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: 5-1
This week: at Min (Sept. 15-17; at KC (Sept. 19-21)
So, What Happened?
There's something about big league baseball when you flip that calendar from August to September, isn't there?
Just ask the Kansas City Royals.
MMM was struck by how many mental errors the Royals (and their manager) made in losing two of three to the Tigers last week in Detroit.
Gone was the slick fielding, "don't beat yourself" Royals team. In its place was a bumbling group that couldn't get out of its own way.
MMM thinks that the Royals, a team that hasn't been in the postseason since 1985 and that hasn't played any meaningful games in September for about that long, is feeling the pressure of a playoff race — and they're not responding all that well.
The Tigers were a "Big Game" James Shields gem away from going undefeated for the week, while the Royals were losing five of seven games, including three of four to the last place Boston Red Sox at home.
The Tigers' big name players have been showing up since the calendar flipped, and it's that star power that MMM thinks the Royals simply can't match over 162 games.
After the Royals left town, the Cleveland Indians showed up and whatever slim playoff hopes the Tribe had were obliterated by a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers over the weekend.
The Tigers stunned the Indians with two late-inning rallies on Saturday and Sunday, both times victimizing reliever Brian Shaw, who was on a roll when the Indians arrived in Detroit.
The Tigers often used the power of the home run to overcome any deficits and capture games that appeared lost or at the very least, hanging in the balance.
The 5-1 week propelled the Tigers into first place by 1.5 games over the Royals, who are likely to be tagged with another loss when they complete their suspended game against Cleveland on Thursday. The Royals are trailing 4-2 with KC getting one more at-bat to tie or win the game.
Hero of the Week
As most of you know, there are bigger Alex Avila fans out there than MMM. Much bigger.
But MMM is fair if nothing else, so Avila gets Hero status because of a dramatic homer, a Spiderman-like play against the backstop screen and the continuation of playing despite feeling like a human pin cushion.
Avila, who was lifted from Sunday's contest due to light-headedness and who is listed as day-to-day, plays with guts if nothing else.
Added to those guts was a huge two-run homer on Saturday night.
Avila's blast in the eighth inning turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead, which the Tigers eventually held onto.
Avila victimized Shaw with two outs, and the win kept the Tigers in first place by a half-game at the time, as the Royals were winning their only game of the Red Sox series on the same evening.
Honorable mentions: J.D. Martinez, who continued to terrorize Indians pitching and who hit three dingers last week; Ian Kinsler, whose stellar defense and clutch hitting (two-run homer Sunday that put the Tigers ahead to stay in the seventh inning) were huge; rookie lefty Kyle Lobstein, who continues to pitch these big games in September like he has ice in his veins; and Justin Verlander, who responded to MMM's Microscope challenge last week with two fine starts.
Goat of the Week
MMM finds it almost impossible to designate a Goat in a 5-1 week that put the Tigers back into first place.
So guess what? There is no Goat.
Anything Goat-like would be nitpicking.
Mark this down; MMM doesn't go Goat-less very often!
Under the Microscope
It's not often that a weekly Hero is also placed UtM, but in Alex Avila's case, it's more of a physical thing.
As you all know, Avila takes a lot of abuse behind the plate, what with all the foul tips and such.
That he was removed from Sunday's game due to light-headedness is cause for concern.
For all of Avila's faults, which MMM is never hesitant to point out, he is the starting catcher for a reason and he does seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
The Tigers certainly need a healthy, non-woozy Avila if they are to make some noise in the playoffs—mainly because you simply cannot thrust any big league backup catcher into October and think that you won't miss a beat.
So MMM, like the entire Tigers fan base, will be keeping a close eye on Avila's health this week. Indicators are that Avila will miss Monday's game at Minnesota, at least.
Upcoming: Twins, Royals
In football they call them "trap games."
They are contests against weaker opponents that occur just prior to higher profile games.
The "trap" is that the favored team could be looking past the inferior team in advance of the tussle against the next, better opponent.
Will the Twins spring a trap on the Tigers in Minnesota this week before Detroit's showdown series in Kansas City this weekend?
MMM doesn't get that feeling, FWIW.
The Tigers' veteran moxie seems to be kicking in, and everyone is getting into the act these days. Not surprisingly, the key contributions have come from veteran stars who have been down the pennant race path before.
Witness Torii Hunter's diving grab of a fly ball against Cleveland in the eighth inning on Saturday night that saved two runs and kept the score 4-3, Indians. That catch got overlooked after Avila's home run, but it was a huge play—made by a veteran of the pennant chase wars.
So MMM doesn't expect a letdown against the Twinkies in advance of the series in KC.
Tigers probables vs. Twins: Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, David Price.
The Royals, who are being partially vexed by manager Ned Yost and his strange moves, have another shot at the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium Friday-Sunday.
MMM thinks that the Royals' brand of baseball—small ball with a constant need to manufacture runs with speed and singles—is very difficult to sustain over 162 games.
The Royals lack a slugger—that guy who strikes fear into the opposition, especially late in games (David Ortiz, anyone?). Their lineup is severely short on home run power. And let's face it—big home runs often define playoff series.
Again, Ortiz, anyone?
MMM thinks that the Royals may have half a foot in the playoff grave by the time the Tigers arrive on Thursday night. Just a hunch.
Tigers probables vs. Royals: Lobstein, Verlander, Scherzer.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!