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Monday Morning Manager: James McCann saves Tigers from ugly loss

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Happy MMMM Day (Monday Morning Manager Memorial Day)!

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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
This week: at Oakland Athletics (May 25-27); at Los Angeles Angels (May 28-31)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers lost two, won three, then lost two again. It was a 3-4 week that featured, well, 3-4 kind of baseball.

The Tigers got what they deserved last week. They played a bad team—the Milwaukee Brewers, and lost two out of three. Then they played a suddenly good team—the Houston Astros, and split four games.

It was this kind of week: the Tigers could have, maybe should have, taken three of four from the Astros. They also could have, maybe should have, lost three of four to the Astros.

The week left a bad taste in MMM's mouth.

Anibal Sanchez continued his freefall and keeps giving up home runs left and right, and the team played some shoddy defense and the bats were, as usual, inconsistent. The Tigers continue to ground into double plays at an alarming rate. Not satisfied with that, apparently, Ian Kinsler grounded into a triple play on Saturday.

It was the kind of week that makes Tigers fans nuts and turns social media into a wake.

Adding injury to the insult was shortstop Jose Iglesias' knee contusion (he'll miss a few days); lefty starter Kyle Lobstein was placed on the 15-day disabled list with soreness in his throwing shoulder; and the Tigers finally put hobbling DH Victor Martinez on the 15-day DL with a sore knee.

The bright spot was that last week's Microscope guy, catcher James McCann, helped the cause in the two wins over the Astros with a walk-off homer on Thursday and a big two-run single on Friday. MMM thinks a star catcher might be rising.

Hero of the Week

Well, look who we're already talking about again?

MMM isn't alone in the belief that Thursday's game against the Astros could have been a disastrous loss. The Tigers led, 5-0, and David Price was cruising along. Then, just like that, the Astros rose from the dead in what has become their style in 2015: a quick-strike offense that overcomes big leads.

The game was 5-4 in the ninth when Joakim Soria blew his first save of the year after pinch-hitter Preston Tucker (a name that would haunt the Tigers all weekend) stroked an opposite-field homer over the left field wall to tie the game. As MMM watched from his office, Comerica Park deflated.

It was the first game of a four-game series against a young team that is starting to think it can win the AL West. It could have been quite a statement game from the Astros, had they come back to win it.

Enter James McCann.

McCann, in the 11th inning, blasted an 0-2 pitch from Tony Sipp for a game-winning, walk-off solo home run. MMM breathed a sigh of relief, as did the crazies at the ballpark and everyone who was watching on television and listening on the radio in rush hour traffic. James McCann, hero! Or, in this case, Hero.

The next night, McCann broke open a 4-2 game in the eighth inning with a two-out, two-run single. For the week, McCann was 6-for-18 with a home run and four RBI. The numbers don't jump off the page at you, but timing is everything, and in that regard, the young catcher was, as the say in hockey, "Johnny on the spot."

Plus, MMM gives McCann extra credit for being a young player thrust into a starting role. Besides, McCann is batting an even .300 in 90 at-bats.

Honorable mentions: Miguel Cabrera (10-for-25, 12-game hitting streak); Anthony Gose, who had nine hits and who we once feared wouldn't hit enough to justify his great defense; J.D. Martinez (10 hits); and Yoenis Cespedes, who had back-to-back, 3-for-3 games in victories over Milwaukee and Houston.

Goat of the Week

MMM wasn't sure whether to put Anibal Sanchez Under the Microscope or make him the Goat.

But we'll go with Goat, because Sanchez was just plain bad last week and it cost the Tigers twice.

On Tuesday against the Brewers, the right-hander went just 3 2/3 innings, coughing up seven runs on seven hits. On Sunday, Sanchez started badly, recovered, then got bad again after the Tigers bats tried to bail him out. Again Sanchez gave up seven runs, this time in 5 2/3 innings. That's 9 1/3 innings and 14 earned runs in two starts. His season ERA is now an unsightly 6.12.

