Springtime Storylines: Can the Tigers win their first division title since 1987?

1 Comment

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: Everyone’s favorite chain-smoking skipper.

The Big Question: Can the Tigers win their first division title since 1987?

They’ve had some close calls–including a final-week fade in 2006 (that ended in a trip to the World Series) and a Game 163 loss in 2009–but the Tigers haven’t won a division title since 1987, when they took the AL East with a league-high 98 wins. In the 23 years since the Tigers have just seven winning seasons and one playoff appearance.

However, the Tigers have been .500 or better in four of five years under manager Jim Leyland, twice finishing just a game out of first place, and this year Detroit is very much a contender in the stronger-than-usual AL Central thanks to adding free agents Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit to a team that went 81-81 in 2010. Johnny Damon was their only significant offseason departure and the Tigers have an impressive collection of frontline talent, but depth and defense loom as potential issues

Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and Martinez are an elite 3-4-5 trio, but the Opening Day lineup also figures to include sub par bats Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Inge, and Will Rhymes, who’s filling in at second base for the injured Carlos Guillen. And while Guillen’s return would boost the lineup, a double-play duo of Peralta and Guillen should give nightmares to every pitcher on the staff. Ordonez in right field every day won’t do the pitchers any favors either and as always teams will run at will whenever Martinez is behind the plate.

Similarly, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are an elite top of the rotation, but the Tigers are counting on Brad Penny to stay healthy, Rick Porcello to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore year, and Phil Coke to successfully transition from the bullpen. If everything breaks right the rotation could be one of the league’s best, but there are questions that need to be answered first. Martinez and Benoit were bold signings for general manager Dave Dombrowski, but also contribute to a top-heavy roster relying on old and/or injury prone guys like Ordonez, Benoit, Guillen, Penny, and Inge to stay off the disabled list.

So what else is going on?

  • Detroit loves pitchers with big-time fastballs, as the staff led baseball with an average fastball velocity of 92.4 miles per hour last season and then added Benoit (94.0 mph) and Penny (94.1 mph) while moving Coke (93.6 mph) into a bigger role. Joel Zumaya is the king of the big-time fastballs and his health status is once again uncertain, but with Verlander, Scherzer, Valverde, Benoit, Penny, Coke, and Ryan Perry the Tigers have a staff filled with flame-throwers.
  • Verlander led AL starters in average fastball velocity at 95.4 mph and Scherzer ranked 10th at 93.2 mph, and together they racked up more strikeouts (403) than any duo in the league while combining for a 3.43 ERA in 420 innings. If a third starter steps up they could be scary in the playoffs.
  • Brennan Boesch got everyone’s hopes up by hitting .345 in the first half, but the rookie turned back into a pumpkin by hitting .163 after the All-Star break. He’s obviously not as bad those post-break struggles, but Boesch’s minor-league track record isn’t particularly impressive and despite a reverse platoon split as a rookie he’s probably best suited for no more than a platoon role with Ryan Raburn.
  • Miguel Cabrera got arrested for a DUI while driving to spring training and his off-field behavior has been making headlines for several years, but throughout the personal problems he’s never ceased being one of the best hitters in baseball. He shook off the pre-camp incident to hit .300 with power once the exhibition games started, homered in Game 163 two years ago shortly after being arrested, and is coming off the best season of his career. Whatever you think of him as a human being the guy is on a Hall of Fame path and so far at least the off-field problems haven’t hurt him on the field.
  • Austin Jackson finished runner-up in the Rookie of the Year balloting and would have gotten my vote over Neftali Feliz, but it’ll be interesting to see how he fares as a sophomore. Projecting improvement is natural for a 24-year-old, but Jackson’s rookie production was based largely on an unsustainably amazing .396 batting average on balls in play that led the league. That almost can’t help but come back down to earth at least somewhat, so unless Jackson cuts down on his league-leading 170 strikeouts or develops more power an even better second year isn’t guaranteed.

So how are they gonna do?

Much like the Twins and White Sox, the Tigers have a good but flawed roster that seems headed for 88-92 wins. I’d peg them for third place, but realistically all three teams are basically co-favorites and the Tigers may have the division’s highest ceiling.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
1 Comment

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 8, Blue Jays 1: Sometimes I’ll talk about a “quintessential [team] win.” When I say that I mean a win that seems like something that someone in the team’s marketing department would dream up. The stuff of program and media guide covers. Something that dovetails nicely with a season ticket sales campaign. The most obvious version of that is “Team Ace pitches wonderfully, Team Leader hits well and Team wins.” This game fit that mold, constituting a quintessential Cleveland Indians win. In it Corey Kluber fanned 14 Jays in seven and two-thirds innings while allowing one run on five hits while Michael Brantley singled home one run and knocked in two more with a three-run homer. If the Indians were mapping out their season back in February, there would be a healthy number of games like this. It’s almost enough to make you want to say that a team should get one-and-a-half wins for such an outcome instead of just one.

Reds 6, Marlins 3: Sal Romano allowed one run over six innings and doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about being unceremoniously dumped from the art department of Sterling Cooper after season three. Scooter GennettEugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart all homered as the Reds avoid a sweep. Really, though: how do you not show Sal in the “Mad Men” series finale? How do you not let us know what happened to him? I’m still salty about that.

Athletics 3, Mets 2: Marcus Semien, Khris Davis and Matt Chapman all homered for Oakland, with Chapman’s breaking a 2-2 tie in the seventh. That made up for him getting picked off third base with no outs in the fifth, which is not a cool thing to do. Daniel Gossett got the win after allowing two runs over six. This was Bob Melvin’s 999th win as a big league manager.

