Thursday, April 4, 2013

Panic!! (No, Just Kidding... Please Don't)

A few thoughts as the Tigers limp out of Minneapolis, having dropped two of three to the Minnesota Twins...

Sure, the Twins were picked by most of the baseball universe to finish in last place in the AL Central. Except you wouldn't know it from the reasonably clutch hitting they put on in this series.

And despite losing on Opening Day, they had their chances there, too: after Justin Verlander was lifted from the game after 5 innings and 91 pitches. Drew Smyly and his lack of command threw 1 1/3 innings of two run, three hit, three walk baseball. The rest of the pen who worked gave up just 1 hit the rest of the way, thus showing for at least one game the "closing by committee" can work.

If only for one game, however.

The second game of the series provided a couple of questions: both of which I asked at the end of the game...
  • What the hell was Jim Leyland thinking bringing on Phil Coke to face right-handed batting?
  •  And why didn't Austin Jackson catch that ball?
For starters, that first point. Phil Coke had righties hit a brain-busting .396 against him last year. So with that in mind, and Jim Leyland's penchant for "playing those matchups," you'd assume Coke would be nowhere near the pitcher's mound with right-handed bats coming up. And if it's truly a committee, then it would also beg the question of why your consistently used set-up guy (Joaquin Benoit) was pulled in favor of new-found closer (based on the body of work vs the Yankees last postseason). I mean, if Joaquin is who we consider the set-up guy in a "non-committee" role, then we saw no closer by committee yesterday, thus leaving a few of us scratching our heads.

Just be careful... too much head-scratching this early in the season, and we'll be down to brain in no time.

Better put blinders on these...
The fly ball that Austin Jackson probably should have caught  was to say the least, puzzling. I mean, we've seen him make numerous defensive plays. Including 1 diving catch! He was there, slowed down, and watched the ball land. Instead of a catch and an easy run on a sac fly, it turned into a game winning hit. 2 runs in, everybody go home.

What happened? Was it the infernal SHADOWS? This is really the only thing I could think of as I sat on my bar stool for this one. Austin came out of the shadows in deep left center field, and into the glaring sunlight and lost the ball. At any rate, it was a loss that can be likened by getting punched in the gut with a city bus. Walk off losses are the worst.

Today we saw Rick Porcello also have command issues. We also saw an incredibly stagnant offense. An offense that was actually given the gift of 2 runs (which were seriously gifts, both unearned), plus an opportunity to bust out of a funk in the 7th inning.

We'll try and make this quick: Omar Infante walks. Austin Jackson doubles (Good start, eh?). Torii Hunter whiffs. (Uh oh, one out, first base open). Miguel Cabrera... intentional walk. Prince Fielder whiffs (here it comes...). Victor Martinez pops out.

Yep. Second and third, no one out. Bases loaded, one out. Zero runs.

Remember that punch in the gut by a city bus? That keeps coming in the wake of Brayan Villareal's appearance today in the 8th inning: 5 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 2/3 of an inning.

Kids, I'm willing to stay and watch the 9th inning, but you've been freezing all day, and the Tigers are getting hammered. Wanna go home?

Should we all worry? I mean, if the Tigers can't beat the "lowly" Twins, what chance do they have? And didn't the team sign some kind of potato to a minor league deal earlier in the day? That seems moderately desperate, RIGHT??

Three games in, we probably shouldn't worry too much. Three games into July, perhaps. But maybe when the weather heats up, so will the bats. And maybe the arms will command their pitches like they're supposed to. Just because it's not happening now, doesn't mean it won't happen later. Let's all just take heart and realize that the Tigers are on their way home to open Comerica Park against a team they ran out of the playoffs last season.


So enjoy the home cooking, Tigers. Bring on the Yankees.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Prelude to a Season

At long last, what feels like an extra long session of Spring Training (probably helped by the World Baseball Classic) is finally coming to an end, rosters are getting set, and players and fans alike are getting ready for another season of Major League Baseball.

For our Detroit Tigers, a few thoughts:

  • Will the improved everyday lineup produce more consistently?
  • Will the rotation help take the pressure off of the marginal bullpen? 
  • Will the team finish the job this season, meaning a World Series championship? 
Good questions, to be sure. But almost certainly hard to answer before the start of a nice, long, 162-game season.

It's nice to have a lineup that doesn't include Delmon Young; that does include a now healthy Victor Martinez, and can boast a front 5 of the order that can be rather potent. Austin Jackson had his first career .300 season, and has shown more power each season in the lead-off spot - and if he can continue to bring down the awful strikeout numbers, he'll be a force at the top.

