Friday, October 27, 2006

Right where we want 'em

My work schedule has cut into my World Series viewing and posting time. But we'll have to rely on history and hope the Tigs are right where they want to be -- down 3-1 to the Cards. Now, if we can only find Lolich, we'll be set.

Actually, I've got a very bad feeling after seeing Curtis Granderson slip and fall last night, helping the Cards to rally for a Game 4 triumph. Is it payback for Curtis Flood misjudging a fly ball in CF in Game 7 of 1968, giving Detroit the title? Perhaps.

This much is clear: The Tigs have been their own worst enemy for much of this series. I don't know if it's the layoff, or nerves, or simply bad timing. But it hasn't been pleasant to watch.

My nightmare of Jeff Weaver doing in the Tigers is coming closer to fruition. But Detroit's play has pretty much defied logic all year, so who knows what will happen next?

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Perhaps this was bad voodoo.


Because of my work schedule, I was unable to see much of last night's game. I guess I should be grateful now. I know the Tigers made a bunch of errors, so I'm guessing the layoff did hurt a bit. But it's only 1 game and it should be easy to quickly put this one behind them.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Is it time yet?

It seems like forever since the Tigers played a game. Hopefully, it won't be a problem for Detroit when WS Game 1 gets under way tomorrow night in Motown. I suspect that being at home should make it easier for the boys to regain their edge.

I thought for sure the Mets were winning NLCS Game 7 last night when Endy made that remarkable catch. Now I have to worry about Jeff Weaver and Juan Encarnacion teaming up to do in the Tigers. What a nightmare that would be.

Detroit swept the Cards during interleague play, although that means nothing now. The only advantage is that the hitters might have seen some of the pitchers before, rather than going into the series cold.

The photo is young Sparky -- in pre-Willie Hernandez days -- with Andy Van Slyke at spring training in 1984. Slick gave me a hard time about being a Tigers fan. How you liking those Tigs now, Slick?

Hmmm, 1984? That was a very good year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mets 4, Cardinals 2
(NLCS tied 3-3)

All the Mets needed from John Maine was for him to pitch the game of his life to save their season. So of course he went out and did that. Now things get a bit more interesting.

Maine did not start off well, allowing two hits and hitting a batter in the first inning as he struggled with his control. But he was able to escape a bases loaded jam. Jose Reyes then homered to lead off the bottom of the inning, giving Maine a bit of breathing room. After that, Maine settled down a bit. He pitched five and one-third scoreless innings to give the Mets a shot against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who pitched a bit better than he did in game two. Maine allowed just two hits and four walks, one of which was intentional. He struck out five. This was a huge performance from Maine, dragging the Mets from a desperate state to one with some room for optimism.

The Mets added just one more run against Carpenter. They strung three singles together in the fourth, with Shawn Green driving in the run. Green had two hits in the game and was also hit by a pitch. And he actually caught two fly balls that the Cardinals were kind enough to hit directly at him.

Fortunately the Mets got a chance to bat against old friend Braden Looper in the seventh. They added two runs on three singles, the last of which by Paul Lo Duca. They would need them.

Three relievers pitched well after Maine was removed in the sixth. Chad Bradford came in with one on and one out and immediately got a double play. He gave up a hit and got an out in the seventh before Guillermo Mota came in and got a twin killing of his own. Aaron Heilman emerged from seclusion to pitch a very good eighth, allowing just a meaningless single to Albert Pujols. Then the Mets turned it over to Billy Wagner.

Wagner had not been pitching well in the playoffs thus far, allowing one run in the LDS and losing game two of the LCS when he gave up three runs. Things did not go any better in this game. He gave up a single and a double before recording an out. He retired the next two batters only to have his nemesis So Taguchi smack a two-run double. He did retire the next batter, but there was nothing about this performance that inspired confidence. Right now it seems the Mets have found themselves a new Armando Benitez.

But none of that matters right now. The Mets, wearing the classic blue hats for the first time this postseason, were victorious and they will host game seven Thursday night. Jeff Suppan (1-1, 2.19 in 12.1 playoff innings) will start for St. Louis. The Mets' starting pitcher will probably be Oliver Perez (1-0, 7.94 in 5.2 playoff innings) who may be relieved by Darren Oliver (0-0, 3.68 in 7.1 playoff innings) after a few innings. Suppan shut the Mets down in game three, but I can't imagine that happening again. He is still Jeff Suppan. The Mets will probably need to score some runs to win this game, but I see no reason why they can't. Like I said yesterday, ya gotta believe!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cardinals 4, Mets 2
(Cardinals lead NLCS 3-2)

Shawn Green is terrible. If he were standing on home plate, he probably couldn't catch some of the pitches that have been called strikes in this series. Maine vs. Carpenter tomorrow. Ya gotta believe!

I'm going to sleep.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mets 12, Cardinals 5
(NLCS tied 2-2)

The dominant storyline entering this game was the uncertainty surrounding the Mets' starting pitcher, Oliver Perez. The Mets' hitters didn't waste much time beating that story into submission. Perez kept the Mets in the game just long enough for the bats to wake up and once that happened, even Steve Trachsel probably couldn't have screwed it up.

