Treading water

Once again the Tigers turn in a decidedly uninspiring performance away from Comerica Park. Once again the offense doesn’t do nearly enough. Once again the White Sox drop a couple games so nothing really changes in division. Once again the Tigers are treading water. They aren’t making progress but they aren’t drowning either. However, until they start making progress either towards shore or someone comes by to rescue them, fans are left wondering how long the team can stay afloat.

Friday night the Tigers manage to score just enough to squeak by the A’s and set-up what could have been a rewarding weekend. That managing involved to solo homers from Ryan Raburn and an RBI single from Clete Thomas. Hardly a juggernaut.

Saturday was one of the worst offensive efforts of the year and the type of performance that one could use to point to Lloyd McClendon’s struggles this year as a hitting coach. Trevor Cahill’s numbers are thoroughly unimpressive and yet the Tigers made things easy after plating a run in the first. Through the first 3 innings the Tigers took 4 called strikes. I don’t mind an aggressive approach, but there is a difference between aggression and impatience. In the first 4 innings the Tigers swung at 9 pitches out of the strike zone. Either it was a flawed game plan or flawed execution. This wasn’t a “tip your cap” game, it was a failure.

Sunday the Tigers couldn’t muster much, but the 4 runs was an offensive explosion and actually reassuring that the Tigers fought to get it to a 1 run game before an uncharacteristic bullpen implosion turned the Tigers best offensive outing of the series into a blow out the wrong way. And the Tigers lost another series.

A series that was the very definition of winnable. But sloppy play and bad luck and questionable decision making combined to put the Tigers in a 1-2 hole as they head into a much tougher series. Outfield errors, baserunning blunders, strange pitching decisions, running to stay out of the double play only to have line drives hit instead of ground balls, it was damn near a disaster.

Other thoughts on the state of the team:

  • The Alex Avila statue may have to wait a little bit. He posted 0’fers in his last 2 games. Certainly excusable, but for those clamoring for him to play everyday a reminder he isn’t an All Star yet. And really, with the Angels and their eagerness on the basepaths coming up I wouldn’t mind seeing Laird getting 2 of the 3 starts this series
  • Aubrey Huff has looked like the second coming of Sean Casey with his “ground ball to second” tendencies so far. I guess that means he’ll come up huge in the World Series right?
  • The addition of Huff and the key hits from Raburn and Thomas have kept the bullpen at only 6 pitchers meaning that Jim Leyland has an extra bat on the bench and better L-R balance. The good news is he’s shown a willingness to mix and match late in the game.
  • Ryan Perry looked awesome on Saturday night turning in a “wow” type performance. The type of performance you want to see from your top draft pick. Sunday…not so much.
  • The Ordonez vesting countdown is at 67 plate appearances.

22 Comments

  1. amason

    August 24, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Thats a really good point about Avila versus Laird and perhaps should have applied to this series as well but against any team that doesn’t run much I’ll be clamouring away for Avila to start. I guess teams will start to figure out how to pitch him but he appears to have good discipline lacking in this line-up that kinda doesn’t go into slumps.
    Also, McClendon has to go.I don’t think its all his fault as a lot of these guys were poor hitters, particulary lacking discipline, before he was their coach but games like the ones againt Cahill (and Tomko today) are too bizarre and too often.
    Random thought and looking ahead to the offseason trade for J.J Hardy if the Brewers have given up on him … excellent defender and even if he puts up his offensive numbers from ’07 thats a huge upgrade at short … huge.

  2. KW

    August 24, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I find it hard to blame McClendon for all the offensive woes this year because many of these guys have had great years under him. However, I’m wondering if there are some bad habits spreading that he’s just not capable of catching. It’s said that when you golf with the same person all the time, your swings and style of play start looking alike. Maybe the same could be said for what’s going on with this team? I dunno…

    I wonder how much Maggs’ struggles have to do with the offensive struggles. I mean this in the mental sense. If your team leader can’t hit anymore, what does that do to everyone else on the team? I’m sure it can mess with a lot of the younger guys’ heads at least.

