September 2011

Wednesday: The non-Cabrera lineup

Cabrera, as scheduled, is getting the day off. He’ll get in his pregame work, and Leyland said he won’t hesitate to use him as a pinch-hitter if there’s a chance to win the game, but he’s out of the lineup. The result: Victor Martinez moves up to cleanup, Alex Avila bats fifth and Jhonny Peralta bats sixth. Don Kelly plays first base in what his becoming his usual second spot. Wilson Betemit isn’t ready yet, so Brandon Inge gets the start at third.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 1B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Andy Dirks, RF
  8. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Max Scherzer/Doug Fister

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Melky Cabrera, CF
  3. Billy Butler, DH
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
  8. Salvador Perez, C
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS

P: Felipe Paulino

ALCS tickets go on sale Monday at 10am

The postseason is still nine days away, but the time to get in on tickets is now. The Tigers will put tickets for potential ALCS home games on sale this coming Monday at 10am ET.

The sales format will work the same as it did when Division Series tickets went on sale two weeks ago. The only ways to buy tickets will be online at tigers.com/postseason and by phone at 866-66-TIGER. The Comerica Park box office will not be selling tickets in person.

Fans are limited to buying four tickets per game.

With the full postseason field not even set yet, it’s next to impossible to speculate which games the Tigers would host. Detroit’s race with Texas or a better record and the AL’s second seed could be huge here. All that’s certain right now is the game schedule. Here’s the rundown for the best-of-7 series:

  • Game 1: Saturday, Oct. 8 (at higher seed)
  • Game 2: Sunday, Oct. 9 (at higher seed)
  • Game 3: Tuesday, Oct. 11 (at lower seed)
  • Game 4: Wednesday, Oct. 12 (at lower seed)
  • Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 13 (at lower seed)
  • Game 6: Saturday, Oct. 15 (at higher seed)
  • Game 7: Sunday, Oct. 16 (at higher seed)

Another way for fans guarantee a chance to buy postseason tickets for as far as the Tigers advance is to place a deposit on a full-season ticket package for 2012. For more information, visit tigers.com or call a Tigers ticket sales representative at 313-471-BALL.

Talent versus experience

There are a lot of ways to measure how long this three-city, nine-game road trip has been. The weight of my suitcase is one. But here’s another: A week ago, on the first stop of this trip, there were two scouts from other American League teams who were following the Tigers, and suggested that if it was up them, they would put Brad Penny in Detroit’s postseason rotation over Rick Porcello. The reason they cited was experience, plus an abundance of left-handed hitters from a potential opponent.

With a week left in the regular season, it’s increasingly difficult to see it happening. His recent experience has been a challenge.

Five starts have passed since Penny outpitched David Price in Tampa Bay, paving the path for the Tigers to take three out of four from the Rays and establish themselves among the teams to watch in the league. It was a prime example how valuable Penny can be in a big situation. Since then, Penny has given up 31 runs, 23 earned, on 41 hits over 25 innings, bumping his ERA a half-run to 5.31 for the season.

He has had stretches where he has shown the ability to cover quality innings even when he hasn’t had his best stuff. That wasn’t the case Tuesday, when an aggressive Royals lineup never quite let him off the ropes.

Manager Jim Leyland said after the game that he gave Penny a shot against Eric Hosmer with two outs in the fourth inning in a situation when he might have otherwise gone to one of his lefty relievers.

“He could’ve come out of there at 4-0,” Leyland said, “but I wanted to put that little challenge out there for him. Normally, I would’ve brought in the lefty for Hosmer and Francoeur. Just find out.”

Hosmer went deep for a three-run homer and a 7-0 Royals lead.

Porcello hasn’t quite had the same stuff that helped him go 5-0 in July, but he has been a lot better than he was in August. He also pitched in a playoff atmosphere in 2009. He’s scheduled to start Friday against the Orioles with a streak of three straight quality starts going. Both Porcello and Penny have one more start left after that — Penny against the O’s on Sunday, Porcello possibly the season finale against the Indians next Wednesday. One would expect that by the latter, we’ll know the Tigers rotation and order for the Division Series.

The thing with Penny is that his use as a reliever is somewhat limited. He’s someone who has a lengthy warmup routine when he starts, and it would be difficult to give them that much time to warm up in a relief situation unless it’s a game coming out of a rain delay. That said, he has the level of experience nobody out there does.

