Prepare for a postseason without Detroit

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By H. Jose Bosch

I went into last night’s game fully expecting the Tigers to lose. There was no way, I reasoned, that Detroit could go to Minnesota, against a red-hot team and win this one-game playoff; especially with rookie Rick Porcello on the mound.

It was a self-defense mechanism. Emotionally, it was better for me to be pleasantly surprised than terribly disappointed.

But any sports fan can tell you that no matter how low you set your expectations, when the game begins that bar is still as high as the clouds. And after the Tigers took an early 3-0 lead, I was walking on cloud nine, 10 11 and 12.

Then Porcello’s error allowed one run to come in. Jason Kubel hit a 2-out homerun to close the deficit to one. And Orlando Cabrera, arguably the Twins’ best trade deadline move in ten years, slaps a two-run homerun off my least favorites Tiger.

4-3 Twins and I’m about ready to swear off religion forever because no caring God would have the heart to crush my excitement and enthusiasm so swiftly.

A Magglio Ordonez 8th-inning homerun restored my belief that this crazy world we live in isn’t, in fact, anarchy but that some forces of good exist out there.

And after Brandon Inge gave Detroit a 5-4 lead in the 10th I was ready to believe in just about anything. The moon landings were staged, there was a shooter in the grassy knoll and Bobby Thompson knew exactly what pitch Ralph Branca was going to throw him.

Of course this game was in Minnesota, Fernando Rodney was pitching for a second inning and Ryan Rabun isn’t Willie Mays. I don’t even want to talk about the rest of the game from that point because women and children do occasionally read this blog and I’d probably give the Supreme Court reason to believe free speech isn’t a great idea for everyone.

sad_tiger1Let’s just say once Carlos Gomez crossed home for the game-winning run I was released from a psychological torture that made the Saw movies look like double dutch. All of it left me depressed for investing so much energy into a single game that really should’ve never happened.

With an entire off season staring me in the face I have plenty of time to wonder what went wrong on Tuesday night. Did Leyland take Porcello out too early? Did he leave Fernando Rodney out too long? Why did Ryan Raburn drive for that ball in the 11th? How did that umpire miss the hit by pitch with the bases load in the 12th?

Plenty of fans will wonder that this morning and for the next few weeks. I’m just going to drop it all because debating those points and more won’t put the Tigers into the playoffs.

What makes this loss so tough is that now I have no reason to gnash my teeth, toss my pillows or throw the remote control into the ground. No reason to emotionally wreck myself or walk around my house with unadulterated rage built up inside of me for a purposeless child’s game. No reason to spend three hours watching my favorite sport and then feel like absolute crap. All because Detroit won’t be in the playoffs.

And that just sucks.

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Twins vs. Tigers: Who Do Sox Fans Cheer For?

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By Soxman

Two teams, one game, and the winner moves on to the postseason while the loser goes home for the winter.  Sox fans know this scenario oh too well as we needed the famous “blackout play-in game” in 2009 to earn our central division crown.  For Twins fans, it is as Yogi Berra says, “dejvu all over again!” So as the Twin vs. Tigers game on Tuesday approaches, several perplexing questions are likely peculating through White Sox fans minds:twins_logo

Who do I cheer for?  Is it wrong be interested in this game at all?  To pick a side?  Can I cheer for my enemy and still be called a Sox fan? As Hawk Harrelson would say:  “YEEEEAAASSS.” Before you read my pick, understand a couple of  things.

First, while I’m a diehard Sox fan, I’m also a fanatic of the game of baseball…period.  A tiebreaker represents all that is exciting in this game, even if a team only needs 87 wins to reach the postseason. Second, there is no right or wrong answer in this equation.  That’s the beauty of the game. Let’s examine some points of debate:

The “ex” Sox factor
The Tigers have Magglio Ordonez and former coaches Jim Leyland and Gene Lamont. “O wee OOOO…MAGGGLIO,” left Chicago via the Scott Boras express, and the perception among Sox fans was he used the Sox to get a better offer from the Tigers.  It was the first shot heard ’round the Cell, that the Sox would refuse to play ball with Boras. The Twins have Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Orlando Cabrera and World Series Hero Joe Crede. Crede was a “Don’t Stop Believin” voice of the 2005 World Champion Sox.
Advantage:  Twins.


