October 2012

Is Tigers offense waiting for pitching to win games?

By now, Delmon Young’s quote about the layoff affecting Detroit’s offense in Game 1 of the World Series has gone viral.

“Offense? We were down 4-0 quick, so you can’t blame the offense,” said Young.

Or as Young later said, “We were out of the game before we had our second at-bat. Didn’t matter if we had two months off or we played yesterday. We were down 4-0 quick.”

The Tigers were facing Barry Zito. When asked what made Zito so effective last night, Miguel Cabrera’s first words were, “The run support.”

The Tigers won the ALCS on the strength of their starting pitching. They scored a total of four runs from innings one through six of the first three games until breaking open Game 4 with a four-run fourth. As well as Tigers starters have pitched, and as long as they’ve been pitching well, it begs the question: Has the Tigers offense gotten into a wait-and-see mode?

Jim Leyland doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“I don’t worry about that,” Leyland said. “No excuses … but what worries me to death a little bit, to be honest with you, is the layoff that the pitchers have had. That’s what worries me more than the offense.”

In fact, he thought his offense had better swings than their results suggested.

“We did everything right, and I think that actually showed up in our swings last night,” Leyland said. “I thought we had pretty good swings to be honest with you.”

The two catches by left fielder Gregor Blanco, especially on Miguel Cabrera’s third-inning liner to left-center, were huge.

World Series Game 2 lineup: Tigers at Giants

Given the comments from Delmon Young last night, and some scattered remarks from some other folks, you wonder if the Tigers offense has gotten into a funk waiting for their pitchers to win them a game. That said, there’s one minor tweak in Detroit’s lineup today, with Gerald Laird behind the plate.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Avisail Garcia, RF
  8. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Doug Fister, P

What to make of Tigers bullpen after Game 1

If there was any bright side for the Tigers to take out of their 8-3 loss in Game 1 of the World Series, it’s that they have a much better idea who they can use in late-inning situations in their bullpen. That’s the bright side. The flip side is that it’s far tougher to see Jose Valverde being one of them.

Valverde, who never lacks for confidence, told reporters after the game that the adjustments he made last week worked, and that he threw better pitches against the Giants than he did in his blown save against the A’s and blown lead against the Yankees. The results, he had to admit, were terrible, with a double and three straight singles after he struck out Tim Lincecum.

“Everything’s working good for me,” Valverde said. “I have my sinker, my split, my cutter, everything good so far. You have to give credit to the hitters: Sandoval, Pagan, Scutaro, Posey. They hit my best pitches.”

Or as he said later, “My mechanics are good, and all my pitches are working. That’s what I want.”

Jim Leyland, who has stood by Valverde through his struggles and reminded people what Valverde has done for them over the last few years, didn’t see it that way.

“You know, he wasn’t terrible. He just wasn’t good,” Leyland said. “For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to be coming out quite right, although he did have a few 93s, a couple 93s, 92, 93.

“You know, it’s a little bit puzzling, to be honest with you. It looks like it’s just not quite exploding. But that’s pretty much all I can say about that.”

That soon after the game, there was no question asked about how Leyland would handle a save situation going forward. But it might have been fitting that as Valverde left the mound, Joaquin Benoit was coming in.

Benoit struck out Hunter Pence on a slider, then hit 97 mph — a rare range for him — on a fastball to strike out Brandon Belt. Benoit said after the game he wasn’t working on anything in particular in his first outing since Game 1 of the ALCS. He was just getting the rust off. He wasn’t seen throwing a lot of side sessions with pitching coach Jeff Jones watching. He hasn’t been giving up a ton of hits so much as the hits he has given up lately — all year, actually, if you look at the stats — have been huge.

If there’s a save situation with right-handed hitters coming up, it’s a lot easier to envision Benoit coming up than Valverde. Valverde thrived for the better part of two years on missing the middle of the plate more than any particular out pitch, and he wasn’t missing with nearly as much success Wednesday night. You wonder if Valverde might get another shot to show something in a game that’s out of reach, but there’s a real question how Leyland could use him otherwise.

This is the scenario Leyland was afraid of, have a short bullpen with somebody you can’t use. He can get through it if his starters go deep into games like they did in the ALCS, but if the Giants are fouling off pitches and working counts this series like they did against Verlander — no one- or two-pitch at-bats at all — the bullpen is going to have to cover some serious ground. Having a six-man bullpen instead of seven, and not having a set closer, puts more stress on a lot of guys. Leyland might still take another chance to try to make Valverde useful, even if it’s just earlier situations. But if the game gets out of hand again where Leyland can do that, the Tigers have a lot more trouble than their bullpen.

World Series Game 1 lineups: Tigers at Giants

Though there was some speculation that Andy Dirks would get the start in right field, Jim Leyland has expressed at other points this postseason that he preferred the right-handed bat against most lefties, that he had been starting Dirks out of a lack of other righty bats. Thus, about seven weeks after Garcia got the call to the big leagues, he’ll be starting Game 1 of the World Series.

