For the second time in six weeks, Joaquin Benoit delivered eight outs over two nights. Except for one fastball over the plate that Brian Dozier jumped Monday night, he would’ve gotten back-to-back saves out of it.
That kind of workload is something Leyland rarely does with Benoit until the postseason. He did it once last year, and that was during a busy June that set up his spat of home runs around midseason. Expect him to be called upon for a four- or five-out save at some point in the playoffs if the Tigers make another run, because of how much pressure rests on each game.
Benoit knows it, and he knows he needs to be able to do it. As much as he wanted to be out there Tuesday after the blown save on Monday and give the team some reassurance, he knew it would be a test for him.
“It was really challenging for me coming back — 1 2/3 yesterday, coming back and throwing one inning today,” Benoit said. “It was good.”
He wasn’t the only one reassuring. Bruce Rondon returned to the Tigers bullpen after three weeks working back from a tender elbow, promptly entered a big game in the eighth inning, and had to show what he has at this point. The 101 mph fastball is still there. The slider, a pitch that puts stress on the elbow, might have looked better than ever.
Even he wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but he couldn’t have been happier with the results: 10 pitches, 3 strikeouts.
Rondon said he felt “a little bit weird, a little bit tight” on his first few pitches before he settled in. He also felt somewhat scared about throwing his slider because of the elbow — until he saw the results.
He’s not going to replace Jose Veras in the eighth inning, no matter how much frustration fans might have over the results lately. But if he’s back as an option, whether for a batter or an inning, he has the chance to be a major factor in the postseason. For him, too, Tuesday was a test.
“I wanted to see if he threw it over the plate or around the plate,” Leyland said. “The only thing I was concerned about was the control because he hadn’t pitched in so long, but it set up just right for him, the lineup did, because you had three right-handers in a row there. So we couldn’t ask for anything better.
“If we don’t get [him] through it there, then we don’t get through it. But I was impressed with the fact that he threw the ball over the plate and around the plate, and he got them speeding the bat up to catch up with the fastball and the slider was very effective.”
The numbers for Scott Diamond this season are fairly bad. The numbers for Scott Diamond against the Tigers are fairly good aside from Miguel Cabrera. This should be a good test for how deep the Tigers’ recent struggles with left-handed starters go.
TIGERS (career numbers off Diamond)
- Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-20, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-11, walk, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (10-for-21, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (3-for-17, walk, 4 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-14, K)
- Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-12, HR)
- Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (1-for-7)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-5, 3 K’s)
- Ramon Santiago, SS (0-for-4)
P: Doug Fister
TWINS (career numbers off Doug Fister)
- Alex Presley, CF (1-for-3)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (5-for-9, HR, K)
- Trevor Plouffe, 3B (2-for-17, HR, 2 K’s)
- Josh Willingham, DH (6-for-20, 2 HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Josmil Pinto, C
- Ryan Doumit, RF (2-for-11, walk, 2 K’s)
- Chris Parmelee, 1B (2-for-8, walk, 4 K’s)
- Clete Thomas, LF (0-for-3)
- Eduardo Escobar, SS (0-for-3, K)
P: Scott Diamond
A day after Phil Coke threw off the bullpen mound at Target Field and felt good, seemingly feeling fine and ready to return to the Tigers relief corps, things aren’t fine anymore. He’s heading back to Detroit for an MRI on his left elbow, which tightened up on him again overnight.
“Today it was tight and sore,” Coke said. “And before I threw yesterday, I didn’t feel anything.”
Coke will undergo an exam Wednesday afternoon. What happens there is anyone’s guess, depending on the results. Even the best-case scenario, treatment and rest rather than surgery, seemingly leaves little to no time to get him ready for the postseason, which leaves the Tigers bullpen devoid of experienced lefties.
Coke is hoping for the best, but it’s clear he’s understandably nervous about what he’s going to find out, among other emotions.
“I’m incredibly disappointed right now just because the way it’s been going,” Coke said. “I feel like I’m letting everybody down. I don’t deal well with being in this current position.
“It’s a whole what-if thing. I mean, what if I told them to shut me down sooner? Where would we be right now? I don’t know. That’s what makes it so difficult.”
What Coke means is something he has said in recent days: He has been dealing with some degree of elbow discomfort for a while, as long as last October.
“I’m really apologetic to the fan base for the season having gone the way it has, because I’ve been fighting it all season, and I was fighting through soreness in the postseason last year too,” he said. “That’s what I was attributing it to, because I was able to go out and do my job and get it done and no major problems. That’s what I felt like I was doing throughout the season this year, but it must be a little bit different than I thought.”
He became a postseason hero last October when he stepped into save situations during the ALCS to mow down a lefty-heavy Yankees lineup. With today’s news, it’s looking more and more like he’ll miss his chance to repeat it and put a frustrating regular season behind him. At the very least, the Division Series seems tough to pull off if he needs any significant amount of rest.
“I was really, really hopefully that today was going to be the best day,” he said. “This is the definitive time. If you’re going to proceed forward, you need to be doing your job.”
Justin Verlander’s outing Monday night could go a long way towards easing the concern about him for the playoffs. They just have to get there first.