It only took the Mets until the third inning to show signs of life and after that, they didn't look back. Down 1-0 in the third, Carlos Beltran launched a solo home run and David Wright followed with one of his own. Perez gave the lead back in the bottom half, but the Mets reclaimed it in the fifth. After Paul Lo Duca reached on an error and Beltran singled, Carlos Delgado launched his third home run in two days to give the Mets a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Perez did give up another run in the bottom of the fifth, so the Mets had to come back with a more emphatic statement in the sixth. Jose Reyes led off with a single and the next six men to come to the plate also reached base. The Mets scored six runs without a home run, with Delgado's two-run ground rule double and a three-rule double by Jose Valentin being the biggest blows. Only Endy Chavez and Perez himself failed to contribute to the inning.

Perez gave up a couple more home runs in the bottom of the sixth, but by then it was too late. His final line was five and two-thirds innings with five runs on nine hits, including three home runs. He struck out three and walked just one. In the end it doesn't look pretty, but he held it together long enough for the offense to break out and that was all the Mets needed. Beltran hit another home run in the seventh, just to be safe.

Every Mets starter reached base at least once and everyone but Chavez and Perez either scored or drove in a run. But, as usual, it was the Carloses who led the way. Beltran reached base five times, drawing two walks in addition to the single and the home runs. Delgado walked once, doubled and homered, driving in five runs. There is just too much firepower in the Mets' lineup for them to be shut down for very long. I would be very surprised to see another game like Saturday's this postseason.

With the series even, we'll see a rematch of game one on Monday. Tom Glavine (2-0, 0.00 in 13 playoff innings) goes for the Mets having pitched excellently, despite what Albert Pujols may think, on Thursday. Jeff Weaver (1-1, 1.69 in 10.2 playoff innings) pitched pretty well himself. Both will be pitching on short rest, so anything can happen, but I feel pretty comfortable with this matchup. And in other news, Orlando Hernandez says he'd be ready if the Mets have some more games to play starting Saturday. I think they could find a spot for him.

What they said

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: With Detroit waiting for a hero, Magglio Ordonez turned to Tigers clubhouse assistant Tyson Steele in the dugout. "You got the champagne on ice?" he asked Steele, before stepping onto the field in the bottom of the ninth inning. "It's over."

* * *

Dan Dickerson, WXYT-AM radio: "Swing and a fly ball, leftield, it's deep, it's way back ... the Tigers are going to the World Series. Three-run, walkoff home run! Ohhh man! Ordonez around third, he's into a mob scene at home! The Tigers have beaten the A's, 6-3, completing a four-game sweep in one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history! The Tigers, three years after losing 119 games, are going to the World Series! Magglio Ordonez with his second home run of the game. What a sight at home plate!"

* * *

Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press: And sure enough, after a shaky start and a three-run deficit and a bases-loaded blown opportunity and a bases-loaded narrow escape, sure enough, after almost every chance imaginable and the score still tied, 3-3, here came the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two on -- I mean, come on, is this perfect or what? -- and here came your something big, folks, here came Magglio Ordonez, one of those free agents who a few years back might never have signed with the Tigers, and he smoked an 1-0 pitch so high and so far into Comerica Park's leftfield seats that he had time to watch, walk, raise a fist, then raise another fist, then run the bases pointing a new direction for this new era of Detroit baseball.

* * *

Bob Wojnowski, Detroit News: It was a shot in the bottom of the ninth, from the bottom of the heart, a three-run homer by Ordonez with two out that gave the Tigers a 6-3 victory over Oakland on Saturday night and a 4-0 sweep of the American League Championship Series. What ensued on the field and in the stands should be branded unreal, except that we’d seen it just a week earlier, when the Tigers vanquished the Yankees.

What a remarkable sight, again.

What a remarkable team, again.

* * *

Jerry Green, Detroit News: Of course the Tigers would win the American League pennant with a walk-off home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

That was the way it was scripted. It could happen no other way in this storybook baseball season.

This little team that couldn’t — that shouldn’t — is going to the World Series. Next Saturday night vs. a team to be determined. At home. At Comerica Park.

Believe it or not.

* * *

A's outfielder Milton Bradley, quoted in the L.A. Times on Kenny Rogers' performance Friday: "I don't know if it would be disrespectful or something, but I almost felt like going over there and giving him a high-five. He was that good."

* * *

Blast from the past, February 2004: Scott Boras, [Ivan] Rodriguez's agent who negotiated the deal with the Tigers, said his client was excited about playing in the AL Central. "Pudge said to me, 'I know that division. That division could be mine,'" Boras said.

And from then-manager Alan Trammell, on the signing of Pudge: "This is how it starts. This is how we get better."

Stan's man?

Stanley once admonished Sparky for buying a cap and immediately working the bill into a curve. He hates when players wear their pant legs pulled down to their shoe tops. Anthony Reyes is all that is right in the Stanley Baseball World. He must become an Oriole. He's already got the ERA for it.

Cardinals 5, Mets 0
(Cardinals lead NLCS 2-1)

This was a total team effort. Bad starting pitching, bad defense and a completely impotent offense left the Mets in serious trouble. Darren Oliver pitched a heck of a game, though.

Steve Trachsel was awful from the start, putting the first three batters he faced on base. He picked off leadoff batter David Eckstein to limit the damage somewhat, but Trachsel was never in control. Still, he had a chance to escape the first inning unscathed. He got Jim Edmonds to pop out for the second out and then Scott Spiezio hit a fly ball to right field. Unfortunately for the Mets, Shawn Green is still their right fielder. He turned this potential third out into a two-run triple with his circuitous route to it and his subsequent hopeless dive. The Mets don't have much choice but to play Green given their only healthy reserve outfielders are Michael Tucker and, theoretically, Chris Woodward. But their failure to call up Lastings Milledge before September 1st, thus making him ineligible for the playoffs unless Cliff Floyd is placed on the DL, looks rather inexplicable right now.

