Results tagged ‘ Detroit Tigers ’

2013 Previews. AL Central: Royally Flushed

Having completed the National League East, Central, and West, we move to the American, and we’ll start in the middle.

Kansas City: Let me preface this by stating a few of my baseball loves.

I love Royals Stadium (original and remodeled). I love Ned Yost. I love George Brett. I love go-for-it risky trades. I love the Kansas City faithful who have suffered in the way Cubs fans have suffered or Red Sox fans had suffered – only without turning into professional victims about it.

Having said all that, they’re all going to get screwed in a new way this year, and good people are going to get fired. Because what Royals fans (and many of those handicapping the 2013 season) see as a renaissance forged by deft winter trading and a spectacular spring training, is in fact the disastrous sacrifice of very limited resources for a bunch of lousy pitchers.

The Royals will have to pay Wade Davis, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and James Shields a total of roughly $40,000,000 this year (and Guthrie’s salary goes up from $5 to $11 million next year). To get them they gave away some irrelevant parts like Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Sisk and Patrick Leonard, and, oh by the way, they also gave away the store in Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Mike Montgomery (actually the last two are just icing at this point. If you traded Myers for Davis, Guthrie, Santana, and Shields in your fantasy league, they’d kick you out of your fantasy league).

I hear the cries of heresy even through the computer. Since arriving in the majors on Memorial Day, 2006, Shields basically hasn’t missed a start. He’s Big Game James and Complete Game James and if there’s a dependable pitcher in the American League, it’s him. And I look at him and see a guy who had five complete games in five years and then out of nowhere threw eleven of them in 2011 and then fell back to three last year and caused the phrase “arm fatigue warning” to start blinking on and off like a neon sign.

Shields has appeared in 218 major league games and started 217 of them. In the starts he’s averaged just slightly more than six-and-two-thirds inning. And he hasn’t had one serious injury even as he begins his eighth major league season at the age of 32. He is, in brief, four-months-on-the-DL waiting to happen.

Let’s say I’m completely wrong about Shields. How about the other 3/5ths of the rotation? Davis, Guthrie, and Santana have a combined lifetime record of 179 wins…and 179 losses. And it’s only that good because Santana is 96-80 lifetime. And even Santana has only had one winning season since 2008. Guthrie last had one in 2007.

There are some extraordinary parts in the Royals’ lineup: Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, a bullpen full of power arms, and a probably resurgent Eric Hosmer. And it won’t matter a lick, because the Royals wrote the right checks and made the right trades – to and for the wrong pitchers. The disaster that will ensue will leave the executives, and maybe my friend Ned, out of work.

All the mediocre pitchers, of course, will still be there.

Chicago: In the last 56 years, the White Sox have finished in second place 17 times. That’s been easier to do since the advent of divisional play in 1969, but it’s still a neat trick and it seems to represent the franchise. Second in Chicago’s hearts, second in Chicago’s history, second in the standings.

You look at this team and almost everybody in the line-up also looks like the second best in the division. Paul Konerko? Terrific – but no Prince Fielder. Chris Sale? Probably the runner-up to Verlander. Alexei Ramirez? Tremendous, but behind Asdrubal Cabrera in the divisional depth chart. You get the point.

All of which makes last year’s collapse all the more shocking: not that the Sox fell from first place, but that they maintained it so long. Was that the work of rookie manager Robin Ventura? Was it Don Cooper and Bobby Thigpen juggling a very young bullpen?

Is there a chance it happens again? Chicago’s only significant changes are Jeff Keppinger at third instead of a mixture of disappointing prospects, and Tyler Flowers replacing the departed A.J. Pierzynski. The latter is, literally, the decision to go with the (what else?) second choice.

Here’s hoping the White Sox at least retain Phantom Ball…

Cleveland: All the White Sox did not do, the Indians did. They got themselves the best available manager (“Boy did I need that year off,” Terry Francona told me – and everybody else he saw this spring), a very good first baseman who can become a very good rightfielder if things go wrong (Nick Swisher), a really good centerfielder (Michael Bourn), and an interesting haul for trading away their previous best outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs).