The other call was Alex Avila behind the plate over Gerald Laird. It’ll be Avila’s first start against a lefty starter since Sept. 1, when he was in the lineup against Francisco Liriano. He went 0-for-3 in that game.

It’s worth noting As manager Jim Leyland noted, though, Avila has caught all three of Justin Verlander’s starts this postseason. It’s not that Laird can’t catch Verlander, obviously. He’s done it many times this season. But you have to figure this assignment is about not messing with a good thing.

“We just felt like the combination of Avila and Verlander [worked],” Leyland said.

Leyland also noted that with lefties starting the first two games of this series, and CC Sabathia having started Game 4 of the ALCS, Avila would go 10 days between starts if he didn’t play until the Giants trotted a right-handed starter.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-20, 4 K’s off Zito)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-8 off Zito)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (3-for-18, HR, 5 RBIs off Zito)
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (3-for-14, HR, 2 RBIs off Zito)
  7. Avisail Garcia, RF
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Justin Verlander, P

GIANTS

  1. Angel Pagan, CF (2-for-5, 3B off Verlander)
  2. Marco Scutaro, 2B (5-for-25, 2B, 3B, 9 K’s off Verlander)
  3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  4. Buster Posey, C
  5. Hunter Pence, RF
  6. Brandon Belt, 1B
  7. Gregor Blanco, LF (0-for-3, 2 K’s off Verlander)
  8. Brandon Crawford, SS
  9. Barry Zito, P

Game 4 start shows Tigers’ caution with Scherzer

Max Scherzer spent most of the summer outpitching Justin Verlander atop the Tigers rotation. Max Scherzer is spending the postseason as a Game 4 starter, the only Tigers starter guaranteed only one start in the best-of-seven series.

He filled the role in the best-of-5 AL Division Series against Oakland, and the best-of-7 ALCS against the Yankees. He’ll do the same against the Giants.

Scherzer has one earned run and 18 strikeouts over 11 innings this postseason. It’s the type of pitching most teams would want to get as often as possible in a seven-game series. The Tigers are concerned about the flip side, not getting it at all. With three other starters pitching as well as they have all season, it’s a luxury they can afford to take.

“Some people have asked about should he pitch in the fourth game,” Leyland said Monday, “but because of his little bit of setbacks recently, not too recently, but with the celebration and prior to that with a little tired arm, we decided this was the best way to go.”

It all goes back to the shoulder. No matter what the results for Scherzer, and they’ve been increasingly positive since his return at the end of the regular season, the Tigers aren’t going to take a chance with it.

On one hand, team officials downplay the injury. When shoulder soreness scratched him from one start after two innings and erased his assignment from another with a week to go in the regular season, he was diagnosed with deltoid soreness, not tendinitis.

“I know everybody keeps talking about that [as a shoulder injury], but it was definitely muscular,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. “They identified it quickly, so it was really more a matter of making sure he got it where it was rested again.

“Like [doctors] said, it’s just like a person that’s tired. But I was concerned as far as getting it up and going again.”

Even so, shoulder fatigue is enough for the Tigers to use caution. It’s not simply the injury itself, but the chance that trying to push too much to pitch through it could lead to something else.

Delmon Young will start in left field in Game 1

Aside from the big three of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, the Tigers struggled to find a better run producer in Interleague Play than Delmon Young, who hit .308 (20-for-65) with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs against the National League.

The one exception might be Quintin Berry, whose hot hitting upon arrival coincided with the National League portion of the schedule. He batted .314 (11-for-35) with a home run, five RBIs and seven runs scored in Interleague.

Berry has seen a late-season revival as the primary left fielder against right-handed starting pitchers since September. Young has been a postseason hero at DH, collecting an ALCS MVP award along the way.

Come Wednesday, whether the Tigers open up the World Series that night in St. Louis or San Francisco, they won’t have the DH. Leyland cleared up the confusion over who would play.

“The plan right now is to play him in left field for the first game,” Jim Leyland said. “I think it’s pretty hard to [sit him], the way he’s been swinging the bat. He’s the MVP of the American League Championship Series, and swinging the bat as well as he is, it would be pretty hard not to play him.”

Young batted 6-for-17 (.353) in the ALCS with two home runs and six RBIs. He drove in the winning run in all four games.

Young’s defense in left field needs no introduction. It might, however, need a refresher course over the next few days, because his playing time in the outfield since the All-Star break consists of a handful of games in late August and early September while Miguel Cabrera’s bad ankle limited him for a spell.

The Tigers worked out Saturday before playing scrimmage games against minor leaguers from their fall instructional league Sunday and Monday. Leyland said Young will get some outfield time over the next couple days.

