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Monday Morning Manager: Torii can still hit, never dive with your eyes closed and WWJD?

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MMM pumps out one more edition in 2014, and as the season winds down and the bullpen is still fuzzy, the question is, What Would Jim (Leyland) Do?

Hannah Foslien

This week's edition of MMM marks the final one for the 2014 season. Thanks for reading!

Last Week: 3-3

This week: CWS (Sept. 22-24); MIN (Sept. 25-28)

So, What Happened?

Those Minnesota Twins seem to have a knack for throwing cold water on the Tigers' fun.

It doesn't matter if the Twins are division contenders or sad sacks. Doesn't matter if their lineup consists of established big leaguers or newbies.

The Twins have been thorns in the Tigers' side for years.

MMM doesn't care to rehash, in detail, the foibles of 2006 and 2009, when the Twins roared back from big deficits to snatch the AL Central title from the Tigers' grasp.

But for whatever reason, even after their glory years of Central Division domination ended some three years ago, the Twins have played the Tigers as tough as nails.

That toughness was on display again last week, when Minnesota won two of three from Detroitand damn near swept the Tigers.

The Bengals blew a 6-0 lead on Monday night and had to win in the ninth inning on back-to-back solo homers from Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera.

The Twins took the Tuesday and Wednesday games, and even though Minnesota will lose 90-plus games this season, they have played the Tigers pretty much at a .500 pace in 2014.

MMM brings all this up because the Twins visit Detroit for a four-game series Thursday-Sunday this week. But more on that later.

The Twins series is more easily digested because the Tigers showed the Kansas City Royals what pennant race baseball is all about, as Brad Ausmus' boys took two of three at Kauffman Stadium over the weekend. The series began Friday night with a 10-1 demolishing of the Royals.

The series win cuts the Tigers' magic number to clinch the division to seven, though it should be six early Monday evening, as the Royals complete their suspended game in Cleveland, trailing the Indians 4-2 in the 10th inning with KC's at-bat the only thing separating the Royals from their 71st loss.

So barring a comeback by the Royals in the suspended game, the Tigers will lead the division by two full games when the week's slated games are set to begin.

The week saw concern mounting for beleaguered catcher Alex Avila, whose light-headedness, dizziness and inability to perform baseball-related activities without feeling like he's on a Tilt-a-Whirl, has Tigers management and fans worried.

The worry isn't just about what the Tigers will do at catcher should they make the playoffs. It's about Avila's future as a big league ball player.

On a happier note, the news is good on injured pitcher Anibal Sanchez, whose simulated game on Sunday morning went well and the door is now open for Sanchez to rejoin the Tigers as soon as Wednesday.

On a sentimental note, this is the final MMM for the 2014 season. It was a blast appearing on BYB for the first time in the six-year history of MMM. If you enjoyed it half as much as MMM did, then MMM enjoyed it twice as much as you.

Hero of the Week

Quick: which 39 year-old member of the Tigers had a good week?

Hint: It wasn't Joe Nathan.

Torii Hunter last week cobbled together a streak of multi-hit games that reached six, which set a career high for him. For the week, Hunter was 11-for-27 and included in those 11 hits were two homersboth of which were key hits in Tigers victories.

The most key was the solo shot he hit in the ninth inning at Minnesota last Monday, which gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead after they let the Twins come all the way back from a 6-0 deficit. Miguel Cabrera followed with a solo homer as well.

Hunter, whose defense continues to worry the fan base, showed last week that even at 39 he can still be a force at the plate.

Quietly, Hunter has a BA of .287 with 17 home runs and 81 RBI. His OPS isn't jaw-dropping at .772, but again, at age 39, Hunter hasn't been irrelevant.

His 11 hits last week were a big part of why the Tigers inched closer to winning the Central Division.

Honorable mentions: Hernan Perez, for alerting coach Omar Vizquel (who told Ausmus) that KC's Salvador Perez failed to tag up on a crucial play in Saturday's victory; Justin Verlander, who showed his guile and big game presence on Friday night; and J.D. Martinez, who had 13 hits, including what should have been one of the biggest three-run shots in recent franchise history on Tuesday night in Minnesota, a homer that erased a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning, but then was wiped out by last week's Goat.