The Bourn move alone worries me. As noted here previously he batted .238 after the 1st of July last year. On the other hand, his stolen bases and On Base Percentage stayed relatively constant in both halves (or at least the OBP variability was relatively constant). Bourn can hit .238 all season as long as the OBP stays around .350 and he pilfers bags. Cleveland has a potentially punishing line-up to bring him, and others, home.

The most intriguing of the others is Lonnie Chisenhall. Say that name out loud and you might think he’s been an Indians’ prospect since Jim Thome was a rookie. In point of fact he was their first round draft choice in 2008 and has only 109 big league games under his belt. The season begins with him in a nominal platoon and batting deep in Francona’s order, but this is a protection against his primary enemy, self-induced pressure. Chisenhall absolutely stung the ball all spring and his emotional pendulum seemed to have swung all the way to unflappable from constantly flappable.

Thus the Indians’ hopes are pinned on what is still something of a patchwork pitching staff. Francona might be a tonic for the inconsistent Justin Masterson; they maintained a mutual admiration society before the Red Sox dealt Masterson to Cleveland. But can anybody fix Ubaldo Jimenez? Can anybody imagine the story if anybody could fix Scott Kazmir? Is Trevor Bauer’s idiosyncratic style the kind of thing that drove Kirk Gibson nuts in Arizona but wouldn’t get more than a shrug and a spit from Francona?

And is the bullpen ordered correctly? Besides Chisenhall the other lights-out Cleveland figure in the Cactus League was reliever Cody Allen. Allen struck out 80 in 72 innings last year as he rocketed from the Class-A Carolina League through Akron and Columbus to the Indians’ bullpen. He has the earmarks of a closer-in-the-making, especially if Chris Perez finally loses his balance on the pitching and public relations tightrope he’s been walking ever since Cleveland got him from St. Louis.

In a division in which every team has a flaw there’s a lot to be said for the one that brought in a guy who got booed out of Philadelphia and in his next year managing won Boston’s first World Series in 86 seasons. Francona brought Brad Mills and Kevin Cash with him as coaches (Cash will be the next Francona protege to manage somewhere), and the three of them might be the most significant free agent signings in the division.

Minnesota: This is a bad baseball team. This is not a Florida-level bad baseball team, but it’s bad. And it went bad because no matter how tempting it is, if you are a small market franchise, you cannot tie up all your resources in either a) a hitter at a high-risk defensive position (Joe Mauer, Catcher) or b) a first baseman (Justin Morneau), let alone c) both.

There’s no way around this. What you are left with is a line-up in which four of the guys should be in AAA because they’re not good enough to be in the majors, and a fifth (Aaron Hicks) should be in AAA because he hasn’t played in a baseball town bigger than New Britain, Connecticut. The same is probably true of two of the team’s starting pitchers and two or more of its relievers. The trades of Ben Revere and Denard Span were probably necessary but yielded nothing of immediate value, and unfortunately one of the assets it yielded (Vance Worley) is supposedly the ace of the team.

Worst of all, general manager Terry Ryan – who retired and stayed retired just long enough for the entire game to change while he was away and render his vast knowledge outdated – seems to be hinting that this mess is somehow the fault of people like Ron Gardenhire. Gardy deserves better than that, and better than this godawful lineup Ryan has put together.

Detroit: “Closer By Committee” does not work. Does not work. Does not work. Does not work.

Any questions about this? I’ll answer them by asking you one: when was the last time a World Series winning team has had a save from more than one guy in the same Series? (Answer below).

The Tigers, of course, are not really planning to use five different guys to finish games. They will do what the Giants did after Brian Wilson got hurt last year: Keep trying new closers until you get one who sticks. Now, of course, if Joaquin Benoit doesn’t stick, and Phil Coke doesn’t stick, and Octavio Dotel doesn’t stick, and Al Alburquerque doesn’t stick, and Brayan Villareal doesn’t stick, and a Bruce Rondon reprise doesn’t stick – if all this auditioning isn’t over with in a hurry, the Tigers could find themselves in a mess long before they make a trade for an established closer.