Starting is Penny’s best shot at the postseason. Right now, he’s struggling to find that form that made him valuable in playoff-type matchups before. It’s not a situation to take lightly, because like many veterans, Penny weighed the market last winter for another shot at the postseason.

Tuesday: Tigers at Royals

Just so nobody panics, here’s your reminder that Miguel Cabrera has the day off tomorrow. Jim Leyland announced that on Sunday, and confirmed it again today. As for today, it’s a pretty standard lineup. Don Kelly gets the start with Wilson Betemit still out, but Betemit said his left knee is feeling a lot better and should be back soon.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 3B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Andy Dirks, RF
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P:  Brad Penny

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Melky Cabrera, CF
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  4. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  5. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  6. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
  7. Mitch Maier, DH
  8. Salvador Perez, C
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS

P: Luis Mendoza

Postseason roster, rotation getting a few hints

Jim Leyland isn’t close to determining his postseason roster or rotation, he said Tuesday. But he laid a few hints towards the formation of it.

  • Jacob Turner will start Thursday’s series opener against Baltimore. Doug Fister will be pushed up tomorrow night to piggyback Max Scherzer’s start here in Kansas City. Leyland didn’t explain it, but he didn’t have to: Five days from Wednesday is next Monday, and five days from that is Saturday, the date for Game 2 of the AL Division Series. By moving up Fister, Leyland gives himself the option of starting Fister in Game 2 on regular rest.
  • Leyland said he’s “95 percent sure we will have an extra player, because we will have 11 pitchers.” The Tigers need just four starters for the postseason, not five. That spot that would normally go to a starter can go to either a reliever or a position player. Leyland all but confirmed it’s a position player.
  • Leyland said he doesn’t think Victor Martinez will catch a game again this regular season. Combine this bullet point with the one above, and Omir Santos’ chances of making the postseason roster as a backup catcher look better than they did last week.
  • No idea yet whether Carlos Guillen will be ready for the postseason. Guillen said today he’s feeling a little better, but it’s still very sore, and he still can’t so much as hit. He’s believed to be another candidate for that final spot, but Leyland confirmed that if Guillen can’t play in a regular season game the rest of the way, he won’t be on the Division Series roster.
  • Al Alburquerque is slated to pitch in relief tonight. If that goes all right, he should be good to go for the playoffs.
  • Leyland confirmed what he had already strongly suggested: Justin Verlander will be set up to pitch Game 1 and Game 5 in the Division Series.

Sunday: Tigers at Athletics

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 3B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Carlos Guillen, 2B
  8. Andy Dirks, RF
  9. Ramon Santiago, SS

P: Justin Verlander

ATHLETICS

  1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
  2. Scott Sizemore, 3B
  3. Coco Crisp, CF
  4. Josh Willingham, LF
  5. David DeJesus, RF
  6. Chris Carter, DH
  7. Brandon Allen, 1B
  8. Kurt Suzuki, C
  9. Eric Sogard, SS

P: Guillermo Moscoso

Dombrowski: Every GM gets criticism

So we learned Friday night how manager Jim Leyland attached a little personal satisfaction to the Tigers’ AL Central title, because of the criticism that he took and the speculation early on that he wouldn’t be back next season. Saturday morning was the first chance for team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski to talk since the Tigers clinched Friday night. He wouldn’t go that far.

To him, it comes with the territory. He seemed to take offense to how few pundits and experts had predicted this summer that the Tigers would take over this division, but he didn’t make much of his own situation. The flip side of that, though, is that he didn’t try to take too much credit for all the July trades that worked out in the Tigers’ favor and helped turn them from a contending club into a division champion.

“Do I feel vindicated? Do I feel this? Do I feel that? No,” Dombrowski said, “but I think it’s a situation where it just kind of speaks to how delicate a situation it can be, what a balancing act it is. And you have to make the moves that you think are the right ones. And if you don’t, I think the worst thing you can do [is nothing] — because I’ve seen general managers do this — where all of a sudden they won’t pull the trigger because when they pull the trigger everybody’s on top of them, and then they end up eventually losing their jobs.

