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Observations from Anaheim: Didn't we fix that?

After attending three Tiger games in Anaheim, I have a few observations to share from the harrowing experience.

Jim Leyland argues a blown call in the ninth inning Sunday in Anaheim
Jim Leyland argues a blown call in the ninth inning Sunday in Anaheim

Well, that sucked. I was looking forward to this series in Anaheim as soon as the schedule was released, and it was apparent that this would be the only trip to the west coast that the Tigers would make for the 2013 season.

G Wilson and I went to all three games. On Friday night, we were joined by San Diego Mick. On Saturday and Sunday, Singledigit came up with Stanky. Great seats for all the games. Three Tiger games and three losses.

Here are my observations after a weekend of baseball:

The Angels played solid defense, the Tigers did not.

Moreso than pitching, or a lack of offense, there was a noticeable difference in the defensive abilities of the two teams, and it directly impacted all three games in a major way.

On Friday night, the Angels got their first run when Jhonny Peralta threw wild to first base, putting a runner on second who came around to score in the third inning. Their second run came in the fourth on a soft grounder to Cabrera, a wild pitch by Sanchez that hit Avila’s glove, and a base hit.

When the Angels added five runs off Octavio Dotel in the eighth, the big blow was a double off the wall that was misplayed by Jackson and Matt Tuiasosopo. Dotel was struggling plenty without the defense throwing gas on the fire. Meanwhile, Trout and Bourjos made fine running catches several times. The contrast was quite apparent.

On Saturday, there were half a dozen base hits in the first inning off Rick Porcello where the ball was on the ground before it reached the pitcher’s mound. Some were seeing eye singles up the middle. At least one, if not two, were grounders up the middle that should have been double play balls, and no runs would have scored. There were plays where Porcello could have helped himself, and where we figured that Fister, or a better fielding pitcher makes a play. And again, more solid defense by the Angels around the infield the entire series, just to show how it’s done.

On Sunday, Cabrera botched two plays. One was a line drive that went off his glove into left field. The flagrant error was scored a double and two runs scored. I don’t know who the official scorer was, but he blew that call, and that play blew the game for the Tigers. Mike Trout was running on the play and would easily have been doubled off first base if Miggy had caught the ball.

Later in the same inning, a routine double play ball was blown as Infante threw the relay into the dirt. Prince Fielder "ole’d" the ball past him and another run scored. At least this one was scored an error. Cabrera and Peralta each botched another ground ball before the day was over. These mistakes led directly to all the Angels’ runs and also increased Doug Fister’s pitch count significantly.

Fister, Sanchez, and Smyly were fantastic.
I don’t know if they’re going to put Smyly in the rotation, but he reminded us how well he can pitch when he came in on Saturday and shut the Angels down. The strength of the Tiger rotation, even without Scherzer or Verlander pitching this weekend, has to be encouraging. If the defense can just make the plays that are there in front of them to be made, nothing spectacular, the Tigers should have a chance to win every time out

As for Rick Porcello, a combination of bad luck, bad defense, and a couple bad pitches did him in. He could help himself a lot if he didn't let teams put the ball in play. You have to wonder if he wouldn't be better off on a team that can field the ball better. Just three walks allowed this season, but also only three strike.

Mixed results from the bullpen

On the positive side, Al Alburquerque was on fire, coming in Sunday for two innings and striking out everything in sight. An eleven pitch inning where he struck out the side and a nine pitch inning. We were hoping that he’d be out for a third inning, but Leyland brought in Coke.

Phil Coke did well for two innings, but as Al said in the recap, Leyland tempted fate by bringing him back out with three right handed hitters due up, and the first hitter, Mark Trumbo, ended the game with a smash to the left field stands. The bullpen was depleted, so maybe Leyland didn't feel he had many options. Gotta love the move to walk Pujols and face Hamilton with two outs in the 12thinning. GWilson suggested, and I agreed that it wouldn't have been the worst thing to walk Trumbo, even leading off in the 13th. If we keep seeing situations where Coke has to get right handers out, we’re in trouble.

Villarreal gave up an RBI single to Pujols to score a run on Friday night before getting Josh Hamilton to fly out to end the inning. On Saturday, he relieved Smyly and got the double play ball to end the seventh, then came back for the eight and gave up a run on a walk, a double and a pair of sacrifice flies.