The Tiger window to make the Central theirs is a lot smaller than people think. Since the game began, forecasters have proved themselves almost always incapable of seeing anything besides what happened the year before. The annual tables in The Sporting News used to show 50% or more of writers taking the incumbent Champions to repeat, year after year. Apart from the substitution of hindsight for foresight, this also sometimes masks any holes in those defending champs.

This is a long-winded way of saying that the Tigers weren’t nearly as good as they looked last year. They entombed the Yankees in the ALCS, which completely obliterated the fact that the week before the Orioles came thisclose to beating the Yankees in five or maybe even four. Detroit’s World Series woes had nothing to do with the layoff; they executed poorly on the basepaths and in the field and their pitching had been scouted perfectly.

Flatly, the Tigers are an old and defensively-challenged team. Miguel Cabrera might be their second best infielder, and while Torii Hunter will do wonders in right, Andy Dirks will give that advantage back in left. There is simply nothing special about the double-play combination, I’m not buying the bullpen even with a good closer emerging or on order, and beyond Justin Verlander the rotation could produce any result from superb to sub-.500.

By the way, the last World Series winner to get saves out of two guys was the 2005 White Sox and one of those, the one from Mark Buehrle in Game Three, spanned exactly one at bat in the bottom of the 14th inning, and happened only because Real Closer Bobby Jenks had pitched the 11th and 12th.

The Division: I think this is the only one in which I’ll go out onto the crazy limb and take my chances that a recent also-ran will jell in a hurry. I think the Indians can and will do just that, in what might be a crazy race with the Tigers and White Sox. I have no faith in the Royals’ acquisitions and see nothing but carnage ahead there when they finish fourth. The Twins will be last and will have no one to blame but themselves.

World Series Forecast

Here are the forecaster’s problems.

The Detroit Tigers’ pitching dominance over the New York Yankees – the .144 OBA over four gruesome games – is not the indicator that you might think. The Yankees have been aging rapidly for three seasons, and they had just barely scratched out a victory over a Baltimore team without line-up depth or a dominant starting pitcher. Joe Girardi made a fateful remark in mid-series, about how his hitters had to “adjust” – manager-speak for telling them they had to stop going up there expecting the room service fastballs they would get from 60% of the pitchers they faced during the regular season. Yes, the Tiger pitching was superb. Yes, we all spent too much time talking about the Yanks’ demise. But between the two extremes it is almost impossible to get a good gauge on just how good the survivors are.

The Giants’ comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals were historic and epic. And they are also not the indicators you might think. Both losing teams have a lot of talent but neither was a juggernaut and the fact is that San Francisco’s valiant efforts have deranged their own rotation. It is stand-up-and-cheer heart-warming to see Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito finally make a World Series but it is imperative to remember that they are not going to win the World Series by themselves. 2012 was the second time in his career that the 36-year old Scutaro has batted better than .282 in a major league season and the third time he has hit more than one homer in a major league season.

As to Zito, the Giants could not have done it without him but his 15 wins divided up as follows:

Zito Vs. Playoff Teams (4-2)

Vs. Atlanta Braves     2-0

Vs. Oakland A’s         1-0

Vs. St. Lou. Cards      1-0

Vs. Tex. Rangers       0-1

Vs. Cin. Reds              0-1

Zito Vs. Non-Playoff Teams (11-6)

Vs. Az D-Backs          4-0

Vs. LA Dodgers          3-2

Vs. Col. Rockies         2-0

Vs. Chi. Cubs              1-0

Vs. Pitt. Pirates          1-0

Vs. Mil. Brewers        0-1

Vs. L.A. Angels         0-1

Vs. Hou. Astros         0-1

Vs. N.Y. Mets             0-1

These are the simplest of analytics here but they are offered simply to imply one fact about the World Series: drop the story lines of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and judge the Classic on who has the better, sounder team.

The Tigers have a confused bullpen, which reduces it to the level of the Giants when Santiago Casilla failed – and the Giants fixed that situation within hours with Sergio Romo. The Giants have a confused rotation, and you can’t straighten that out in anything less than a week. The Tigers have the kind of offense that is not seen by National League pitchers and its most potent bats (Cabrera and Fielder) live to butcher off-speed left-hand pitching like Zito.