Torii Hunter should provide a solid 2nd bat. But I'm not going to set the bar too high on his numbers, as he did hit for a career high .313 last season. Hard to imagine he does that again... that was the first time in his 16 seasons he's hit over .300. Even if Torii hits marginally, his defense in the outfield will be a more than welcome sight for me. He's an automatic improvement from anyone who played out in right field last season. Then again, he has won nine gold gloves.

Victor is going to be the real curious case for me. He hit a modest .264 during the spring, with 1 home run and 3 doubles. Before he blew his knee out last offseason, his 2011 campaign with the Tigers was a rather impressive one: hitting .330 and driving in over 100 runs. But at age 34, and a full season of recovering from knee surgery, it'll be intriguing to see how he holds up after the time off rehabbing. In his favor is the fact that he's not needed to play the field, thus causing a little less wear-and-tear on him. Martinez is a career .303 hitter. Though if he hits around .270 or .280 (while driving in a few runs here and there), then I think the team will be in good shape.

Can Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta come back from their regression-filled offensive seasons of last year? Can Andy Dirks stay injury free this season as he's the general mainstay in left field?

Stop calling me "Annabelle!" (photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
As for the pitchers, is the rotation as good as previously advertised? Time will tell, as we're going to assume that Justin Verlander will continue to pitch like the freak-of-nature everyone thinks he is. Also easy to assume that he and Max Scherzer will strike out about 400 batters between them again this year. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly both had solid outings this spring, but my concerns coming out of the spring are Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez in 4 starts for the Tigers this spring was touched for 13 runs, 26 hits and only striking out 6 in 16 innings pitched: good for a 7.31 ERA. Fister's command has lacked this spring, walking 12 batters in 19 1/3 innings. Last season Doug only walked 37 batters in over 160 innings pitched. While a simple tweak in command would be a good (and moderately obvious) remedy for Fister, it's Sanchez who might feel a little more of the heat if he doesn't start well: as he did sign a 5-year, $80MM deal to come back to the Tigers this past offseason, I'm not so sure the fans will be understanding of his struggles while he cashes those paychecks.

(We'll save the "closer by committee" talk for another time. That debate could easily fill an ordinary Sunday.)

With all that said, I'm sure all of us are eager to see what this 2013 Tigers team can accomplish in the long run of the season. While most people expect them to win the weak AL Central (Jon Morosi evidently disagrees), it'll be curious to see if they can finish off a championship run. Baseball is a game of inches, and for this team, every inch counts.


Play Ball!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Organ Donor? It's a Possbility

I don't use my blog to spout about my personal life - in fact, whether it be here or on Twitter, outside of talking occasionally about my wife and kids, I don't post much about my personal/private life. I'm under the general impression that no one would care about my life beyond social media, therefore I keep it to myself.

This time though, I'm going to share something that's quite serious, and rather life-changing.

My mother has informed me that she's on the wrong end of kidney failure. She'll need a transplant, and she'll need one soon.

That's where I (and possibly my brother) come in: time to see if I can be a viable donor.

Admittedly, I don't have the strongest relationship with my mother. She raised me strict, over-bearing, over-protective, etc. Looking back now, I can see why: she just wanted the best out of me, and wanted me to make proper decisions. I didn't do my best after I left home, and I may have made a number of wrong decisions, but as we stand, life is what it is. Two great kids, a wife and best friend who loves me and our lives as we have them now. And it can all change just like that with a major decision that I've been faced with.

In all reality, it's should be the easiest major decision ever. Can't let a family member pass because you don't want to help. Not so sure I could live with myself knowing I could help my mother and decided not to.

So I've filled out a questionnaire sent from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where the donation will happen. Soon enough, I'll receive a kit to take to my primary care doctor so that we can do simple tests and blood work to send back to Rush. If all goes well with that, I'll make an appearance at the clinic for another pre-donation test. If I am to donate, then I'll be spending a couple of days there for the operation. My mom gets a kidney, and she can go on living for a few more years. At 62, she's probably not ready to go just yet.

The scary thing for me is going to be the recovery. I'm a blue-collar worker, so I'm likely going to miss around a month or so while I get better. That's not what's scary: it's the lack of short-term disability from my employer. My life will likely get rather difficult if it becomes that much harder for me to bring in my end of the mortgage payments, food for my growing children, etc. My life as a beer snob will likely take a big hit, too. My desire to attend more and more baseball games could be in jeopardy as well.