    And then there’s the possibility that the team is just having some bad luck this year because our lineup is full of older guys who are, as fate would have it, all declining at once (Polanco, Maggs, Guillen) and guys who just plain suck (Laird, Everett, Thomas, Inge).

  3. colin

    August 24, 2009 at 2:25 am

    True enough Billfer.

  4. Mark L

    August 24, 2009 at 5:12 am

    Definitely too many uninspiring performances. I’m still hoping for more success as a result of the Washburn and Huff deals. You can’t fault DD for not giving them the pieces to have a shot.
    Anything can happen in the next two months. Just remember 2006. We laid an egg and backed into the playoffs with only a wild-card, had to face the Yankees and a hot Oakland team. But we played great and beat both. And then the turd that was the World Series. Streaks.. you live by them and die by them. There are better teams than the Tigers this year, but as long as you are close, there’s a chance, and we are still in the lead of this division.

  5. Mike in CT

    August 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Really great assessment of the team at the moment.

    The big problems are two fold.

    First, aside from Cabrera nobody is having a good offensive year. It’s abundantly clear opposing pitchers have zero fear when facing the Tigers liineup. Just look at the scrubs that have dominated them this season. At this point, the offense is what it is.

    The scary thing, though, is the pitching. The bullpen is getting taxed with the short outing consistently turned in by Porcello, Galaraga and lately Jackson. They have a month left of the regular season and already collectively seem out of gas except for Verlander. That’s why it would behoove the team if it could get something — anything — from Bonderman in a relief role, just to save the bullpen guys arms.

    At least the White Sox can’t get out of their own way and play at Boston and New York this week.

    Right now I’m more afraid of the Twins, who are still lingering.

    Thankfully, big picture, we’re talking playoffs in late August, not trying to avoid the all-time single season loss record.

  6. jim-mt

    August 24, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Usually teams need a few players to have a “career” year to be sucessful, but other than Caberra offensively, every one seems to be having an off-year. It is amazing they are still in first, but after looking bad against the Athletics, maybe they will rout the Angels.

  7. RPS

    August 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Next two weeks:

    DET – 3 @ ANA, 4 vs. TB, 3 vs. CLE, 3 @ TB
    CWS – 4 @ BOS, 3 @ NYY, 3 @ MIN, 1 @ CHC, 3 vs. BOS
    MIN – 3 vs. BAL, 3 vs. TEX, 3 vs. CWS, 3 @ CLE

    An unscientific guess:

    DET – 5-8
    CWS – 4-9
    MIN – 8-4

    Division after that:

    DET – 70-66 –
    MIN – 69-67 1 GB
    CWS – 67-70 3.5 GB

    If the Tigers (and Sox) don’t find a way to win some games against tough teams these next two weeks, the Twins will be right there, with plenty of division games left.

    • Jeff Molby

      August 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm

      Those are all decent teams on MIN’s schedule. Why do you assume they’re going to win all four series?

      • Mark in Chicago

        August 24, 2009 at 4:47 pm

        Because the Twins are indestructible in that godforesaken dome. Seriously, they are like 88-4 so far this year.

        • RPS

          August 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

          Win, lose, or draw, it’s sooooo nice to know the Tigers only have three more games in that thing. Ever.

      • RPS

        August 24, 2009 at 5:03 pm

        Baltimore and Cleveland are about as bad as it gets in the AL. My guess actually was sweeps of Baltimore and Chicago at home, and 1-2 in the other two series. Taking three from Baltimore just seems like the kind of thing the Twins always do and the Tigers never do. Like I said, not scientific, but if you look through the projected starters, the Twins have some pretty favorable matchups.

  8. Mark in Chicago

    August 24, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    We are making a big assumption if we think the White Sox are going to roll over against the Red Sox and Yankees this week. Chicago has played the AL East pretty tough until recently, and they are 28-22 against +.500 teams. They are also 27-31 on the road, which isn’t terrible.

    Meanwhile, we are awful against LAA, we just don’t match up well with them at all, and this is one of the better offensive teams they’ve had the last few years.

  9. Ken in Vegas

    August 24, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I too feel like we’re just waiting for our bubble to burst, but we can’t be too disappointed considering this pennant race thing we are experiencing is only happening for the second time in 20 years. I just hope we put together a 5 or 6 game win streak and show the fans that we want this.

