May 23rd, 2009

The 40-game mark

I alluded to Sparky Anderson’s old milestone for evaluating a team when I was writing about last night’s game, a mark that basically gained steam from the Tigers’ 35-5 start in 1984. This year’s team isn’t anywhere near that, and they’re not using 40 games as a benchmark. Still, this season’s 24-16 record through 40 games is the fourth-best such mark since that ’84 squad. The ’06 World Series squad went 27-13. The ’93 and ’88 teams both went 25-15. The ’07 and ’85 Tigers also went 24-16. All of those teams finished with winning records, though only the ’06 team went to the postseason.

The thing that stands out about this year’s start is more than the record, but the way the Tigers have been winning. Detroit entered Saturday second in the AL in fielding percentage, barely behind Minnesota. The 3.96 ERA from the overall ranks third in the AL, and the 3.85 ERA from the starters is second only to the Angels. The Tigers have had quality starts in nearly half their games, 19 out of 40.

“If we continue to pitch and catch the ball, we’ll be OK,” manager Jim Leyland said.

The defense feeds into the pitching with outs they might not have otherwise had last year. The pitching feeds into the defense by working efficiently, especially with the much-improved Justin Verlander and the revelation that has been Edwin Jackson.

The other facet is how the Tigers basically transitioned their offense after the season started because of injuries and deals.

“It’s been interesting,” Leyland said, “because we’ve been a different type club recently than we were before. So when our other guys come back, we’ll be relying more on hitting the ball in the gaps and out of the ballpark and driving in big runs. But when we’ve had this group, we’ve relied a little bit more on some defense and speed. But the bottom line, the common denominator, is the pitching continues to pitch good.”

Magglio returns to lineup

There were some good reasons why Friday wasn’t the right time to bring Magglio Ordonez back to the lineup. Not swinging a bat for four days was one. Ubaldo Jimenez’s success against right-handed batters compared to lefty hitters was another, though it’s baffling why he doesn’t dominate lefties with the two-seamer he was unleashing inside on LH hitters Friday night. Plus, Ordonez was traveling earlier in the day Friday to return from his home in Florida, where his wife had surgery.

Today, obviously, is the day. Magglio’s batting fifth as the designated hitter, with Clete Thomas in right field and Ryan Raburn in left. Magglio had a very good session of batting practice Saturday, and he said today that he felt a lot more free and easy swinging the bat. He has some peace of mind now that he hasn’t had for a while.

TIGERS

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Thomas, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Ordonez, DH
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Raburn, LF
  8. Laird, C
  9. Everett, SS

P: Armando Galarraga

ROCKIES

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  3. Todd Helton, 1B
  4. Brad Hawpe, RF
  5. Chris Iannetta, C
  6. Seth Smith, LF
  7. Garrett Atkins, DH
  8. Ian Stewart, 3B
  9. Clint Barmes, 2B

P: Jason Marquis

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