My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as “MMM.”
Week of 6/29-7/5: 2-4
This week: 7/6-7/8: KC; 7/10-12: CLE
Goat of the Week
The Tigers labored for 16 innings before finally beating the Twins on Friday night, and you can thank Zach Miner for that.
Miner inherited a nifty five-run lead in the sixth inning from starter Luke French, and promptly squandered it all away in two-thirds of an inning, enabling the Twins to tie the game and leading to it going into extras. And extras. And extras.
The Tigers won, but not before taxing the bullpen, including Joel Zumaya, who threw a career-high 52 pitches. Moreover, it was a long night before a day game, thanks to Saturday’s contest being shown on Fox nationally.
Miner’s been fairly decent this season, but someone has to be the goat this week, and his coughing up a five-run lead, leading to unplanned mega-innings from the rest of the bullpen, hangs him with the MMM goat albatross.
Hero of the Week
Back to Zumaya.
He’s been rollercoaster-like this season, particularly with his control. But on Friday in Minnesota, his manager did something that earns Jim Leyland the Hero label.
In the 11th inning, with Denard Span on third base and two outs, Leyland walked both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (both lefty bats) in order to let Zumaya go after the right-handed hitting Michael Cuddyer.
It was a supreme show of confidence, especially considering how uneven Zumaya has been with his control. Walking the bases loaded gave Zumaya no margin for error.
So what does Zoom-Zoom do? He carves Cuddyer up on three pitches. Threat ended.
Things like that, where the manager lets his guy succeed or fail, can resonate for a long time.
It wasn’t just a bold strategic, on-field move — walking Mauer and Morneau — it was also an investment in Joel Zumaya’s confidence.
Jim Leyland — this week’s MMM Hero of the Week.
Quick scouting reports: Royals, Indians
This is a big week for the Tigers.
Their lead in the division is shrinking — it’s now just two games after going 1-2 in the Metrodome over the weekend.
But now they return home to play the two weak sisters of the Central.
The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are bringing up the rear, and for two different reasons.
The Royals, mostly, can’t hit. The Indians, mostly, can’t pitch. If the two teams combined rosters, you’d have a contender.
The Royals have a trio of capable starters in Zack Grienke, Brian Bannister, and Gil Meche. The Tigers won’t face Bannister, but they’ll get Meche and Grienke.
The Indians, as Ian Casselberry of Bless You Boys said in our podcast last week, probably showed one of their red flags when they made Carl Pavano their No. 2 starter before the season. In other words, that should have been an indicator that they had rotation issues.
And rotation issues they have — big time.
Reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee is 4-8, albeit with a fine ERA of 3.45. After Lee, it gets ugly.
Pavano: 7-7, 5.36; Fausto Carmona: 2-6, 7.42; Jeremy Sowers: 2-6, 5.68; David Huff: 4-3, 6.06.
No wonder the Indians are struggling to play .400 baseball.
Here’s a quick joke: Which will be higher at the end of the season—Mauer’s batting average (he’s around .390 now), or the Indians’ winning percentage?
The Tigers need to make hay against these teams this week at Comerica Park.
Under the microscope
Last week, MMM placed Zumaya under the scope and he responded with his 52-pitch effort on Friday night in Minnesota.
So let’s see what happens when MMM puts Placido Polanco on the glass plate and beams in on him.
That’s all I need to say.
Polanco is a much better hitter than that. The Tigers’ uneven offense is largely that way because Curtis Granderson (even though he made the All-Star team) and Polanco don’t have that same 1-2 dynamic at the top of the order as they’ve had in the past.
Grandy isn’t slapping doubles and triples anymore. He’s becoming strictly a power hitter. Polanco is hitting about 40 to 50 points below what he’s hit as a Tiger. The two of them aren’t providing the same kick start to the order as before.
Grandy was under the scope a few weeks ago. This week, it’s Poly’s turn.
Placido has slugged some homers lately, but that’s not what the Tigers need from him. They need a .290-.300 hitter who works in concert with Granderson better.
Bottom line: The Tigers are starting to see now why it would have been so nice to put more daylight between themselves and the rest of the division, when the rest of the division was playing below-.500 ball.
You just knew one or two teams would make a move. And the Twins and the White Sox are those teams.
Taking four of six this week, at home (where the Tigers are a healthy 23-11) against the two worst teams in the division is very important, especially heading into the All-Star break.
This figures to be a three-horse race the rest of the way, so the more the Tigers can build on their impressive home record, with all the home games remaining on their schedule (47 of the remaining 81 games are at home), the more pressure that puts on Chicago and Minnesota.
But it has to start this week.
That’s all for this week’s MMM. Join me every Monday!