Rangers 6, Rays 5: Two homers for Rougned Odor, the second one coming back to back with a Carlos Gomez bomb in the eighth. The Rangers sweep and the Rays, once again, lose a game in which they held a lead. They’ve done that 31 times this year, actually, which leads all of baseball. They’re 51-48 and 3.5 games out of first place. Imagine if they were even slightly better at locking down leads.

Orioles 9, Astros 7: The Astros fell behind by three runs twice but came back each time. They actually took a one-run lead in the sixth, but Baltimore tied it back up. That’s where it stood, tied 7-7 in the eighth, when the O’s scored two to take the lead. That set the stage for Zack Britton‘s first save since April. It was a record-breaking save, too: his 55th consecutive save without blowin’ on, breaking the AL mark set by Tom Gordon almost 20 years ago. The MLB mark is still a ways away: Eric Gagne’s 84 straight from 2002-04. Of course Gagne was juiced to the gills, but a record is a record.

Phillies 6, Brewers 3: Rookie Nick Williams remained hot, homering driving in three. Howie Kendrick knocked in two himself. Starter Jerad Eickhoff got into the act too, smacking two hits and driving in two himself. He also pitched six strong innings.

Tigers 9, Twins 6: This one was tied at two in the seventh when everyone apparently woke up and started to hit, with Detroit scoring seven runs in the final three frames and Minnesota scoring four. Seven is more than four, though, so you know how this ended. Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the seventh and he, James McCann and Alex Presley had three hits apiece. The game lasted four hours and nineteen minutes. Woof.

Royals 5, White Sox 4: Nine straight losses for Chicago. This one stung, too, as they had a 4-3 lead in the eighth. That’s when Whit Merrifield homered to tie things up. In the ninth, Mike Moustakas singled and then Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch. New White Sox reliever Tyler Clippard was brought into the game and promptly gave up a walkoff double to Brandon Moss. The trade deadline brings lots of changes in baseball, but some things remain the same.

Rockies 13, Pirates 3Trevor Story, Pat Valaika and Mark Reynolds each hit two-run homers in the sixth inning, a frame in which the Rockies scored seven in all, so yeah. Kyle Freeland got his first start since July 9 (he made one relief appearance to keep sharp) and he allowed two runs on six hits over six innings.

Angels 3, Red Sox 2: Rick Porcello was dealing quite efficiently, but a Mike Trout homer tied it at two in the sixth inning and a Luis Valbuena solo shot put the Angels up for good in the seventh. That efficiency allowed Porcello to pitch the entire game, needing only 96 pitches, giving him the rare CG-loss. Cool? Angels starter Parker Bridwell and two Angels relievers were also efficient, needing a combined 106 pitches to get through the whole thing, meaning this contest lasted only two hours and thirteen minutes. It came one day after the 20th anniversary of Greg Maddux needing only 76 pitches to toss a complete game against the Chicago Cubs. That one lasted two hours and seven minutes.

Padres 5, Giants 2: All the scoring was over with by the fourth inning. The fact that the Padres scored four in that inning was the difference. Wil Myers homered in the first — the third straight game in which he went deep — and Jabari Blash doubled in two in the fourth. Padres starter Dinelson Lamet allowed two runs in all and pitched into the seventh.

Yankees 6, Mariners 4: The Yankees take three of four, winning their first series in six weeks, a stretch in which they went 0-8-2, series-wise. The bullpen had been a big reason for all of those losses, but they shined here, with Chad GreenDellin Betances and Daniel Robertson combining for 4.1 perfect innings before Chapman bent but didn’t break in closing it out. For all of the crap they’ve gone through, New York remains a mere two and a half back of Boston.

Dodgers 5, Braves 4: A win, but an unpleasant one for Los Angeles, as starter Clayton Kershaw had to leave after two innings due to pain in his back that is going to place him on the disabled list. He’s suffered from back issue in the past, costing him a good bit of time. We’ll know more how much time after he undergoes an MRI today. As for the game, the Dodgers had a three-run lead in the eighth before Matt Adams tied it up with a three run homer off of Kenley Jansen of all people. Logan Forsythe saved his and everyone else’s bacon, however, with a walkoff RBI single in the 10th. Nice win, but a bad day for the Dodgers.

Nationals 6, Diamondbacks 2: The Dodgers weren’t the only one to lose a starter after two innings: Stephen Strasburg was knocked out of this one with “achiness” in his forearm. That was his term, not the medical staff’s, as they did not go to the Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. Dusty Baker turned things over to the bullpen and five relievers combined to allow two runs over seven innings to give Washington the win. They had a cushion, though, as Brian Goodwin hit a leadoff homer and the Nats scored four runs in the first.

Cubs 5, Cardinals 3: Willson Contreras hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. Kyle Schwarber went deep as well and Jose Quintana allowed three runs over six innings to give the Cubs their eighth win in nine games, pulling them into a tie for first place, a mere tenth of a percentage point ahead of the Brewers. We were all waiting for the Cubs to wake up. They’re up.

Kenley Jansen’s consecutive saves streak ends at 34

Mark Brown/Getty Images
3 Comments

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning during Sunday’s game against the Braves, blowing his first save since August 26 last season. He had converted 34 consecutive saves.

Jansen yielded back-to-back singles to lead off the ninth inning, staked to a 4-1 lead. After getting two outs, Matt Adams hit a three-run home run down the right field line to knot the game at four apiece.

After Sunday’s lackluster performance, Jansen is now 24-for-25 in save chances this season with a 1.49 ERA and a 62/2 K/BB ratio in 42 1/3 innings.