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: 4-2
So, What Happened?
To put small sample sizes into perspective when you're talking about the long grind of a 162-game big league season, think of it this way.
Every 10 games of a baseball season are equal to one game in an NFL season.
So this terrific Tigers start—10-2 so far—must be tempered with the reality of sample size. Using the NFL analogy, it's like the Lions getting off to a 1-0 start.
But even from a single NFL game, one can glean some things.
The Tigers are 10-2 not because of any fluke. They are 10-2 because they can pitch, they can play defense and they get timely hitting. It's a formula for winning baseball that dates back to the days of yore.
They won't play .833 ball the whole year, but the Tigers are showing us what kind of team they mostly are, based on the body of work of the players on the roster.
Last week, Shane Greene continued to dominate on the mound, as did David Price. Jose Iglesias continued to be an amalgam of Ozzie Smith (glove) and Tony Gwynn (bat). Miguel Cabrera was, well, Miguel Cabrera (circa 2012). J.D. Martinez stuffed a batting glove into the mouths of those who feared he might be Brennan Boesch, redux. Yoenis Cespedes had a great week on Sunday.
And MMM's concerns about the Tigers playing in Pittsburgh were allayed, though barely.
Justin Verlander's oh-so-slow recovery from the most annoying triceps injury on Earth has his 2015 season still on hold. But who needs him, right?
Except for Anibal Sanchez's spot in the rotation, that is.
Hero of the Week
MMM will take this dilemma all season: who to name as HotW when the team is playing so well?
There was no Cabrera that stood out, referring to Miggy's personal destruction of the Indians in Cleveland a week ago last weekend. Rather, it was just a lot of guys playing pretty darn good baseball in all facets.
But MMM's contract with Bless You Boys mandates that a Hero is selected (not really, but it sounds good), so here goes.
MMM can't help but think of one Doug Fister whenever Shane Greene takes the hill.
Greene is tall and lanky like Fister. Greene has a pitching motion and delivery similar to Fister's. Greene wears a big number (61) like Fister did with the Tigers (58).
And, most importantly, Greene pitches like Fister pitched as a Tiger.
Let's hope Greene doesn't get traded for a bucket of baseballs down the line.
Greene was masterful in his two starts last week.
In Pittsburgh, the 26-year-old who was acquired from the Yankees over the winter made efficient work of the Pirates, throwing just 81 pitches in eight innings, not allowing a run. The Tigers needed that, as they only scored two runs themselves.
On Sunday against the White Sox in Detroit, Greene got the offensive support every pitcher dreams of, yet he pitched as if the game was scoreless. Greene went seven innings, allowed five hits, and surrendered the first earned run to cross the plate on his watch in 2015. The Tigers had a field day, 9-1.
That, combined with his brilliant, eight-inning, 85-pitch (one unearned run) outing against the Twins on opening week, gives Greene microscopic ERA, WHIP and opposing BA numbers. He is 3-0 and he's making it look easy.
Just like Doug Fister used to do, back in the day.
Honorable mentions: J.D. Martinez, who keeps rocketing baseballs over the fence, especially to right field; Yoenis Cespedes, who led Sunday's romp with two homers and six RBI (including a grand slam); Jose Iglesias, who walked the Tigers off on Friday and who continues to flash more leather than a room full of bikers.
Goat of the Week
OK, so what's with Anibal Sanchez and the gopher ball?
Sanchez gave up home runs left and right in spring training, and that trend has continued in the first two weeks of the regular season.
On Saturday against the White Sox, Sanchez was absolutely miserable.
He gave up nine earned runs, including two dingers, in 3.1 innings. On Monday in Pittsburgh, Sanchez coughed up three more homers in 6.1 innings. That's five homers in 9.2 innings in one week. In all of 2014, Sanchez gave up just four homers in 126 innings.
So what gives?
"The ball was up again," manager Brad Ausmus said after Saturday's debacle. "I guess it's concerning just because it's happened," the skipper said of all the long balls. "But I don't expect it to be a trend."
Hey Brad, guess what: it already is a trend. Sanchez surrendered seven homers in the Grapefruit League.
Under the Microscope
Justin Verlander's start-and-stop recovery from his triceps injury is starting to force MMM to give pause.
And whenever MMM gives pause, that's usually not a good thing.
Just as Tigers fans were still mulling over JV's abbreviated, 45-pitch simulated start in Pittsburgh on Wednesday due to arm fatigue, (it was supposed to be 60 pitches) news broke that Verlander was scheduled to do some throwing on Sunday but that those plans were squashed.
"I think we're going to wait until (Verlander) really feels good," Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said late Sunday about when the 32-year-old right-hander might resume his throwing regimen. "I don't think he felt bad (Sunday), but I think we're trying to wait until everything gets out of there, and then we'll go from there."
MMM feels that it's still a little early to panic about Verlander. This mini-setback falls in the category of Frustrating and/or Annoying.
But it looks like Verlander may not throw his first pitch of the 2015 season until May—and maybe not early-May.
In the long term, that may be fine. But, again—it gives MMM pause.
Of course, a 10-2 start will buy you lots of patience, and the option of being judicious.
Burning Questions for the Week
MMM will now open the floor.
Four big games with the Yankees at CoPa this week. Thoughts?
It hasn't been all that fun—or satisfying—to hate the Yankees the past couple of years, but with Alex Rodriguez channeling 2009 thus far, there is likely to be a little playoff atmosphere at the ballpark Monday thru Thursday.
Sadly, Greene doesn't get a shot at his former team, despite the four games (his next start is scheduled for Friday). But for a series in April, with A-Rod's return from a one-year banishment getting off to a hot start, there should be some juice at Comerica.
Did the White Sox blow it by not challenging that ninth inning play on Friday, when Nick Castellanos was called safe trying to stretch a single into a double?
Of course. Manager Robin Ventura didn't look very managerial, either. But that might have been because his players and replay people hung him out to dry.
Regardless, you challenge the call, no matter what. The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, for goodness sakes.
How about the Tigers pitching?
Take Sanchez out of the rotation and the numbers are even better.
Clearly this isn't sustainable, but if pitching like this can help you win games in April (like the 2-0 and 1-0 wins in Pittsburgh), then that will help in August and September. The adage is that you can't win a pennant in April, but you can lose one. Witness the 2008 Tigers.
Is this 10-2 start a statement of sorts?
MMM doesn't believe in statements, as a rule. Especially 12 games out of 162.
But what it does show is that the Tigers can win in a lot of different ways. MMM likes the pitching and defense aspect to most of the wins—and the speed factor. You can never have too much of that stuff in October.
The so-called experts aside, those within the division who ought to know, believed all along that the Tigers were still the team to beat. There's too much star power and past accolades on the players' resumes to dismiss the team so soon. Now, with the added dimensions of speed and defense, we're seeing the type of team that Tigers fans could only wish they had in recent post-seasons.
Last year at this time, J.D. Martinez wasn't even on the Tigers' big league roster. Thoughts?
Just one: I'd hate to be the personnel evaluator for the Houston Astros. Hopefully that person is renting.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!