The Underdog Factor

Often synonymous with payroll, this year there is even more at play.  The Twins will be without their best power hitter Justin Morneau, and defensive stalwart Joe Crede, who both are out with back issues. The Tigers are without Dontrelle Willis and Joel Zumaya. Team Payroll?  Detroit has the 5th highest in baseball at just over $115 million. The Twins rank 24th at about $65.3 million. Advantage:  Twins

The Economy
With the flaying automobile industry and a depressed economy, Detroit has been referred to as a city “that needs the play-offs” as an emotional shot in the arm. Opponents argue, the Detroit Red Wings domination should be plenty.  People then counter argue with the Detroit Lions. Seriously though, according to a 2007 census study, Michigan has a 12% poverty rate, while Minnesota has an 8.1% poverty rate. Advantage:  Tigers

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Always the Bridesmaid Factor

While the Tigers won the AL Pennant in 2006, they did it as the AL wildcard team and have never won an A.L. Central Title since the 1998 realignment. The Tigers last won the World Series in 1984, their 4th in team history. The Twins have won the AL Central 4 times since 1998. They last won the World Series in 1991, their third in team history. Advantage: Twins by numbers, Tigers by Underdog Factor.

The Sox Hate Factor
This is pure opinion here.  I hate the Metrodome as a Sox fan because of our record there.  I hate the Metrodome as a baseball fan, as it’s a horrible place to watch a game.  I respect the Metrodome as an outsider because of the electric advantage it gives the Twins.
Detroit Tiger fans invade U.S. Cellular Field at a far greater rate and with a higher rate of irritability than Twins fans do.
Advantage: Tie

For me, its always about the underdog, or the little guy.  I’ve got to go with the Minnesota Twins.  With a total team salary that is 45% less than their opponent, and two of their better players injured, it’s amazing they made it this far.  Say it is so Joe…Crede that is. So for now….big gulp….larger swallow…Go Twins!  At least it’s not the Cubs.

And as Sox fans we can always say that we helped the Twins get there by taking 4 of 6 from the Tigers to end the season. To Twins Fan and Sportsbank Writer Peter Christian, remember who said your team would be here in August?  You can remember me in the Call Outs. Now that all the information has been presented to you, who are you cheering for Sox fans?

The Tigers’ collapse should come as no surprise

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By H. Jose Bosch

Today I have a splitting headache and I’m not sure if it’s because I might have swine flu or because the Tigers epically failed to seal the division championship over the weekend.

To be honest, I’d rather have the swine flu.

The Tigers 5-3 win yesterday afternoon, a win that forced a one-game playoff tomorrow evening, only proves the point that no Tigers fan should be surprised about this late season collapse.

Detroit has been the most consistent, inconsistent team in baseball all season long. One day they play like the hapless Tigers of the mid to late 90s and the next day they look good enough to beat the Yankees.

What hurt the Tigers is that they never embraced their true identity. Not that a team needs a true identity to play well, but when a team has a certain identity, it’s built in a certain way which helps the team play more consistently.

The Twins have had the same identity for years. They’re low budget, concentrate on developing players, particularly pitchers, and they play small ball well. The team is built for this. They have players up and down the roster who have come up through the farm system. They have players who can make productive outs and they’ve always been amongst the best in the league in pitching.

They’re not always pretty during the regular season, but they’re always good enough to be dangerous in August and September.

Add all those together and it’s no wonder the Twins clawed their way back to force a playoff.

Detroit, on the other hand, hasn’t fully embraced its new identity. Being a slugging team didn’t work last season, so management decided to focus on pitching and defense—a great idea considering the team plays in Comerica Park. Unfortunately the line up still features elements of a slugging team, despite improvements in small ball categories, like sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits.

Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco had off years, hurting the production of Miguel Cabrera, albeit not by much. Magglio Ordonez had zero pop in the bat most of the year as did Carlos Guillen, when he played. Marcus Thames, who was supposed to be a great power hitter, had an awful season and after a fast start, Brandon Inge fell back down to his base level, which is a terrible hitter.

A lot of these guys aren’t small ball type players but sluggers, only none of them slugged. So when the Tigers actually did try to play small ball — 92 sacrifice at bats compared to 74 last season — they couldn’t score runs.
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I think part of that comes from Detroit still relying on the big inning rather than chipping away at the opposing pitcher with a few runs sprinkled throughout the game. This type of mentality essentially breeds hot and cold hitting which, in turn, produces a hot and cold team.

Put that up against a hot team like Minnesota and it’s a recipe for disaster.

This post also appears at Michigan and Trumbull.

Tigers must buck expectations to sew this pennant up

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By H. Jose Bosch

Thank you Ozzie Guillen.