The latter should happen in the next day or two. If there’s a postseason spot hanging on his next start in the regular-season finale Sunday at Miami, they’re in trouble. If not, the outing will all be about getting him ready to roll for October.
Verlander has been talking about it for weeks, calling the postseason a deadline for him to get his game together. He’ll face way better, more experienced lineups than the Twins fielded Monday, but if he can throw curveballs like he did Monday, the caliber of hitters probably won’t make much of a difference. When he executed, he could get outs at will.
It was a tight, sharp breaking ball rather than a big, loopy curve. The movement, moreover, included a little action diving outside from right-handed hitters, which really seemed to throw hitters off. He felt good about his curveball last outing, too, despite the results. This time, the strikeouts backed up his point.
“I think I had the best breaking ball I had all year,” he said. “It was really sharp. I was able to go to it when I wanted to, throw it for strikes and expand the zone with it. Fastball location was better than it has been, and I was able execute for the most part.”
Verlander threw 20 curveballs, according to brooksbaseball.net, and threw 11 of them for strikes. He induced just three swings and misses from them, but spotted seven others for called strikes. It took him an inning or two to get it going, and he needed his slider to get him through that stage until he could feel comfortable going to the curve for strikes. Once he got it going, though, he was throwing them ahead in counts and daring opponents to try to hit it. They didn’t.
That success made up for a drop in his strike percentage on fastballs. He had been pounding the zone at a 70 percent rate on his fastballs over his previously two or three starts, but threw strikes with just 30 out of 47 fastballs Monday (63.83 percent). Seven of those strikes were swings and misses.
Add in 22 changeups and 18 sliders, and Verlander had one of his better mixes of the year going for him.
“Verlander had great stuff tonight,” Brian Dozier said. “The last time we faced him at their place, he was sharp. But he was back to his old self tonight. His curveball was really working tonight and punched out a lot of guys. So our goal when he’s going like that is to make him work and get to the bullpen.”
As you probably have heard already, Miguel Cabrera is back in the lineup. Jim Leyland was limited in his comments about it today, but his quote from the weekend presumably still stands: If Cabrera’s good to play, he’s going to play.
Jose Iglesias is not good to play yet. Ramon Santiago gets his fourth start in a row at shortstop.
On the Twins side, it’s a much different lineup without Justin Morneau (who’s in Pittsburgh) and Joe Mauer (who’s done for the season with concussion symptoms). Oswaldo Arcia was supposed to bat cleanup tonight, but he ran into the outfield wall during batting practice and has been scratched. So it’s Brian Dozier batting third, Josh Willingham at cleanup, and a whole lot of less experienced players everywhere else.
TIGERS (career numbers off Mike Pelfrey)
- Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-10, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-15, HR, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-17, 7 walks)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (8-for-23, 3 HR, 2 walks, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-14, walk, 2 K’s)
- Andy Dirks, LF (4-for-11, 2 HR, walk, K)
- Omar Infante, 2B (15-for-37, 2 walks, K)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-8, walk, 3 K’s)
- Ramon Santiago, SS (1-for-3, walk, K)
P: Justin Verlander
TWINS (career numbers off Verlander)
- Alex Presley, CF (1-for-3, walk)
- Chris Herrmann, RF (2-for-4)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (2-for-6, K)
- Josh Willingham, DH (2-for-17, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
- Josmil Pinto, C
- Chris Parmelee, 1B (3-for-10, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
- Clete Thomas, LF (1-for-4, K)
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (1-for-5)
- Pedro Florimon, SS (1-for-7, walk, 3 K’s)
P: Mike Pelfrey
On my way to Minneapolis this morning, here’s a quick refresher on the Tigers’ clinching scenarios:
- They’ve already clinched some sort of playoff game after the regular season. If the Tigers were to somehow go 0-6 on this road trip, and Cleveland and Texas both won out, Detroit would finish in a tie with the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot, which would force a one-game playoff on Monday.
- Keeping the above scenario in mind, then, any Tigers win or Rangers loss would
clinch a postseason berth for Detroit. The Rangers host the Astros tonight around the same time the Tigers begin their three-game series against the Twins. If the Tigers win tonight, or if the Rangers lose, Detroit can do no worse than a Wild Card spot.
- The magic number for clinching the AL Central title is two. However, the most the Tigers can take off of that tonight is one. A win in Minnesota tonight would clinch at least a tie for the division crown, but they’ll need another win or an Indians loss on Tuesday (or later in the week) to wrap up the division title outright. If the Tigers and Indians were to finish tied atop the Central, they’d play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday, even if the second team were guaranteed a Wild Card berth.
Bottom line, the Tigers aren’t going to do any celebrating tonight, even if they beat the Twins and clinch a postseason spot. The soonest they can celebrate a division title is Tuesday night. If the beat the Twins these next couple nights, they’ve got the Central.
As for seeding, the Tigers are two games behind the A’s for home field in the Division Series, and 3 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the AL’s top seed. Oakland begins a three-game series in Anaheim tonight. Boston is off tonight before beginning a two-game Interleague series in Colorado (the Tigers aren’t the only team bemoaning losing the DH in the season’s final week, it turns out).
