Greg Eno

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

MLB’s Refusal to End Bench-Clearing Brawls Perplexing

In Baseball on June 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Dave Rozema was a fun-loving, gangly pitcher of baseballs who never met a clubhouse prank he didn’t like. He was perpetually 13 years old. He went through his career stifling a giggle.

Rozema, who pitched for the Tigers from 1977-84, could be impetuous, and not always at the most convenient moments.

In fact, it was an act of indiscretion that hastened the end of a once-promising career.

In May 1982, Rozema was 25, six years into a career that saw him become one of the Tigers’ most reliable starters and long relievers, even though he threw a fastball that was so misnamed, it would bounce off a window.

In ’82, Rozema was off to a fine start. He was 3-0 with an ERA of 1.63 when the Minnesota Twins visited Tiger Stadium on May 14, 1982.

The game turned into a bean ball war. It started when Detroit’s Chet Lemon was hit in the wrist by a pitch from Pete Redfern and charged the mound in the fourth inning. The benches emptied, naturally. More on that practice in a little bit.

Lemon was ejected and Redfern left the game due to injury. Someone stepped on him with their spikes during the melee.

Rozema came on to pitch in the ninth inning. He twirled three scoreless frames.

In the bottom of the 11th, Minnesota’s Ron Davis brushed back Detroit’s Enos Cabell, who didn’t take kindly to it. Cabell made menacing gestures and started toward the mound. Naturally, the benches emptied.

But this row was much worse than that in the fourth inning. It got nasty real quick, tempers having run hot for seven innings.

The field was littered with 50 players, about a dozen coaches and four measly umpires. It was another overrun of the men in blue who were charged with keeping law and order.

The melee was completely out of hand within moments.

Then Rozema committed the act of indiscretion that would end his season and indirectly affect the rest of his career.

For whatever reason, Rozema targeted the Twins’ John Castino, who was engaged with a Tiger near the Twins dugout.

Making like Jackie Chan, Rozema took several loping steps and then launched into a karate kick against Castino that placed Rozema’s body parallel to the ground.

The ill-advised move tore Rozema’s knee to shreds.

He was done for the season.

On the way to the hospital, Rozema was unaware initially that his partner in crime, good buddy Kirk Gibson, had won the game for the Tigers with a walk-off homer off Davis. In a twist of irony, Rozema became the winning pitcher, his leg immobilized in an ambulance.

Rozema was done for 1982 thanks to the karate kick. His career was over by the end of April, 1986. He was not yet 30 years old. The major knee surgery required after his foolish Jackie Chan maneuver didn’t help his pitching at all.

Football and hockey, much more violent sports, don’t put up with the nonsense of players joining in the fray that goes on between two combatants. Neither does basketball.

In other sports, if you leave the bench, you’re suspended. No questions asked. Fines are levied, too.

Hockey, for all its dangerous speed and its strange justice of giving a guy two minutes for something that he’d get three years for, had he done it off the ice, has managed to basically legislate the bench-clearing brawl out of its sport.

The “third man in” rule ejects any player who intercedes in a scrap between two fighters. The NFL doesn’t take kindly to players leaving the benches, either.

Basketball, with its players’ close proximity to the patrons, especially frowns on multiple players going at it.

Yet baseball, the sport with the least physical contact between players, has condoned the bench-clearing fracas for over 100 years.

If a batter so much as looks at a pitcher oddly and takes a step or two toward the mound, players from both sides leap to the top step of the dugout. Another stride by the batter, and the dugouts empty.

And, to add to this absurdity, the bullpens empty—guys jogging in from 400 feet away. So that makes 50 players and all the coaches on the field of play—because two guys have a disagreement.

These aren’t necessarily benign meetings.

Witness Rozema and his karate kick. Bill Lee of the Red Sox hurt his arm in a fracas in the late-1970s when a bunch of Yankees and Red Sox players ended up piled on top of him. The Tigers’ Dick McAuliffe went after Chicago’s Tommy John in 1968 and John messed up his arm in the ensuing rumble.

Often, the players injured in these melees are not the ones involved in the original tiff.

Why does baseball allow its benches to empty so routinely, with such impunity?

You got a beef, Mr. Batter? Take it up with the pitcher—but make sure to drop the bat first. All you other guys? Watch.

The Dodgers and the Diamondbacks were involved in a rumble a week or so ago, and it included a takedown by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly of D-backs coach and former Tiger Alan Trammell.

A manager tackling a coach? Aren’t those guys supposed to be playing the roles of peacemakers? What’s next, the second and third base umpires going at it?

Alas, nothing will change. Change doesn’t come very easily in baseball, which is without question the most tradition-ingrained sport of them all, even if said tradition is self-destructive in nature.

Baseball’s slogan ought to be, “Because it’s always been that way.” That’s been the ready-made excuse since the 19th century for not correcting the ills of the game. Just ask Jackie Robinson.

Baseball can get rid of these silly bench-clearing exhibitions, which only serve ill will and offer up dangerous potential for injury.

It would be very easy to do so.

Yet it won’t ever happen. Why? Because it has always been this way.

Monday Morning Manager: Week 12

In Baseball on June 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Last Week: 4-3
This Week:  LAA (6/25-27); at TB (6/28-30)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers played two of the best and hottest teams in the American League and came away with a 4-3 record. MMM will take that and run. The Tigers hold a solid four-game lead in the AL Central over the getting-hot Cleveland Indians.