But if I let those obstacles get in the way of granting my own mother a chance for a few more years, then I can just brand the word "selfish" on my big forehead.

I'm hoping one of my kidneys is healthy enough to donate. Because my mother has put up with a lot of my crap for this long, why not donate and help make that time even longer.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How the Twins Lost This Season Ticket Holder

Even as Detroit Tigers fans, we're very much aware of one of their AL Central foes, the Minnesota Twins - a ball club that has seen itself move from a decrepit facility in the Metrodome to the more lavish surroundings of Target Field; a ball club who's seen their fortunes dip quite a bit since moving to said facility.

Naturally, new ballparks are a great way to generate new or more revenue. Aside from actually paying for the new park, the extra people through the gates (especially in the first couple of years) should help boost the coffers of any ball club, regardless of how well they play.

The Twins first season in Target Field was a success. A 94-68 record, good for a first place finish in the Central. Their attendance during the inaugural season was at 3,223,640.

However, seasons two and three at the new yard weren't very successful. For the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Twins would finish in last place in the division, with 99 losses in '11 and 96 last season. Attendance for the 99-loss season? Not much worse than the 94-win season, at 3,168,107.

But last season's attendance showed a drop to 2,776,354. With the novelty of a new ballpark wearing off, the patience of Twins fans is wearing rather thin - it's hard to imagine that last year's attendance will be less than this season's attendance. Certainly, the crop of talent that the Twins will display on their roster to start the season will do nothing to entice more fans to spend on this ball club.

Here's an example of that - a co-worker of mine decided that he wasn't interested in renewing his season ticket package. Here's his reason, and the reply that he got from Dan Strong, a Twins season ticket and sales executive (the second paragraph of Mr. Strong's reply is one that had me laughing for 27 consecutive minutes):

I'm sorry, but the Twins haven't done much since then to change my mind about renewing my season tickets.  I did like the trades made to acquire some promising young pitchers (Worley, Meyer, and May), but this was quickly undone by (what I view as foolish moves and a waste of time and money) the free agent pick-ups of Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and the very oft-injured Rich Harden (the Joel Zumaya of 2013?).  I don't think that this group of mediocre (in fact borderline major league talent) will do much to change the Twins' fortunes this year - it's just the same old group of retread pitchers with a different name on the back of their uniform.

I respectively disagree with your assessment that the Twins "provide a baseball experience second to none."  I would argue that winning is the most vital part in providing an excellent baseball experience.  The Twins have not won a World Series since 1991 and have only won one play-off series since then (and that was way back in 2004).  I do appreciate the good (not great) teams that the Twins have fielded over the years, but recently, this organization has definately taken a step back.  I am glad that you (and I assume the Twins office in general) are confident about the 2013 Twins - however, I do not share this confidence at all and expect the Twins to finsh last in the AL Central yet again.  It is likely that only the Astros will prevent the Twins from having the worst record in the AL this year.  I hope that I am wrong.  Yes, Target Field is a great ballpark to watch a game, but when the team is dreadful, and nearly unwatchable at times, the baseball experience is bad regardless of what kind of palace they're playing in.

As far as the Twins season ticket plans, I was very disappointed with how the whole seat selection process was conducted when Target Field first opened.  I realize that there are logistical issues involved, but the fact that my 10 years as a season ticket holder had virtually no impact on the quality of seats that I could purchase really made me angry.  Every Johnny-come-lately with deep enough pockets to afford a full or 40-game package immediately stepped to the front of the line.  Compounding this was the fact that 20-game buyers were limited to the fringe areas of the ballpark.  One equitable solution in my mind would have been to break every established season ticket holder into equivalent "full seasons".  Thus an account that had 8-20 game seasons in their history would be the equivalent of 2 full seasons, while one with 8-40 game seasons would have the equivalent of 4 full seasons.  This would've been fair, but the Twins organization decided to take the short view and simply reward those who had spent the most money most recently (disregarding the total amount of money that we loyal partial game holders had poured into the Twins coffers over the years).  I do appreciate the Twins' decision to start giving a 10% discount on concessions to season ticket holders - that is a smart move.

As I said below, I'm sure that tickets for the upcoming All-Star game will be handled in a similar fashion.  Small potatoes like me would get the chance to buy tickets to the dumb events like the homerun derby, but would likely just be thrown into a "lottery" to have the chance to buy 2 nose-bleed tickets to the actual game.