There is also Justin Verlander in this equation and if the Giants can’t stop him at least once, the  Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer trio have only to produce two solid starts.

I’m thinking the Tigers could do this in five. If the Giants stage an upset – especially if they come from behind to do it – they will earn (and I will happily crown them) the single-season comeback kings of the game’s modern history. Unless one of the troubled starters (Lincecum? Bumgarner? turns in an MVP-level performance, I just don’t think they have a path to do it this time.

So, Are We Sure About These Tigers Scrimmages?

Ever seen this singular photo before?

It is one of the few remaining documentations of the day a bright idea by the Boston Red Sox that wound up – in all likelihood – costing them the 1946 World Series:

Photo Courtesy Boston Red Sox

On the left, Red Sox centerfielder Dom DiMaggio. In the center, pitcher Tex Hughson. On the right, in the Sox road gray: Joe DiMaggio – who didn’t have his regular uniform with him for one of the fateful games Boston played 66 years ago.

The Detroit Tigers’ idea to address their five day layoff between finishing sweeping the Yankees and facing the Cards or Giants in the Series by playing a pair of exhibition games is not new. The Red Sox did the same thing in 1946.

And it killed them.

We forget this now, but the Red Sox were prohibitive favorites to win a Series remembered for “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” and the disastrous 5-for-25 performance of Ted Williams. Boston had clinched the American League pennant with a 1-0 win on September 13th (courtesy of a Williams homer, naturally). They won by 12 games over a defending champion Tiger team that nearly played .600 ball, and a tidy 17 over the third place Yankees who imploded and went through three managers. Williams supplied a slash line of 38/123/.342 and had an OPS of 1.164 (and four other guys in the line-up were at .799 or better). The Red Sox were the team to beat.

But the National League race was back-and-forth between the Dodgers and Cardinals and with an N.L. first-place tie – and a Series-delaying three-game playoff looming – Sox Manager Joe Cronin and General Manager Eddie Collins thought they needed something to keep their Heroes alert and awake while the N.L. decided which of its teams was going to be its sacrifice to the mighty Boston maw.

They scheduled three exhibition games for the Red Sox…versus American League All-Stars. It was a helluva plan – in theory. The Red Sox got such luminaries as Hank Greenberg and Luke Appling and Joe DiMaggio (hence that crazy picture) to travel to Fenway and put the Champs through their paces.

They also brought in Mickey Haefner.

Haefner had just completed a 14-and-11, 2.85 season for a Washington Senators squad that only the year before had finished a buck-and-a-half behind the A.L. Champion Tigers, so he belonged among the All-Stars doing their part for the greater glory of the American League. But there was only one problem with letting Haefner throw towards your hitters, even in an exhibition setting.

He was a knuckleballer.

On October 1st – which would’ve been the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, had the N.L. only made up its mind in 154 games – Haefner was pitching for the All-Stars against the Red Sox at Fenway. And one of his knucklers – and he threw it in the Niekro/Dickey range of hardness, not the Wakefield range – hit Ted Williams in the elbow.

Got him exactly right. There is no idea how hard the pitch was thrown but the pain was sufficiently excruciating to send Williams to the hospital for X-Rays. While those few who saw the injury held their breath (and presumably Collins and Cronin tried to figure out how they could each blame the other), the tests came back negative. That’s the way it was in those days: broken or not broken. Nothing about deep bone bruises or inflamed ligaments or anything else. It hurt? It ain’t broken. Put some ice on it and play.

Williams played. 5-for-25, .200. It would be decades before Ted acknowledged that the elbow pain never really subsided through the subsequent Series. The only post-season appearance of his career produced five measly singles. And when reporters concluded Williams had not risen to the occasion, or had been psyched out by what was even then a rare but not unique infield defensive shift, Williams let them blame him. Despite the apparent justification for such a claim, he never blamed his ’46 World Series nightmare on the Haefner Hit-By-Pitch.

That the Sox lost the Series was not the end of the story. The pall of that loss lingered for generations. Boston would slide into the second division, then the basement, and would not emerge until the year after Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame. That his performance in the 1946 Classic was the low point of Williams’ career goes without saying. He eventually admitted it was the low point of his life.

