The Stars didn't win this one
The Detroit Tigers completed a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians in Motown on Sunday afternoon with a 4-1 victory over the Tribe. What was probably most remarkable about the win for the Tigers was the completely unremarkable performance from it's star-laden core of players. Instead it was the second, and you might as well say "third", tier of players that delivered the goods to finish off Cleveland this past weekend.
Jose Alvarez is a player that, at most, 25% of Tigers fans had even heard of prior to his taking the hill on Sunday. Alvarez was called up to take one start in the place of Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez supposedly has only some minor stiffness in either his back or shoulder depending on your level of worry over the matter. ("Back" if you're confident he's okay. "Shoulder" if you're someone who is prone to worry over such matters.) Alvarez had been pitching quite well for a Toledo Mudhens group that hasn't had a ton of pitching bright spots on it's roster.
Alvarez seized the day, plain and simple. He kept the Tribe off-balance all day by showing them his full array of pitches and pounded the strike zone. Challenging Cleveland batsmen all day on the inside of the plate, he whiffed seven batters in six innings allowing. Former Tiger Ryan Raburn actually broke up Alvarez' thoughts of a no-hitter with two outs in the 5th inning with a solo blast into the left-field seats. Alvarez then gave up two singles in the sixth inning but escaped the inning to finish his day with a strong six-inning stint allowing one earned run. Alvarez rose to the occasion when the Tigers needed him and a gold-star goes once again to the Tigers pro-scouting department for finding a spare part who is ready to help.
The effort of Alvarez was matched by the efforts of veteran utility-man Don Kelly. Starting in centerfield for the 15th time on the season mainly due to the extended absence of Austin Jackson, Kelly was batting sixth and was put in position to alter the game's course. In the second inning Kelly was able to battle Tribe starter Justin Masterson for a walk that advanced two baserunners into scoring position. This was important as Alex Avila followed Kelly with a fly ball that was just deep enough to score Prince Fielder from third-base for the Tigers to get their initial lead of the day.
Kelly followed this up by stepping to the plate with one out in the sixth. Once again Fielder was on base when he singled after a Miguel Cabrera walk. Victor Martinez meekly popped up on the infield. Kelly went about working a quality at-bat against the Cleveland "ace" Masterson. With what only can be called "golfing" one out, Kelly got hold of a low pitch and launched a towering shot that carried all the way into the right-field stands. The crowd was delirious, announcers were shouting, and twitter practically imploded.
Austin Jackson rehab starts on Monday
It was announced that Austin Jackson, on the DL for the better part of a month, has been sent to join the Mudhens in Rochester. If all goes well for Jackson there are reports that the Tigers would be happy to see Jackson return to the Tigers on Friday when a three game set starts in Minneapolis against the Twins.
Jackson's presence at the top of the order has been missed by the Tigers. Andy Dirks and Omar Infante have been trying to keep the Tigers top of the order afloat during Jackson's absence however the building number of shutouts the offense has suffered in recent weeks certainly points to the missing spark that Jackson provides in front of Torii Hunter, Cabrera, and Fielder.
The interesting part of Jackson's return will be what corresponding roster move the Tigers will make. Someone has to go. All signs point to young outfielder Avisail Garcia. The Tigers easiest move will be to simply let Garcia play everyday at Toledo to gain more "reps" and continue to hone his promising game. However Garcia has held his own in Detroit in Jackson's absence and there is a growing number of fans who, if prodded for an opinion (because in the internet age it's hard to get people's opinion after all....oh wait.) these fans would like to see the athletic Garcia remain. If that occurred who would get shipped out or cut? Ramon Santiago? Don Kelly? Andy Dirks? Matt Tuisasosopo? Send down a reliever and go to a six-man bullpen? (I just cracked myself up there...that is the one thing that will NEVER happen.) No...sending Garcia back down is the easiest move. Nobody gets cut and the excuse is that "the kid needs to play".
Tigers Taking Control? Now Head to KC
The Tigers now lead the AL Central by 5.5 games and are the only club above .500. Despite all the issues of losing some low-scoring games of late, the rest of the division is mostly throwing up all over themselves (or in the case of Kansas City, recovering from a long case of vomit-acious play) and losing ground to the Tigers.
The Tigers now head out to face two division foes this week. Three games in Kansas City that are followed by three in Minnesota next weekend. With a solid week on the road Detroit can further seize the division by the throat.
It should be noted the Royals are riding a 5-game winning streak entering the series. Winning the final two games against the Twins last week was followed by a sweep of the Houston Astros over the weekend. Whether by cause or coincidence, the Royals win streak started on the night that manager Ned Yost decided to stack his batting order with no small degree of input from his "stat guys" from the front office.
Alex Gordon has returned to the top of the Royals order followed by the solid-OBP/low-power Eric Hosmer in the two-hole. Catcher Salvador Perez has moved into the third-spot to team with Billy Butler who follows in the middle of the order. So far this lineup is helping the Royals. Can we say the Saber-friendly lineup is the reason the Royals are having a mini-surge? No. But we can say it hasn't hurt. (Playing the Twins and Astros are probably a bigger reason, but we'll see how their offense functions against Fister, Scherzer, and Verlander. The test is upon them.) We can also say there is a good chance that we've seen the last of the rather comical lineup of leading off with the OBP-challenged Chris Getz for the time being.
(Today we debut a wrap up section of bullet points that are on the author's mind and in honor of my disdain for the Sac-bunt we'll call it...)
Good Clean Sacs
- Despite the case of gopher-itis that hit Joaquin Benoit last year, his deal was one of the very best long term contracts given to a reliever in many years. Benoit continues to be a stable presence in a very unstable situation.
- I am in favor of Jim Leyland looking for situations that cry out for not going with the conventional "Save Opp" route for the Closer like the previous Friday night in Baltimore when lefty sluggers were due up and Drew Smyly was rested. But I have to say that I didn't think Jose Valverde looked nearly as bad as some of the more panic-stricken observers were unloading on him. Valverde still has his place. Leyland just can't be on auto-pilot about every Save Opportunity going to Valverde with no thought put into it.
- I do not believe that Jhonny Peralta will miss substantial time this season due to the brewing scandal regarding BioGenesis. Maybe next year MLB will get their way with the PED witch hunt, but I think the fight over the "evidence" and the ensuing appeals process will run out the clock on the season. We'll see...
- Alex Avila is starting to come out of the doldrums ever so slowly. Some good swings lately even though some were just outs.
- ESPN televised a lot of Vanderbilt vs. Louisville this weekend in NCAA baseball action with the College World Series around the corner. Four recent Tigers draftees were on the field for these games. Perhaps most impressive...and most imposing...is 6'6'/250-lb Louisville starting pitcher Jeff Thompson. I watched a lot of Thompson's outing on Sunday afternoon as the Cardinals eliminated the Commodores. Thompson is really big dude...on TV he looks even taller than 6'6" due to some very long legs. He was good in this one. 7 innings, 1 ER, 3 hits. He'll be one to watch in the Detroit organization assuming he signs.
- Barring any last minute changes in plans, I will be venturing to Kansas City on Tuesday and Wednesday to take in the final two-games of the series with Scherzer and Verlander on the hill. If anyone reading this is also planning on being in attendance, let me know in the comments below if you'd like to meet up and chat Tigers over some BBQ in the right-field plaza. Temps in the 90's...summer baseball weather will be here. Should be fun.