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Monday Morning Manager: The 'other' Martinez, Joe might be back, and where's A-Jax?

The Kansas City Royals really were in first place last week. If you blinked, you missed it. MMM has more on that and all things Bengals!

Jason Miller

Monday Morning Manager is a series that Greg Eno has been writing since 2009 on his personal blogs. It's a look back at the previous Tigers week and a look ahead at the current week. This season, he brings the series, featuring his alter ego "MMM," to Bless You Boys, every Monday morning.

Last Week: 43

This week: at Tex (6/24-26); at Hou (6/27-29)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers' ugly batch of baseball began with a seemingly innocuous sweep in Cleveland a month ago (May 1921 to be exact). Maybe the darkness is over, thanks to another sweep in Cleveland this time with the Tigers working the brooms.

Are the real Tigers back?

A four-game winning streak to conclude the week has MMM and the rest of TigerTown hoping that what had been the worst run of baseball since maybe the 2003 season is, mercifully, over.

Only time will tell, of course, but things are starting to settle down after the Kansas City Royals came to town and took the first three games of a four-game series to (very temporarily) take possession of first place.

The starting pitchers are settling down. The defense is settling down. The hitters are settling down. The bullpen is ... OK, well maybe not everything is settling down.

Ah, but MMM has been impressed with the two most maligned relievers Joe Nathan and Phil Coke. Nathan blew a save on Saturday but he's getting his confidence back. As for Coke, he picked up the save that Nathan left on the field and Coke did it in style by striking out the side with a mixed bag of heat and breaking stuff.

Ian Kinsler is heating back up and Victor Martinez continues to channel his inner Joe DiMaggio, still matching strikeout for home run this late into June.

The big two in the rotation, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, took the final two games of the series in Cleveland and both looked like the Cy Young winners that they have been.

Left-handed reliever Ian Krol was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what is being classified as a "dead arm." Joining the Tigers last week were right-handed reliever Chad Smith (for Krol) and left-hander Patrick McCoy, who takes Evan Reed's roster spot. Reed was designated for assignment June 18.

Both Smith and McCoy made their MLB debuts in Sunday's 104 win.

MMM refuses to discuss Brad Ausmus' hoof-in-mouth moment. It''s been done to death.

Hero of the Week

So how about this Martinez guy?

J.D. Martinez, that is.

MMM is almost getting bored with naming Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez as HotW, so he is eager to latch onto almost anyone else.

But naming J.D. Martinez as last week's Hero is hardly doing so out of charity.

The acquisition of Martinez in March flew way under the radar. The Tigers signed him to a minor league contract on March 24, two days after J.D. was released by the Houston Astros.

Normally, being unable to crack the Astros roster would seem to be a player's death knell, but not in this case. If anything, you wonder what the people in the Astros' front office were sniffing when they let Martinez go.

Last week, Martinez went 12-for-27 with four home runs and 11 RBI  including a grand slam last Monday against Kansas City. He had at least one hit in every game he played.

Now, a word to those who fear that Martinez may be this year's Matt Tuiasosopo or (gasp!) Brennan Boesch  guys who came out of nowhere like they were shot out of a cannon, but then who also crashed and burned.

Here's the skinny: Martinez had some considerable big league experience prior to coming to the Tigers, unlike Tuiasosopo and Boesch. That's the biggest and most relevant difference.

Martinez has more than 1,000 big league at-bats, and only 113 of those have come with the Tigers.

MMM is still puzzled as to why J.D. Martinez was released by the Astros. With any luck, we'll never find out why in the form of his play on the field.

Honorable mentions: Verlander and Scherzer for their bounce back starts after ugly performances against the Royals earlier in the week; and Kinsler (10 hits, five runs scored and some nifty defense).

Goat of the Week

Is Austin Jackson still on the team?

MMM has just paraphrased Bill Terry, manager of the New York Giants, who in 1934 openly wondered if the Brooklyn Dodgers were still in the league.

Terry made the off-hand remark in response to a reporter who asked the Giants skipper which teams he thought might challenge the New Yorkers for National League supremacy. When the reporter came to Brooklyn, which had struggled for several years, Terry gave the flippant answer.

So again MMM asks, is Austin Jackson still on the team?