MMM was a little uneasy, however, when the week began with the Tigers dropping two of three to the Baltimore Orioles, including a 13-3 blowout in Wednesday’s series finale. Maybe our Bengals aren’t ready for prime time, after all, MMM wondered.

Those fears were quelled when the Tigers bounced back, big time, to swipe three of four games from the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, scoring 27 runs in the process after plating just 10 runners in the three Orioles games.

Papa Grande, aka Jose Valverde, got the much requested (by fans) DFA (designated for assignment) on Friday. This means that if Valverde isn’t claimed off waivers by today, he either will accept a minor league assignment at Toledo, or he can request his release.

In the meanwhile, manager Jim Leyland kinda, sorta, named Joaquin Benoit as his new closer, if the stars and the moon align the right way that particular day.

Questions still surround the perplexing Justin Verlander, who turned in two “meh” performances last week.

And at least one Red Sox player knows what Calvin Johnson must feel like when it comes to “completing” a catch.

Hero of the Week
All hail Mad Max!

Pitcher Max Scherzer won two games last week in impressive (again) fashion, to run his season record to 11-0. Max became the first Tigers pitcher to start a season 11-0 since George Mullin did it in 1909—and one of those Mullin victories came in relief.

Scherzer’s blossoming, combined with Verlander’s struggles, has seemingly vaulted Max into the ace’s role, albeit certainly without the actual title—so far. Right now, it’s kind of being whispered, as if the fans don’t want to tick off JV.

Scherzer took care of the Red Sox on Saturday night, pumping the strike zone and turning in another intimidating performance.

You need a ton of luck to be 11-0, and in Max’s case, it starts with run support. For whatever reason, whenever Scherzer toes the rubber, the Tigers score a LOT. The team is averaging over seven runs per game in games started by Mad Max.

But the irony is that Scherzer doesn’t really need all those runs. His ERA is a quiet 3.05, with a thin WHIP (walks + hits/per innings pitched) of 0.91. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is an incredible 122-to-24.

MMM thinks Scherzer should be the starter in the All-Star Game for the American League, even if the choice would be made by his own manager, Leyland, who is skippering the squad.

How can you argue with 11-0?

Of course, the ASG is several weeks away, and Scherzer’s bubble could burst by then. But as of now, Max gets MMM’s vote, for whatever that’s worth.

Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder, for breaking out of a mini-slump in the clutch on Sunday; Victor Martinez, for a well-timed grand slam on Saturday and a whale of a defensive play on Sunday; and Austin Jackson, who continues to play great baseball after his lengthy absence due to his hamstring.

Goat of the Week
Guess what? No Valverde or Alex Avila in this space this week!

Valverde’s implosion on Wednesday wasn’t crucial—all it did was turn a 9-3 deficit into a 13-3 one. So that’s not enough to make him last week’s goat. And Avila was placed on the DL after being hit by a pitch a week ago Sunday.

So MMM turns his lonely eyes to pitcher Doug Fister, who didn’t give the Tigers a chance at winning on Friday night with this line: 3.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R/ER, 0 strikeouts.

The poor outing raised Fister’s ERA from 3.21 to 3.66, just like that.

Fister fooled no one on Friday, and even though that’s a fine Red Sox lineup, Fister wasn’t close to keeping the game in hand.

Under the Microscope
Even manager Jim Leyland is acknowledging that Justin Verlander is having command issues.

“It’s not a stuff issue or anything else,” Leyland told the press on Sunday after Verlander’s latest shaky outing (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R/ER). “It’s command issues. Today, none of the repertoire was really getting it where he wanted it to go.”

Verlander agreed with his manager’s assessment.

“The command is definitely not there,” Verlander said. “Just trying to find it. It’s one of those things where you have to find it, and when it clicks, it clicks. Don’t try to press too much. Just go out there and continue to do the work that I know has made me the pitcher that I am.”

All of it adds up to Verlander being placed under MMM’s scope for the second time in recent weeks.

How can Verlander not be under the scope? We’re almost through June and JV’s ERA is inching toward 4.00. He’s not making hitters buckle with his devastating curve ball, nor does he have that same swagger, which was pointed out by FSD’s Rod Allen during Sunday’s broadcast.

Yet Verlander is still 8-5 and could still win close to 20 games if he returns to his old self soon.

But to watch Verlander labor through start after start—he seemed to have gotten it together two starts ago in Kansas City—makes MMM wince. This simply isn’t the Justin Verlander we’re used to seeing around these parts.

Here’s hoping Verlander’s second stay under the scope does the trick.

Upcoming: Angels, Rays
The Tigers owe the Los Angeles Angels.

The Halos swept the Tigers out west in April. This week, the Angels invade Detroit for a three-game set that starts on Tuesday.

It’s OK, though, to feel a little sorry for the Angels. Starting with Albert Pujols and ending with C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton, the Angels have spent money like mad and have very little to show for it.

The Angels are 33-43 and Hamilton, specifically, is a big reason why the club is struggling.

Hamilton is being jeered by Angels fans, and with good reason. He is hitting .207 with 10 homers, 25 RBI, and 76 strikeouts in 275 at-bats. He is a shadow of his MVP-type self of just a few years ago. Hamilton’s OPS is a very pedestrian (and shocking) .640.

