reliever Phil Coke and the operator of @PhilCokesBrain to pleasing results.
  • The Lions probably will draft the Honey Badger: That’s the only conclusion I can draw from the appearance of this article on the front page of the Free Press’ sports section today. After they drafted the notedly weed-addled Charles Rogers at #2 overall and that guy from Boston College who was a “good character guy” except that a google search revealed he’d been in two bar fights his senior year also in the first round, I would be surprised if they didn’t draft Tyrann Matthieu to replace Louis “Bob Sanders” Delmas.

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…

The DET Offensive: Now it’s just offensive

Last night’s Tiger loss on the road in Kansas City felt pretty crippling.

The Free Press story starts like this:

In a span of 11 batters over the first and second innings Tuesday night, the Royals got more hits off Justin Verlander than they’d ever gotten off him in a game.

In that same span, they scored seven runs — more than they’d ever gotten off Verlander in a game.

Detroit rallied, tying the game on a Jhonny Peralta home run in the eighth, but Phil Coke, who has been ineffective on the road, gave the lead right back in the bottom half of that inning. The game effectively ended in the ninth, when officials ruled that a Delmon Young drive to the right-field seats wasn’t a homer. It would’ve scored three for the visitors. (Watch the video here, second clip on the right.) That’s Young, pictured above, as he stood on first awaiting the review. He has a mustache now, which I did not know/remember until this morning.

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After the way last night’s game and the month of August has gone for them, there’s little more I can add about this team right now, except to present some numerological reality and then get out.     Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Halfway at the Half-way

Just in time for the All-Star break, which marks the half-way point of the MLB season, the Detroit Tigers have clawed their way back to an above-.500 record, which feels like much more of an accomplishment than it should, but things really do seem to be getting back to the way they should be. The team followed up its strong showing in interleague play by finishing the first half of the season having won five straight and seven of their last nine, earning a 44-42 record. The pitchers seem to be getting settled in (Scherzer leads the AL in some strikeout statistic I forgot, Phil Coke is a workhorse, and Justin Verlander’s done well enough to earn the starting spot for the AL All Stars), and odd-walking liability Delmon Young homered in each of the last four games. Brennan Boesch still is hitting below .250, but Jhonny Peralta seems to be coming on, and Quintin Berry is a joy to watch on the basepaths. Team-wide, defense remains a very frustrating problem, however.

The Tigers’ TV play-by-play man, Mario Impemba, offered his suggestions for the team’s continued success in the second half, and they included the following observation:

The second key is the two spot in the lineup.  Quintin Berry has done a terrific job in the two-hole, but the return of Andy Dirks could help fuel the Tigers offense.  Dirks was having a tremendous impact on the numbers that Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera were putting up.  Below is a look at the numbers for the two sluggers with Dirks in and out of the lineup:

With Dirks batting second:                                        With other hitters batting second

Cabrera:  .344 AVG    .392 OB%                               Cabrera:    .318 AVG      .384 OB%

Fielder:    .365 AVG    .411 OB%                               Fielder:     .273 AVG      .364 OB%

While Dirks is out of the walking boot and his achilles is feeling better, getting him back before August is not a good bet at this point.

Mario also tempered the optimism headed into the second half with this note:

The last week has given the Tigers hope that a second half run is on the horizon.  The first three weeks following the break will be telling.  Detroit will play 29 straight games against teams over .500.

Finally, Prince Fielder will be participating in tonight’s home run derby, as narrated by Chris Berman, and Detroit has to hope that this doesn’t mess up a good thing for the remainder of the season.

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Previously
Interleague Play – 6/26
Call the Experts!
5/26
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
– 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9