Game 2013.26: Twins at Tigers

15-10, in first place and leading K.C. by half a game still, and the win streak is at 5 games and counting. Anibal Sanchez got this thing rolling with a career outing against the Braves last Friday, and while we won’t see 17 strikeouts from him today, we might see a more subtle masterpiece here in his second 2013 outing vs. the Twins. Such as a no-hitter, for example. Just a suggestion.

I had the thought that the Tigers hitters might “let up” a bit when they had the lead. One gets that impression once in a while. So I checked it. Not true, and it’s easy to see why I shouldn’t have expected otherwise. Here’s a clue: The Tigers lead the AL in BA, and we don’t even have to look it up to know that the Tigers have spent the majority of their innings in the lead. So….

You might know this, but I just heard about it. Compared with 10 years ago, strikeouts in MLB are at a frequency where you might say we are in another era. Why is this? And what are the new parameters for judging a pitcher’s K/9? We are programmed to consider a strikeout per inning the baseline for being impressed. Do we need a new standard? I wonder the same things about other shifting stats: BA, HR, wins for pitchers. Is that .300 batting average thing as arbitrary as it seems? It seems we are now in an era where 20+ home runs should impress us as much as it did 40 years ago, are we not? And 20 wins as the threshold for greatness just seems completely out of line today. 15+ is more like it. Pitchers aren’t starting 40 games a year any more, and I would bet that no-decisions are more frequent than they used to be.

Your one-stop shop for some rapid perusal of the current state of Tigers minor league teams and players:

Toledo (7-20, last place; 18 of their games have been on the road so far)

Erie (12-11, first place)

Lakeland (11-14, tied for 4th of 5)

West Michigan (10-13, 5th of 8)

Some Tigers team stats AL rankings:

Hitting: Best in AVG and OBP, 3rd in OPS. Best hitters at home by a mile; nearly the worst on the road. Best two-strike hitters, again by a mile; decisively the worst at first-pitch hitting. Tops in hits, 3rd in walks, and 3rd fewest strikeouts. Among the elite with 2 outs, and 6th with RISP. Against LHP, 3rd best; RHP, 6th best. Considering who the slumpers and strugglers have been, this LHB line is no surprise: 227/317/363. Well, maybe a bit of a surprise. Hey – the Tigers are 6th best at staying out of the DP. There’s a surprise.

Starting rotation: Rivaled only by Texas and Boston, and Detroit starters have given up the fewest HR by far (7 in 156 IP!). (Side note: Doug Fister – the pitcher – is tied with the Yankees and Orioles – the entire rotations – for the AL lead in HBP.) Let me put this in perspective: If Tigers starting pitching totals were projected out to 34 GS, that stat line would win the Cy Young award handily. Mr. Tiger would trounce Mr. Red Sox and Mr. Ranger. That’s how good Tigers starters were in April. Phenomenal or close to it.

Bullpen: Well, you know, they’ve allowed 37 of Detroit’s 92 earned runs. 12th in WHIP, but 4th best in BAA. Tops in strikeouts, but also 2nd in walks. Tied for 2nd best in HR allowed. Oft-maligned but serviceable, and maybe getting better. The 1-5 W-L counts for something more than it would for starters, though. Gotta even that up.

Speaking of which… I have no confidence in Al Alburquerque. None. It’s Dejareal all over again. Did someone say “DL” or “Toledo”? I didn’t say that, but I thought I heard something there.

Miguel Cabrera makes some nifty plays at 3B sometimes. Great arm, of course. He has decent range in my view, and good reactions. Why is he a liability there… still? It’s his glove – literally. Glove control. It’s also a hands thing, ball transfer and such, and also, often, a judgment thing. He’s got the legs and the arm, but the hands…

Watching Pedro Florimon of the Twins, I thought, that guy’s swing reminds me of Don Kelly’s. Kelly has a nice-looking swing, in my opinion. Despite that, it’s obvious that it’s not a swing that’s ever going to get much done at the plate with any frequency. I can’t tell you why. I’m not a hitting coach or an amateur baseball genius. But it’s a nice-looking swing.

Andy Dirks and Victor Martinez are back. I don’t think it’s too early to declare this. On the other hand, I have just about resigned myself to a bad year at the plate from Alex Avila. No real signs of life. The occasional HR is not the same as what you saw with Martinez, which was good contact more and more frequently, well before the hits actually started to fall. I also think Jhonny Peralta is overachieving a bit, but he did that for an entire season not so long ago, so let it ride.

Kelly has been good in the outfield, but then so has Dirks. I’m hoping this Kelly as LF replacement late in games isn’t one of those auto-Leyland things. Because I think Dirks has an even nicer-looking swing than Kelly does.

Still wondering why Martinez was sent home to be thrown out last night. Did you see him rounding third? Maybe it’s just a traditional thing for games against the Twins,  or maybe Tom Brookens felt Dirks needed the RBI. He did, but he wasn’t going to get it with Martinez on second.

Maybe today Ramon gets the start at SS or 2B. Even though he’s better as a LHB. So maybe not. The real question is whether Matt Tuiasosopo gets the presumed start in LF. Matt is one of my guys, but I’d roll with Dirks today, roll with the hot hand. Will Leyland? I’m guessing… no.

On to the sweep. (Jinx, schminx.) Doesn’t have to be a blowout. I’ll take 7-0 Tigers.

POST-GAME: Twins 6, Tigers 2. They weren’t without their chances, but the Tigers were outplayed in all aspects of the game today. The game hung on 5 events, most before it floated out of reach courtesy of Rondon and Downs:

1. Twins 1st. Close to 40 pitches already, men on 1st and 2nd, Sanchez gives up a LF single to Parmalee. Tuiasosopo makes perfect throw to the plate that Pena a) is not positioned well on, and b) that Pena drops while turning to make the tag on Morneau he would have gotten.

2. Tigers 1st. Two men on, two outs, and Martinez gets under one for an easy flyball out to Hicks in CF.

3. Twins 2nd. Twins score their 3rd run on Carroll double that makes it to LF to Cabrera’s right. Don’t know whether to blame Cabrera or Sanchez or just give Carroll (and the running on pitch Florimon scoring from 1B) credit, but 3 will be enough.

4. Tigers 6th. The tide was turning, the score was 3-2, the Tigers had capitalized a mistake into one of those runs. Cabrera at 3B, 2 outs. Martinez scorches one that hooks foul down the LF line. Then hits a grounder to 2B in the RF grass that most any person with legs would have had an IF RBI-single on. It’s all over.

5. Tigers 9th. Cabrera at 2B, Fielder at 1B, no outs. This is what you call a rally when you’re down 6-2. Martinez hits the first pitch to Carroll at 3B for a 5-4-3 DP. This is what you call a dead rally.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Scott Diamond, Justin Morneau
HONORABLE MENTION: Pedro Florimon, Jamie Carroll, Chris Parmalee. Miguel Cabrera, Jose Ortega
NOT SO GOOD: Brayan Pena, Victor Martinez, Bruce Rondon

Sanchez finished strong after an uncharacteristically labored beginning, retiring the last 11 he faced… Nice acting job by Miggy on his “HBP”… Prince lingered at the railing after pursuing an out of play foul ball. Brought some laughs to the people there with whatever he said or did. Cool moment… Pena and Peralta premiered their new comedy routine “Hit and Run,” one pretending to swing while the other pretended to run. Nice ABs today, Brayan. Platoon? Ha ha ha… It’s official. The bullpen stinks. But Ortega was dynamite. Could the Tigers be saved by not one but two Jose’s?… Strikeouts thrown are not runs scored, unfortunately. I’m a bit weary of strikeout hoopla.