Pujols isn’t much better (.258/13/47/.777). He is another expensive free agent signee who is clearly on the back end of his career.

Mike Trout is still being Mike Trout, but the Angels simply are not a good baseball team right now.

Tigers starters: Rick Porcello, Jose Alvarez, Fister.

MMM gets nervous whenever the Tampa Bay Rays are the opponent.

The Rays roster never really bowls you over, but they always manage to stay in the hunt because of three things: pitching, Evan Longoria and skipper Joe Maddon.

The Rays are 39-37 and tied for last in the AL East, but they are only five games out of first place in that packed-like-sardines division.

Longoria (.304/17/47/.930) is having another fine year. The series in Tampa this weekend will give the Tigers their first look at much-ballyhooed rookie Will Myers, whose first MLB homer was a grand slam in Yankee Stadium off CC Sabathia last week.

Don’t forget 1B James Loney, who came over as a free agent and is batting .304. Loney is a severe upgrade from last year’s 1B production for Tampa—Carlos Pena and his .197 BA in 2012.

The big story last week in Tampa (other than Myers’ grand slam) was the condition of starting pitcher Alex Cobb, who was felled by a line drive to the head a week ago Sunday and who was placed on the 7-day concussion DL.

Cobb (6-2, 3.01 ERA) texted teammates after the scary incident (hit in right ear by a line drive off the bat of KC’s Eric Hosmer) that he was doing fine, other than a headache.

Maddon continues to be at the head of the class (or near the head) when it comes to active big league managers. He alone is a big reason why the Rays manage to stay in contention despite being in a tough division.

Tigers starters: Scherzer, Verlander, Porcello.

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!

Pistons’ Hiring of Cheeks Has Some Deja Vu About It

In Basketball on June 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Detroit Pistons President Joe Dumars sat before the haggard media and was speaking into the microphone. A team logo backdrop was behind him. It had been another disappointing season of NBA basketball at the Palace, and Dumars was determined to make sure it wouldn’t fester.

He was describing yet another coaching hire. He spoke of “the process” and why it took so long. He said it dragged a little because the Pistons just wanted to “get it right.”

As he spoke, the new coach sat on the makeshift stage, to Dumars’ right, waiting for his cue so he could speak his lines. The new coach was full of excitement and determination as well.

Dumars told the press—and, by extension, the Pistons fanbase—that this time, he really did pick the right coach. This time, the guy to Joe’s right was the one who would be a long-term solution, and not be run out of town after a couple of years like so many of the new coach’s predecessors had.

The new coach was a former head coach who’d taken his team to the playoffs. But, as is always the case sooner or later, the coach had grated on the nerves of his previous employers and players and was eventually shown the door.

As Tom Cruise said in Cocktail, things always end badly, or else they wouldn’t end.

But this was a new team, a new beginning for the new Pistons coach, who spoke of not looking backward but looking forward. Besides, the new coach would say after Dumars introduced him, the Pistons have a tradition and a high standard. There are three championship banners hanging at the Palace, to show you.

Dumars turned the mike over to the new coach, who started talking about his philosophy and about putting his stamp on this bedraggled franchise while the media people scribbled and their digital audio recorders captured every word for posterity.

That was the scene when Dumars introduced his new coach—Lawrence Frank, back in August 2011.

It was also what transpired at the Palace on Thursday, when Maurice Cheeks was introduced as the latest sad sack charged with shaping the Pistons into a team whose losses don’t far outnumber their wins.

I watched the Cheeks presser via video on the Detroit Free Press website on Thursday afternoon. I watched Dumars give his opening statement, and listened to him describe “the process” of choosing a coach and why it took the team about two months after firing Frank to pick a new guy.

Then, for kicks, I clicked on another video that was offered in that same set. It was the video of the Frank presser from two years prior.

The similarities, especially when it comes to Dumars’ remarks, to the Cheeks meet-and-greet were eerie.

Dumars, almost verbatim relative to his Cheeks comments, spoke of “the process” in hiring Frank. Dumars said the Pistons took their time because they just wanted to get it right—just as he said in introducing Cheeks.

Dumars added that in Lawrence Frank, the Pistons felt like they had the right man for the job for the long haul. He said the same thing about Mo Cheeks on Thursday.

Cheeks, for his part, aped Frank in his remarks about the Pistons’ proud history. In 2011, Frank rattled off reasons why the Pistons brand was one to be admired in the NBA.

“You look at the six straight Eastern Conference Finals,” Frank said. “Making the playoffs eight of the past ten years. The three banners—one of only five franchises to have won three championships.”

No one could say that Lawrence Frank didn’t do his research prior to his unveiling.

Cheeks, too, spoke of the Pistons’ history—history that he knew up close and personal, having played against Isiah Thomas, Dumars et al.

The Frank introduction and the Cheek version were so similar, it was either kind of funny, or terrifying. We’ll see which one it turns out to be.

At the very least, the paternal twin media gatherings prove that you shouldn’t read too much into introductory press conferences that involve new coaches—not that any of us do anyway.

Mo Cheeks does differ from Larry Frank, however.

The similarities pretty much end with their both being NBA head coaches prior to coming to Detroit. Frank coached the New Jersey Nets; Cheeks steered the Portland Trailblazers and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both coaches led their teams to the playoffs, but neither went very far into the postseason.