Of course, it wasn't Green who walked the next two batters after Spiezio's triple before getting out of the inning. I don't think he's the one that gave up a home run to pitcher Jeff Suppan to lead off the second, either. Trachsel gave up two more walks and a single before being replaced, with no one out, by Darren Oliver. Oliver let two of Trachsel's runners score, but after that he was excellent, pitching six shutout innings on three hits and one walk.

That was too little, too late, however, because Suppan completely dominated the Mets for eight innings, allowing just three hits and one walk. Jose Reyes's two-out triple in the third inning was the closest they came to threatening. They never put two runners on base in the same inning.

So now the Mets trail 2-1 and have to depend on Oliver Perez (3-13, 6.55) to keep them in the series. Perez is capable of giving the Mets a brilliant outing, but he's also capable of getting knocked out in the first inning. Fortunately, Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06) is a rather similar pitcher. In his final regular season start, he pitched just two-thirds of an inning and gave up four runs on five hits including two home runs. He hasn't pitched since. Anything could happen tonight, even a 1-0 pitchers' duel. After watching this Mets team all year, all I can say is I don't think they'll go quietly.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

1000 words

Moving on

I thought the Tigers were due for a loss when they fell behind 3-0 in Game 4 today, but what was I thinking? Don't look for a bandwagon to jump on; this is a magic carpet.

After limping through the end of the season, and becoming the punch line in jokes again, I'm glad the country has gotten to see what has made the Tigers special this year. Great pitching, timely hitting from a variety of sources, and chemistry. Not to mention another gray-haired manager pushing the buttons.

Leyland said after the game that in spring training the Tigers had a lot of good players, but weren't a good team. Now, he added, they are a good team.

Here is a look at what he meant. The hitting stars by game in the ALCS: Inge, Gomez, Monroe, Ordonez. Polanco, who we noted all year was the player the Tigers could least do without, was the MVP. Granderson and Guillen contributed. And the pitching was solid, again -- Robertson, Verlander, Rogers, Bonderman, Walker, Ledezma, Grilli, Rodney, Zumaya, Jones.

Polly merely has hit safely in all 8 postseason games so far, and has six multi-hit games. Rogers was lights out again in Game 3. Bonderman scuffled in Game 4 to keep the Tigers in the contest, like he was Robertson.

The Tigers are the first team to win 6 straight postseason games by at least 3 runs each.

Now they will have an extended break, which might be the only thing that can ruin this momentum. But in Leyland we trust.

* * *

ESPN radio's Jon Miller gave a tip of the cap to former Detroit legendary radio man Ernie Harwell when I was listening to Friday's game by calling the team "the Tigs," which is how Harwell often referred to the team.


Don't wake me.

Cardinals 9, Mets 6
(NLCS tied 1-1)

The Mets bullpen was pretty bad in the NLDS, but the offense and starting pitching were good enough to overcome it. In the first and third games of the series, the relievers pitched more than half the game and did not acquit themselves well. Game two of the NLCS saw them tasked with the majority of the innings again, and again it did not go well.

In the first round, the Mets non-Glavine starters did not go deep into games, but they weren't awful. While Willie Randolph's removal of John Maine in the fifth inning made sense at the time, he had only allowed one run. Maine was not so adequate this time, allowing four runs in four innings, giving Randolph little choice. He gave up just two hits, but walked five. One of the runs was unearned as a result of an error by Carlos Delgado, but Maine was clearly not sharp.

The offense seemed up to the challenge for most of the game as Cardinals' starter Chris Carpenter fared no better than Maine. He allowed five runs in five innings, four of them scoring on a pair of Delgado home runs. Jose Reyes also had a big game, with three hits, including a double, one walk, one RBI and two runs scored. Paul Lo Duca had an RBI double. Carlos Beltran walked twice and scored once.

As in NLDS game one, things started off well enough for the Mets' bullpen. The tag team of Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano got through two-thirds of a perfect inning there. This time they pitched two full scoreless frames, with Bradford recording five of the outs and allowing just one hit. But Guillermo Mota was once again there to screw everything up.

Mota got the first two batters he faced in the seventh, but then he allowed a single and a walk. Scott Spiezio then hit a ball that cleared the right field fence, only to bounce off of Shawn Green's glove and back into play for a game-tying triple. It would have been great if Green could have oriented his glove in such a direction that the ball would land in it rather than bounce off it, but I have to give him credit for at least preventing the home run. Aaron Heilman then relieved Mota and ended the inning. Mota has now allowed eight hits and two walks in five and two-thirds postseason innings, striking out six with a 7.94 ERA. The Mets may not have much choice but to use him given that the alternatives are Darren Oliver and Roberto Hernandez, but perhaps he could enter the game before Bradford and Feliciano rather than after.

Mota's meltdown only tied the game, however, and after Heilman pitched a scoreless eighth, the game was left in Billy Wagner's hands. So he gave up a leadoff home run to So Taguchi, a man with sixteen career home runs in 960 at bats. Wagner wasn't done, as he gave up two more runs on three hits, including two doubles, before being removed from the game with two outs and a runner on second. Hernandez retired the next batter. Wagner's numbers for the playoffs are no better than Mota's, as he's allowed seven hits and one walk in four and two-thirds innings with four strikeouts and a 7.71 ERA. The Mets aren't going to stop using Wagner in tight games, so he simply has to pitch a lot better than he has.

