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: 4-2
This week: OAK (6/30-7/2); TB (7/3-6)
So, What Happened?
The corner seems to have been turned.
Despite losing two of three to the improving Houston Astros over the weekend, the Tigers turned in a solid 4-2 week, extending their winning streak to seven by sweeping the Texas Rangers before arriving in Houston.
It looks like the horrors of the 4-13 stretch that the Tigers went through following their 27-12 start have dissipated.
The division lead is back to 3 ½ games over the Kansas City Royals (five ahead in the loss column) and a highly successful 7-2 road trip to Cleveland, Texas and Houston is in the books.
Since the Royals took a 1 ½ game lead over the Tigers a week and a half ago, the two teams have gone in opposite directions---Detroit, 8-2; KC, 3-7. That five-game disparity has made the Central standings look a lot more like themselves this morning.
And by the way, who thought that among the Tigers starters, Rick Porcello would be the one who had the best shot at making the All-Star team as June ended?
MMM is also glad to see the last of mighty might Jose Altuve, who simply never makes an out.
The Tigers lost the series in Houston largely because the Astros handcuffed Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez all three games. Miggy, in fact, went 0-for-13 in Houston.
The week ended with Austin Jackson surprisingly returning to his lead-off spot. A-Jax responded by striking out four times.
Hero of the Week
The only thing that cooled down Ian Kinsler was his own manager.
With friends like that ...
MMM isn't buying manager Brad Ausmus' assertion that sometimes sitting down a hot player is better than sitting down a cold one.
All MMM knows is that Kinsler had seven straight multiple hit games before getting a temporary stay on Sunday in Houston. Kinsler didn't start but he did pinch-hit---and struck out on three pitches.
The biggest hit, of course, among Kinsler's 11 safeties last week was the three-run homer he clubbed on Saturday with two outs in the ninth inning, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead (the Tigers won, 5-4).
Kinsler began the week batting .294 and ended it with a .307 mark. He scored five runs and played his usual steady defense. He hit two homers, and he caused a stir when the one he hit in his old haunts, Texas, was followed by a little wave at the Rangers' dugout as he approached first base.
MMM is old school, and so even though Kinsler later said that he was "just having some fun," MMM says Kinsler is lucky he didn't find himself hitting the dirt in his next at-bat.
Speaking of All-Star games, Kinsler may find himself on the AL squad next month, Robinson Cano notwithstanding.
Honorable mentions: Alex Avila (6-for-15; batting average now .233); Nick Castellanos (seven hits including a heads-up triple in Houston on Sunday); Max Scherzer (13 strikeouts in seven innings on Saturday); Porcello (three-hit shutout in Texas); Joba Chamberlain (5-1 in taking the lineup card to the umpires before games).
Goat of the Week
MMM won't make Cabrera the Goat, despite his 13 hitless at-bats in Houston. It would be unseemly. Nor will MMM pick on Victor Martinez, who had one more hit than Miggy in Houston.
Those guys have been too good to let one bad series make them Goats.
Jackson was in danger of being the Goat two weeks in a row, but MMM has decided to settle on Torii Hunter, who not too long ago seemed ageless.
Now, Torii seems aging.
It was another rough week for the personable Hunter (3-for-21), and MMM doesn't want to hear that Hunter should be excused because he's coming off a tender hamstring.
Maybe the hamstring got tender because Torii is about to be 39 years old on July 18.
Regardless, MMM senses some bad blood between Hunter and Tigers fans, if you go by social media's pulse. Actually, the bad blood is one-way; Torii is too nice a guy to be feuding with anyone.
There have been calls for Hunter's dismissal from the roster, despite his clubhouse character. His once highly-regarded defense has gone away, as everyone knows. Now his bat is slowing down to a crawl.
Not a good combination.
MMM certainly hopes Torii can find another gear after the All-Star break, but with each miserable week, it gets harder to feel that in the gut.
Under the Microscope
MMM feels like there's a Joe Nathan Watch going on.
Just when you think that the Tigers closer might be getting back to the Nathan of old, he demonstrates that he's a Nathan that's old.
Big difference, obviously.
Nathan did seal the Tigers' win on Saturday with a save, but instead of 1-2-3, it was HR-1-2-3, turning a 5-3 lead into a 5-4, one pitch-away-from-disaster kind of thing.
The inter-league, non-waiver trading deadline is July 31, about a month away. GM Dave Dombrowski maintains that he isn't looking for a closer---and he probably isn't. After all, the Tigers gave Nathan a lot of jack last winter to close games this summer.
But Nathan simply gives up too many runs, period. And WAY too many home runs---five so far. You hate to have your closer give up five dingers for an entire season, let alone after 78 games.
Hence an ERA for the 39-year-old Nathan of well over 6.00.
Nathan won't be traded, he won't be released and he won't be demoted---unless the wheels completely fall off.
But that doesn't mean that he isn't UtM this week and beyond.
The Tigers thought they had finally solved their ninth inning issues and removed the closer angst when they signed Nathan. Instead, there are unfavorable comparisons being made to the Bad Jose Valverde.
With Joel Hanrahan getting his arm strength back in Florida, and with Chamberlain proving to be a delectable set-up guy who might have the moxie to close, Nathan's status among the fan base will only get more tenuous, despite Dombrowski and Ausmus' full support.
Upcoming: A's and Rays
The Tigers entertain the Goofus and Gallant of the American League this week.
MMM wonders how many BYB readers remember Goofus and Gallant, who were cartoon characters in the Highlights Magazines that were found in doctor's offices all over the country back in the day.
G&G were used by Highlights to teach children lessons about how to act and to use manners, etc. Goofus could do no right; Gallant could do no wrong.
The Gallant this week is the Oakland A's, who don't appear to be stoppable in the AL West.
The Swingin' A's are living up to their nickname with an offense that keeps coming at you. That offense is backed with good pitching and solid defense. It's a team that is getting tired of losing to the Tigers in the playoffs and that fancies itself as a World Series contender.
The A's are spooky good.
Oakland comes to town with a 51-30 record, on a four-game winning streak, and they lead the West by 5 ½ games over a good Los Angeles Angels team.
MMM won't bother pelting you with names and stats. You can do that yourself. Besides, you know who MMM is talking about.
This is a deep team that is on pace to win 102 games.
Tigers probables vs. A's: Anibal Sanchez, Porcello, Justin Verlander.
The Goofus is the Tampa Bay Rays.
Though they have won six of their past 10 games, the Rays are pretty bad. Once the darlings of the AL East for their ability to stay in the hunt despite a low payroll and poor fan support, the Rays are now a wounded club that can't call upon their pitching to get them out of scrapes anymore.
Tampa is a last-place team that is a full 10 games out of first place.
David Price is David Price, but the rest of the starting rotation, which has been decimated by injuries in fairness, is highly unreliable.
Closer Grant Balfour (remember him?) has lost his job as the team goes the committee route. Among the new committee, lefty Jake McGee is the latest to audition. McGee picked up two saves in Baltimore over the weekend and has a 1.27 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 35.1 innings.
Offensively, the Rays are challenged, as usual.
James Loney leads the regulars with a .280 BA and even perennial All-Star Evan Longoria has been pedestrian this season (.264/.333/.399).
Former Tiger Matt Joyce did go 5-for-6 on Sunday with two home runs. Still, the Rays offense is hardly anything to get excited about.
This seems to be one Rays team that not even managing wizard Joe Maddon can massage into a contender.
Tigers probables vs. Rays: Scherzer, Drew Smyly, Sanchez, Porcello.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!