After that, Cheeks and Frank part ways.

Frank never played pro basketball. Not even close. He was a pipsqueak gym rat who started his coaching career as an errand boy for legendary Indiana University coach Bob Knight. After Indiana, Frank lived a hard scrabble basketball life, taking very unglamorous jobs before finally getting his break. Still, he became an NBA head coach at age 33.

Cheeks not only played in the NBA, he was one of the game’s star point guards in the 1980s. He was manning the point when the 76ers won the league championship in 1983. His career was filled with assists and points and both individual and team success.

Mo Cheeks can never be accused of not knowing what it’s like to play in the NBA.

Because of his playing chops, Cheeks didn’t have to scratch and claw for work as a coach, as Frank did. Once you have “NBA player” on your résumé, you jump to the front of the line when applying for coaching jobs, leapfrogging past those who are likely more qualified, but who never played in the league.

Look at the Nets, who play in Brooklyn now. They just hired Jason Kidd as their new coach. Not only does Kidd not have any coaching experience, he just formally filed his retirement papers as a player about 10 days ago.

The NBA hasn’t had a player-coach since Dave Cowens did double duty with theCeltics in the late-1970s.

But that hasn’t stopped the use of the words “player” and “coach” in the same breath.

They have been combined—as in “a player’s coach.”

It’s a label that has been used and abused for decades, in all sports.

It can either be a sign of respect, like when it’s attached to Hall of Fame coaches like Chuck Daly, or one of derision—code for, the coach lets his players run roughshod over him.

The two Pistons coaches prior to Frank—Michael Curry and John Kuester—had let the players run the asylum. Both coaches were about as respected as a substitute teacher.

Frank lost his players at the end, too. It was written that he was a control freak and had a doghouse with a “no vacancy” sign hanging on it.

Cheeks is supposed to be a player’s coach, whatever that means anymore.

We’ll see.

Oh, and as for Jason Kidd, who will surely be learning how to be a coach in Brooklynvis-à-vis on-the-job training, he spoke of reaching out to a former head coach to be his lead assistant with the Nets—a man steeped in league experience who can help Kidd navigate through the treacherous coaching waters.

That man is Larry Frank.

And around and around we go.

Monday Morning Manager: Week 11

In Baseball on June 17, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Last Week: 3-3
This Week:  BAL (6/17-19); BOS (6/20-23)

So, What Happened?

MMM would like to ask: do you see the glass as half full or half empty?

If you do the latter, then you are likely still grumbling over a 3-3 week that could very easily have been 4-2. If you do the former, then you’re fine with a .500 road trip.

MMM doesn’t believe in crying over spilled milk. In a 162-game season, there are going to be plenty of games you win that you maybe shouldn’t, and vice-versa. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you play the “we should be 4-2 instead of 3-3” thing.

Still, MMM empathizes with those still reeling over Jose Valverde’s malfeasance last Wednesday.

Papa Grande’s stunning (even for him) blown save on Wednesday in Kansas City—surrendering a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer to Lorenzo Cain on an 0-2 pitch—which eventually led to a 10th inning walk-off loss, sent Tiger Town into a tizzy. MMM thought Twitter was going to crash.

The blown save robbed Justin Verlander, who pitched magnificently, of a victory, but more importantly it seemed to really deflate the Tigers. MMM didn’t like the body language after the Cain homer, and the feeble at-bats in the top of the 10th reinforced the thinking that the team had given up on that game, having had their heart ripped out yet again.

The rest of the week was pretty good—a series win in Minnesota and more well-pitched games by the starters. There was a bit of a concern, when Anibal Sanchez, who had skipped a turn due to shoulder stiffness, was a shell of himself on Saturday. His velocity was barely 90 on his fastball, and he was wild. He didn’t make it through the fourth inning.

Torii Hunter slammed his 300th career homer on Sunday, and there was much irony. Hunter’s first career home run came in Detroit, as a member of the Twins. His 300th came in Minnesota as a member of the Tigers. MMM loves that kind of stuff. Very cool.

Oh, and Austin Jackson returned from his lengthy absence due to his hamstring issues.

Hero of the Week
Hold on to your Tiger hats. MMM is about to name Don Kelly as HotW.

How about this for a two-week HotW run at MMM: rookie pitcher Jose Alvarez and 24th man Don Kelly?

MMM thinks you’d have made a bundle on that, had you bet it in Las Vegas—not that Vegas will touch an MMM line.

So why Don Kelly?

Kelly went 4-for-7 last week in limited playing time (Kelly’s playing time is always limited). He again played well defensively, and each of his four hits seemed to come at the right time. Kelly only had one RBI, but he kept innings going and he wasn’t a feeble, easy out (*cough* Alex Avila *cough*).

Besides, how can you not like a guy who plays the game with a perpetual “Aw, shucks” grin on his face?

Kelly’s good week is actually a trend. His BA is up to .227, which may not seem like much, but for a while it was in the low .100s. He is 7-for-18 in his past 10 games.

MMM says to the Kelly haters: shove it up your sanitary hose!

Honorable mentions: Jackson, who gathered four hits over the weekend in his return from injury; Doug Fister, who brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Sunday; and Ricky Porcello for his fine start on Friday night.

