Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Post Leyland Era


          Ahh springtime. For Tigers fans, it marks the beginning of cold days and even colder nights at Comerica for the next month or so; and of course the longing to hear the sweet southern drawl of Ernie Harwell once again welcoming us to spring time in Detroit, and Major League Baseball. If only, right?  But hey, we still have Rod Allen and the everlasting image of him chasing that small Japanese pitcher all the way to the centerfield wall to keep us smiling.  Broadcasters aside, let’s dive right into what you’ll actually see on the diamond in Detroit this year

Let’s first start by saying "find a corner" Shane Victorino. You pick the ALCS, down one run in the 7th to come out of nowhere become a power hitter? Respectfully, go away and never come back.  Now, let’s get to who was left wearing an olde English D on their chest after that debacle, and more importantly who’s still wearing one now.

Brad Ausmus. Photo Credit:

Jim Leyland was one of the last of a dying breed.  We can all sit and mope about the departure of one of the best managers in franchise, and maybe even MLB history. Though, judging by my twitter feed and the influx of “OH MY GOD HAVE YOU SEEN BRAD AUSMUS?!?” tweets, most female Tigers fans got over the retirement pretty quickly.  However, the male side of the spectrum will all just have to light up a ceremonial cigarette on opening day in honor of Jimmy, and feel sorry for ourselves.

The questions surrounding the new staff are numerable. Brad Ausmus has never been a major league manager before, that’s a fact. But let’s be honest, could he have picked a better roster for his first gig?  Veteran leadership is abundant (i.e. Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera) and is mixed with some very promising young talent not only in the field, in guys like Nick Castellanos and Jose Iglesias, but in the rotation and bullpen as well, in Drew Smyly and Bruce Rondon.  Ausmus will have a big job to do. No doubt about that. Expectations are high in the Motor City right now, and it seems that anything less than a World Series is unacceptable. That’s a pretty tall order for any manager, let alone a guy who has never been one before.  But hey, Cabrera right?

Perhaps the biggest question of the year will be the bullpen, and after last October, who could blame anyone for asking?  The plan of using a set-up man as a closer in the postseason failed miserably. Joaqin Benoit gave it up more than a Kardashian at an NBA game (lookin at you Kanye, you’re marrying that). Anyway, the days of Benoit are gone and the arrival of Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlian (yeah in case you forgot, we have Joba Chamberlain) should be enough -- I reiterate, SHOULD BE enough -- to more than solidify the back end of the bullpen.  They will absolutely still need the young guys like Rondon and Al Alburquerque to step up and contribute, as well as other guys who have been mainstays the past few seasons like Luke Putknonen and dare I say, Phil Coke.

All in all, with a 1, 2, 3 punch of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, they don’t need to ask too much of the front end of the bullpen, other than serviceability. The questions around the rotation seemingly have already been answered. Verlander is back to full health, Scherzer is, …well Scherzer, and Sanzhez will look to continue the recent success he’s found in Detroit. Smyly is young and an unproven starter, but he definitely has great stuff, there’s no denying that. It will be up to Jeff Jones and partly Alex Avila to help bring him along.  I won’t touch on Porcello because frankly, if you follow me on twitter, you already know how I feel about him.  The Fister trade definitely hurts the rotation. Anytime you lose a great arm like that, there’s going to be an impact. However, the Tigers still have the best rotation in the AL Central, and arguably the best in the American League. 

If you didn’t tune in at all last year post Jhonny Peralta suspension, then the infield is going to look just a little different to you. Peralta and Omar Infante are gone. But Ian Kinsler and Iglesias are the here and now. We all know about his ability to field his position, but if Iglesias can recapture the way he hit in Boston before coming over to the Tigs, then look out.  Kinsler will look to do a little recapturing also this year.  Perhaps we will see the Kinsler of 2008 when he hit .319 and was MVP of the All-Star Game. Then again, maybe we won’t, who knows? One thing is for sure: the Tigers have the best back-up middle infielder/first base coach in the game in Omar Vizquel.

The corners of the infield, particularly the hot one (that’s baseball language for 3rd if you’re new to the game) is shrouded with questions. Is Cabrera fully healthy and can he stay that way? How patient will they be with Nick Castellanos if he begins to struggle? Will it ultimately be a move back to the left side for Cabrera and a permanent spot at first for Victor Martinez? My guess is that Ausmus will be very, very and just for good measure one more, very patient with Castellanos.  His back-up option for an everyday third baseman at this point is Don Kelly, and though he may be the beloved favorite of so many Tigers fans, he’s hardly a viable alternative.

Nick Castellanos takes over at third base in Detroit. Photo Credit:

The biggest question in the infield is centered around the plate.  Thanks to a rule change in Major League Baseball, which I believe is a total and complete fallacy and should be reversed immediately, we know that Avila will not be taking on any big collisions this season.  That being said, that’s about the only thing we know for certain about Alex Avila this season.  Will we see the Avila of 2011, who hit .295 and drove in 82 runs? Or will we see the Avila of last year again, who totaled .227 for the year with a whopping 47 RBI’s in 102 games? Tigers fans will just have to wait and see, but here’s to hoping it’s the first one. 

