Well ... that wasn't a really fun weekend of baseball in the Dallas Metroplex. The Tigers are off today and spending what I'm sure is a day pursuing all the fun that Cleveland has to offer. Let's do a drive-by on several matters regarding the Tigers.
--- Questions for Jim Leyland
Let's explore the fifth and sixth innings a little from Sunday night's game. Some things don't seem to mesh. I'm not even 100 percent sure the Tigers erred in their usage of their bullpen but the motivations behind the decisions don't seem consistent. Certainly the results were poor. But results can vary. I'm curious to know more about why certain decisions were made. (Let's note I am not often a harsh critic of Jim Leyland. He bunts too much and at inopportune times for my tastes. He has also intentionally walked Jeff Francoeur each of the last two seasons which is nearly indefensible madness. But overall I think he's fine.)
Did Jim Leyland allow Doug Fister to stay in to face Lance Berkman and Adrian Beltre so that Fister could get the requisite five innings of work to qualify for the win? Or was he trying to milk Fister as long as he could to "save" his bullpen after his rotation had posted some short outings of late? Because if Leyland was trying to save his bullpen it is quite curious he used/burned Darrin Downs to get one batter and pulled him the following inning in favor of Jose Ortega. On the other hand, if getting Fister qualified for the "win" was any part of the equation, I find that to be completely unacceptable. That would be managing toward the stat much like managers often manage almost slavishly with the "Save" stat in mind with regard to bullpen use. Fister's pitch count was approaching 100 entering the 5th inning. 100 isn't some magic number but we all know that Fister was highly unlikely to go beyond 120 on the night. He was not efficient and you could see the end of his evening was coming sooner rather than later. I felt after walking David Murphy it was time to make a move. With Fister's pitch count on the rise as the inning kicked off there was no reason not to have a pitcher getting loose in case there was trouble. It took three more batters for Leyland to get out there and the damage was done. (yes, Jhonny Peralta could have made a play to end it and he didn't.)
If pulling Downs so quickly shows that saving the bullpen wasn't a big issue for Leyland, then why was Jose Ortega left to die on the vine last night in the sixth inning? Ortega had Murphy down 0-2 in the count, so he was one strike away from getting out of the inning with no damage. But Ortega's ball/strike ratio was awful and you could see he was nowhere near as sharp as he had looked in other appearances. Once he allowed the three run homer, he was kept out there to re-load the bases and allow another run before mercifully escaping the inning.
We are in the age of the seven-man bullpen and there was an off-day looming on Monday. I think keeping a starter in to qualify for the win or allowing a reliever like Ortega to take an extended beating when he didn't have it was not Leyland's finest moment of the young season. Certainly pulling Downs, who hadn't worked the day before, so quickly doesn't seem to mesh with the motivations that may have been behind pushing Fister and Ortega beyond the point that I feel they should have been.
---The Greatness of Miguel Cabrera
We can run through all the superlative fluff we want. It all applies accurately to the offensive skills of Miguel Cabrera. The best thing about last night's power display was that despite it's awesome nature (and it was scintillating to behold), it wasn't all that surprising. If he hits four dingers in one game later this month, would anyone who watches him consistently be shocked? The list of things he can't do with a bat is a very short list. A fellow Tigers observer on another site, the great "Vested Poster" who is a Tigers encyclopedia and parsimonious with praise, calls him "BBOE" (Best Batter On Earth). Is there even a debate right now?
---7th inning defensive mess
Phil Coke is having a tough year (insert your "or tough career" joke here if you must but just know that Phil Coke's Brain will monitoring these comments for retaliation) He's given up some game deciding extra-base hits and he's been on the DL once. Last night he was damaged by a defensive unit that simply decided to pack it in on the evening. ESPN's crew did a pretty good job of chronicling the embarrassing 10-minutes. The bad thing is that these were all errors that were mental in nature. (indeed none were official "errors") Diving for a play with no hope that allowed an extra base. Not covering a base. Over-throwing the cut-off man. Throwing to the wrong base. A cluster of dazed confusion and suddenly a manageable two-run deficit became a four-run hill to climb. Unacceptable.
It would be very interesting to know how Leyland addressed the inning with his team. Was there a stern profanity-laced group session? Or perhaps individual talks with those involved? Or did Leyland simply move on because "these guys are pros and know what they did wrong"? Hopefully one of the beat writers will unearth if anything transpired over that 7th inning effort. Certainly Leyland can't bawl out the club every time something like this happens. That's a well you can only dip into so often. Last night might be worth it to drill home what can't be tolerated.
---Waiting for Austin Jackson
It's good to hear that Jackson seems to be on the mend. His presence at the top of the order will inject some juice. Andy Dirks is doing a good job in his stead but there is no question from this view that in order for the club to get back on a roll it's imperative for the 2012 version of Austin Jackson to re-emerge in front of Cabrera. Jackson's power/speed combo is hard to replicate when he is operating on all cylinders even if Dirks is doing his best to do so. We have to monitor his recovery from the hamstring injury. A persnickety hamstring is something that can long plague a guy who makes a living based on his speed. (I'm quite hopeful that was the first, and perhaps last, use of "persnickety" in BYB history!)
---Rick Porcello's solid string of starts
Porcello was one-out away from his fourth consecutive Quality Start as he rebounds from his first inning nightmare in Anaheim. Porcello is putting away hitters when he gets ahead in the count with a curveball/change up combo that is looking better and better.
The trend I like is that while Porcello is posting a career high ground ball rate of 54.9 percent, he is coupling that with strikeout and walk rates both trending in good directions. He is striking out a career high 17.0 percent of batters while only walking a career low rate of 5.0 percent. Obviously this is progress in the right direction. The cautionary necessity is to point out that it's only mid-May and we are talking about seven starts and one relief appearance. Nobody is saying Porcello is on the cusp of stardom yet. He is a long way from that. But he may be on the cusp of a new level of productivity that takes his value closer to what many had hoped when he was drafted in 2007.
On a day-to-day level his start on Friday night was pretty important for the club to snag at least one victory in Texas. The more lauded starters all came up empty in Arlington as the red-hot Rangers made short work of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister with only Fister seeing the fifth inning. Porcello's one-run appearance looks all the more impressive when lined up against the work of his rotation mates.
---Two days in Cleveland on tap
How "important" are these two games in Cleveland this week? I hear conflicting views from different quarters. Please let us know in the Comments below.
Are these merely two more games in May that count as part of the 162-game marathon and little more that that? Or does this short series constitute "a statement" if either club can sweep it? Are there really long term ramifications beyond the two games in the standings? Does a "statement" made now mean much in the dog days of August? Let us know your thoughts...