The scene now shifts to St. Louis for tonight's game three. Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97 regular season, 0-0, 5.40 playoffs) is going to have to pitch better than he did last time out if he's going to turn things around for the Mets. Getting out of the fourth inning would be a good start. For the Cardinals, it'll be Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.12 regular season, 0-1, 6.23), who didn't fare much better than Trachsel in the first round. I think some runs may be scored in this game, strike zone permitting.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Random thoughts

Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons are absolutely dreadful in the booth. You can't count the number of mistakes these guys make. Lou Piniella isn't very polished, and is horrible with the small talk, but actually makes some good observations and comments. His only faux pas so far was gushing about Kendell batting leadoff as a catcher and saying he couldn't imagine any other catcher being able to pull it off. The problem: One other catcher, playing the same game, had done it. Pudge led off 4 games this year.

* * *

The Marco Scutaro chant is pretty good.

* * *

I missed this story on the Onion Web site, but saw it linked on one of the Tiger blogs. It's pretty funny.

The headline: "George Steinbrenner fires Tigers."
Best line, attributed to Derek Jeter: "The Yankees have a long tradition of winning, and the Detroit Tigers failed to respect that."

* * *

Last week, Al Kaline and Willie Horton threw out the first pitches. The lineup for this weekend: Mickey Lolich, George Kell and Ernie Harwell. Lolich, from what I've heard, was Wayne Gretzky's favorite player as a youngster. Still hard to believe he won games 2, 5, and 7 of the 1968 World Series -- staving off elimination in Game 5 and beating Bob Gibson on two days rest with CG in Game 7.

* * *

It's funny how Tigers fans seem to be jacked up about Kenny Rogers' great record against Oakland. Particularly since they fail to see the irony that a week ago Yankee fans were delighting in Rogers' horrible postseason record and record vs. NY, and we know how that worked out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mets 2, Cardinals 0
(Mets lead NLCS 1-0)

Both starting pitchers cruised through the early part of this game, aided in part by an inconsistent, sometimes large, strike zone. In fact, for five and two-thirds innings, Jeff Weaver seemed in total control. He'd allowed just one hit and one walk, striking out one.

But with two down in the sixth, he gave up a single to Paul Lo Duca. Carlos Beltran came to the plate having lined out and grounded out in his first two at bats. Then Weaver's 2-2 pitch wound up in a very enticing area of the strike zone only to be quickly relocated to a spot on the right field scoreboard. Carlos Delgado followed with a double but after an intentional walk to David Wright, reliever Tyler Johnson was able to retire Endy Chavez to end the inning. Still, Beltran's two-run home run provided a comfortable lead.

Comfortable because Tom Glavine gave the Mets another excellent performance. After six shutout innings in the NLDS, Glavine blanked the Cardinals for seven. He allowed four hits and two walks and struck out two. He was in a couple of jams, including putting two on with one out in the third. But he got a line drive double play to get out of that. Glavine is etching his name in Mets playoff lore with these performances. If there's a game five, we'll see if he can keep it up on three days rest.

The Mets' offense didn't add anymore runs, though they did threaten against the St. Louis bullpen. They put runners on second and third with one out in the eighth as a result of Lo Duca's second single and Delgado's second double. But Wright and Chavez were unable to capitalize. They had just six hits in the game, but thanks to Glavine, Beltran's bomb was all they needed.

Guillermo Mota relieved Glavine in the eighth and did make things interesting for a few moments. With two outs, he walked David Eckstein on four pitches and threw three balls to Preston Wilson. Believe it or not, those are the guys batting directly in front of Albert Pujols. But Mota was able to avert disaster and got Wilson to pop out foul on a 3-2 pitch. Billy Wagner got Pujols to line out to start the ninth and finished things off, allowing just a walk to Scott Rolen.

This game wasn't all good news, however. Willie Randolph's plan to start Cliff Floyd in left field did not work out well. He apparently tweaked his Achilles rounding first on a foul ball in the second and had to be removed from the game. Chavez is a fine replacement and Shawn Green had a good offensive game with a single, a walk and a stolen base. But if Floyd can't return in this series, that does leave the Mets' bench short a man. And given that the bench already featured Michael Tucker and Anderson Hernandez, it wasn't the deepest to begin with.

Game two will be played tomorrow night and it features another seemingly mismatched pitching matchup. Chris Carpenter (15-8, 3.09 regular season, 2-0, 2.02 NLDS) gets to pitch early as a result of Wednesday's rainout. He'll be opposed by John Maine (6-5, 3.60 regular season, 0-0, 2.08 NLDS). The Mets' offense didn't quite inspire confidence with their failure to pummel Jeff Weaver, but the Cardinals' bats aren't too fearsome either. Another low-scoring thriller may be in the offing.

Zoom, gone

Joel Zumaya is out indefinitely with a sore wrist, the AP is reporting.

This comes as little surprise. A lot of eyebrows were raised last night in Tigerland when Leyland brought in Rodney rather than Zoom to pitch the eighth -- although, none of the FOX braintrust seemed to notice.