The outfield will look more or less the same, except a slight change in left field with the addition of Rajai Davis, though it has not been announced who the everyday left fielder will be.  Davis brings the added ability to steal bases, something the Tigers have lacked the past few years.  Davis hit .260 last year, while Andy Dirks was fractions behind him at .256. Dirks may have an upper hand solely because of a lack of left handed bats in the line-up, however both will look to impress Ausmus while in Lakeland, in hopes of winning the job in left.

We know what to expect from Hunter, he’s been doing it for years. If he’s healthy, he’s good, plain and simple. What will we get from Jackson? He came on late in the season to bring his average to .272 for the year. His struggles from the lead-off spot down the stretch in the post season are well documented.  However, Leyland moving him to the bottom of the batting order seemed to work out well in the ALCS, where Jackson hit .318 in 22 at-bats, with an OPS of .741.  It will be interesting to see what Ausmus does with Jackson in the lineup. Tori Hunter clearly proved to be a more than adequate option in the lead-off spot, should Ausmus choose to take that route. 

Almost every expert, from every major media outlet that covers Major League Baseball, is picking the Tigers to run away with the AL Central.  To the casual fan, that’s just awesome.  But most people who really love the Tigers know that the AL Central minus the Tigers would be unquestionably the worst division in baseball.

The Tigers line-up boats 5 former All-Stars (Avila, Cabrera, Hunter, Kinsler, Martinez).  The starting rotation is home to  two of the last three AL Cy Young Awards and also the past two All-Star Game starters for the American league (Verlander & Scherzer, respectively).  The team’s closer Nathan ranks 10th on the all-time saves list, and will more than likely get to at least 7th on that list this year.

In a word, they’re stacked. In a division as weak as the AL central, with the lineup, the rotation, and the bullpen they have, they should have no problems cruising through to a pennant and making Ausmus's job a lot less stressful. Provided that, for the most part, they stay healthy.  Buckle up Tigers fans; 2014 should be one hell of season.   

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Unsuccessful Success Story

Photo credit:

They say all good things must come to an end. I'm not sure who "they" are, but "they" are probably wiser than I am. As is Jim Leyland, but now Leyland and I have something in common: neither one of us is managing the Detroit Tigers.

In the past 24 hours, you've probably experienced all sorts of emotions regarding Leyland's retirement; it could be shock, it could be sadness, it could be excitement for the future.

Leyland retired Monday, walking away from a team that probably should still be playing if not for Boston's grand efforts. But they aren't. As surprising (or not) as it is, the Tigers season is over, as is Leyland's illustrious managerial career.

Call him old, call him senile, call him grumpy...all are probably fair points. But his career was illustrious. He may one day have a home in Cooperstown, he may not. But he restored the roar in Detroit as well as anyone. He presided over perhaps the most successful time period in Detroit sports to never yield a title; certainly the most successful in recent memory.


Leyland did a lot for the Tigers. He took a perennial loser and turned it into a perennial winner. He had help, yes. He had great players, yes. There are few in the game of baseball who are quicker to point out that players make managers look good, not the other way around. But Leyland made his players look good.

Adoration has come pouring in for Leyland from all avenues, Woodward to Twitter. Rightfully so. Leyland earned that. He managed the Tigers for eight great years, took the team to four American League Championship Series, and won two pennants.

Yet when it came to the ultimate task at hand, the ultimate goal, Leyland failed. He'd probably say the same thing. He got all the questions right leading up to the final question, but he missed that one. It's not his fault. But while players play the game, managers get the credit and, in this case, they take the blame.

That's what I'll remember most about Leyland, fair or unfair. The Tigers never won the title that Mike Illitch (and a bunch of fans) so desperately wanted, needed almost.

Future Hopes

That's not to say Leyland won't get his ring with the Tigers. He's staying on with the organization in a TBD role. That's the right move. It won't be the same without the Marlboro man in the dugout, but he'll still be around, as he should be.

Jim Leyland was baseball in Detroit. The polarizing figures in recent Tigers memory are polarizing because Leyland made them so. 

He was the one who kept running Brandon Inge out there, and finding a spot for Ryan Raburn, when everyone else thought his spot was next to the crate of Dubble Bubble in the dugout. 

He gave the ball to a tall lanky kid from Virginia and allowed him to become a dominant force on the mound, and got the most out of a Venezuelan infielder who had some troubles in his early Detroit career. 

He did all of it with a mumbling voice and a cigarette. 

