Monday Morning Manager: A Weekly Take on the Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 1-4
This Week: HOU (5/13-15); at Tex (5/16-19; Sunday on ESPN)
So, What Happened?
The Tigers ran into two teams playing their best baseball of the year last week.
First it was the Washington Nationals, who are on a roll after a sluggish start. The Tigers dropped both games of a two-game series, though they certainly weren't outclassed by the Nats. Just couldn't get over the hump in the nation's capital.
Hey, Doug Fister got an RBI single! Alas, MMM thinks Fister could have gotten an RBI single off himself with the way Fister's command was lacking on Thursday afternoon.
Losing two to the Nats didn't really bother MMM. What did get under MMM's skin was dropping two of three to the Cleveland Indians—another very hot team (15-5 in their last 20 games).
The Tribe made the two-out hit their personal calling card all weekend. It was amazing how many of those the Indians rained on the Tigers. And that's why Cleveland left town in a first-place tie with our Motown Bengals.
Hero of the Week
Although MMM is getting a little sick of the graphic that Fox Sports Detroit (FSD) keeps putting on the screen extolling this week's Hero's abilities, the nod goes to 2B Omar Infante.
FSD likes to shove it down our throats how good of a No. 9 hitter Infante has been this season. OK, we get it! He's having a good year! And MMM is taking nothing away from Omar in complaining about that.
Last week—a week in which the Tigers won just one game—Infante was again magnificent.
Infante went 8-for-19 (.421), including two doubles and a triple, the latter drawing the Tigers closer against the Indians on Saturday night. Even though the Tigers lost that game, it was a big two-run triple at the time.
For the season, Infante is at .317 and strikes out just once every 10 at-bats. His play in the field has been mostly stellar.
Last week, Infante again did a good job in turning the batting order over from his ninth spot, which is integral in getting the top four at the plate one more time every game.
Honorable mention: Matt Tuiasosopo, who hit a pinch-hit, three-run jack in Washington, and who has been a nice addition to the bench; Jhonny Peralta, whose solid season continues to fly under the radar.
Goat of the Week
Take the weekly MMM poll! This week's question: Who should bat leadoff in Austin Jackson's absence?
You would think that in a 1-4 week there would be Goat candidates galore.
But MMM doesn't think the Tigers played bad baseball, necessarily. The other guys just managed to do a little bit better all week.
Still, as MMM said last week, the GotW space shall never go unoccupied!
MMM could pick low-hanging fruit and designate Jose Valverde the Goat for blowing Sunday's save in a game the Tigers eventually lost in 10 innings. But that's a little too trite for MMM's liking, and not esoteric enough.
So MMM is going with manager Jim Leyland. Some might say this is just more low-hanging fruit.
MMM was listening to Sunday's game while walking the pooch during the Tigers' half of the ninth inning, after the Indians had tied the score 3-3 in the top half (see Valverde reference above).
A lead-off single by Andy Dirks was cause for optimism. But then Leyland struck.
The manager put the bunt sign on for Torii Hunter, he of the .340-plus average and an expert at hitting the ball to right field, as in during a hit-and-run try.
Hunter, by the radio accounts, looked awful in his first try at laying down the sacrifice, something Hunter is not known for in his career. Yet Leyland kept the bunt sign on and again Hunter made a pathetic try.
By now, Hunter was down in the count 1-2 and couldn't be his usual, aggressive self. He had to be more defensive. As a result, Hunter tapped weakly to pitcher Joe Smith, who started a 1-6-3 double play.
Granted, Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera, one of the more underrated players of his time, had to make a fantastic play to twist the DP, given Smith's horrible throw. But that's not the point.
MMM didn't like the decision to bunt Hunter for a couple of reasons.
One, Hunter is a terrible bunter.
Two, even if Hunter had been successful, Indians manager Terry Francona would have walked Miggy Cabrera and taken his chances that Smith could induce a DP from Prince Fielder.
MMM says let Hunter hit in that situation and let the chips fall where they may! This way, even if Hunter makes an out, you still have two chances (presumably) to get perhaps a game-ending HR or double from either Cabrera or Fielder.
The double play, following two weak bunt attempts, let Smith get out of the inning with only having to retire Cabrera (not that that's easy), and not Fielder as well.
Under the Microscope
It's funny that Leyland is this week's goat, because the Marlboro Man was UtM last week.
But that's mostly coincidence, right?
The Tigers placed CF Austin Jackson on the 15-day DL with a tight hamstring, leaving (potentially) a gaping hole at the top of the lineup.
Normally Leyland puts Dirks at the leadoff spot when giving A-Jax the day off. It is presumed this is how it will go while Jackson is out of commission.
So naturally, this puts Andy Dirks Under the Microscope.
It's nothing personal, Andy—MMM just wants to pay close attention to how you do batting leadoff with all those great hitters following you.
The good news is that Dirks has been swinging a better stick as of late, after a less-than-magnificent start.
And, frankly, Jackson's BA has sunk into the .270s after a hot start.
Now, will Leyland keep Dirks in LF and put Don Kelly in CF?
The Tigers recalled Avisail Garcia to take Jackson's spot on the 25-man roster. Garcia isn't a CF by trade. Come to think of it, this whole situation should be UtM!
It's Tigers vs. the state of Texas this week.
First the Astros come calling. Yes, those adorable 10-28 Astros that the Tigers swept in four games in Houston a week or so ago. But even the Astros won more games last week (two) than the Tigers managed to win.
Still, this is a team the Tigers should take two of three from, at least—and right the ship, because after that series (drum roll please), it's on to Texas for four games against the very good and very first place Rangers.
Seriously, no one is even making it interesting for the Rangers in the AL West. Texas is six games ahead of the second place Oakland A's. The Rangers (24-13) are the only team in the West playing above .500.
Clearly, the loss of former MVP Josh Hamilton and slugger Mike Napoli has had no effect on the Rangers, negatively.
That's because always tough out Ian Kinsler is batting .322, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre have combined for 17 home runs, and the pitching has been lights out.
The Rangers have the league's best team ERA (3.39) and four of their five starters have an ERA of 3.45 or less. Yu Darvish came one out away from a no-hitter in the second game of the season. OK, it was against the Astros, but still!
MMM sees this as an interesting week. Two series against teams that are on the opposite ends of the baseball spectrum in the AL. Should be a riot. Note: Sunday's game is on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
Tigers starters (Astros): Anibal Sanchez, Fister, Max Scherzer.
Tigers starters (Rangers): Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Sanchez, Fister.
That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!
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