“Everybody’s going to make a trade that doesn’t work. Everybody’s going to make a decision that doesn’t work, if you make enough of them, because it’s not a scientific formula. … I think you do all your homework beforehand, but if you’re afraid to pull the trigger, you’re going to be in trouble. You’re not going to be successful. That’s just the way it is. And if you think that every one of them’s going to work, you’re going to be wrong. And you also have to understand there’s criticism that’s attached.”

Dombrowski used 2008 as an example, from the Edgar Renteria trade from Atlanta to the Jacque Jones deal with the Cubs, among others.

“We had a bad year in 2008, and everybody in the world picked us to win,” Dombrowski said. “We didn’t have the Midas touch that year. We made some moves that didn’t work out, and I know I scratched my head that wintertime and looked at those inside and out on why those things happened the way they did and we had meetings on it and discussed it inside and out.”

A year later, he said, they had a better year and contended, and they tried to bolster their case at the trade deadline. They thought they had. So did everybody else.

“To this day, in 2009, when we acquired Jarrod Washburn, I cannot tell you how happy I was and everybody in the organization was, and I remember how everybody praised it to the hilt,” Dombrowski said. “And it didn’t work. That’s why it’s a humbling game sometimes.”

He looked over that deal, no doubt, just as he did with the trade that brought them Aubrey Huff from Baltimore. Washburn had a knee injury that didn’t allow him to pitch down the stretch, when they were struggling to hold on. Huff didn’t work out for performance.

In either case, Dombrowski said, they try to break down the deals and pinpoint what went wrong. Sometimes, he said, it isn’t anything.

“Whose fault is it? Is it yours, that you acquired the guy? Is it the scouts that recommended him? Is it the manager who writes him in the lineup? Is it the players around him? Is it the player’s fault? I’ve never really figured that one out,” Dombrowski said, “because when you make the move, it’s the time where it’s the move to make. And it’s not like you don’t do your homework.

“So it’s a humbling game, and I think as a general manager, when you’re in that position, you just have to make moves and you have to do them the best you possibly can.”

Dombrowski pointed to the Curtis Granderson three-team trade as a rare example of a trade that worked out for all teams involved. The Tigers have clinched a postseason spot. The Yankees and Diamondbacks aren’t far behind.

“And every one of the guys [in the deal] are key guys,” Dombrowski said. “And I’m glad that the guys we traded are doing well, that Curtis is doing well and of course Edwin Jackson brought [Daniel] Hudson in return [for Arizona in another trade]. But our guys have done very well for us, too, and have been integral parts of why we’ve won.”

So have the deals Dombrowski worked out this summer, from the Wilson Betemit deal with Kansas City to the Doug Fister acquisition at the Trade Deadline and the Delmon Young trade with Minnesota last month.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Dombrowski said. “If you think that [they all work], as soon as you think that, you’re going to get smacked down. If somebody in the game thinks they’re better than someone else, boom, it ultimately hits them right between the eyes. And any success that I would have is attributed to the people in the organization — having good scouts, having good people around, having guys like Al Avila and John Westhoff and Scott Reid and David Chadd and Dan Lunetta and those groups and all our Major League scouts. Those are the ones that make us successful.”

Saturday: Tigers at Athletics

Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both went to Jim Leyland in the midst of last night’s celebration and said they wanted to be in the lineup Saturday. And they are. Alex Avila is not, though he didn’t ask off. Omir Santos gets the start behind the plate, while Danny Worth gets his first start at second since he was recalled from Toledo.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  3. Ryan Raburn, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Brandon Inge, 3B
  8. Danny Worth, 2B
  9. Omir Santos, C

P: Rick Porcello

ATHLETICS

  1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
  2. Coco Crisp, CF
  3. Hideki Matsui, DH
  4. Josh Willingham, LF
  5. David DeJesus, RF
  6. Cliff Pennington, SS
  7. Brandon Allen, 1B
  8. Kurt Suzuki, C
  9. Scott Sizemore, 3B

P: Gio Gonzalez

 

Cabrera quietly watches his team celebrate

To get an idea what this division title means for Miguel Cabrera, it’s best to think back to two years ago.

When the Tigers lost the tiebreaker that year, Cabrera sat in the clubhouse, his back hunched over, and cried openly. He felt like he had cost the team the division, a feeling more rooted in emotion than in fact. It took a bevy of teammates to console him.