Goat of the Week
Sigh.

MMM is considering just rotating Alex Avila and Valverde in this space, week to week.

Actually, last week’s goat was Valverde, so MMM is eschewing the rotation and naming Pape Grande the goat two weeks in a row.

Why not? Wednesday’s blown save was brutal. The 0-2 pitch to Cain was like a batting practice pitch, and gave MMM ghoulish thoughts of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS in New York.

Losses like Wednesday’s, if you have too many of them, can ruin clubhouse harmony.

MMM also thinks that if Valverde is GotW, then GM Dave Dombrowski is the assistant goat.

It is DD, after all, who puts the roster together. And it is DD who took owner Mike Ilitch’s star-studded, expensive roster and put its faith in the hands of a rookie closer. When that didn’t pan out in spring training, the Tigers were stuck. They ended up re-signing Valverde, who no one else in MLB touched with a 10-foot pole. Now, here we are.

Under the Microscope
It’s never good when a starting pitcher is under the scope. It’s even worse when it’s due to something physical.

But MMM sadly places Anibal Sanchez under the scope because of his curious shoulder.

MMM was very concerned when Sanchez couldn’t top 90 mph on the radar gun Saturday in Minnesota. It was Sanchez’s first start since skipping one due to “tightness” in his shoulder.

Even scarier, Sanchez says he feels fine physically, i.e. he feels no pain. Yet he dropped about four mph on his fastball. Very strange.

Even manager Jim Leyland concedes that he’s “concerned” about Sanchez, he of the very expensive off-season contract.

As of this writing, the Tigers haven’t said whether Sanchez will be skipped this week (he is scheduled to start Thursday against Boston), but MMM wouldn’t be surprised if a trip to the DL awaits the right-hander.

Stay tuned.

Upcoming: Orioles, Red Sox
NOW it’s baseball season!

With all due respect to the Indians, Royals and Twins, this week is what it’s all about.

Seven games against two beasts of the East—the Orioles and Red Sox—at Comerica Park. The kids are out of school. Please place your trays in the upright position and make sure your seatbelt is fastened!

THIS is baseball at CoPa!

The Orioles and the Red Sox are two teams that can pitch, can hit, and can beat the stuffing out of you if you’re not going to bring your “A” game. That they are playing the Tigers in Detroit, where visitors have a tough time winning, won’t bother these teams. Baltimore is 20-15 away from Camden Yards, while the Red Sox are 21-15 on the road.

The Orioles are led, offensively, by 1B Chris Davis, who is the O’s version of Miguel Cabrera.

Davis is .335/23/60 and has on OPS of 1.111. He is 27 years old and could be a scary guy for a long time. But, unlike Cabrera, Davis strikes out a lot—about once every 3.5 at-bats.

3B Manny Machado (.327) is also dangerous, as are young veterans like Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis.

Starter Jason Hammel (he starts Tuesday) has won seven games, but his ERA is north of 5.00. Chris Tillman is the O’s other seven-game winner (3.61 ERA).

Tigers starters: Max Scherzer (trying to go 10-0), Justin Verlander, Porcello.

The Red Sox (42-29, first place in the AL East) come into town for, as George Kell would say, “a big four-game weekend series.”

Boston got off to a jackrabbit start in April, cooled a bit in May, but are back to playing good baseball again. They hold a 1.5-game lead over the second place Orioles.

Big Papi, David Ortiz, has 14 homers and is showing no signs of age catching up to him. Dustin Pedroia is batting .319 and is still arguably the Red Sox’ heart and soul.

The Red Sox average over five runs scored per game and their batting order is filled with outs that you have to earn.

Boston has their own 9-0 pitcher—Clay Buchholz, whose ERA is 1.71. But Buchholz has a neck injury, hasn’t pitched since June 8, and could be headed for the 15-day DL. So he may not face the Tigers this weekend.

The Red Sox starting rotation, after Buchholz, is spotty, but has veterans John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Jon Lester in it. These are professional pitchers who don’t panic.

No closer issues in Boston, where Andrew Bailey (eight saves, 2.95 ERA) is doing just fine.

These are not your 2012, dysfunctional Red Sox. Mainly because they are not being managed by Bobby Valentine.

Tigers starters: Sanchez (maybe), Fister, Scherzer, Verlander.

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!

Monday Morning Manager: Week 10

In Baseball on June 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Last Week: 5-1

This Week:  at KC (6/10-12); at MIN (6/14-16)

 

So, What Happened?

 

A week ago Sunday, MMM was gabbing on a weekly podcast he co-hosts, and the subject was the Tigers and their inconsistency. They were coming off a 2-5 week.

 

“Who knows?” MMM said, “Maybe they’ll go out and have a great week this week. That’s how they roll.”

 

That’s exactly what they did.

 

A series win over the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by a weekend sweep of the Cleveland Indians, made for a neat 5-1 week and a season-high 5-1/2 game lead in the Central Division.

 

It also made the Tigers a dazzling 22-10 at Comerica Park, where the past several years have been very friendly for the Motor City Bengals.

 

Now, if the boys can just do something about that 13-16 road record.

 

They’ll have a chance this week; six games at Kansas City and Minnesota await them.