This is the second time Zoom has been sidelined by the injury, which is believed to have happened because of the way he grips the ball so aggressively.

Obviously, this is bad news for the Tigers. But I still think the bullpen is deep and talented. Rodney, though, needs to return to the form he flashed last night and early in the season.

It's magic!

There was a great deal of gnashing of teeth among Detroit bloggers and media yesterday when the Tigers' lineup was announced. I took a spin around to see what they were saying, and people were ripping Leyland, which stunned me.

Neifi Perez in the No. 2 spot, Polanco in the 3 and Alexis Gomez in the 8?

Somehow, this madness worked to the tune of eight runs, with Gomez driving in 4.

"If I walk in there on Friday and see my name as the cleanup hitter, I'd expect to get a hit," reliever Todd Jones said last night.

I gave up on trying to figure out Leyland months ago and just trusted him. I'm surprised more people hadn't. He seems, at least for this year, to have an uncanny ability to gauge his players and cajole them into producing.

For example, with Gomez: "I told him it's a 5 o'clock game and that's when you hit most of your home runs (in BP), so I'm going to play you tonight." That bit probably went a long way toward relaxing Gomez.

Actually, the move made sense in that Gomez is a left-handed bat, and the Tigers needed one against Loaiza (who yielded a .319 BA to lefties this season).

The Perez move is more puzzling, but I believe Leyland picked Perez over Infante and Santiago because of his better range at SS and his experience. I'm guessing he batted him No. 2 because he didn't want to disrupt the rest of the lineup, which has been producing quite well. If he batted Perez in No. 9, which is where he probably belongs, then Inge has to move. I think the lineups have worked well with power at the bottom, especially with Granderson hitting well at the top. Perez probably hurts the lineup more in the 9 spot than in the 2. At least in the 2, he can bunt runners along and set the table.

Polanco in the 3 spot also made some sense despite his power. Nobody is hitting better right now. I'm sure Leyland was thinking: Granderson gets on, Perez moves him a base, Polly drives him home. Not bad thinking, when you think about it. (And how unbelievable was it to see Polly get an IBB so the A's could face Maggs?)

Verlander didn't pitch great, but good enough. The bullpen -- Grilli (Cheese), Rodney and Jones -- struck out 6 in a row before Jonesy gave up 3 singles and had to face Frank Thomas with the game on the line. Jonesy loves to make them exciting, but usually escapes.

Like magic.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One down (game and player)

It's hard to say Detroit's pitchers shut down the A's last night, even though they only gave up a run. The Tigers played with fire, but Oakland doused itself with four DPs and an 0-for-13 collar with men in scoring position.

Nate Robertson did what Nate Robertson does. He scuffled along and shutout the A's for five innings. Fernando Rodney, in whom I have the least confidence of the relievers, did the same for two. Leyland, as was the case in the opening round, does not mess around even with a 5-0 lead going to the eighth, using Zumaya and Jones to close it out.

The Tigers did a great job taking pitches against Zito. Even though the first 8 went down in order, I think it helped set up the later rallies. The announcers, though, were brutal. It wasn't until Detroit scored 4 that they started talking about the patience of the hitters. Thom Brennaman at one point even gushed about Zito "throwing strikes" just because he'd retired a bunch in a row. Just prior to Brennaman's comment, however, a graphic was shown that had Zito throwing something like 18 balls and 21 strikes. But don't let the facts ruin the story you want to tell, and FOX seemed intent on telling a story about Zito being a superstar lefty.

Detroit over the last 4 games has played like it did through the first half of the year. Pitching and timely hitting from different spots in the lineup. No one has carried the load, it's been shared. Last night, it was Inge's time.

This year, the team's ad campaign was built around the phrase "Who's Your Tiger?" As Michael Rosenberg noted in his Free Press column today, who isn't?

Hopefully, Sean Casey's calf injury isn't as bad as it looked. He's out for Game 2. This leaves the Tigers without a true first baseman because Chris Shelton isn't on the roster. Guillen will take over at first, where he played 8 games in the regular season, and either Infante, Santiago or Neifi Perez will play SS. Pudge also has played some first base this year, but it's probably to risky to move him to 1B and put Wilson behind the plate. Not because Wilson can't get the job done, only because you'd have both your catchers on the field. (Actually all three of your catchers, figuring Inge is the emergency backstop.)

It would be great to see Verlander continue the Tigers' success tonight. Detroit faces Esteban Loaiza, another pitcher with a high WHIP (1.42). Loaiza is much better at home (3.71 ERA) than on the road (6.08 ERA). He started 2 games vs. Tigers this year and had an ERA of 8.00. Verlander had 3 starts vs. A's and a 2.25 ERA.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Getting ready for Game 1 ALCS

The Tigers were 5-4 vs. Oakland in the regular season, but the teams haven't played since July 23. Six of the games were in Oakland, where the Tigers were 3-3.

When the teams completed play on July 23, the Tigers were 66-32; Oakland was 51-47.

Detroit's wins: 11-4, 4-3, 10-4, 7-4, 8-4.
Detroit's losses: 3-4, 3-5, 1-2, 5-9.

The Tigers had only one save opportunity, which was converted – by Roman Colon. It was his lone save of the season.

* * *

Barry Zito made one start against Detroit this year and gave up 3 hits and 1 run in 7 IP. He got no decision.