As the Tigers celebrated Friday night, spraying champagne around the plastic-wrapped front half of the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, Cabrera sat away from the crowd on the opposite side, watching it all as he puffed on a cigar and drank from a bottle of water. He had a look of pure contentment. He didn’t partake in the champagne, obviously, but he wasn’t partying regardless. He was soaking it all in.

“I have four years right now in Detroit,” he said. “Finally, we win the division. We’re here for this, man, to win. You have to give a lot of thanks to our owner, to our general manager. They put a lot of great guys here together. We finally made it, man.”

Just hours earlier, manager Jim Leyland said Cabrera was playing these days with more energy than he’s had all year. Cabrera didn’t argue. It’s the chance at the playoffs, he said, that brought it out of him. He hadn’t been to the postseason since he was a 20-year-old rookie with the 2003 Marlins. He badly wanted to get back, and he played like it.

When Cabrera caught Brandon Inge’s throw across the infield to retire Jose Willingham for the game’s final out Friday night, everyone was waiting to see how Jose Valverde would celebrate a title. Cabrera quietly made a sign and pointed to the sky to thank god.

“I feel great, man. I feel great. I’m happy,” Cabrera said. “We’re here for the fans, for the owner, for the general manager, for our manager. It feels awesome. It feels awesome we come through for our owner. We have a long way to go right now. We have to just keep playing hard. We have to keep winning and try to be ready for the playoffs.”

He was one of several already thinking to the playoffs. Justin Verlander was another. But he was one of many whose sustained intensity in September helped the Tigers get to this piont, clinching so soon.

Still, once they got here, he let everyone else act crazy. He just sat back and watched.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We know we have a good team. We battled all year. We know we can win the division, and we did it. We always play hard. It feels awesome, man.”

For Leyland, AL Central crown is personal

While the Tigers made a champagne-soaked, cigar-smelling mess of the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, Jim Leyland was tucked away in the manager’s office, enjoying a cigar he received from closer Jose Valverde. He had his hugs from players and coaches, and he got his share from champagne spray from Carlos Guillen, Phil Coke and others.

“There was a bunch of them that nailed me,” he said.

But there in his office, with the Tigers’ first division title since 1987 now official, Leyland got a little vindication, too. And he wasn’t shy talking about it.

He looked back in amazement at what they had done, not just over the last two weeks, but over the last 4 1/2 months. They were eight games behind the Indians on May 3, and they’re up 13 1/2 games now, a 21 1/2-game turn over the course of 121 games. They went from questions whether they were already out of the division race to becoming the first team to clinch a division title this year.

And Leyland went from a manager on the speculative hot seat to a potential AL Manager of the Year candidate.

“I’m an emotional guy. We all know that,” Leyland said. “I have a very special satisfaction, personally, for obvious reasons. Probably lot of people didn’t think I’d be managing the Tigers next year at the start of the season.”

Leyland managed this season in the final year of his contract without any guarantee of an extension coming. He and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski were under pressure to win now. When they got off to a sub-.500 start, the questions rose whether he would make it.

As mentioned, they’ve outplayed everyone else in the division by far since then, including the longest streak by a Tigers team since 1934. And several players credited Leyland’s drive with turning this into such a long streak.

“Skip’s been saying, ‘Keep your foot on the pedal, on the gas pedal and keep going at the end,” Brandon Inge said. “That’s honestly what everyone’s done. You’ve got to admire the focus that everyone’s had here coming down the stretch. Just watching Miggy, Peralta, Victor, all those guys. They just kept going and kept going and never let off. Even when you have a big lead sometimes, you tend to let up. They kept going. Those guys are unbelievable.”

So did Leyland. Friday was a chance for him to take pride in the fact that he’s still standing.

“I’ve been around a long time. I don’t think any one is more special than any other. But you always find a reason to make this one special,” Leyland said. “This one’s special for me for personal reasons.”

He was then asked whether he wanted to show something to the baseball world.

“I don’t think I want to show the baseball world,” Leyland said. “I’m just glad I’m managing the Tigers next year, when probably a lot of people thought I wouldn’t be here. It sounds kind of selfish, and maybe it is, but that’s why it’s personal.”

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