Talk about the Curse of the Bambino? Bolshoi! The Curse of Mickey Haefner, more like!

If you check history – especially internet history – you might see passing mention that Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch “in an exhibition game just before the World Series.” But what you do not see is the disturbing truth that is of particular relevance tonight: Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch in an exhibition game just before the World Series that had been arranged by his own bosses to try to keep the Red Sox sharp FOR THE WORLD SERIES.

Today, of course, Collins or Cronin would’ve been fired or at minimum vilified by history for their gross stupidity. Didn’t happen that way. Cronin succeeded Collins as General Manager, then became American League President in 1959. Both of them are in the Hall of Fame and Cronin has his retired number 4 right up there with Teddy Ballgame’s.

The Tigers are not asking any of their vanquished foes to help them fill the competition gap by playing these exhibitions (the term they used was “scrimmages”) on Sunday and Monday. They have flown up the minor league kids like pitchers Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers from the Florida Fall Instructional League  to fill the role played by the A.L. All-Stars in the last ill-fated attempt to keep the rust from growing while the National League tries to figure out its champion (Cards or somebody else).

Presumably the Tigers will take every precaution against the obvious things: sliding (no!), diving for fly balls (don’t!), line drives back at pitchers (use the Batting Practice screen!). But unless Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski are aware of the 1946 Red Sox disaster and the saga of Mickey Haefner, they cannot possibly be prepared for the inadvertent pitch that just…gets away.

What do they do if Miguel Cabrera gets hit in the elbow? Or the knee? Or the head? Or while at third base takes a one-hopper off his bean, as he did in Spring Training?

Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers, you say? Neither of them is a knuckleball pitcher, right?

2012 Previews: A.L. Central

It will be one of those freaks of baseball nature, not unlike the year the St. Louis Browns won the pennant because all their players were just physically bad enough to not be drafted for World War 2, or the year the Reds won the most games in the National League yet did not make the playoffs. The Detroit Tigers, with probably the worst defensive starting line-up in the majors today – and one of the worst of all-time among serious contenders – will likely blow through the American League Central and could easily start the playoffs as the odds-on favorite to win the ALCS and even The Series.

Consider them, and leave your images of them at bat, back in your mental dugout:

– Prince Fielder at first base: Decent forward motion for a man of his size, and unexpected ups, too. But going after a liner to either side should be accompanied by a public address system announcement of “timber.”

– Ryan Rayburn at second: You need to see the video again of him doing the Jai-Alai bit in left field to send Miguel Olivo’s fly ball over the fence? Here’s the link.

– Jhonny Peralta at short: This is an ex-shortstop turned third baseman and reconverted to short. And he’s the infield stalwart.

– Miguel Cabrera at third: No.

– Delmon Young in left: This will make you hanker for Raburn.

– Brennan Boesch in right: Immobile.

– Alex Avila catching: He’s a gifted receiver but, without Victor Martinez to help him out, the temptation for Jim Leyland to play him 133 more times behind the plate will be huge. His exhaustion down the stretch last year was ultimately disastrous.

You’ll notice I left out Austin Jackson. Obviously he is one of the best centerfielders in the game, not just fast but instinctive on balls off the bat, and in his throwing. But between Young and Boesch (or any of the alternatives) in that of all ballparks, they are asking him to cover a lot of ground.

But of course this is academic. When Salvador Perez and Joakim Soria went down, they postponed any chance of a KANSAS CITY uprising until next season. The Royals needed everything to break their way to offer a serious challenge, and we already know it won’t. They can live without Soria but pulling either Greg Holland or Jonathan Broxton out of their set-up pool will wind up overburdening the rotation. I still think the Royals could manage a second-place finish, but it’ll be distant behind a Tiger offense and pitching staff that are each 50% better than anything else in the division.

CLEVELAND is beginning to understand that if Ubaldo Jimenez did not hit his high water mark at the 2010 All-Star Game, he did so in the “Zander?” commercial with Jorge De La Ros about the bicycle license plates. How they could not see that he had lost command and speed suggests the Indians need to sign up for cable or a dish. That he cost them Drew Pomeranz and Alex White may come to haunt the Indians the way the Mike Napoli deal haunts the Angels. Manny Acta will get everything out of this team, but exactly who is going to make the decision to pull Jimenez out of the rotation?