If the next manager in Detroit can win a title, Leyland won't be in the spotlight. It's not his style. But he'll be on my mind. And I'll smile, knowing that a good thing isn't over just yet. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Say It Ain't So, Te'o

To think, two days ago I was considering how to write a piece on Michigan basketball...hah! Thank you touchdown Jesus. Well unless you live under a rock, by now you've heard of Manti Te'o's amazing story. When I talked about Te'o and the Heisman last month, I called Manti "the best story in college football." That's still true, depending on your definition of "best." The only problem is now the story is fiction, instead of non-fiction. Oh well. It joins a long list of things that are simply too good to be true. On my personal list, I include the double cheeseburger on the dollar menu (yes, the second slice of cheese matters, forget the McDouble), the NHL on ESPN, and Santa Claus. To end this first paragraph, I go to a movie about Santa Claus (sort of), with my own little twist: the best way to create American tears is lying LOUD for all to hear.

Manti Te'o is at the center of a scandal, regarding the existence of his late girlfriend photo credit:

Whether you believe Te'o or not, and judging by the reaction, you don't, he's at fault. He's at fault for a lot of different reasons. Now my thoughts on the topic are this: he is a liar. He's ignorant, and he loses a lot of credibility as a person in my opinion. Harsh, but true. Now Manti has said that he was the victim of an internet hoax, seemingly brought on by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. When I hear that name, I think of Marques Tuiasosopo, not because of his career, but because he played in the Rose Bowl against Drew Brees and Purdue, the game where I saw the best sign aired on television: on ABC, it said Hey Pasadena, A Brees is Coming. Awesome. Back to the story though. So Tuiasosopo and Te'o are apparently friends, with the former duping the latter, as well as the American public, in an effort

It just doesn't make any sense. Watergate makes more sense than this story. So here is where my only grain of doubt about Te'o lying can be found. The only way I see him telling the truth is because I don't know why on earth Te'o would do this. Perhaps he was looking for sympathy. The problem is that he would have gotten his sympathy with the loss of his grandmother. Perhaps he really is just flat out stupid. Perhaps he actually believed that someone he never met, never even saw, could be real. Forget real, he called her the love of his life. The love of his life. Twenty-two year olds often make mistakes because of ignorance, stupidity, and embarrassment. I know because I am a twenty-two year old. But as the veteran of a few failed relationships, even I can tell you she's not your girlfriend if you've never met her.

A great line in The Dark Knight Rises is when Commissioner Gordon tells John Blake, "You're a detective now son. You're not allowed to believe in coincidence anymore." Taking that rationale, I don't believe Te'o at all when he says he is the victim. I don't see this as a coincidence that Te'o and Tuiasosopo happen to be friends, and Te'o happened to be out of the loop on this whole story. You can say he didn't lie at all, but he thanked his girlfriend's family after beating Michigan State. So if you are naive enough to believe that Te'o was indeed hoaxed, he at least lied about her family, because...well, because she does not freaking exist.

I'm going to hold off on evaluating Te'o until he actually comes out and speaks. Waiting is not doing you any favors, Manti. It's making all of us think you are creating a story. If you are telling the truth, then what the hell are you waiting for??? Let's hear it! I love the people who say they don't care about this story. How can you not care about this story? This is iconic. I'm 99% positive this will never happen again. If you don't have an opinion on this story, reevaluate your opinions (again, assuming you are a sports fan).

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick addresses the media yesterday concerning Manti Te'o photo credit:

Whether Te'o speaks, and regardless of what he says, a lot of focus will now shift to where Te'o may fall in the NFL Draft. There's been a lot of talk about this topic. To me, it's an organizational decision on whether or not to draft Te'o. Like my friends Jeff Riger and Eric Thomas stated, if you think Tim Tebow gets attention, wait until the pre-prodigal son makes his way to the NFL. If I'm a GM in the NFL and I'm sitting pretty in the fourth round, having addressed my needs (and not simply taken the best player available), I give Te'o a look. The difference between Tebow and Te'o is that Manti is actually good. Ten days ago, we were talking about him as a top ten pick. Any thought of even a first round pick is now likely gone. It's a giant distraction. Not to mention, do you want to bring in someone who you believe to be a liar? I wouldn't. But in the fourth round, maybe. I see Te'o going to a team like New England or Baltimore. He has to go to a team where distractions are a non-issue. He needs a team with a coach who simply does not respond to dumb questions. And he needs leaders on the defense who will take him under his wing and show him how to keep his mouth shut.

It is possible Te'o is telling the truth. It is highly unlikely, but possible. I don't think so, but that doesn't mean he's lying. In any event, Te'o is at fault. Life is a learning experience, and Manti is going to learn a valuable lesson, either way. He's either going to learn that surprisingly, despite what everyone says, if it's on the internet it may not be true (as I assume that this story is true, having read it on the internet). Or, he's going to learn that you can only lie for so long. Either way, Notre Dame's golden boy just got a big red slash on that helmet, and it isn't from an Alabama player. Still a great story know you've been talking about it.