I know Zito is a very good lefty, and he’ll probably go out and toss a gem after what I’m going to say, but it’s not like he’s Koufax out there. He had a 3.83 ERA and 1.40 WHIP this season. I don’t see him being head and shoulders above Robertson, other than on reputation. I would definitely give the edge to Oakland, but not by much. Zito is 55-46 with a 3.85 ERA since going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA in 2002, which isn’t all that remarkable considering the A’s go to the playoffs annually. One thing is for sure, he’s a workhorse; always over 200 IP every year.

For what it’s worth – and the last series showed that you can throw the past out the window – Zito had a 4.71 ERA at home and 2.97 on the road.

* * *

Is being undisciplined contagious? It must be. Sean Casey has a lifetime .368 on-base average. That’s one of the primary reasons the Tigers traded for him.

After coming to Detroit, Casey’s OBA was .286.

* * *

Speaking of .286 OBAs, that’s what Oakland’s OBA was in its series sweep of Minnesota. The A’s batted .245, second worst in the first round, ahead of only the Padres. The Tigers hit .309 (best) and had a .338 OBA (third).

Oakland had a 2.33 ERA in the first round, second best to St. Louis’ 1.50. The Tigers were fourth at 3.60.

In the regular season, Detroit’s offense ranked fifth in the AL in runs; the A’s were ninth. The Tigers were, of course, best in ERA while Oakland was fourth.

On paper, you’d have to figure that if the Tigers hit and pitch like they did in the first round, and the A’s do the same, it’s Detroit’s series. But there was a lot of worthless paper after the first round, too.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rotation set

The Tigers will use the same Robertson-Verlander-Rogers-Bonderman rotation vs. Oakland. Some speculated it might change, but why fix it if it ain't broken? Robertson has already endured what will quite possibly be the toughest starting assignment of his life, Game 1 in Yankee Stadium.

This way, the first time through, Robertson pitches on 6 days rest, Verlander on 5, Rogers on 6 and Bonderman on 6.

Of course, they could skip Robertson, which then puts everyone else on a more “normal” schedule. However, if by chance the Tigers are down 1-2 heading into Saturday (which would simply mean everyone holds serve, so to speak), then it would fall to Robertson on 10 days rest.

I’m not sure how Robertson pitches on extended rest, but the chance of a rusty Robertson taking the mound in such a pivotal game isn’t appealing. The other option would be to skip him again (and show no confidence in him at all for the ALCS) and send out Verlander on 3 days rest. Verlander, I think we’ve seen, is better on regular to longer rest at this point.

So it comes down to this: If it’s 1-2 heading into Saturday, do you want Bonderman on 6 days rest or a very well rested Robertson or short rested Verlander? I want Bonderman.

Then, depending on the situation, you can continue with the rotation or start bumping up guys on 3 days rest. I think this is more sensible. And if Robertson and/or Verlander win one or both of those first two games in Oakland, then you’ve really got options.

Hopefully, all this is rendered moot by the Tigers just continuing to roll.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oakland meeting a team it launched?

There were many great victories for the Tigers this season, but none more valuable than April 20 when Detroit rallied from 3-1 down in the ninth to win at Oakland, 4-3. There might have been other triumphs as valuable, but it’s hard to overlook, in my eyes, the significance of this one.

This was the game that featured Brandon Inge’s 15-pitch AB that resulted in a one-out walk to load the bases, followed by Curtis Granderson’s walk to force home the winner. Leyland called it a “one-and-half Marlboro” AB by Inge.

It was the Tigers’ first come-from-behind win of the season and put their record at 9-7. It came two days after Leyland’s now-famed tirade against the losing culture in Detroit.

Entering the game, the Tigers had lost 7 of 10 after opening the campaign with 5 consecutive victories. The April 20 triumph started Detroit on a 27-7 run.

There’s no way to know what might have happened if the Tigers lost that game. Maybe their slide would have continued, maybe not. But it’s certainly conceivable that this game, on the heels of Leyland’s comments, got the players to believe.

Mets 9, Dodgers 5
(Mets win series 3-0, advance to NLCS)

Steve Trachsel didn't exactly step up in his first postseason start and the bullpen that's been a strength all season was a bit shaky as well. But another balanced offensive assault was able to overcome any pitching troubles and finish off the sweep for the Mets.

Trachsel gave up just two runs, but he was removed with one out in the fourth having allowed six hits and one walk while striking out two. Willie Randolph's strategy to compensate for his lack of starting pitching seems to be to use as many pitchers as he possibly can on the nights when Tom Glavine isn't pitching. Given the quality of the Mets' relievers and the extra days off they have to rest in the playoffs, it's not a bad idea. But it hasn't gone all that well so far.

In game one, five different relievers combined for four and two-thirds innings and gave up four runs. In game two the bullpen allowed one run in three innings. Game three was another rough one for the 'pen, as they gave up three runs in five and two-thirds. All of those runs were charged to Darren Oliver, who got Trachsel out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the fourth before creating his own trouble in the fifth.

Oliver gave up a single, a Jeff Kent home run and another single with two outs in the fifth, blowing the Mets' two-run lead. Chad Bradford came in to save the day, but got a bit unlucky on a bloop single by Russell Martin and a walk to Wilson Betemit who refused to chase some very close pitches. Pedro Feliciano then entered with the bases loaded and his pitches to James Loney were not so close. He walked Loney to force in the Dodgers' fifth run before getting out of the inning.