As for who sits, it depends on who the Tigers face. The Cardinals do not have a left-hander in their rotation, so either Andy Dirks or Quintin Berry (who had been playing left) will start in right field. The Giants have lefty starters in Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner. In that scenario, Leyland would have to decide whether to go with the productive right-handed bat of rookie Avisail Garcia, or the more experienced left-handed bat of Dirks.

Leyland: Tigers will scrimmage Sunday and Monday

The Tigers are one Cardinals win away from a rematch of the 2006 World Series. They are not going to reprise the way they spent waiting for that World Series to actually get underway.

“We are going to play a couple games,” Leyland told ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning show on Friday.

The Cardinals beat the Tigers in that Fall Classic six years ago, but the Tigers also beat themselves with sloppy fielding and cold bats. Manager Jim Leyland admitted then, and holds to it now, that the six-day wait between the ALCS and the World Series opener killed them.

Leyland won’t let it happen again. With the World Series not opening up until Wednesday in St. Louis or San Francisco, no matter how soon the NLCS wraps up, the Tigers will spend the weekend working out before playing two games against a team of minor-league players from their Florida Instructional League team.

The workout schedule hasn’t been formally announced, but Leyland confirmed it on his radio appearance. Credit Paul Wezner of TigsTown.com with the report on the prospects coming to Detroit.

“We actually have our instructional league team coming to Detroit and we’re going to play a couple of actual games Sunday and Monday and have a workout Saturday as well,” Leyland told Mike and Mike. “We’re going to have our pitchers throw to hitters and we’re going to have our hitters face live pitching. So hopefully we’ll be a little more prepared this time.”

Indeed, a few Tigers prospects tweeted Thursday night that they’re coming to Detroit.

Apparently it won’t just be prospects either. Darin Downs, Detroit’s second lefty reliever for the season’s second half before Drew Smyly filled the role on the postseason roster, is also apparently making the trip.

 

Dombrowski: Leyland is welcome back

I tweeted about this last night, and MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian made mention of it in his excellent piece on Jim Leyland from last night’s celebration, but Dave Dombrowski finally cleared up some of the questions about Leyland’s situations during a postgame interview in the Tigers clubhouse. From the quotes:

“Jim Leyland is welcome back here. He knows that. He’s in a situation where we want him back, and I’m sure that he wants to come back. I would think that would be the way. But there’s a time and a place for that. It’s not right now.”

So why the delay?

“It was really his preference,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve known each other so long. We’ll get to this when we need to.”

Leyland confirmed last week that he wants to come back, but he has strongly hinted on several occasions that it’s not a given that he will. As recently as Thursday morning, during his pregame talk with beat writers prior to Game 4 of the ALCS, he used the phrase, “If I manage again …”

Maybe it’s a matter of timing. Maybe it’s a negotiation tactic. Maybe it’s Leyland trying to stay consistent with his stance of not putting the cart before the horse. Or maybe he’s leaving open the possibility of following in Tony La Russa’s footsteps and retiring on top if they win the World Series, though La Russa himself kind of panned that idea Wednesday.

“If I told him that, then he’d manage 10 more years,” La Russa told reporters. “He does the exact opposite of what I tell him. If I tell him how lousy it is, he might retire.”

 

But at this point, there’s clearly mutual interest in keeping this going.

ALCS Game 4 lineup (again): Tigers vs. Yankees

Same lineup as was scheduled yesterday. No truth to the rumor that Pudge asked to play today out of a force of habit. He’s in town to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Still no Granderson or A-Rod in Yankees lineup.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (6-for-24, HR, 12 K’s against Sabathia)
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (6-for-29, HR, 10 K’s off Sabathia)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (10-for-28, 2 HR, 12 RBIs, 8 BB off Sabathia)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH (8-for-34, HR, 9 K’s off Sabathia)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (2-for-20 off Sabathia)
  7. Andy Dirks, LF
  8. Avisail Garcia, RF
  9. Gerald Laird, C (10-for-24 off Sabathia)

P: Max Scherzer

YANKEES

  1. Ichiro Suzuki, LF
  2. Nick Swisher, RF (2-for-10, 5 K’s off Scherzer)
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B (3-for-13, HR, 4 K’s off Scherzer)
  4. Mark Teixeira, 1B (3-for-17, HR, 4 K’s off Scherzer)
  5. Raul Ibanez, DH
  6. Eric Chavez, 3B
  7. Russell Martin, C (3-for-17, 3 K’s off Scherzer)
  8. Brett Gardner, CF (0-for-9, 4 K’s off Scherzer)
  9. Eduardo Nunez, SS

P: CC Sabathia

As expected, Phil Coke available out of bullpen

Wednesday’s rainout was enough of an off-day for Phil Coke that the left-hander is now available out of the bullpen again. Jim Leyland said Wednesday afternoon he was going to rest him, which Mother Nature allowed him to do.

What that means for the closer’s situation is more of the same.

“Everybody’s available today,” Leyland said this morning, “and we’ll play it by ear.”

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