Sometimes rebuilds can be fun. Consider the rookies and sophomores in CHICAGO: closer-in-waiting Addison Reed, relievers Hector Santiago and Nate Jones, third baseamn Brent Morel, rightfielder (well, hitter in right field) Dayan Viciedo, and, the most intriguing prospect of them all, Manager Robin Ventura. The White Sox will struggle to see .500 but Ventura’s extraordinary equanimity, devious humor, and quiet command will set a tone for quick recovery. Whether the White Sox have enough coming up through the pipeline to make them contenders in the near term is another thing all together.

Before you cast stones at MINNESOTA – be honest. Did you cry “no” when they gave then-recent-MVP Justin Morneau the big money? Did you say it was ludicrous when they gave Joe Mauer his $184,000,000 or did you extol the virtues of the small market team that could somehow afford to keep its hometown hero? You didn’t warn, I didn’t, the fans didn’t, and Twins ownership didn’t. And now we’re all on a possibly-irreversible trip to an AL Central version of the current events in Houston or Pittsburgh: exquisite new ballpark, faithful fans, and a team that can’t even afford to retain a Delmon Young during a season or a rehabbed Joe Nathan following it. It’s grim and it’s a reminder that Cincinnati is one blown-out kneecap away from having to give 51% of the franchise ownership to a suddenly-retired Joey Votto in lieu of paying a suddenly-retired Joey Votto.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL FORECAST:

Tigers, with or without a Statuary Defense, should win this division by double digits. The Royals and Indians will fight for second (and fight to stay over .500) and the White Sox will likely come in a few notches under. The Twins may be bad enough for the team to have to put up twelve-foot high fences to keep their most loyal fans from throwing themselves into the Fire Pits at Target Field.

So The Last Post-Season Doubleheader Was…

The latest weather forecast here in soggy New York suggests nothing worse than showers for Saturday night’s resumption of Game One of the American League Division Series between the Tigers and Yankees. Of course, that’s what they said Friday night as well, and the “showers” turned into rain so hard that it was literally bouncing back up off the seats and even the field at Yankee Stadium. From what I can tell, the four key parties – the Yanks, the Tigers, TBS, and MLB – all had forecasts suggesting any rain could be played through (if they hadn’t, you would have expected Jim Leyland and maybe even Joe Girardi to switch starters and hold back their aces – maybe starting relievers with starting experience like Phil Coke – in anticipation of the deluge).

In any event, just in case the game is again delayed until Sunday, MLB is reportedly prepared to play a day-night doubleheader, which is already being portrayed as an all-time historical first. Technically it wouldn’t be. Back in the 19th Century when major league baseball (then comprised of the National League and its junior rival, the American Association) was still experimenting with the idea of post-season championships, their champions played a 15-game “World’s Championship Series” with stops in a mind-boggling ten different cities. Sure enough, on Thursday, October 20, 1887, the NL Champion Detroit Wolverines and the AA-winning St. Louis Browns were scheduled to play a World’s Series game in Washington. They were rained out. So instead, on the 21st, they met up in a game that started at some point in the morning, and then the two teams traveled by train to play in Baltimore the same afternoon.

1887 World Series Scorecard - Detroit on the left, St. Louis on the right

It’s the only time the same two teams have played two post-season games in the same day, and on top of the bizarre concept, the afternoon game, played at Baltimore’s Union Park, cinched the Series for Detroit. The Wolverines, on a four-hitter by starter Lady Baldwin and a two-run homer by Larry Twitchell, pounded St. Louis 13-3 to win Game 11 and take an 8-to-3 lead in the best-of-15. The concept of ending the series once it was mathematically impossible for the other team to win was not yet locked in place, so the teams got back on the train and played Game 12 anyway the next day in Brooklyn. In fact they played the series right to the end as scheduled, with a game each in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. Attendance was what you’d expect: they drew 378 fans in Chicago for the meaningless Game 14, and just 659 for Game 15 as St. Louis fans came out to watch their team which had already lost the Series!