The home run ball again victimized Sanchez last week to the tune of five dingers in those 9 1/3 innings. Sanchez has now surrendered 11 home runs in 60 1/3 innings. The biggest blow was a three-run shot by, you guessed it, Preston Tucker, who delivered another game-tying, pinch-hit homer in the series.

MMM won't lie to you: this Sanchez thing is disconcerting. He still strikes people out, but the batting practice he's serving up is so unlike anything we've seen by Sanchez as a Tiger. This better get figured out, and soon.

Under the Microscope

The injuries are starting to pile up, and southpaw starter Kyle Lobstein is the latest victim, going on the DL due to soreness in his throwing shoulder. MMM always gets nervous when pitchers' shoulders get sore.

Lobstein is far from the Tigers' ace, but with the seeming proliferation of major arm injuries to pitchers these days, what can start as innocent soreness can quickly escalate into season-ending surgery. Lobstein didn't have great command on Saturday, and apparently he's been bothered by the shoulder off and on all year.

Lobstein's MRI came back as inflammation and while this is good news for now, let's see if the inflammation goes away within the 15 days. Lobstein joins Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Justin Verlander on the DL.

Burning Questions for the Week

Did Brad Ausmus leave Sanchez in the game one batter too long on Sunday?

MMM doesn't think it's a case of 20/20 hindsight to say that Sanchez should have been lifted before he faced the lefty-swinging Preston Tucker in the sixth inning with two men on base and with a 7-4 lead. Sanchez was north of 110 pitches and he obviously has been prone to giving up the longball this season. Tucker, just as he was on Thursday, was sent to the plate by Houston manager A.J. Hinch with one thing in mind: to hit a home run.

Lefty Tom Gorzelanny was warmed up in the bullpen. Had Ausmus brought Gorzelanny in after Tucker was announced, there either would have been a lefty vs. lefty matchup, or Hinch might have pinch-hit for the pinch-hitter, thus getting Tucker's powerful bat out of the game for good.

So, to answer your question, yes.

Wasn't the concern about Anthony Gose, his bat?

Yes, and that seems silly now, doesn't it? That was also the concern about Jose Iglesias, and look what Iggy has done at the plate this season. MMM isn't saying that Gose will be a .300 hitter at the end of the season, but with his speed and with a spray chart that matches Comerica Park beautifully, don't bet against it.

Somebody (*cough* Wally Joyner *cough*) has done a great job with Gose since he arrived from Toronto.

Did the Tigers mess up the Victor Martinez situation?

Again, this might seem like 20/20 hindsight, but MMM thinks V-Mart was way overdue for a trip to the DL. In fact, Martinez probably should have started the season on the disabled list. Victor couldn't get any power from the left side, as his sore left knee is the one he uses to plant and drive the ball from that side of the plate. In the first two months of the season, Martinez was a shell of the player who finished second in MVP voting in 2014.

MMM thinks the Tigers not only were tardy in putting Victor on the DL, but they also may have unintentionally created a setback in V-Mart's recovery from knee surgery that took place in February.

Statistically, the Tigers bullpen is much improved this year. Are you buying it?

Well, the closer is much better, that's for sure. MMM is reserving judgment on the bullpen for now. Numbers are nice but we're only talking 45 games here. Yes, the bullpen's ERA is third-lowest  in the league, but MMM still thinks it's a crapshoot every night.

Admittedly, Angel Nesbitt, Tom Gorzelanny and Alex Wilson have exceeded expectations so far, but MMM still doesn't get warm and fuzzies when Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain enter the game, for example—though those two have pitched better of late.

So is MMM buying it? Let's say he's willing to put a small deposit down for now.

The schedule makers pulled a fast one. They have the Tigers flying out to Oakland with no "travel day," to play a day game on Monday. Should they cry foul?

Well, the Tigers might not but MMM sure will. If you're not going to give the Tigers a day to fly west, at least schedule a night game for Monday. Yes, Oakland is three hours behind, but so what? MMM understands that Monday is a holiday and thus there are more day games than usual, but there are also night games scheduled and the Tigers and A's should be playing under the lights.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!