October 3rd, 2012

Leyland: Cabrera will be last-minute decision

Barring an extra-inning game, Josh Hamilton’s stats will be complete by the time the Tigers play tonight, so his home-run total should be clear. The Angels begin their game against the Mariners about an hour and a half before the Tigers take on the Royals, so Mike Trout will have had a couple at-bats. If he’s going to get the 6-for-6 performance necessary to beat out Cabrera on batting average, it should be clear by then.

Will those games play a factor in whether Cabrera plays tonight? Sure sounds like it, from what he told WXYT this morning.

“I’m going to make the decision on Cabrera probably at the last minute,” Leyland said. “I am going to watch what goes on.”

Other notes from his radio appearance: His biggest mistake, in his opinion, was playing Ryan Raburn as much as he did, and that in an ideal world he would have another right-handed hitter to use in the outfield so that he didn’t have to hit Andy dirks as often against left-handed pitching.

“I think that Andy Dirks is a very good player, and is going to be a very good player,” Leyland said. “But I think he’s somewhere in between playing every day and platooning some. And that’s a lot of respect to Andy Dirks. That’s pretty darn good.”

How to project the Tigers playoff roster

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday that they’ll go into their Division Series with an 11-man pitching staff and 14 position players (sorry for the mixup earlier), a result of needing just four starters. How that mix could depend on who the Tigers face in the series. No matter who they’re facing, though, they would seem to have a conundrum on how to fill out a seven-man bullpen.

Leyland took out one question about the positional roster Tuesday when he said that Avisail Garcia would start against a left-handed starting pitcher, as he has for a month now. Beyond that, though, you have to make some assumptions. Here’s an idea of some pretty safe choices:

  • OF: Quintin Berry, Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia, Austin Jackson
  • IF: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Ramon Santiago
  • DH: Delmon Young
  • C: Alex Avila, Gerald Laird

That leaves two more spots to be decided among the group of Brennan Boesch, Don Kelly, Danny Worth and catcher Bryan Holaday. If there was a nagging injury with a catcher, Holaday would make sense, because it would give Detroit some protection without having to move an injured catcher onto the disabled list and lose him until the World Series.

After that, it becomes a matter of the role to fill. Boesch is the left-handed power bat off the bench. Worth is a strong defensive infield option alongside Santiago. Kelly is the superutility player and potential defensive sub in the outfield, though that’s a role Garcia also fills.

As for the pitching staff, the rotation lines up after Justin Verlander with some combination of Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Rick Porcello, in no small part thanks to velocity drop and arm fatigue, appears far more likely to make the staff as a reliever than a starte.tr

With a seven-man bullpen, though, there isn’t much room.

  • Closer: Jose Valverde
  • Setup man: Joaquin Benoit
  • Seventh inning: Octavio Dotel
  • Lefty specialist: Phil Coke
  • Strikeout specialist: Al Alburquerque
  • Second lefty: Drew Smyly

That seemingly leaves one spot to be decided among Porcello, Brayan Villarreal, Luis Marte, Darin Downs and others. This could be where matchups and opponents have a say. One thing Leyland noted, though, is that a rainout in Game 1 would require teams to go to a five-man rotation for five games in five days.

Tigers open ALDS at home, against who-knows

Justin Verlander has a lot of unique standing among American League pitchers. Here’s another: He’s the one AL pitcher who knows for sure when and where he’s going to be making his next start.

The first pitch of the AL Division Series will be his on Saturday at Comerica Park. The opponent is a work in progress.

Though the five American League postseason teams are set, and the Tigers have the worst record of all of them, Detroit is the only team of the bunch that knows where it slots in. The other four have division races going into the regular season’s final day.

If the season ended Tuesday, the Tigers would be facing the AL West winner. Problem is, that race is now dead-even between the Rangers and A’s, pending their series finale Wednesday afternoon in Oakland.