 

It was another week of outstanding starting pitching, and even raw rookies are getting into the act. Lefty Jose Alvarez drove up from Toledo on Sunday, twirled six innings of three-hit ball in an emergency start (Anibal Sanchez had tightness in his shoulder/back), and drove back to Toledo, before the Indians knew what hit them.

 

It was a week where Don Kelly smashed a key three-run homer—also on Sunday, which gave Alvarez the victory in his MLB debut.

 

Unfortunately, it was also a week that saw SS Jhonny Peralta get implicated in a PED mess. But let’s not let that ruin things, OK? Jhonny was last week’s Hero of the Week in this space, and MMM takes no responsibility for any “jinx.”

 

MMM hates to dwell on this, but the Tigers have been prone to follow up good weeks with bad ones, and with six games on the road (and that aforementioned below-.500 away mark) staring them in the face, don’t be surprised if next week’s update isn’t so rosy.

 

Just saying.


Hero of the Week

Since he probably won’t get another chance this season to be the HotW, MMM is naming the rookie Alvarez.

 

Alvarez was returned to Toledo immediately after Sunday’s game, and we may not see him in a Tigers uniform again this season, unless he is one of the September call-ups.

 

Nut oh, was he special on Sunday!

 

MMM is of the belief that when rookie pitchers are called up to make emergency starts, things seem to go one of two ways—either the kid gets knocked around and his day is short, or he baffles the other team. No in between.

 

With Alvarez, he baffled the Indians.

 

The southpaw was cruising, actually working on a no-hitter in the fifth inning (two outs), when old friend Ryan Raburn drilled a solo home run over the left field wall to tie the game, 1-1.

 

Alvarez then got out of a two-out jam in the sixth, when with runners on first and second, he induced the dangerous Mark Reynolds to ground into a force out.

 

Said manager Jim Leyland after the game“You certainly had to like his demeanor and his mound presence. I thought it was terrific. He didn’t appear to be overwhelmed by anything. We kind of noticed that in spring training — this kid was pretty calm.”

 

Honorable mention: Kelly, whose homer gave the kid Alvarez the victory on Sunday; Prince Fielder, who is quietly raising his BA to .290-ish; and Max Scherzer, who lifted his record to 8-0 by winning the rubber match in the Rays series.

 

Goat of the Week

In a 5-1 week, goats are hard to come by.

 

This might be low hanging fruit, but MMM is naming closer Jose Valverde.

 

Last week, MMM placed Papa Grande Under the Microscope because of some shaky outings, and things didn’t get a whole lot better since then.

 

On Friday night, Valverde surrendered two more homers, albeit both solo shots that didn’t affect the outcome of the 7-5 win. That makes four dingers given up in 15.2 innings. MMM is getting a queasy feeling about Valverde’s fastball, which is getting hit hard. The man doesn’t get any ground ball outs, it seems.

 

Valverede was also shaky in Saturday’s game, in which he got the save but not before some dicey moments. He has a 4.02 ERA, which, granted, is only based on those 15.2 innings. But the elevated ERA is mainly because of the four-baggers, which can be deadly. Just ask Joaquin Benoit, who had that strange stretch last season where every hit he gave up, it seemed, was a home run.

 

Under the Microscope

MMM won’t put Valverde UtM for the second week in a row, though Lord knows he would be justified in doing so.

 

Frankly, it’s time to return catcher Alex Avila under the scope. Things aren’t getting any better.

 

How much longer can the Tigers deal with Avila’s below-.180 batting average and weak outs? Avila did get a sacrifice fly on Sunday, but let’s face it—his bat has been a wet, limp noodle all season. The only hits he seems to get are the occasional home runs.

 

To be honest, if Avila wasn’t so good at handling pitchers and didn’t have that 2011 All-Star season in his resume, he might be in Toledo right now. He might still find himself there.

 

MMM realizes that it’s unrealistic to have 1-thru-9 humming all season long when it comes to the batting order, but a sub-.180 BA at the catcher position is unacceptable.

 

MMM is placing Avila UtM mainly because MMM is intrigued by how the Tigers will handle Avila’s season-long slump—and how long they will wait before they take action.

 

Upcoming: Royals, Twins

The Tigers ought to be careful this week. It’s full of traps.

 

First off, all six games are on the road, and we all know the struggles the Tigers have away from Comerica Park.

 

Second, the first team up is the Kansas City Royals, which is a team that is due to start playing better, and who seem to give the Tigers fits when you least expect it.

 

Third, the Twins await after the Royals, and they are streaky. If the Tigers catch the Twins on a hot streak, look out.

 

Fourth, as MMM mentioned above, the Tigers are coming off a 5-1 week (all at home), and their trend is to balance those out with tough weeks.

 

This is a great chance for the Tigers to open more ground between themselves and the Indians, who are playing in Texas at the beginning of the week.

 

But MMM just doesn’t trust these KC and Minnesota trips.

 

Plus, MMM cringes whenever KC’s Billy Butler comes to the plate. Surely Butler must have a career BA of .774 against Detroit.

 

Tigers starters (Royals): Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander.

 

Tigers starters (Twins): Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez (MMM hopes), Fister.

 

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!

Tigers’ Scherzer Turns From Maddening to Mad in Breakout Season

In Baseball on June 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Max Scherzer was about as predictable as the weather.

If you were Tigers manager Jim Leyland, you trotted Max out every fifth day and closed your eyes.

