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: 3-4
So, What Happened?
Break up the Yankees!
In the cold and wet wind of Southeast Michigan last week, the New York Yankees swept into Detroit and acted as their own storm. After dropping a 2-1 decision to the Tigers on Monday, the Yankees continued to put the clamps on the Bengals' offense the rest of the week while torching David Price in the process—thus taking three of four in Detroit. For their part, the Yankees' bats boomed while the Tigers lumber was rendered as so much firewood.
On Wednesday evening, you could have driven from Comerica Park to the Palace in the time it took Price to quell the Yankees—in the first inning. Price threw a million pitches (MMM exaggerates only slightly) and the game was eerily similar to the pasting Price took at the hands of the Bronx Bombers last August 27. The Yankees won, 13-4.
For the quartet of games, the Yankees outscored the Tigers, 21-9.
A loss to Cleveland on Friday night gave the Tigers a four-game losing streak, which of course meant that the Internet commenters were out in full force. Fire the manager! The team stinks! I knew it couldn't last! MMM, for his part, merely rolled his eyes at the overreaction. A potentially awful week was salvaged when the Tigers beat Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday.
Off the field, Justin Verlander's return from his triceps injury remained on hold, Joe Nathan's career might be over thanks to the need of a second Tommy John surgery and Bruce Rondon's ride to the rescue of the bullpen seemed to be getting closer.
As an aside, MMM wants to know who had The Big Pasta, Alfredo Simon, at 4-0 by the end of April?
Hero of the Week
The Tigers didn't pitch very much, they didn't hit very much, but they did manage a 3-4 record — albeit their first losing week of the season.
Out of this mess MMM needs to pick a Hero, so the aforementioned Alfredo Simon gets the nod. Simon earned two of the team's three wins for the week, and they were both gems.
On Monday, Simon silenced the Yankees to the tune of one run and seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. On Saturday, Simon halted the four-game losing streak with a muzzling of the Indians (one run, six hits in 6 2/3 innings).
So it was a 2-0 week for Alfredo with a 1.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, making him 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA for the season. His season WHIP is a delectable 0.95. Not bad for a soon-to-be 34-year-old (May 8) who is in just his second full season as a starting pitcher.
MMM knows you want to remind him about Simon's bad second half last year. Let's cross that bridge when (and if) we come to it, OK?
Honorable mentions: Jose Iglesias, mainly for his dazzling snag of a Mike Aviles pop-up in the ninth inning of Sunday's win (yes, one play sometimes will do it at MMM); Ian Kinsler (four multi-hit games during the week); Joakim Soria (three saves — all drama-free).
Goat of the Week
MMM loves Nick Castellanos but sometimes you gotta show some tough love, too. Hence making the sophomore third baseman the GotW for last week's losing battle at the plate. Nick wasn't exactly Mike Schmidt, going 3-for-24 and seeing his batting average sink from .286 to .227 in the process.
MMM is waiting for manager Brad Ausmus to give Nick a day off soon, which might be what Castellanos needs, because of the 21 outs that he made last week, 13 were strikeouts. Certainly Castellanos wasn't, as Jim Leyland would say, The Lone Ranger when it came to tough at-bats last week, but Nick's numbers were pretty darn bad.
Under the Microscope
The Tigers' struggles in the bullpen in recent years have been well-chronicled. But in spring training, as other pieces of the bullpen were being dissected and analyzed to death, most fans felt that Al Alburquerque was one of the few arms that wouldn't necessarily be a concern.
The questions about Alburquerque heading into the season were less about what he could do and more about where the Tigers were slotting him. Would he be a set-up candidate? Would he be more of a seventh inning guy? Or would he be used mostly in situations where you really needed a strikeout?
Now, the question might be, what is he still doing here? Al-Al's ERA is an unsightly 11.37 after two miserable outings last week. MMM didn't tab Al for Goat, because in both those games, the Tigers were beaten handily anyway.
But Al does land squarely UtM because of the irony of his status. Alburquerque was generally thought of as one of the few reliable guys in Ausmus' bullpen. But the way his season has started, it gives grave concern as to the security of Alburquerque's roster spot as other relievers have settled in.
MMM says keep your eye on Al-Al. The Tigers won't always be able to use him in low leverage, blowout situations.
Burning Questions for the Week
MMM will now open the floor.
Is it still too soon to worry about Justin Verlander?
MMM gets it that the Tigers are erring on the side of caution with the staff's Ace Emeritus. But there seems to be an air of being at the crossroads when it comes to Verlander's future. Is JV destined to come back, pain-free, and still author a good season and many more to come, or is this the beginning of the end—the crumbling of a once-great career?
MMM—and, frankly, no one—can answer that question just yet.
So is it still too soon to worry?
Worry, yes. Ponder, no.
Is Jose Iglesias the best fielding shortstop the Tigers have ever had?
That is to assume that you believe MMM to be much older than he really is. Contrary to your belief, MMM didn't see the likes of Billy Rogell and Donie Bush play shortstop in Detroit. But MMM does remember Eddie Brinkman and, of course, Alan Trammell, and Iglesias is certainly flashier than those two. But is Iggy the best with the glove, overall?
Brinkman (Steady Eddie) and Trammell were both highly competent, reliable shortstops who almost never didn't make the routine play flawlessly. But Iglesias' range and arm trumps that of Brinkman and Trammell, the two guys that MMM uses as benchmarks of shortstop play in Detroit.
Did Joe Nathan's pending surgery get the Tigers off the hook as to what his role would be if he returned from the DL as planned?
This is the elephant in the room in the offices at Comerica. MMM is sure that none of the brass would actually say it out loud, but of course it did! MMM was actually looking forward to what decision the Tigers would make about Nathan, now that Joakim Soria has taken ownership as closer.
Of course, with Nathan's pending surgery, we'll never know, but you have to think there were awkward sighs of relief upstairs when that potentially highly unpopular decision proved moot. MMM's gut says that the Tigers would have kept Soria in the closer role even after Nathan's return. Not just from a PR standpoint, but as the smart baseball move.
This week the Tigers get their first shot against the suddenly volatile and hotheaded Kansas City Royals. Thoughts?
First, the Royals (especially that young Yordano Ventura kid) need to calm down. But even if they do manage to control their tempers, MMM thinks that these Tigers-Royals matchups are going to provide some outstanding baseball theater this summer.
This intra-divisional rivalry has the chance to be the most intense of all that MLB has to offer—for this year at least. The 2015 Tigers can now play the Royals brand of baseball more than the Royals can play the Tigers' brand—if you choose to think of the Tigers as a power first, speed and defense second unit and the Royals as vice-versa. Toss in the hot start that both teams authored and the fact that the Central Division might be a two-horse race between the two clubs, and you have yourself some juice for a late-April/early-May series.
One more: No Max Scherzer, no Justin Verlander (so far) and no Ricky Porcello. Yet the rotation has been pretty good thus far. Surprised?
Well, seeing as only one of those three guys has a chance of pitching for the Tigers this season, MMM has long ago turned the page. Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon are in the rotation these days. As for being surprised, MMM thinks that legendary 1980s baseball flake Joaquin Andujar said it best about baseball's unpredictability.
"One word," Joaquin said. "Youneverknow."
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!