Monday Morning Manager is back! The series that Greg Eno has been writing since 2009 and switched to BYB in 2014, will appear every Monday morning, like clockwork, through the regular season. The change this year is the replacement of the Upcoming Opponents section with weekly Burning Questions.
Last Week: 6-0
So, What Happened?
If you went to the blackboard (yes, MMM is old school) and mapped out a first week of Detroit Tigers baseball for 2015 that would be absolutely delightful, it's still hard to imagine that you would have come up with what occurred last week.
Speed, defense, power (hitting and pitching), clutch hitting and smarts—the Tigers did it all in rolling up a 6-0 record that was not a fluke in any way, shape or form.
It's hard to imagine a big league club having a much better week of baseball—and we're only in April.
The folks who got cute and trendy with division (and even World Series) picks like Cleveland and Chicago, probably overlooked a couple things when it comes to the Motor City Kitties.
First, the defense is much better, with Jose Iglesias back at shortstop, Anthony Gose in center field and Yoenis Cespedes and his rocket arm in left field.
Second, no longer are the Tigers a plodding, station-to-station baserunning team.
They can steal bases, and they can go from first-to-third on a single, second-to-home on a single and first-to-home on a double with much greater frequency than division-winning Tigers teams of the past.
It's funny that these sabermetric-loving, supposedly progressive-minded baseball people who eat up all this defense and baserunning stuff, seemed to have dismissed its importance when it comes to the Tigers.
And oh yeah—there's a healthy Miguel Cabrera to contend with.
But more on Miggy later.
The week also saw Justin Verlander go on the DL (expected), as well as Joe Nathan (unexpected). Both pitchers aren't expected to be lost much beyond the 15 days, if at all.
Hero of the Week
Miguel Cabrera made Progressive Field his personal playpen over the weekend in Cleveland.
Miggy always hits well at Progressive (career BA in Cleveland heading into this season is .333 with an OPS of 1.030) but as the Tigers swept the Tribe Friday-Sunday, Cabrera was downright abusive.
Cabrera was 11-for-14 over the weekend, with two dingers (both Sunday), six RBI and four runs scored. For the week, Miggy batted .520 with an OPS of 1.4276. His OBA alone is .586.
MMM doesn't want to hear about small sample sizes. This hot start should serve notice that for the first time in three seasons, Miggy enters a season healthy and pain-free, and that's very bad news for opposing pitchers.
Honorable mentions: David Price, who has yet to give up an earned run in 14.1 innings; J.D. Martinez, who already is showing that last year was not an aberration; and Jose Iglesias, who got nine hits in his first 15 at-bats and who has already flashed that magical glove of his.
Goat of the Week
MMM knows that any Goat in a 6-0 week is likely the victim of nitpicking.
But MMM is getting a creepy feeling—already—about Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain, who started fast last year but then wilted in the second half summer's sun, was lucky to have been re-signed by the Tigers over the winter. Nothing in spring training made you feel warm and fuzzy about Joba, either.
That feeling continues in the regular season.
On Friday night in Cleveland, Chamberlain was handed an 8-4 lead in the ninth inning as manager Brad Ausmus tried to avoid using temporary (?) closer Joakim Soria. But although Joba struck out two, he also allowed two hits and an inherited runner to score, which forced Ausmus to summon Soria after all.
If the Tigers wanted a mop-up guy that is mostly used in low-leverage situations, they could have gotten one for a lot cheaper than what they're paying Chamberlain.
But Joba isn't supposed to be a mop-up guy; the Tigers are actually counting on him to get big outs in big situations. And MMM isn't OK with that at the moment.
Again, MMM doesn't want to hear "small sample size." This Chamberlain thing has been going on since last August.
Under the Microscope
Victor Martinez tweaked his knee in Cleveland on Saturday, causing him to be replaced after rapping out a single. But V-Mart played on Sunday, since he's likely to see only pinch-hitting action when the Tigers travel to Pittsburgh this week.
MMM is glad that Victor was in the lineup on Sunday, but it also stands to reason that whenever "Victor Martinez" and "knee" are in the same sentence together, there should be cause for concern.
MMM hopes he's being a Nervous Nelly here, but let's see how V-Mart's knee holds up in the cold of April.
Again, a 6-0 start should eliminate Goats and Microscopes, but MMM feels like a caring mother: there's always something to worry about with her children.
Burning Questions for the Week
MMM will now open the floor.
What impressed you most about last week?
The different ways the Tigers can beat you. As Ian Kinsler said in spring training, the team is more well-rounded. They can run. They can play defense. They can hit for power. They can draw walks. They can starting pitch.
Any "little things" that fell under the radar?
How about Yoenis Cespedes on the base paths?
On Opening Day, with the Tigers leading 3-0, Cespedes, the new left fielder acquired from Boston for Ricky Porcello, was on third base with one out in the sixth inning.
Nick Castellanos lasered a line drive into center field that Twins CF Jordan Schafer caught at his shoe strings. Most runners would have been off with contact and would have been halfway down the third base line when Schafer caught the ball.
But Cespedes had the presence of mind to scramble back to the bag, waiting to see if the ball would be caught. He rightly surmised that by doing so, he could score whether Schafer caught the ball or not. As it turned out, Cespedes trotted home without a throw to make the score 4-0.
That run proved big in the ninth, when the Twins put two runners on base.
Speaking of Cespedes, what else about him will Tigers fans love?
His arm and his glove in left field. On Opening Day he stole a home run, and on Sunday in Cleveland, the respect of his powerful arm kept a ball that was hit to the wall by Carlos Santana, to a mere single. As if to justify Santana's lack of aggressiveness, Cespedes fired a perfect strike toward second base.
What if Soria is lights out in Joe Nathan's absence?
The Tigers need all the arms they can get in the bullpen. MMM is OK, for now, with Nathan retaining his closer's job when he returns from injury. If Soria is lights out, then the supposition is that he'll be good as the set-up man as well, right? That's good, too.
MMM thinks Nathan will be the closer until he proves unreliable. He got the save on Opening Day (striking out Torii Hunter to end the game in a one-out save) and the final pitch was actually pretty nasty (slider).
How much will Jose Iglesias help Nick Castellanos, defensively?
Tons. Nick was exposed last year a little more than we had hoped, with Iglesias not standing to his left, as was expected in spring training before Iggy went under the knife to fix his shins.
Having a shortstop of Iglesias' brilliance can only help a young third baseman like Castellanos, who is still a work in progress with the glove.
Any concerns for this week?
Pittsburgh. The Tigers have not played well there in the past couple of years. Plus, no DH so no Victor Martinez in the lineup, tweaked knee or not.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!