Offense a problem for these Tigers

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The Tigers possess MLB’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years in Miguel Cabrera and a second premium bat in Prince Fielder, but the offense as a whole is really quite average. And even average seems kind given its performance so far against the A’s in the ALDS.

Shut out in Tuesday’s loss, the Tigers have totaled eight runs in three games while amassing a 2-1 series lead over the A’s. That’s overselling it, though. Three of those runs were the direct result of errors. In three games, the Tigers haven’t had a single hit that knocked in a baserunner. They did get Alex Avila’s solo homer in Game 1. The rest of the runs have scored on Oakland’s miscues, groundouts and Don Kelly’s Game 2-winning sac fly.

But the Tigers weren’t so great offensively during the regular season, either. Particularly not late in the year. They were tied for seventh in the AL in runs during the second half. Their 339 runs scored put them right about at the midpoint between the top-ranked A’s (394 runs) and the Indians and Mariners (282) at the bottom. For the full year, they were sixth in runs scored.

And that’s because while Cabrera, Fielder and Austin Jackson were great, the bottom half of the lineup was dreadful. Going by OPS, Tigers No. 5 hitters ranked 13th in the AL and their No. 6 hitters were dead last.

With the A’s throwing right-handers in both Games 4 and 5 now, Delmon Young could well be key for Detroit. Fielder did his best to come up big for the Tigers tonight, only to be robbed of a homer by Coco Crisp and a double by Yoenis Cespedes. Now that the A’s are going back to right-handers after starting lefties the last two games, it’s going to make tons of sense to pitch around Fielder in big situations and go after Young in the five-hole. The slumping Young hasn’t come through with a hit in an RBI situation in 11 games, and he’s delivered one homer in a month. He’s lucky he’s still in the lineup at all, much less in such prime real estate behind Cabrera and Fielder.

Of course, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander could make Detroit’s offensive problem moot by hurling a shutout one of the next two days. Those two are certainly capable. That said, the Tigers’ offense is quite obviously overrated, and it figures to catch up with them soon if it hasn’t already.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.