Thanks to your tirade, not only are we blessed with another great sound bite, but you also fired up your club enough to win the series finale and keep the American League Central pennant “race” alive.

And let’s be honest, this isn’t a race as much as it’s two teams trying desperately to be the first one to hit the golf course this offseason. During this last month of the season I can’t help but think of the South Park episode — The Losing Edge — where South Park and all the other Little League teams try to lose so that they can enjoy their summer.
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Are the Tigers so sick of playing that they’d rather lose on purpose for comfy couches and college football? Well, no, obviously. They’re trying, despite what their results show. But trying doesn’t mean anything if there is 1 in the loss column at the end of the day. (I’ve filled my hokey coach speak quote of the day)

Detroit now has seven straight home games to end the season, the next four against the Twins, who stand just two tiny games back behind Detroit.

The good news is that the Tigers have played well at home all season. And three wins during the series would clinch the division title. The bad news is we’re relying on the Tigers to do just that, win when it matters and put this title away.

Nothing from this season has shown me Detroit can put this division away during this one series. Not that the Tigers don’t have the talent to win. But if Detroit sews this pennant up, it probably won’t be until the last two days of the season.

My heart says the Tigers will take the first three games and the rest won’t matter because they’ll be bathing in Champaign. But my head says Detroit will go 2-2 during this series and will need to clinch against Chicago on the weekend.

This post also appears at Michigan and Trumbull.

A marriage between Tigers and destiny not too far off

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By H. Jose Bosch

Last night, the Tigers did something they’ve struggled to do in the last month of the season: beat an inferior opponent to a pulp. And this three-game winning streak has given me a little extra hop in my step.

Not so much because the Twins’ 2-1/2 game deficit is now insurmountable. But because in the last three games the Tigers’ strengths — the only way they can win down the stretch and (knock on wood) in the playoffs — were showcased in those three wins.

For the Detroit to be successful in the stretch run, they have to follow the standard advice for every wedding planner in America: Something old, something new, Something borrowed, something blue.

Something old:
The best part about last night’s win might be Carlos Guillen’s home run from the right side of the plate (the home run from the left side wasn’t too bad either.) Not that Guillen is going to be an Albert Pujols from the right side. And Detroit isn’t in dire need of pop from the right side since Miguel Cabrera has that covered.

Tigers Indians BaseballBut just the fact that Guillen’s right shoulder is healthy enough for him to actually be a switch hitter is a great sign for the Tigers. The healthier he is, the more potent Detroit’s pretty weak lineup becomes. He, like Magglio Ordonez, may not have as much pop in the bat but they’re veterans who know how to get on base. And late in the season, base runners are always at a premium.

Other Tiger vets — Brandon Inge, Placido Polanco, Fernando Rodney and Nate Robertson among others — will play a major role and all of them have been having good, not great, years. Well, maybe not Robertson, but his win Sunday was huge.

Something new:
Rick Porcello shined last night and continues making a case for American League rookie of the year. His success down the stretch, and whether or not he can hold up as his innings keep piling on, could make or break Detroit in the end. He’s essentially the 2006 Justin Verlander of this team.

Another player who could make an impact is Alex Avila. He hasn’t made much noise since he roared onto the scene in mid-August but his left-handed bat is a tactical tool for Leyland in late-game situations.

Something borrowed:
Edwin Jackson, Adam Everett and Gerald Laird are the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s. Everett and Laird contributed to the Tigers’ offensive impotence but greatly improved their defense. Jackson has helped compensate for the lack of offense by being an awesome pitcher.

Jackson had struggled in September, but his seven-inning gem on Tuesday is a small return to form. Detroit needs his arm as much as Verlander’s. edwin_jackson

Something blue:
Yeah, nothing really works here, so I’ll use this as an excuse to talk about the bullpen, who was clutch in Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Twins. Verlander and Jackson can eat up innings in the final two weeks, but whoever pitches in slots three through five will need help. Brandon Lyon, Bobby Seay and Rodney might actually be feared relievers this October.

Just like any wedding, I just want this season to end so I can get to the free bar and celebrate. But before that happens Detroit should make sure not to trip on its way down the proverbial aisle.

This post also appears at Michigan and Trumbull.

Detroit Tigers’ midseason report

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By H. Jose Bosch

Unlike Miss America 2008 — Michigan-native and first pitch thrower outer Kirsten Haglund — the Tigers have managed to be in first place without looking pretty. Granted, it’s like being the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, but I’m not one to complain about first place.