When I first mentioned on Twitter that there had previously been a post-season doubleheader – in 1887 - I got a lot of guffaws in return. Baseball has pretty much erased the pre-1903 history of post-season championships. But as the scorecard shows, it was called “The World’s Championship Series” and it pitted the teams that had won the pennant races in each of the two major leagues. It may have been far from a final product, but to my mind it — and the ones that preceded it in 1884, 1885, and 1886, plus the ones in 1888, 1889, and 1890 — count (although the weather turned so bad, and the fans so disinterested, that they abandoned the 1890 series with Brooklyn and Louisville tied at two wins apiece).

So if the Tigers wind up playing a post-season split doubleheader on Sunday, not only won’t it be the first such event in baseball history, it won’t even be the first such event in Detroit baseball history.

History has already been made in this Series, of course: the game is the first to be suspended, rather than canceled, under the policy adopted in the middle of the 2008 World Series after the torrent that hit Philly during Game Five. But also, even as people officially connected to the game were telling each other that MLB had called it a night, a historic and amazing announcement was being made in the Yankee Stadium Club: “We have no information yet about any postponement of tonight’s game! Please do not spread rumors, gossip, or innuendo about a cancellation.”

Seriously? What were they going to do to us? Make us go sit outside? Cancel the game on us? Tape over our mouths? Screw up ticket distribution by turning the scheduled start of Game 2 into the resumption time of Game 1? Was Bud Selig going to slap everybody for innuendo-mongering?

I think they were just trying to sell one more round of drinks.

The suspension announcement came about five minutes later.

Interior of the scorecard, obviously long glued in a scrapbook. Near as I can tell, this is from Game 9 in Philadelphia, won by Detroit 4-2 on a tiebreaking single in the 7th from Charlie Bennett, for whom Detroit's stadium would later be named. Early games of the Series drew more than 6,000 fans, but by the time of this one in Philadelphia on October 19, fatigue was setting in and only 2,389 showed. The Doubleheader would be played two days later.

 

2011 Previews: AL Central

With the fans of the 0-2 Red Sox and 2-0 Yankees having all taken the wrong instructions from these starts, let’s move into the Central:

Chicago: There are a lot of good players on this team. In fact, in a remarkable evenness ranging all the way from the bullpen to the outfield, the average White Sox player is above-average or better. Just – with the exception of Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko – not very much better. There are two men, coincidentally the team’s doubleplay combination of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez, who are on the verge of stardom. If they achieve it, if they take the cliched next step, the White Sox can compete in the division. If not, this is a team that is indeed just above-average, and bound for nothing better than second place.

Cleveland: Three unheralded stars (Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez), the very good Asdrubal Cabrera, and filler. Quite awhile ago the Indians stopped taking competing seriously. The ’90s saw the Kenny Loftons et al locked up early and often (in the model since successfully copied in Tampa), but the ’00s saw ownership refuse to spend the money early enough to keep the Cliff Lees and CC Sabathias, and to have clearly also not spent it on careful study of the prospect yields when that talent had to be moved (quick: who besides Matt LaPorta did they get for Sabathia? Who did they get for Lee? And it’s not enough to say, ‘yeah but they got Santana, Choo, and Perez for almost nothing’ – Lee and Sabathia should have produced at least two blossoming stars each). And this decade seems to be the time of refusing to promote prospects when the season was still fresh and up for grabs. Even when placeholder Jason Donald went down with injury, the Tribe refused to promote third base stud Lonnie Chisenhall. And an approach like that gets you not just mediocrity now, but mediocrity later – when Chisenhall leaves anyway, by trade or free agency.

The answers, by the way? Sabathia produced LaPorta, Matt Jackson, Rob Bryson, and Michael Brantley. For Lee it was Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. Not acceptable.

