With special guest Tigerdog reportiing this morning after he watched the team swept in SoCal. - Kurt
Tiger fans living in Southern California had to wait over five months to see our beloved baseball team come to town this season, only to be disappointed as our Tigers were swept aside by the surging Angels, all but finishing off any chance they may have had taking the wild card route to the playoffs.
In all probability, the Tigers either have enough left in the tank to overtake the Chicago White Sox and win the American League’s central division outright, or they will be watching the playoffs, new wild card format included, on television. It is appropriate then, that the Tigers don’t have much time to lick their wounds as they’re headed to Chicago for what has to be billed as their most important series of the 2012 season, to date.
I did make it to Anaheim for all three of the Tiger games this past weekend, with seats in three very different locations for each game. We sat right next to the Tiger bullpen on Friday night, two rows off the field. We sat behind home plate in the upper deck on Saturday, about six rows back. On Sunday, we were six rows off the field, right next to home plate.
No matter the angle, the issues facing the Tigers look the same. They have trouble scoring runs on the road. The lineup lacks punch once opposing pitchers get past Prince Fielder, hitting in the clean up spot. They hit into too many double plays, and they don’t make plays defensively that other teams seem to make with ease.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, by contrast, looked much more like playoff contenders than a third place ball club, getting solid pitching performances that held the Tigers to just five runs and 15 hits over the 27 innings for the weekend, and manufacturing runs when they needed them to pull out victories. Never did the Tigers score more than two runs in a game, wasting two solid pitching performances by Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Add Justin Verlander’s shaky first inning, and you have the recipe for a sweep.
The Angels, in a way, provided the perfect contrast to the Tigers. They were doing everything, at least this weekend, that the Tigers didn’t do, but need to do if they plan on playing baseball in October. The Angels strung hits together, hit ropes down the line for extra bases, took advantage when they had runners in scoring position. But more than anything, they catch the baseball.
It seemed that the gaps in left center and right center field were non existent. A big part of that is rookie sensation, and MVP candidate Mike Trout, who is lightning fast and catches everything hit within fifty yards of him. The Angels also played in an alignment that left plenty of room down the lines, and little room between their outfielders.
Every time the Tigers would hit the ball where there was supposed to be a gap, the Angels were catching it, and runners were staying put, or even being doubled off base (looking at you, Omar). Game one ended frustratingly on an infield dribbler that left runners on first and second with two outs, followed by a fifty two hopper that any shortstop should be able to at least knock down. Any shortstop not named Jhonny or Jeter, that is.
With the Tigers’ MVP candidate in town for the weekend, Trout put his own MVP credentials on display, leading off two of the three games with home runs, and flagging down balls hit to the warning track or toward the gaps, over and over again. The kid is the real deal. The Angels have an ample supply of something that the Tigers are lacking- players, especially corner outfielders, that can hit and field their position, and advance a runner when needed.
As we approached the entrance to the stadium on Sunday, we had the pleasure of meeting Rod Allen, one of the best color commentators in the business. But by the time Sunday’s game was under way, cynicism had set in, and I was openly predicting, with unfortunate accuracy, that Delmon Young would hit into a double play, or that he’d strike out on a pitch in the dirt, and that Brennan Boesch would strike out to end the inning and a scoring threat. It seemed so predictable, and so frustrating to watch.
There were also some questionable calls made by Jim Leyland in the series. Sending Ryan Raburn to pinch hit for Ramon Santiago against a left handed pitcher, but then leaving him in when Mike Scoscia countered with a righty. Sure enough, Raburn squandered the scoring opportunity and hit a nubber back to the mound to end the inning. Nevertheless, he started the next day, and didn’t get a hit.
On Sunday, Austin Jackson attempted to steal with one out in the sixth inning on a 3- 0 count to Andy Dirks, and was thrown out. Dirks swung at the pitch to help the runner, and wound up striking out to end the inning, and Cabrera never came to the plate that inning.
Then, in the eighth inning, with the Tigers down by a run on the road, and Quintin Berry in to pinch run for Alex Avila, Leyland had Omar Infante give up an out by sacrificing Berry to second. Berry is 19 for 19 in steals this season, and the"successful" sacrifice bunt reduced Tigers chances of winning the game.
A discussion ensued with GWilson educating neighboring fans about win expectancy and common sense strategy in that situation. Needless to say, Jackson followed with a fly out and the Tigers didn’t score the tying run.
The series came to an end with Avisail Garcia, pinch running for Cabrera, stranded in scoring position. Fielder and Young struck out, and Boesch tried to ground out, but an error prolonged the agony until Peralta grounded out to complete the squander, and the sweep. Singledigit commented that he thought it appropriate that the last time we'd see the Tigers this season, the experience would end with Young, Boesch, and Peralta failing to advance and score the runner on base.
Despite all of that, I am not giving up hope for the season. The silver lining is that each of the starting pitchers in the Tiger rotation is showing that they’re capable of delivering a solid, if not a dominant performance each time they take the mound. This weekend, they were done in each game by allowing runs in the first inning, before settling down and shutting down a pretty impressive Angels’ lineup.
I still look at the Tiger rotation and Chicago’s rotation and feel that the Tigers have a distinct advantage. They just need to provide some run support, and that means getting contributions from the 5 through 9 spots in the lineup. That’s been the story of the Tiger season thus far.
Now, it's on to Chicago, where Detroit has no choice but to play its best if it wants any shot at playing in the postseason.