Rumors of Jackson do exist. For example, word is that manager Brad Ausmus has been shuffling Jackson around in the batting order  sometimes fifth, sometimes sixth, and, most recently, second.

Have you noticed?

Last week, Jackson was 5-for-23 with zero extra-base hits and that performance didn't improve upon his paltry 2014 numbers: .249 BA with a mediocre OBP of .315.

The one thing that Jackson had improved on, earlier in the season, was his strikeout frequency. But that's gone to pot, too. Jackson strikes out once every 4.5 at-bats, whereas in April that number was nearly 7.0.

MMM wants to believe that we still have yet to see what Jackson can truly do with the bat. There seems to be no reason why Jackson can't be a .270+ hitter with the pop to produce 10 to 15 home runs a year and the ability to get on base one of every three trips to the plate, at least.

Jackson's career OBP is .341 so he is capable of running the base paths with much greater frequency than he is this season.

Meanwhile, as one so-so week after the other goes by for Jackson, MMM can only wonder when he will finally have "that" year.

Under the Microscope

This week marks the return to Texas for Ian Kinsler, who the Tigers acquired from the Rangers for Prince Fielder last November.

You think there won't be a mixed reaction from the Texas faithful when Kinsler strides to the plate for his first at-bat on Tuesday?

Kinsler, as MMM is sure you recall, made some inflammatory remarks about Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels after the trade, and Kinsler also told the media that he hopes the Rangers go 0162 in 2014.

Tigers fans were robbed of their chance to welcome Fielder back to Detroit in whichever way they felt back in May, when the Rangers placed the big first baseman on the disabled list due to back surgery, just before the series at Comerica Park.

So Kinsler's return to Texas will be the first time one of the trading team's fans has a chance to welcome their former player back to town.

MMM feels that a guy like Kinsler will feed off whatever energy is present in Texas positive or negative.

It should be a fun moment to watch come Tuesday night.

Upcoming: Rangers and Astros

The Tigers spend their week in the state of Texas to play two clubs who aren't very good, but who could pose some problems nonetheless.

The Rangers have lost four straight and are 3539. The best part, for the Tigers, is that Yu Darvish won't pitch against them. Darvish pitched on Sunday and so will miss the Tigers this week.

Alex Rios is having a fine season, his first full one as a Ranger after four-plus years with the White Sox, which followed six in Toronto.

Rios is batting .320 and is bidding to have just his third .300+ season. His power numbers are down (three home runs), yet he has a decent .818 OPS thanks to 16 doubles and eight triples.

Aside from Darvish, the Rangers starting pitching has left a lot to be desired.

In fact, no Rangers starter after Darvish, who has an ERA of 2.39, checks in with an ERA of less than 4.22.

But you don't want to mess with the back end of the Rangers bullpen, led by closer Joakim Soria, who has been lights out (15 saves, 1.80 ERA, 0.64 WHIP). Setup man Jason Frasor (1.21 WHIP) has been a bright spot as well.

But the rotation, ravaged with injuries, isn't cutting it.

Tigers probables vs. Rangers: Drew Smyly, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello.

Don't laugh at the Astros anymore.

Oh sure, they're out of the playoff race, but at 3344, they are no longer a laughing stock, as when the Tigers took three of four from the Astros in Detroit in May.

In fact, almost immediately after that series in Detroit, the Astros turned it on and they have salvaged what looked to be another 100-loss season and could actually win 70+ games for the first time since 2010.

The star for the Astros is, of course, second baseman Jose Altuve.

The diminutive Altuve (5'5") is batting .336 with 23 doubles, which is the same number of strikeouts he has. Altuve is right up there with Victor Martinez when it comes to players who are the toughest to fan.

George Springer (13 home runs) provides the pop for Houston, and few in baseball hit the ball harder and for greater distance than Springer.

The Astros' problem offensively is that there is a steep drop-off after Altuve in most every offensive category, which explains the team's paltry .236 BA and .311 OBP.

Houston has risen to respectability behind a starting rotation that is pretty darn good but which gets very little attention.

Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart, Scott Feldman and Brad Peacock have combined to make quality starts in 37 of 63 starts this season. The Astros' team ERA is still 4.16, but the pitching has improved greatly since April.

Tigers probables vs. Astros: Verlander, Scherzer, Smyly.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!