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

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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: 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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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