The Mets' had built their lead by scoring three in the first inning on a walk and five consecutive two-out singles. They added another the third on single by Cliff Floyd and a double by Shawn Green, both coming with two outs. Floyd reaggravated his left Achilles on the way home and had to leave the game, but Green stepped up with a big night, driving in two runs with two doubles and a single.

After Trachsel and the bullpen gave back the four-run lead, the hitters wasted no time in reclaiming it, putting three runs on the board in the top of the sixth on four hits and a walk. This put the Mets up 7-5 and the bullpen did not allow another run. Guillermo Mota, who allowed three runs in the first game, pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one strikeout. Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner pitched one scoreless inning each to finish things off. The offense added two more runs in the eighth, sparked by a Chris Woodward leadoff double.

Seeing the Mets as the only New York team left in the playoffs is certainly sweet. And now they have a chance to arrange their NLCS starting rotation however they like while St. Louis and San Diego will need to burn their aces just to get there. But these wouldn't be the New York Mets if there weren't new and exciting reasons for concern.

Cliff Floyd had a big series, going four for nine with a walk, a home run, three runs and two RBI. Now it's unknown whether he can play in game one of the NLCS. He seems optimistic and three days off will surely help. And both Endy Chavez and Shawn Green wound up having good series with three hits apiece. But the loss of Floyd's bat would be a significant blow to the Mets' starting lineup and bench.

And then there's the bullpen. New York relievers pitched thirteen and one-third innings, or just one out fewer than the starters, and posted an ERA of 7.43 on sixteen hits, three walks and two home runs with twelve strikeouts. Most of that is the fault of Oliver and Mota, neither of whom is likely to pitch the ninth inning of a tie game, but if Randolph if going to go to his bullpen as early as he did in these three games, those guys are going to have to pitch well.

We've got three days to dwell on issues like these while the Cardinals and Padres continue to fight for the last spot in the LCS. The Mets won the season series against both teams. Game one starter Tom Glavine pitched once against the Cardinals, getting the win while allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk in six innings. He did not face the Padres. Either way I like the Mets' chances. I'm just not sure whether it'd be fun or scary to see Mike Piazza come back to Shea for the NLCS. Probably a bit of both.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Man of the Year

Roar restored

There's no need for overanalysis here: Good pitching still beats good hitting.

Jeremy Bonderman showed why he is regarded as the Tigers' potentially best pitcher today in shutting down NY's "vaunted" lineup. I couldn't be happier for him, even though I've voiced my frustration with him. I'm not alone. Leyland said Bonderman was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The offense was terrific, scoring early to take some pressure off Bonderman. Heck, it was 7-0 before the Yanks got their first baserunner in the top of the sixth.

This team has been great fun to watch simply because you never can count them out. I figured they were in trouble early in the season when Maroth went down. I thought they were in trouble when Polanco went down. I figured they were cooked when the White Sox and Twins were on their tails. No one gave them a chance in the playoffs after getting swept by KC and losing the division. Time after time after time, this group responded.

Making it even more gratifying is the fact that 10 players on this year's team were part of the 119-loss debacle in 2003. Sure, Maggs and Pudge and Polanco and Casey and Guillen and Granderson and Thames and Verlander and Zumaya and Jones and Rogers were key newcomers since then, and the Tigers wouldn't be playing next week if not for them.

But it's great for Inge and Santiago and Monroe and Infante and Bonderman and Robertson and Maroth and Walker and Ledezma and Rodney to be here to enjoy the moment. They deserve it, and it's nice that there wasn't a total overhaul of the club to get to this point. It was fitting that Bonderman, Monroe, Inge and Walker all played a part today, with Walker getting to be on the mound for the final out.

How great was that celebration, too? Leyland kissed a fan (a male one at that) and the team came out for a victory lap, spraying champagne on the fans.

I know there are still 2 more series to win for the ultimate prize, but this was about burying the past and proving to everyone that this team belonged. I'll worry about the Oakland series come Monday.

Bless you boys.

Ken-ny! Ken-ny!

There's not much more to say after Rogers took care of the Yankees, in a way he wasn't supposed to, in Game 3. He was a man possessed, and the Tigers did all the little things to give him the support he needed.

I'm trying not to get too high after the last 48 hours, but it's tough. The job still needs to be finished. Hopefully, Bonderman can throw one of the gems he's capable of in Game 4.

I believe WFAN genius Mike Francesa owes partner Mad Dog season tickets for his beloved SF Giants now, plus transportation. Doggie made a crack after Game 2 about coming in Saturday morning to do his show and talking about Rogers giving up 1 run in seven innings in a Tigers' win. Francesa scoffed and said there was no way Rogers would shut down NY and made the ticket offer if he did.

The Yankee offense has scored in just one of the last 18 innings. A-Rod said there's tension in the clubhouse. If there ever was a chance to take the favorites out, it will be Saturday with Bonderman vs. Wright.

Leyland might have lost Manager of the Year to Gardenhire when the Tigers failed to win the division. But there's no question now who deserves the honor after the skip got this ship turned around again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mets 4, Dodgers 1
(Mets lead series 2-0)

I read more than once that the Mets don't have enough starting pitching to make it through these playoffs. I guess it just goes to show...Tom Glavine can't read. It's sad, really.

