Time to Cinch It Up and Hunker Down
I'm pretty sure that it's safe to write about the Detroit Tigers again. The Yankees and Sox of all colors have cooled off the Tigers to such an extent that the Noob Sports Jinx is merely an afterthought.
In their last 8 games, the Tigers have managed just 2 victories against the AL's top 3 teams. Tonight's series opener was an absolute heartbreaker: the Tigs led the entire way, squandered a few chances, and dodged bullets until Alex Cintron hit his first home run, a 3 run job, as a member of the Pale Hose. Hawk Harrelson promptly blew his load all over Darrin Jackson and could barely get out his patented home run call of "You can put it on the booooard...YES!!!" DJ and I both promptly threw up in our mouths.
(By the way, if you get the title of this column and you aren't a Sox fan, you can sympathize with how truly brutal it is to listen to Hawk as a fan of what he calls "the bad guys.")
You loyal noobs out there know that I've believed in this Tiger team from the get-go, and I still do. It's too early to start worrying about the standings and definitely too early to start printing playoff tickets, but through 58 games we definitely have an idea about this team's strengths and weaknesses. Observations, in no particular order...
1. The Tigers miss Dmitri Young. This team needs a left handed bat like Jason Grimsley needs a lawyer, and that's pretty badly. Nothing against Alexis Gomez, but was he seriously batting sixth on Tuesday night?
2. Marcus Thames is a legit major leaguer. With Craig Monroe struggling, Thames is a key member of this ballclub. He has a shit ton of power, has produced when given the opportunity, and seems to be a genuinely nice guy. Alan Trammell really never gave Thames a chance in 2005, despite posting monster numbers in the minors. Speaking of which...
3. You couldn't ask for a better manager than Jim Leyland. He keeps his reserves fresh, manages his starting pitchers flawlessly, and commands respect from his players. Since he's already receiving a ton of credit from the mainstream media, let's just keep rolling along.
4. The Tigers got very lucky in Tuesday's amateur draft. Due to signability issues, Andrew Miller, the consensus top player in the draft, slid all the way to Detroit who took him with the sixth overall pick. The Tarheel is 6'6, left handed, can reach 97 mph on the gun, and has a sweeping breaking ball. Many experts believe he can reach the majors as soon as 2007, after he polishes his change up a bit. I'll take it.
5. Only the Lord saves more than Todd Jones, so why is it so hard to have faith in him? Jones is second in the AL in saves with 16, but the 1-2-3 inning has always been much more elusive for him. His ERA hovers near 6. If Todd falters as closer, Fernando Rodney is capable (despite giving up the dinger to Cintron) but the bullpen is much stronger with him in a set-up role. This might be an area that Dave Dombrowski looks to strengthen before the trade deadline.
6. This is Mike Ilitch's chance to win back the fans. If Ilitch gives Dombrowski the green light and the green to add an impact player, it would be a sign to both the players and the fans that management is dedicated to winning this year. The deal wouldn't have to be a blockbuster, but the Tigers do have ammunition to make a deal without touching their core group of players. Roman Colon, Wil Ledezma, and Omar Infante are all young, talented, and most importantly, inexpensive but are not necessarily in the Tigers' long term plans. Since the Tigers could use a left fielder, starting pitcher, or reliever, there should be no shortage of rumors in the coming weeks.