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Nitpicking about the first-place Tigers

August 27, 2011
STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Editor , The Mining Journal

Don't get me wrong, I know the Detroit Tigers would be in serious trouble if they let me manage them, even if it was just for a day.

I've followed the team since I was about 10 years old, which, ahem, makes me a nearly 40-year follower of the team.

My earliest memories go back to the 1972 season - the first season there were games lost due to a work stoppage and a year the Tigers won the AL East before becoming cannon fodder for the Billy Martin-led Oakland A's powerhouses of that era.

All this is to question, maybe to nitpick, but not necessarily to criticize some of the things the team is doing, which ultimately reflect on manager Jim Leyland.

I think he's a great manager in the mold of Sparky Anderson. I hope he sticks around till he can't sit upright in the dugout anymore.

But Wednesday night's game-losing play was one of several questionable decisions made by players recently. Third baseman Brandon Inge threw to second base for a force out with the bases loaded, but the throw was too late and the winning run scored for Tampa Bay in the bottom of the ninth inning. Observers on TV seemed to agree that a throw to first base would've got the batter out by at least several steps.

Don't forget two weeks ago, when Detroit's David Pauley hit Cleveland's Kosuke Fukudome with a pitch in the bottom of the 14th inning to force in the winning run.

Though that was the same Fukudome who was the runner thrown out by Austin Jackson on a potential game-tying sacrifice fly on Sunday that preserved Jose Valverde's perfect 37-for-37 record in save opportunities as of a few days ago.

This team seems to have all the ability in the world offensively, with Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta - yes, that's the correct spelling of his first name - Alex Avila and now Delmon Young in the lineup.

Even among the next tier of hitters, nobody who's playing regularly is an out-and-out bust, guys like Brennan Boesch and Wilson Betemit.

I had an argument about the batting lineup that has become moot since the acquisition of Young and his placement in the No. 3 batting spot a couple weeks ago.

In a nutshell, I thought Cabrera should've been moved from cleanup to No. 3. His MVP-like hitting prowess demanded the Tigers protect him, and they did in the offseason by acquiring Martinez and putting him No. 5.

And he's been so good, they needed their next-best hitter to protect him, often Peralta at No. 6. All three of those guys were hitting between .310 and .320 as of mid-week.

Leyland also leaves Avila next at No. 7 quite often, whether it's to keep the pressure off his young catcher or simply to protect Peralta.

So before Young joined the team and immediately became the awesome hitter he was in 2010, the Tigers Nos. 4 through No. 7 hitters were better than their Nos. 2 and 3.

You don't want that. Just move everyone up a spot. But Young has changed that dynamic, so in the famous words of 1970s Saturday Night Live character Emily Litella, "Never mind."

Then there's the pitching. I understand the temptation to let possible - probable? - Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander go as far as he can in games.

You hate to see Phil Coke or Joaquin Benoit throw away Verlander's march to 20 wins - by the end of August.

But at the rate of 120- and 130-pitch games he's been throwing, I'm afraid he'll have a dead arm by October. And as nice as it would be to see him win 25 or 26 games and the Cy Young, I'd rather see the Tigers hoist a World Series trophy in early November.

Even with the worst or second-worst record of any playoff team - they're neck and neck with Kirk Gibson's Arizona Diamondbacks - a fully functional Verlander could erase a lot of the advantage the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies might have in potential playoff series.

As long as Young keeps hitting well, no problem. But I'd like to see Leyland limit at least half of Verlander's remaining starts to 100 pitches or less.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

 
 

 

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