My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as “MMM.”
Week of 8/17-23: 3-3
This week: 8/24-26: at LAA; 8/28-30: TB (plus 8/31)
Goat of the Week
A leadoff home run on Sunday wasn’t enough to save Curtis Granderson from the wrath of MMM.
Grandy is last week’s Goat, because he was a leadoff hitter who was unable to put the ball in play, much less get a hit.
Granderson struck out ad nauseam last week, and it got so bad that manager Jim Leyland benched him for a couple games.
But this Goat tag is almost as much for the kind of overall season Curtis is having as it is for just his bad week.
The season is 3/4 done, and Granderson has yet to bring his batting average up or re-discover his gap-hitting skills. He’s just not the same—ironically making the All-Star team in 2009 after a couple years where he deserved it more yet didn’t make it.
Granderson simply is not the offensive weapon that he’s been for the Tigers in the past, and it’s hurting the team. For all of the Tigers’ offensive woes—and there are plenty—Grandy’s lack of spark in the leadoff spot is among the top of the list when it comes to what’s keeping the Tigers’ offense from breaking out.
Dishonorable mention: Rookie reliever Ryan Perry, whose job it was to keep the Tigers close on Sunday, the score 5-4 Oakland in the 8th inning. But Perry followed up a good outing with a horrid one—surrendering a three-run homer and a solo shot as the A’s extended their lead to an insurmountable 9-4, in a game the Tigers needed to win their first road series since June.
Hero of the Week
Clete Thomas reluctantly gets the nod here.
MMM isn’t crazy about making Clete a Hero, but he did drive in the game-winning run on Thursday afternoon, as the Tigers completed an impressive comeback to capture the series against the Mariners.
Then Thomas followed that up with a two-out single Friday night in the sixth inning, driving in what turned out to be the game-winning run.
But Clete is striking out too much, something that Leyland acknowledged over the weekend. Thomas is miscast as a No. 3 hitter, but it’s not like anyone else is really standing out, either.
Honorable mention: Ryan Raburn, who clubbed two “no doubt” solo homers on Friday night, each to put the Tigers ahead.
Quick scouting reports: Angels and Rays
Both the first-place Tigers and the second-place White Sox have tall orders this week. Might be a chance for the third-place Twins to claw back into the AL Central race.
While the Tigers are visiting the Angels and hosting the Rays, and the White Sox are traveling to the Yankees and Red Sox, the Twins will play host to the Orioles and Rangers.
The Angels, after a slow start, have reclaimed their designation as the cream of the crop in the AL West.
Vladimir Guerrero is back and badder than ever.
Guerrero, who’s only played in 64 games this season because of injury, is hitting .356 with seven homers in August.
But the Angels have plenty of other thumpers.
Eight players—count ‘em, eight—have batting averages of .300 or higher.
Switch-hitting 1B Kendry Morales might be having the best overall year, though.
Morales has 27 HR, 83 RBI, and is hitting .301.
Monday night’s series opener ought to be a dandy, because each team’s ace is going to be on the mound.
It’s Justin Verlander vs. Jered Weaver, and that’s quite a way to start a series.
Verlander is 13-7, Weaver is 13-4. Both are hard-throwing right-handers who pound the strike zone. And both have a nasty streak in them.
The Angels’ closer is lefty Brian Fuentes, who came over as a free agent from Colorado after Frankie Rodriguez fled to the Mets. Fuentes is 35-for-40 in save opps this season, but he’s surrendered five homers in 41.2 innings, so he can give up the occasional longball.
The Tigers are 3-3 vs. LA this season—1-2 on the road and 2-1 in Detroit.
The Rays and the Tigers are, just now, getting around to starting their season series against each other. Tampa visits for four games in a “wrap-around” series that concludes on Monday, then the Tigers will venture to Florida to play the Rays over Labor Day Weekend.
So what about these Rays, the defending AL Champs?
Our old friend, Carlos Pena, continues his feast-or-famine style of hitting.
Pena has a monstrous 34 home runs, 84 RBI, but is hitting just .220 and has struck out a whopping 148 times. Typical Pena.
SS Jason Bartlett is hitting .340, and 3B Evan Longoria is showing no signs of a Sophomore Jinx; he’s got 24 homers and a .273 BA.
In fact, the entire Rays infield is full of offensive might; 2B Ben Zobrist has 22 HRs and a .288 BA.
A surprising spark has been generated by veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, picked up from Baltimore a couple weeks ago. Zaun already has a grand slam, and is providing the team with much-needed catching depth.
The pitchers are still led by those two young guns that terrorized the league last year: James Shields and Matt Garza. But newcomer Jeff Niemann, 26, has 11 wins and a 3.71 ERA.
The closing situation has been murky, but lefty J.P. Howell is coming around, having converted nine of his last ten save opportunities after a rocky start. The Rays began the season with veteran Troy Percival closing, but despite going 6-for-6, Percival’s back wasn’t right and he had to shut himself down. A couple weeks ago, Percival informed the Rays that he was, in essence, retiring—again.
But this time, Troy’s done for good—unlike when he “retired” from the Tigers in 2006.
The Rays have the misfortune of playing in the AL East. They overcame that hurdle last season, but the Yankees and Red Sox have outpaced them all season this year. Still, the Rays aren’t chopped liver—not by a long shot.
Under the microscope
Aubrey Huff—welcome to Detroit! You’re a Tiger less than two weeks and you’re already under MMM’s microscope!
And why not?
Huff was brought over from Baltimore to give the Tigers that much-needed lefty bat, and to try to inject the listless offense with something special.
It’s early, but Aubrey hasn’t done much of anything.
The theory was also that Miguel Cabrera needed a respected bat hitting behind him, although Miggy has put up big numbers with Tom, Dick and Harry batting behind him. But Huff has been mostly invisible in a Tigers uniform so far.
When you bring someone in this late in the season, he’s supposed to be a missing ingredient and the pressure is often greater on those kinds of guys than the ones you pick up at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
We’ll see how the veteran Huff, who’s never really been in a pennant race before, handles the scenario.
Bottom line: Where does Leyland keep all that smoke and all those mirrors?
He’s had his ragtag team with the popgun offense in first place for forever it seems, all while everyone keeps waiting for the other cleat to fall.
This is a crucial week, and how many more times will MMM declare THAT this season? Probably pretty often.
This is the stretch run, folks; please put your trays in the upright position and make sure your seat belts are buckled.
Games at the Angels and home against the Rays are good barometers, and also great challenges for the Tigers and their teeter-tottering on top of the Central Division.
Pay attention to the White Sox at the Yankees and Red Sox, but also keep a third eye on the Twins, who can never be trusted.
Tigers’ magic number to clinch the division: 37
That’s all for this week’s MMM. Join me every Monday!
P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host “The Knee Jerks” on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!