  10. Andrew in Toronto

    August 24, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    This certainly has been an odd season. No one feels very confident, nor should they.

    And yet, we’ve been in first place for 104 days so far according to baseballreference.com. The Tigers have only done better than that in 2006, 1984, 1968 and 1909. It has been a good summer that way.

    On the other hand, we were 7 games above .500 on May 23, and have just been .500 since then. So we’ve also been mediocre all summer, too.

    It’s time for somebody to step up… who’s it going to be?

    Part of me wants to nominate Ordonez.

    Granderson is so streaky, he could make a huge difference when/if he ever swings back.

  11. Walter55

    August 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    I really feel either our offense gets it some what together and we pull away with the division or they keep on being borderline pathetic and we lose the division in the end.

    It is really somewhat amazing we are even in first when you look at the offensive stats of each player. Besides Cabrera and in the first half Inge almost everybody has had a crappy season.

    Also I am perfectly fine with a Laird/Avila combo in catching I think it can work well for both. Even better when September comes around and we can call up another catcher so we are a little more free to PH Avila. Who all do you all think we will call up in September? I can see it being quite a few guys like Fien, Robertson, Bonderman, Wilkin, Stieby, Bonine, Dolsi, Kelly and a catcher. What is the limit they can bring up?

    • Mark in Chicago

      August 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm

      They can bring up anybody on the 40-man roster.

    • RPS

      August 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm

      They tend not to bring up guys who aren’t going to get significant playing time, even though they could bring up the entire 40-man. My guess would be Fien, Bondo, Robertson, Kelly, Wilkin, Zach Simons, Dusty, and Larish.

  12. Cary

    August 24, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    How can a lineup be successful when nobody, especially the two hitters at the top of the lineup, takes a walk? There are few good situational hitters on the team. There seems to be no “Tiger way” of hitting taught in the minors. The “Tiger way” seems to be “Go up there and hack away son.” The Twins don’t have the talent the Tigers have, but seem to have, as a team, an idea up there. The Tigers play in one of the biggest parks in the game, but have never been constructed to exploit that. This team has more holes than most people realize.

    • RPS

      August 24, 2009 at 6:00 pm

      Since the left field fence got moved in, Comerica plays as a neutral park, not a pitchers’ park. Left field is a much easier homer than right field, which is why the organization favors righty power pitchers and righty sluggers. The Twins succeed by building their lineup around the best player in the game and another top 10 player, and great outfield defense. The Twins do have a slappy team built for their stadium, but I think their organizational methods only look so good because they have Mauer and Morneau.

      The lack of walks/plate discipline is very problematic, and patience needs to be more organizationally encouraged. Granderson does have the most walks on the team, though. The problem is not the leadoff hitter, but Everiago, Polanco, and Raburn.

      Whether hitters at the major league level can be taught to work more walks, I have no idea. The current minor league coordinators need to be encouraging better OBP skills throughout the system, with the aim of fixing this problem within a couple years.

      • Cary

        August 24, 2009 at 6:41 pm

        True, they moved the fences in, but still have huge outfield space. Gap hitters would be better suited than swing for the fences guys. The Twins have more hitters than just M &M. Even their young hitters have a good approach. With their lack of team speed and inability to walk, the Tigers wait for the three run homer. There are very few manufactured runs. Their bad approach at the plate makes too many opposing pitchers look like Cy Young. I agree with the idea that it is hard for major leaguers to learn to take a walk. It must be an orginizational change.

    • Kathy

      August 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm

      So true, so true. A “walk”? What’s that? You’d think, the way they are hitting, more of them would try to work some walks. Sheff was real good at that.

  13. Coleman

    August 24, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Part of the problem is that for most of the season the guys most likely to draw walks have been followed in the lineup by the guys most likely to follow with a GIDP…which I’m thinking at some point makes working the walk seem less appealing…besides, despite sometimes speaking the platitudes, Uncle Smokey has actually rewarded not taking pitches by batting those guys, with the exception of Granderson, further up in the batting order than the guys who take pitches.