Detroit: The Tigers should have as much pitching as they have confidence. Brad Penny is the Number Two Starter? Brad Penny, who had a 5.61 ERA in his 24 starts in the AL in 2009? One also has to doubt Phil Coke’s ability to return to starting (the Yankees traded him because lefty hitters – especially those who saw him more than once – seemed to solve him), and there is the continuing non-afterglow of Rick Porcello. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are studs, but Penny’s placement at #2 implies some lack of confidence in Scherzer, who might still be one of baseball’s best starters. There is also a certain creakiness here: Carlos Guillen is hurt, Magglio Ordonez is a question mark, and the major investment in the off-season was in a catcher who cannot catch: Victor Martinez. I am not excited by the Tigers and in the first two games in New York there was a certain sloppiness to their play in the field – particularly by shortstop Jhonny Peralta and sub second baseman Will Rhymes – that must have Jim Leyland ready to break up the furniture.

Kansas City: If lightning were to strike and present the Royals with some kind of Cup-A-Soup Five-Pack of instant starters, they might actually be competitive. There is a decent infield with improvements coming up at the corners by mid-season, and the all ex-prospect outfield of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur. But there are no Cup-A-Soup Five-Packs of instant starters (even if Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery were to step into the rotation tomorrow).

Minnesota: The Twins’ main competition in this division is their own health. If Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan do not fully relapse (and a Nathan partial relapse would be neatly covered by Matt Capps) and no other star comes acropper, I don’t see Minnesota being severely tested. The infield is stronger with Danny Valencia at third and the guy I’d bet on as of tonight for ROTY (Tsuyoshi Nishioka) at second, and the rotation deep enough to move the aptly named Kevin Slowey to the bullpen. There is much more of a gap between the Twins and the rest of the division than conventional wisdom suggests.

OVERVIEW: 1. Minnesota (in a comparative romp); I’ll go for the Beckham-Ramirez growth spurt to make it 2. Chicago and 3. Detroit. The Royals will put up a valiant fight, but it’s got to be 4. Cleveland and 5. Kansas City.




 

The Conscience Of Baseball, 1995

There wasn’t a lot of principle flying around in the winter of 1994-95.

The owners had pushed the players into threatening to call a stupid strike. The players misjudged the owners and the public mood and struck anyway. The owners stonewalled, cancelled the rest of the season and the playoffs. All but one of the owners recruited “replacement teams” filled with minor leaguers (some of them virtually blackmailed into it) and long-retired players (some in their late 40s) and trotted them out on the field for Spring Training of 1995.
And Sparky Anderson said no.
The Hall of Fame manager of the Reds and Tigers passed away Thursday, and his successes with both franchises were worthy of all the accolades he’s receiving posthumously. But not prominent in these recollections is what Sparky Anderson did when the proverbial rubber met the road in that dark March of 1995, when the owners were ready to put a guy who was on Anderson’s first Cincinnati team in 1970 on the mound a quarter century later and pretend it was still the Major Leagues.
Sparky Anderson said he didn’t want to pick sides in a labor dispute, that his only interest was the integrity of the game, but he just couldn’t participate in the “replacement” season. So, much to the horror of his management and the game’s, he took an unpaid leave of absence as manager of the Detroit Tigers. When a court ruling forced a settlement on the owners and the “replacements” vanished, Sparky came back for a troubled year in which ownership looked at him suspiciously and even some fans took out on him their frustrations about the strike. It would be his last season managing.
As suggested earlier, in terms of principled action there wasn’t much for Anderson’s gesture to compete with that nuclear winter and spring. The Orioles’ Peter Angelos refused to field a replacement team, but it was suggested that he had multiple motivations in so doing because a season of Baltimore baseball with Cal Ripken on the sidelines on strike would have taken the heart out of (and probably technically ended) Ripken’s pursuit of what was then Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games-played streak.
Thus Sparky Anderson was the conscience of the game in that awful time, and although hardly as destructive to his future associations with the sport, his actions of 1995 were in the same broad category as Curt Flood’s had been in the pursuit of a player’s right to have a say in where he played. Sparky’s decision was completely in character with the rest of his baseball life. It isn’t mentioned on his plaque at the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be, but at this of all times it should be remembered alongside the World Championships and the unforgettable persona.

2010 Forecasts: AL Central

Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.

I’m less
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not
start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and
Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.

Everybody
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens
to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that clich 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively
disguised.”

What if
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
the plate.

When the
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
division.

Manager
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. 
Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive -
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009″ – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year).
It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.

PREDICTIONS:
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.

 

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