Anyway, I still remain a Twins fan - just not one who will blindly spend my money to watch vastly inferior baseball.  I continue to believe that the best way for me to make my displeasure felt is to not renew my tickets.  I've had to sit through far too many horrible games started by Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Sam Deduno, et al in the past two seasons - I won't make it a third with Correia, Pelfry, etc.  I am not concerned at all about losing my position as a long-standing season ticket holder.  From a practical point of view, it didn't do me any good anyway.

And the reply:

While we are sorry that you did not renew your season tickets for the 2013 season, it is my hope that we did everything we could have to keep you as a Twins Season Ticket Holder.

Over the years, the Twins organization has earned a reputation for building quality teams and providing a baseball experience that is second to none.  And as we look to the upcoming season, we are committed to restoring the Twins winning tradition and have confidence that the 2013 Minnesota Twins will be a team you will once again be proud of.

As you know, a Twins season ticket delivers more than just a guaranteed seat.  The 10% concession and merchandise discount and the opportunity to purchase 2014 All-Star Game tickets are just a fraction of the benefits and opportunities being offered to Season Ticket Holders this season.  And if you return as a Season Ticket Holder before Opening Day – you will retain your priority date with us, meaning your tenure with the Twins will remain uninterrupted. 

Thank you for your past support of the ball club.  If I can answer any questions, please contact me at the phone number or email address below.  I’m happy to assist any way I can.


Dan Strong 

----------
I know, I know... that second paragraph from Dan Strong, right?

Though he might be right - the Twins baseball experience may indeed be "second to none." I just wonder if they're expecting that experience for their fans to be *that different.*

 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fun With Pre-Preseason Predictions

Each year before Spring Training officially kicks off, I pick the little corner of my brain and spill out how I think the baseball standings will look at the end of the season. I'm usually way off when it comes to making such predictions.

Last year was no different.

But alas, this is typically for entertainment purposes only. There's not a whole lot of thought process here, just some fun and games before the real fun and games get started.

Here goes nothing (which is what this is really worth):

American League

EAST
  1. Rays
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Yankees
  4. Orioles
  5. Red Sox
CENTRAL
  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. White Sox
  4. Indians
  5. Twins
WEST
  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. Athletics
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros
Wait... the Astros? Oh yeah. They moved, thus creating many more meaningless interleague games! Hooray for Bud Selig!

National League

EAST
  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins
CENTRAL
  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Pirates
  4. Brewers
  5. Cubs
WEST
  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies
Not exactly thinking outside the box on the NL standings here, as they're damn near the same as how they finished last year. Prove me wrong, Rockies, Cubs and Marlins!

 My Wild Cards: Blue Jays and Angels in the AL, Braves and Dodgers in the NL.

As far as the AL Central goes, naturally, the easy choice here is to pick the Tigers. The rest of the division, well, not so much. The division is by far the worst in baseball, as we may see 3, if not 4 teams finish below .500. Then again, last year I picked the White Sox to finish dead last in the division, and look what happened... they were playing meaningful baseball through most of September until the Tigers ultimately held them off. This season, I think the Royals will still be that pesky team that will still hit well, and maybe... just maybe pitch a bit better, too.

Happy Spring Training Eve, folks... it's time to get our baseball on.

(For entertainment purposes only. Please, no more bets...)

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Tigers Should Probably Hurry Up and Win The World Series

There's a lot of money being thrown around the baseball world, and the latest number has one Felix Hernandez landing himself a real nice contract extension that will ultimately make him the richest pitcher in baseball.

I can't blame the guy for agreeing to a deal that will pay him more than $27MM per season when the extension kicks in... any one of us would say yes to that.

So with that, Tigers fans like myself are waiting for the same kind of extension: only it would likely be in the neighborhood of 5 years, $200MM for one Justin Verlander, rather than 7 years, $175MM that is being reported (but not final just yet) for Felix.

Hit this, fools... (Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Some lack of objectivity might fall out of my train of thought here, but it's my humble opinion that Verlander is in fact, the best pitcher in baseball. Outside of a rather forgettable 2008 season, JV has been amongst the league leaders in wins, strikeouts, and ERA... leading the American League in all 3 categories in his Cy Young and MVP award winning season of 2011. That, along with his 2 career no-hitters, it's hard to argue that he's not the best. And realistically, he should be paid as such.

That's where this gets iffy. The Tigers payroll for 2013 - so far - is already over $145MM. $43.475MM of that is tied up with the current projected starting pitching, assuming that Rick Porcello wins the job of the 5th starter. Max Scherzer and Doug Fister both got raises - and deservedly so - and with strong seasons, hopefully injury free, both figure to get more substantial raises in their next go-round with arbitration (Max has 1 year of arbitration left, Doug has 2). While Sanchez is locked up longer term, Verlander has this and next season left on his current deal, a deal that pays him over $20MM per season now.