The lineup was posted when the clubhouse opened this morning, so it wasn’t necessarily a statement on Cabrera’s status. Rather, Leyland wasn’t taking any chances playing him today. Torii Hunter gets the day game after the night game off, giving Nick Castellanos a chance to start.
Both Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are off today for the White Sox, which means Avisail Garcia gets to bat cleanup.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Don Kelly, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Omar Infante, 2B
- Ramon Santiago, SS
- Nick Castellanos, LF
P: Anibal Sanchez
- Alejandro De Aza, LF
- Alexei Ramirez, SS
- Conor Gillaspie, 1B
- Avisail Garcia, RF
- Jordan Danks, CF
- Jeff Keppinger, DH
- Gordon Beckham, 2B
- Josh Phegley, C
- Marcus Semien, 3B
P: Erik Johnson
The Tigers’ incredible comeback win Saturday night gives them a chance to clinch their third consecutive division title as soon as Sunday. If they do, they could soon have a decision to make on resting Miguel Cabrera, who left Saturday’s game in the 10th inning with soreness in his groin area.
It’s the same injury that sidelined him earlier this month, and the latest setback in an injury-plagued second half for the American League batting leader. Just how bad this latest aggravation is remains to be seen.
“I don’t think it’s too good,” manager Jim Leyland said.
Cabrera wasn’t sure. He wanted to wait until he returns to Comerica Park Sunday morning before determining the severity.
“It’s a little sore,” Cabrera said. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Between groin, abdominal and hip flexor issues, Cabrera has had limited mobility since the end of June. He had been looking healthier this week, dancing in the clubhouse on occasion and moving around better in the field. His slow turn around first base on his fourth-inning single to the right-field corner, however, was a bad sign.
Cabrera tried to stretch the hit into a double, but right fielder and former Tiger Avisail Garcia easily threw him out at second. When Cabrera came back up to bat in the seventh, he was noticeably slow out of the batter’s box on a groundout to third, then was seen hunched over at third base for the top of the eighth inning.
Cabrera singled and scored from second in the top of the ninth, then walked in his second at-bat of the inning. When Donnie Veal retired Prince Fielder to send the game into extra innings, however, Don Kelly took Cabrera’s place at third.
“I think he irritated it a little bit,” Leyland said.
Matt Tuiasosopo, 4-for-11 for his career off Chris Sale, gets the start in left field, his fourth start this week. Unless something changes with the roster in the final week, it sounds very much like he has regained his balance in the outfield mix. When asked about Nick Castellanos’ role before the game, Jim Leyland downplayed his role.
“Right now, you kind of just pick your spots,” Leyland said. “He’s not going to play much right now, to be honest with you.”
To answer the next question, Leyland said, “Off the top of my head, without etching anything in stone, I would say if we get in, I think that would be unlikely that he would be on the [postseason] roster.”
Brayan Pena makes his first start behind the plate since Sept. 9, the last time the Tigers faced Chris Sale. It’ll be Pena’s fourth start in September, all against lefties — Sale twice, Danny Duffy and Jon Lester once each.
The White Sox, meanwhile, shuffle their lineup against Rick Porcello, trying to reverse his fortunes against them (4-0, 2.02 ERA in five starts this year).
TIGERS (career numbers off Sale)
- Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-27, 2 walks, 12 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-14, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-18, 2 HR, 6 walks, 4 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (4-for-22, walk, 7 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (11-for-19, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (4-for-11, HR, 4 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-10, K)
- Ramon Santiago, SS (0-for-8, 3 K’s)
- Brayan Pena, C (2-for-21, 5 K’s)
P: Rick Porcello
WHITE SOX (career numbers off Porcello)
- Leury Garcia, CF (0-for-4, 3 K’s)
- Marcus Semien, SS (0-for-1)
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B (7-for-14, HR, K)
- Paul Konerko, 1B (13-for-37, HR, 5 walks, 2 K’s)
- Avisail Garcia, RF (3-for-7, K)
- Jordan Danks, LF (1-for-3, K)
- Jeff Keppinger, DH (2-for-11, 2 K’s)
- Gordon Beckham, 2B (11-for-26, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Bryan Anderson, C
P: Chris Sale
One of my favorite baseball stat mavens and record-keepers, Bill Chuck, sent out some facts and figures on Max Scherzer’s 20-win season, the 45th 20-win campaign in franchise history.
Unless Scherzer takes a loss Wednesday in Minnesota, he’ll finish the season with the highest winner percentage of any Tigers 20-game winner:
For all Major League 20-game winners, Scherzer would have the sixth-best winning percentage, tied with Roger Clemens from his 2001 season in New York:
|5||Smoky Joe Wood||.872||34||1912||22||BOS||AL||43||38||5||1.91|
Scherzer is the 11th Tiger ever to record 20 wins and 200 strikeouts in a season:
Finally, if you’re a fan of Wins Above Replacement, Scherzer’s season currently ranks 19th among Tigers 20-win campaign in terms of Pitching WAR: