Chicago White Sox manager Guillen sits in the dugout against the LA Angels during MLB American League baseball game in Anaheim

Who replaces Jim Leyland as Tigers manager?

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With Jim Leyland gone there is likely to be no shortage of men wanting his old job. The Tigers have star power, an owner who is willing to spend money and they look poised to remain competitive in the AL Central for the foreseeable future. In short, this job opening is one of the best to hit the classifieds in some time.

So who will replace Leyland?  Some off-the-top-of my-head ideas, heavy on candidates with Tigers connections:

Tom Brookens: The former Tigers third baseman and current Tigers third base coach, Brookens has worked his way up through the Tigers system managing at multiple levels since joining the big league coaching staff in 2009.  Brookens has infuriated some Tigers fans with some of his decisions on sending base runners home, but that’s not part of a manager’s job so maybe it helps the club!  That aside, Brookens would be a “stay-the-course” kind of candidate, likely to maintain much of the same style and to demonstrate the same temperament as Leyland, who you’d have to assume is his primary managerial mentor. The biggest drawback: no big league managing experience. Of course, since he knows this team well, it’s not as big a problem for him as it would be for outside candidates (see below).

MORE: Is Jim Leyland headed for Cooperstown?

Lloyd McClendon: The Tigers hitting coach has been with Leyland since he took over the Tigers as manager in 2006, first serving as bullpen coach then hitting coach. Leyland didn’t have a bench coach until this past season, but McClendon was thought of as serving in that capacity when the Tigers were at bat (and Gene Lamont was coaching third). McClendon has routinely been the Tigers’ fill-in manager following Leyland ejections as well.  Like Brookens, McClendon would be a continuation of what’s been going on as opposed to a departure. Unlike Brookens, McClendon has major league managerial experience, serving as Pirates skipper from 2000-05.

Gene Lamont: Leyland’s long-time coach and close friend, Lamont is also an experienced major league manager, guiding the White Sox and Pirates. He was also a candidate for the Red Sox job in the winter of 2011-12 but lost out to Bobby Valentine of all people.  One drawback: Lamont is 66. Which, fine, but with Leyland saying that he thought a younger guy should take over, you have to wonder if going more than two years younger isn’t more preferable for the Tigers at this point.

Alan Trammell: Tram is not just a Tigers legend, he’s also a former Tigers manager. Although he really did get a bum deal his first time around, being handed a team with little talent no hope of contention, which led to a 119-loss season his first year in the top job. He lasted two more seasons with Detroit — he was replaced by Leyland — and since then has served as bench coach for the Cubs and the Diamondbacks. It’s not often teams give a guy a second chance, but Trammell is not just any guy in Detroit and now has a lot more experience under his belt.

Kirk Gibson: Another Tigers legend and a former Tigers hitting coach under Trammell. However, he’s under contract in Arizona through next season with team options in 2015-16, and it’s unlikely the Diamondbacks would be willing to let him go, assuming he’d want to. Why the Tigers would want to give up talent to get him is another question. How his “gritty” style would play on a team of high-priced veterans is a final problem. This one seems more like wishcasting of Tigers fans more than anything.

Dusty Baker, Ozzie Guillen or someone like them: This is a place-holder for Experienced Manager Who Can Win Now. Dusty just happens to be the most notable guy who fits that description looking for a job. Not that I think the Tigers would be terribly interested. While they wouldn’t have fired Leyland for his tactical/bullpen brain locks, they probably wouldn’t mind getting a guy who isn’t as prone to the same sort of problems, and Baker clearly is.  Another one — and this one would be all kinds of fun — Ozzie Guillen. Unlike Baker, Guillen has a World Series ring. He also happens to be good friends with Miguel Cabrera, not that that tends to be a big factor when job openings happen. Of course Guillen fostered a LOT of hate among Tigers fans over the years for various reasons. So while it would be hilarious to see him take over the job, it would require a P.R. offensive by the team to get fans on board with a Guillen hire. Please sign me up for the P.R. job if it becomes available.

Brad Ausmus or someone like him: Let’s call this a place-holder for ALL inexperienced managers. Ausmus, known to be as smart as a tack and a guy who many think will one-day be a good major league manager. He also has zero experience, and like so many other possible names folks can throw out there, it’s hard to see how a team in the Tigers’ position — World Series contenders — would gamble on a newbie for a win-now job.

Ultimately: could be anyone for such a great opening. But I’m sure we’ll hear the names of these men tossed about a fair amount until the candidates are narrowed down.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.