There’s nothing that will turn a manager’s hair gray faster than not knowing what he’s going to get from his starting pitchers on a consistent basis. And that’s just from start to start; Leyland didn’t know what he was going to get from Scherzer inning to inning—sometimes, from batter to batter.

Scherzer’s right arm was full of what baseball people like to say is “good stuff,” only he didn’t know how to harness it. His arm was as volatile as nitroglycerin.

The Tigers acquired Scherzer from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees after the 2009 season. The Tigers needed Scherzer as another starter to replace the departed Edwin Jackson.

Scherzer was 25 at the time, and the book on him at Arizona was that he had that good stuff but he was rawer than an oyster bar.

Max could strike guys out, but he could also walk them into a merry-go-round on the base paths. He could have a short and sweet 1-2-3 inning or a 40-pitch frame with more foot traffic than Grand Central Station.

The Tigers soon discovered that the scouting report on Scherzer was dead solid perfect—he was the human roller coaster.

It was Cy Young one day, and Sigh Young five days later.

Scherzer’s arm was alive, alright, but it was like what a scout once said about a young Sandy Koufax.

“Koufax would be a great pitcher,” the scout said, “if the plate was high and outside.”

Scherzer was installed in the Tigers rotation in 2010 and not having seen him pitch before, I thought the young man was trying to throw his arm to home plate, along with the baseball.

Scherzer, at the time, had what is known as a “violent” delivery. His windup was designed to gain power from his legs, which he then used to whip-snap the baseball from his right hand like it had cut him off in traffic.

It was anyone’s guess as to where the baseball was going at that point.

It wasn’t that Scherzer was ridiculously wild. In his only full season with the Diamondbacks, he averaged about 3.5 walks per nine innings.

He just threw a lot of pitches. Like, a ton of them. He was about as efficient as the government.

The Tigers presumably knew what they were getting in Scherzer, which was a big arm who could be a fixture in their rotation, as long as he could be refined. They hoped that he could, one day, be a nice complement to their ace, Justin Verlander.

The growing pains weren’t easy.

Scherzer won 12 games for the Tigers in 2010, against 11 losses. His ERA was a very manageable 3.50 in 31 starts.

But he was one of those guys whose season-ending numbers belied what you saw on a daily basis—and that was a laborious pitcher who averaged just six innings per start and who would frequently have to muddle through innings that were so long, they needed an intermission.

Scherzer kept striking guys out along the way—nearly one per inning in 2010. The strikeouts were nice but they also added to his pitch counts. He didn’t toss a complete game all season.

In 2011, Scherzer started 33 games, and didn’t quite average six innings per start. His ERA ballooned to 4.43—nearly a full run per game higher than the previous year.  But he won 15 games and lost only nine as the Tigers offense was a higher octane brew than in 2010.

In the ALCS against the Rangers, Scherzer had a meltdown in the decisive Game 6 in Texas. The Tigers needed a win to force Game 7.

The start in Game 6 illustrated all there was to be annoyed with when it came to Max Scherzer.

He lasted just 2-1/3 innings, surrendering five hits and six runs. He walked four, displaying the Maddening Max that had bedeviled the Tigers all season long. If the measuring stick of a starting pitcher is that he gives his team a chance to win, Scherzer failed miserably when the Tigers needed him the most.

The violent throwing motion and the laborious innings were enough, in tandem, to think that Scherzer may never truly be a top flight pitcher. His elevated ERA in 2011 added to the feeling.

Meanwhile, Verlander was capturing the AL Cy Young and the league MVP awards with his brilliant 2011 season. He needed his Robin to his Batman.

Right-hander Doug Fister, acquired via trade from Seattle in July 2011, showed some flashes of being Verlander’s second banana. But Scherzer, by far, had the most alluring arm. He had the nitroglycerin.

Scherzer arrived in Lakeland in 2012 with two Tigers seasons under his belt. In both, he showed flashes of brilliance and flashes in the pan. Consistency had eluded him.

It got worse before it got better.

After eight starts last year, Scherzer was 2-3 with a 6.26 ERA. In the eight starts, he managed to pitch just 41-2/3 innings. He was averaging almost four walks per nine innings. He issued seven walks in an April start in New York.

Maddening Max!

Then it all came together.

After those first eight starts, Scherzer pitched 146 innings with an ERA of about 3.00, with a 14-4 record. His stuff was still mesmerizing, but more harnessed. He was more Mad Max now. He was Verlander light—and that’s not meant to be a knock. But Scherzer still hasn’t thrown a complete game in the majors.

Scherzer is 8-0 this season with an ERA of 3.24 and he’s pitching as good as his record looks. He has 100 strikeouts against just 20 walks in 83 innings. He is perhaps the Tigers’ true ace right now, as Verlander continues to work through some issues that have knocked him back a notch.

Scherzer’s wind-up is still powerful, but the arm motion isn’t quite as violent. There’s more fluidity now. The strikeouts keep piling up, but the walks are down. His manager pretty much knows what to expect from Mad Max every fifth day.

If Scherzer was on any team that didn’t have Verlander on it, Max would be that team’s ace, by far.

He might be that, anyway, with the Tigers.

Isn’t that mad?

 

Monday Morning Manager: Week 9

In Baseball on June 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Last Week: 2-5
This Week:  TB (6/4-6); CLE (6/7-9)

So, What Happened?