The starting pitching has been solid, the bullpen has been holding together and even though the offense isn’t as explosive as the last first-place team (2006) it has gotten the job done up to this point. Since the Tigers haven’t reached astronomical highs like they did in the first half of 2006, maybe their second half will be better.

miguel_cabrera1First half MVP: Miguel Cabrera (.321 BA, .384 OBP, 18 HR, 50 RBI, 31 walks, 50 strikeouts)
I could have gone with Brandon Inge since he has more home runs and RBIs and he’s an all star this year while Cabrera is not. But Miggy is hitting much better than Inge, striking out less and has been a better fielder statistically. Inge is an excellent fielder and he is clearly a better athlete, but Cabrera plays his position better than people give him credit for and he hasn’t made too many goofs this season. As for the offensive numbers, if Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco weren’t having off years (for them) Cabrera might have 70 RBIs. If those two have better second halves and Marcus Thames stays healthy, look out. Cabrera cooled down quite a bit after storming out of the gate, but my goodness if I performed at life like this after “cooling off” well I’d be at the New York Times already. Hehehe … (turns into uncontrollable sobbing).

inge2Most improved player: Brandon Inge (.268 BA, .360 OBP, 21 HR, 58 RBI, 35 walks, 85 strikeouts)
If you can’t be the best player, there is nothing wrong with being the most improved. At the break last season Inge was still not hitting well (.220) and had considerably less pop in his bat (7 HR, 23 RBI). Now you could make the case that if Inge’s improvement coincided with Detroit’s than he really is the most valuable player of the first half. I’m not going to buy that. Regardless, Inge has done a great job so far this season. He could have a year similar to his career best in 2006. Even though the Tigers aren’t going to live and die by his bat, having that pop near the bottom of the order in the second half is going to be a major help.

Biggest strength: Starting pitching
Two all stars and a rookie-of-the-year candidate in the starting rotation make life a living hell for opponents on most nights. Detroit is third in the American League in team ERA and has held hitters to a .259 BA (fifth-best in the league). The starting pitchers, particularly Nos. 1-3, have a major hand in that.
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After a slow start Justin Verlander has been as dominant as any pitcher in the American League. He’s at the top of the strikeouts pile with 149 strikeouts, 18 better than the next highest pitcher. He is also one of just seven pitchers with 10 or more wins.

Edwin Jackson is walking fewer batters and giving up fewer hits than his career average. In fact, he has lowest WHIP (walks/hits per nine innings) in the American League. He also has the A.L.’s second-lowest ERA (2.52). With more run support Jackson would probably have at least as many wins as Verlander right now.

Rick Porcello was roughed up in his last two outings but received a long rest during the all-star break. His numbers are strong for a pitcher in his first full season with the big club (8-6, 4.14 ERA, 31 BB, 47 SO) and there is no reason to believe he can’t keep that up.

If the Tigers decide to make any majors moves, it could be to acquire a stronger No. 3 starter. Whatever happens, Nos. 1-3 are steering this ship. If Armando Galarraga pitches better in the second half, it’ll be icing on the cake.

Biggest weakness: Consistency
One look up and down the Tigers roster and I think this is a damn good team. There are places where Detroit could be better. I’d love to swap out Magglio Ordonez for a left-handed hitter with some pop. I wouldn’t mind acquiring stronger middle reliever to get to Rodney in the ninth. And the team could use a functional fifth starter. Heck I’d take a fifth starter period. Most of the time what Jim Leyland throws out on the mound in that place has been anything but a Major League starter. But not one of theses problems are so glaring that it could be considered the biggest weakness.

granderson1What will solve the Tigers’ problems is more consistent play. Ordonez has slowly turned his slow season around and if he, Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson can get back to beig .300 hitters (even if they don’t finish the year over .300) the offense will be very formidable, even without a left-handed bat.

In terms of relief pitching, Leyland needs to trust one man in the 7th inning and stick with him. Brandon Lyon has done well after a rough start and he seems like the perfect guy to use in the 7th. I love Bobby Seay at the specialist role between the 6th and 7th inning. Joel Zumaya he needs to start mixing in his change up and slider and throwing them consistently well if he wants his fireball fastball to be effective.

As for the fifth starter, Leyland will have to be content with a parade of pitchers in that spot until the playoffs when a No. 5 starter doesn’t matter. As long as their collective numbers do well, it’ll be a non issue.

Final forecast: As I said earlier, this division is weak and no one, Detroit included, will run away before September. But the Tigers are just as competitive as the White Sox and Twins at the moment. If the stars keep playing like stars and the struggling few pick up their performances just a bit, Detroit can expect its first division championship since 1987.

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