If Texas wins Wednesday and the Yankees win the AL East, the Rangers will be facing the Tigers in a rematch of last year’s ALCS, only in a best-of-5 format. The Yankees own the season series advantage with the Rangers for top seed.

If Oakland wins Wednesday, then it gets complicated …

  • If the A’s and Yankees both win, the Tigers would be facing the A’s.
  • If the A’s win and the Yankees lose but still win the AL East, then the Tigers would face the Yankees, because the A’s won their season series against New York.
  • If the A’s win and the Yankees lose but the Orioles win, then the AL East comes down to a one-game tiebreaker Thursday in Baltimore. Technically, that game counts as an extra regular-season contest. It’s believed That extra game would not count for tiebreaking purposes against the AL West winner, so the Orioles would lose the head-to-head season series tiebreaker and would face the Tigers.

The O’s lost their season series against both the Rangers and A’s.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who the Tigers will face. The saving grace is that thanks to this year’s one-time formatting where the worse-seeded team hosts the first two games, Detroit doesn’t have to worry about where they’ll be on Thursday. They’ll host the first two games, then go on the road for Games 3-5.

“That’s interesting,” Verlander said. “This is the only year they’re going to do that. It’ll be nice, though. I know Saturday, I don’t know who I’ll be pitching against, but I know I’ll toe the rubber in Detroit.”

Will Miguel Cabrera play on Wednesday? Don’t tweet Leyland

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his decision to sit Miguel Cabrera after five innings was improvised. His call on whether and how long to play Cabrera in Wednesday’s regular-season finale is going to be planned out. Eventually. By somebody.

Leyland said he has not decided on that yet, but he also suggested he’ll defer to Cabrera’s wishes.

“There won’t be any debate if he wants to play,” Leyland said. “If he wants to play, he’ll play.”

When that comment got to Cabrera, he said he’ll defer to Leyland and what he wants him to do.

“He’s the manager,” Cabrera said, “and I respect his decisions. I respect whatever decision he’s going to make tomorrow. I’m good with that.”

Leyland’s decision has little to do with the Triple Crown, though it’s going to have to factor in whether he wants it to or not. His concern is more about keeping players healthy and getting them ready for the AL Division Series this weekend.

Cabrera has played all but one game this season. When he didn’t play, it was a huge deal because the Tigers were in the middle of a division race. If he doesn’t play Wednesday, it’ll be a big deal for altogether different reasons.

The realization was evident in Leyland quotes that the batting race is going to make this a huge decision.

“He’s got 600-some plate appearances and the kid’s leading the league by whatever he’s leading it by,” Cabrera said. “I have no idea what Trout’s doing. I’m not going to get into all that stuff. It’s just not worth it. We’re trying to get ready for a playoff, so you might as well make up your mind as a manager that some people are going to think you do the right thing, some people are going to think you do the wrong thing. I think he’s proven himself enough that no matter what I do tomorrow, I think he’ll be OK.”

That sounds like a manager who is setting up his option to sit Cabrera. But then comes this quote from Cabrera:

“I play 160 games, so one more I think isn’t going to affect me,” Cabrera said. “I’ll be ready tomorrow. It’s our goal to try to be ready to play every day, to go out there and have fun.”

The middle ground might be exactly what happened today: Play Cabrera for three at-bats, then get him out of the game. It would let him play, and it would give him a chance to receive a standing ovation on his way off the field.

“If I check my email and my little twitter, which I have neither one of, I’m sure I’ll have all kinds of suggestions on exactly how many at-bats he can have and still win it,” Leyland said. “I’m sure I’ll have all the information I need.”

Mike Trout, who went 1-for-4 to finish Tuesday at .324 (Cabrera’s at .331), will play an hour and a half earlier than Tigers-Royals. That’s likely too close to game time to be a factor in Leyland’s thinking, or Cabrera’s. Josh Hamilton, one home run behind Cabrera, has what amounts to a deciding game in the AL West race between the Rangers and A’s earlier in the day. That game should be over by the time the Tigers and Royals get started.