First, MMM would like to apologize for his absence last week. The Memorial Day holiday proved too much, so hence the lack of an update last week. As Jim Leyland said after Sunday’s loss in Baltimore, “This one’s on me.”

Now, on to this week’s update!

It wasn’t the best of weeks.

The Tigers’ inability to get a clutch hit cost them early in the week, and the inability to get a clutch out proved their demise as the week ended.

The result: some 2-5 nastiness, and what’s worse, it could very easily have been 5-2, if not better.

The sometimes leaky bullpen and this team’s maddening inconsistency on offense were on full display last week.

MMM looked longingly at the arms out of the bullpen the Pittsburgh Pirates trotted out for four games and became quite jealous—though it’s debatable whether the Bucs’ pen can keep up the pace for 162 games.

The Tigers come home for six games this week. They are 17-9 at home and 13-16 on the road.

Hero of the Week
MMM wants to give a shout out to Jhonny Peralta.

JP has probably had better weeks than the one just passed (10-for-27, 5 RBI, .370) but the Tigers shortstop continues to fly under the radar, so it’s time for some love. He has settled nicely into the #6 slot in the batting order by virtue of his .332 average. He strikes out a lot, but that’s more than made up for by his nifty OBA of .378 and his OPS of .865.

As for his glove, Peralta exudes quiet calm and a deadly accurate arm.

He started the week by going 4-for-4 against the Pirates last Monday and ended it with back-to-back two-hit games against Baltimore.

MMM is naming Peralta HotW not only for his performance last week, but as a way to give a nod to a player whose production has done a great job of extending innings and making the entire batting order look more intimidating, one through nine.

Honorable mentions: Tigers starting pitchers in general; Prince Fielder (HRs in consecutive games in Baltimore).

Goat of the Week
MMM appreciates Leyland wanting to take the blame for Sunday’s lossbut MMM isn’t taking the bait.

Instead, MMM is hurling his ire at 2B Omar Infante, who labored through a 4-for-26 week.

MMM feels bad, because Infante has been terrific this season. But this is a weekly “award,” and using that as the measuring stick, Infante didn’t get it done.

Infante is a great fastball hitter, but last week he missed on some and got discombobulated on breaking balls. The week started 0-for-11 for him, and got a little better, with a 4-for-15 finish.

MMM wonders if Infante’s being moved from his standard no. 9 position in the batting order, in light of Austin Jackson’s injury, is impacting his hitting approach. Just a thought. Infante has batted lead-off and no. 2 in A-Jax’s absence. Regardless, the Tigers need Jackson back, badly.

Dishonorable mention: Jose Valverde, for his meltdown on Friday night in Baltimore.

Under the Microscope
MMM is loathe to do this, because it’s like saying Red Wings goaltending is UtM during the playoffs (a hackneyed phrase), but it’s hard not to place Jose Valverde under the scope.

Not only did Valvderde blow Friday night’s game in grand fashion (two homers and four runs), his reliance on one pitch has people nervous, and rightly so.

Valverde debuted with the Tigers in 2013 when the weather was still cold and nasty. Hitters were sometimes having trouble in such conditions. Now, things are warming up and hitters are having better luck with Papa Grande’s fastball.

If you think the Tigers’ closer situation is settled for the rest of the year, MMM says you might be chewing too much tobacco.

Keep your good eye on Valverde. You won’t be alone.

Upcoming: Rays, Indians
An interesting week awaits the Bengals.

First it’s those pesky Tampa Bay Rays, who just keep finding ways to win enough games (31-25) to remain very relevant in a tight AL East, despite losing starter James Shields.

Part of that ability to win games is due to starters Matt Moore (8-0) and Alex Cobb (6-2).

Both have ERAs well under 3.00, and their combined 14 wins account for nearly half of the team’s total.

The Tigers are scheduled to see both the lefty Moore and the right-hander Cobb this week.

Offensively, it always starts with 3B Evan Longoria, and this year is no exception. Longo is hitting .305 with 10 HR and 34 RBI. 1B James Loney, signed as a free agent during the off-season, paces Tampa with a .326 BA.

Longoria, Kelly Johnson and old friend Matt Joyce all have 10 HR for the Rays.

Tigers starters: Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer.

After the Rays, the Tigers’ 2013 nemesis, the Cleveland Indians, arrive for a weekend set.

It looks like if any team is going to challenge the Tigers for AL Central supremacy this season, it will be Cleveland.

The Indians, despite a suspect starting rotation, are being allowed to hang around. The Tribe hasn’t exactly been playing lights out baseball lately (4-9), and MMM still can’t believe that 42-year-old Jason Giambi is Cleveland’s DH. But the Indians sport young talent like Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. And the Tribe’s bullpen, especially in the eighth and ninth innings, is as good as it gets (although closer Chris Perez will miss the series, as he is on the DL).

And look who’s hitting .296 for Cleveland—Ryan Raburn!

But MMM can’t get past that Indians starting rotation.

Eight pitchers have already started games for Cleveland, including re-treads like Scott Kazmir and Brett Myers. The anchor is Justin Masterson (8-3, 3.07), who the Tigers will see this weekend. But other than Masterson and Zach McAllister (4-5, 3.43), the Tribe’s rotation is suspect at best.

Tigers starters: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Sanchez.

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!