Goat of the Week

Ask most fans about last week's Goat and you might get a 50/50 split as to who it was.

Some will say Nathan, the embattled closer who put everyone through yet another rollercoaster on Saturday and who blew a save on Tuesday.

Others, including MMM, say Ezequiel Carrera.

Carrera, ironically inserted into Tuesday's game (the J.D. Martinez Game) in center field for his alleged defense, inexplicably dove for a baseball in the bottom of the ninth that got past him for a run-scoring double which tied the game, 3-3.

Two batters later, the Twins won in walk-off fashion on an infield hit.

The bonehead play by Carrera, who should have played it safe and minimized the damage, negated the huge lift the Tigers got from J.D.'s home run, which was smacked in dramatic fashion.

That loss, which was deflating to say the least, prevented the Tigers from waking up this morning with a 2.5 game lead in the division, as the Royals also lost on Tuesday.

The Nathan/Goat folks will say that the closer should get the nod because he walked Trevor Plouffe with one out, which started the whole mess. Plouffe scored on the double that Carrera misplayed.

MMM disagrees, because life as a closer is tough enough without having to pitch around bad baseball plays made out of ignorance and under-appreciation of the situation. Besides, Nathan induced a ground ball to the very next batter, which could have been a game-ending double play.

Carrera totally did not take into consideration how perilous his ill-advised dive was until the baseball rolled past him.

MMM also was not thrilled to see, on the TV replay, that Carrera made his dive with his eyes closed. How can you catch a ball when you self-blindfold yourself?

Under the Microscope

In the final week of any baseball season that goes down to the wire for a playoff berth, any number of people could be UtM.

It's quite a menu, to say the least.

But ultimately MMM thinks that the one person who overrides all others in these situations is the manager.

Let's face it. Brad Ausmus, the rookie skipper, hasn't endeared himself to the fan base this season. His hasn't been a story of Ivy League grad turned John McGraw.

In fact, Ausmus' college education has been used against him in a mocking manner by the haters.

MMM doesn't hate on Ausmus, but it would be foolhardy to pretend that a rookie manager's performance down the stretch is irrelevant.

Most closely watched will be how Ausmus uses his bullpen this week as the Tigers try to clinch their fourth straight Central Division crown.

Everyone from your uncle Ralph to ESPN's baseball writers are clamoring for Joakim Soria to be used in high leverage situations, and soon.

Sanchez, the erstwhile starter, looks to be headed to the bullpen when he's cleared to play this week.

Joba Chamberlain's luster from earlier in the season is tarnishing.

Nathan is, well, Nathan.

But the focus will be on the back end, i.e. should Soria close games this week and in October?

Also under the scope will be how Ausmus performs in late-game situations from a tactical standpoint.

And through it all, somewhere, Jim Leyland will be pacing and burning through the Marlboros.

Upcoming: White Sox, Twins

MMM will say this once.

The Tigers better get to the hurlers starting on the mound Monday and Tuesday for the Chisox, because on Wednesday Chris Sale takes the hill.

Not that Sale is unbeatable, but better to take your chances against the rummies starting on Monday and Tuesday, who each have an ERA over 5.00. Those would be RH Chris Bassitt (Monday, 5.29) and RH Scott Carroll (Tuesday, 5.01).

The White Sox haven't exactly been successful spoilers in September, getting beaten consistently by the Royals and the Indians. MMM would like to see that trend continue this week against the Tigers.

Tigers probables vs. White Sox: Kyle Lobstein, David Price, Justin Verlander.

The week (and the regular season) ends with four games against the aforementioned Twins, who could field a Single-A roster and still make life miserable for the Tigers.

In all seriousness, the Twins lead the majors in runs scored since August 1. That propensity to score reared its head in Minnesota last week.

MMM would love to tell you that the Tigers winning three of four over the Twins is definitely in the offing, and that in the process a division title will be celebrated by the Tigers on their home field for the first time since 1987.

But as the Twins constantly prove, they are never pushovers against the Tigers.

Tigers probables vs. Twins: Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Lobstein, Price.

That's all for this week's MMM. Thank you for reading this year. See you next season!