Naturally, the difference in Hernandez's contract and Verlander's contract is rather glaring. And I'm sure JV knows that.

Justin has said that he would love to spend his entire career with the Tigers. Noble, plus I don't really believe that an owner such as Mike Ilitch would be willing to let the best pitcher he's ever had under his control just walk away during the 2014-2015 offseason. So the matter becomes how much will he make, and when will the deal get done. The bigger problem becomes the rest of the rotation. It's rather hard to fathom that the Tigers could manage a reasonably lower payroll while keeping this rather nice core of starters. And it's not just the pitchers: Miguel Cabrera sees his contract expire after the 2015 season, and I'm going to assume that the majority of Tigers fans would rather see him finish his career with the club, as he could easily fit himself into a more probable DH role, especially after Victor Martinez's contract runs dry. But ultimately, in a realistic world, there's going to be no way to keep the current batch of pitchers while keeping payroll from reaching $200MM.

So, essentially, it just comes down to... win the World Series with what you have now. And do it fast.

The progression seems simple: lost the pennant in 2011, lost the World Series in 2012. That means the Tigers win it all in 2013, right?

We're going to have to hope so. While it's not my money that's being thrown around here, it's a bit worrisome that so many players are getting enormous contracts, and long-term ones, with no guarantees that success will be had. Case in point: Alex Rodriguez. Sure, he's a poor example because of his link to performance enhancing drugs, but his giant contracts over the course of his career are laughable since they are of little worth if he's not producing because he is hurt or unproductive. Albert Pujols' salary starting in 2014 will be $23MM and increase by $1MM each season thereafter, for a guy who's numbers are decreasing as each year passes (though for the next 2 seasons, he'll make less than Vernon Wells, another example of a bad yet hilarious contract).

Zack Greinke will average $25.5MM per season starting in 2014. We're all pretty sure that Verlander is a better pitcher. He'll probably get paid accordingly. For me, the numbers are scary. Pretty sure though, that Ilitch is going to do what he does, spend what he spends. And we as fans will still watch. No matter what the price tag is.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gimmie Back My Pennant!

With today's news that a Miami anti-aging clinic has linked several MLB players with using HGH or other performance enhancing drugs, I find myself asking:

Can we have a re-do of the 2011 American League Championship Series?

Okay, I don't really want a re-do, but since Nelson Cruz is among those on the list of players newly accused, it stands to reason that he might have been a little sauced during the Rangers 4-2 series win vs the Detroit Tigers.

I have zero proof of this, of course, and the article linked above merely mentions his involvement in performance enhancing in 2012. But it's fun to speculate: During the 6 games vs Detroit, he hit a robust .364, hit 6 HRs and drove in 13. His OPS was an incredible 1.713. Tigers fans will recall that this offensive demonstration was rather offensive. He was a key cog (along with anyone who pitched to him) in the Rangers success in the ALCS.

(If you ignore the rest of his postseason offensive numbers, he was really killer in 2011!)

Naturally, if the rumors are true, who know how far the (alleged PED) goes for Cruz, or anyone for that matter.

Though to be sure, if Cruz doesn't have that performance vs the Tigers, we wouldn't have been treated to this wonderful display of defense:

 
Almost!









In all seriousness, we should stop pretending that we'll ever get past the steroid era, because it seems that players will always look for that way to get an edge. Players are still doing it because they want the prestige that comes with their big offensive numbers, and of course - they want to get paid. Back to Cruz for the money: in 2010 he was drawing a $440K salary. In 2011, it bumped up to $3.65MM, based on his solid numbers for the '10 season, batting .318, with 22 HRs and 78 RBIs in 108 games. Cruz saw a drop-off in batting average the following season, but saw his power numbers stay relatively level while still earning him a raise that saw him get paid $5MM last season.

Again, nothing has been proven - yet, that is - but this nonsense of players trying to dodge the system will continue to be irritating for those who love the game. I know that the numbers posted by those who have used PEDs won't get erased, much like I know I can't talk MLB into giving the Tigers another shot at the 2011 Pennant. But where does it end? Will the players ever respect the game, or will they continue to try and juice it up?

In reality, I have as much faith in the players to stop trying to cheat as I have for Bud Selig to come forward and apologize for this mess. After all, he let it happen for so many years, and it'll take 2 or 3 times as long to clean it up. If that ever happens.