Dotel gives us real cause for concern. He was getting shelled. Apart from the defensive lapse, he should not be letting Peter Bourjos hit one off the center field wall. If he’s injured, put him on the DL. But Dotel was the Tigers’ best relief pitcher last year. If they lose him, a shaky bullpen is even shakier.

The offense was offensive the whole series

As we saw so often last season, the Tiger offense either goes stagnant for innings on end, or they squander scoring opportunities. They narrowly avoided being shut out for the second consecutive game on Friday, when they pushed across a run in the ninth inning. Ten Tiger hits, but no timely hitting combined with station to station base running was the culprit.

Prince Fielder hit into two rally killing double plays, with the bases loaded in the seventh, and with two men on in the first. He also popped out with Jackson on second in the second and fittingly, popped out to end the game.

Austin Jackson was on third base with one out in the third, but failed to score when Cabrera hit a ball down the third base line and Luis Jiminez made a diving stop and threw out Cabrera. He should have scored easily.

On Saturday, the offense could only muster four hits. They were never in the game after the death by squibblers in the first inning.

On Sunday, the Tigers loaded the bases in the first two innings and squandered runs both times. After three singles, Victor Martinez struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the first, when putting the ball in play is imperative. Tuiasosopo ended the inning with a fly out. In the second, the Tigers sent seven men to the plate, getting three walks, and scored one run on a fielder’s choice. Fielder again ended the inning on a soft grounder to the pitcher.

And so went the day for the Tigers, getting hosed on a horrible call at second base in the ninth inning when they again loaded the bases but failed to score.

It was supposed to be different this year. Austin Jackson didn’t get a hit in the series, and Prince had a horrible road trip apart from his two run homer on Sunday, but we know those guys are going to hit. My primary concern with the lineup is Victor Martinez. They’ve solved one of the two massive holes in the lineup, and they upgraded their outfield defense when they replaced Brennan Boesch with Torii Hunter. But the other hole was supposed to be plugged by the return of Victor Martinez as the DH.

Victor was unable to get around on Ernesto Frieri’s 94-95 mph fastball. When he needed to put the ball in play, he couldn’t do it, and when he does get a hold of one, he has warning track power. Maybe he just needs more time to recover after a year off, but this is a career .300 hitter and the team will continue to squander runs if he’s leaving Jackson, Hunter, Cabrera, and Fielder on base.

Defensively, Omar Infante is a cause for concern. It appeared that his head wasn’t in the game on Sunday. Since he’s the only half way decent infielder on the team, they need him to be better.

Random observations
Torii Hunter got a standing ovation three times, once each game on his first plate appearance. The fans in Anaheim really appreciated Torii’s work.

By the end of the game on Sunday, at least 70 percent of the fans had left. This was a good baseball game and their team was on a roll, but they couldn’t stick around for the finish. Bunch of front runners going to hang out somewhere more trendy, I guess.

There were a lot of Tiger fans in attendance, as usual. Chants of "Let's Go Tigers" could be heard quite often, to the point where the locals were becoming annoyed.

San Diego Mick is a really nice guy. A real charmer. He made friends with just about everyone around us, and they made a point to say good bye when the game was over.

Brayan Pena gives 110% every minute he’s out there. He doesn’t hit much, doesn’t make the smartest plays in the field, but he won’t fail for lack of effort.

The Tigers seriously dissed Josh Hamilton on Sunday. Having Coke walk Pujols to face Hamilton, twice, seemed like a no brainer. Even with the bases empty in the 12th inning made sense. But the first time occured in the seventh inning with the right hander Fister still in the game, and he stayed in to face Hamilton. Ouch! Josh must have felt like Rodney Dangerfield.

Al Al is the Tigers’ best reliever when he’s on. Darin Downs is the most consistent reliever in the pen at the moment, and he wasn't used on Sunday.

Miguel Cabrera hits, and hits, and hits. Six hits in the Anaheim series.

The Tigers don’t play well in Anaheim. They were swept in Anaheim last September also. They’ll be happy to not have to return to the west coast this year. I’ll just have to see then in August at the BYB meet up, and of course in October in Detroit.