The Mets' de facto ace took the ball in game two and pitched six excellent innings, doing more than enough to compensate for a less than stellar offensive evening. He shut the Dodgers out, allowing just four runs and two walks while striking out two. A double by Julio Lugo in the fifth was the only extra-base hit he gave up. The fifth was one of two innings in which Glavine allowed two baserunners, and Lugo was the only Dodger to reach third base against him. He got through the first three innings without allowing a hit, giving the Mets a chance to take an early lead, and seemed in control from start to finish.

The Mets' offense did score first and eventually built a four-run lead, but they did not repeat the powerful assault of game one. A double by Paul Lo Duca was the only extra-base hit among the Mets' seven and it did not contribute to a run. The Mets' first three runs actually scored on outs.

In the third, starting right fielder Endy Chavez outdid Shawn Green the first chance he got, pulling off an excellent drag bunt for a single. He moved to second on a wild pitch and went to third on a weak grounder by Glavine. He then scored on a ground out by Jose Reyes.

Chavez also played a role in the Mets' next minor rally in the fifth. After Jose Valentin walked to lead off the inning, Chavez singled. Both moved up on Glavine's sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Reyes loaded the bases. The Mets were again unable to come through with a big hit, but a fly ball by Lo Duca brought Valentin home.

The Mets loaded the bases one more time in the sixth and while they still didn't quite bust things open, one hit and some lousy Dodger defense helped put two runs on the board. After David Wright and Cliff Floyd singled, Valentin tried to bunt and was safe on pitcher Brett Tomko's throwing error. Third baseman Wilson Betemit would have had an easier time getting an out, but he ran to cover third base, leaving Tomko to try a difficult throw. Chavez then grounded into a force out at home and Julio Franco pinch hit into what should have been a double play. But Rafael Furcal chose not to charge Franco's slow grounder and the elder statesman was able to beat the throw to first, bringing Floyd home. A single by Reyes completed the Mets' scoring for the day.

After that it was up to the Mets' bullpen which, as you might guess, worked out okay. Pedro Feliciano allowed one walk but pitched a scoreless eight. Aaron Heilman gave up a solo home run to Betemit in the eight, but that was all. Billy Wagner had a much easier time in the ninth than in game one, finishing off the Dodgers on three ground balls, even though Reyes pulled Delgado a bit off the bag with his throws on the first and third of them.

Glavine was the closest to a sure thing in the Mets' rotation at the start of this series and he lived up to expectations in this game. John Maine pitched well enough in game one and the Mets may have the offense and bullpen to overcome less than stellar starts. But having Glavine on top of his game will be a huge boost for as long as he can keep it up.

And then there's Endy Chavez. Willie Randolph surprised me by replacing Shawn Green so soon and Chavez went out and led the team in hits. His defense is undeniable and hopefully this offensive outburst has earned him another start or two. The least Randolph can do is ride the hot hand now that the Mets have some margin for error.

They also have a day off before they try to finish off the sweep. Game three will be played at 7:30 on Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Greg Maddux (15-14, 4.20) will try to stave off elimination for the home team. There seems to be some uncertainty about who'll start for the Mets, but right now Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97) is officially the man. It would be the first playoff start for a pitcher who's done pretty well in some big regular season games, including the division clincher this year. He didn't pitch as well as his record would indicate this year and he got rocked for four runs in two and two-thirds innings in his one start against the Dodgers. But right now it's easy to be optimistic. One more win and the Mets are playing for the pennant.

Tied up

I guess the varsity failed to show up today at Yankee Stadium. Must have. How else could you explain this: Tigers 4, NY 3.

After days of listening to the NY talking heads, led by Mike Francesa, tell us how the Yanks wouldn't even break a sweat against the Tigers, it's 1-1 heading back to Detroit. Adding to the joy is hearing A-Rod booed again in the postseason by NY fans.

Justin Verlander (Vroomlander) had enough 100-mph heat to keep the Tigers in the game early. Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer with two outs in the fourth, but otherwise Verlander danced out of trouble.

He scuffled out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, getting A-Rod to K. The Yanks got men on first and second with no outs in the second, but again were thwarted. A double play erased a leadoff baserunner in the third.

Jamie Walker relieved Verlander with one out in the sixth and a runner on first, and induced the DP to end the frame. He got the first out in the seventh and yielded to Joel Zumaya (Zoomaya) and his 102-mph heat. Zumaya retired all five batters he faced, three on strikes, including A-Rod to end the eighth.

Todd Jones gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but avoided any further trouble with a strikeout and two pop outs. Whew!

Marcus Thames, who missed the last several games of the regular season because of illness, was 3-for-4 with 2 runs and an RBI. Curtis Granderson (photo) had a sac fly and an RBI triple that plated Thames with what proved to be the winning run in tne seventh. Carlos Guillen had a solo HR in the sixth.

Would be great if Tigers could get Maggs and Pudge -- especially Pudge -- going. But a split was all I wanted here, and that's what the Tigers delivered.

Rain drops keep fallin' on my head

Michael Rosenberg has a good column in the Detroit Free Press today about last night's rainout debacle at Yankee Stadium. What a joke. No one is blaming the Yanks for the mess, but they are the Evil Empire.

All along the Tigers were told last night's game would be played. They were told be ready to go at 10. Verlander started to get ready and then a little while later, after he'd stretched and started throwing, was told the game was off. Interestingly, the Yanks never came out for warm ups.

Compounding the trouble was the Tigers had no hotel to return to since they were planning to travel to Detroit after the game.

As Rosenberg wrote: "Playing the Yankees is hard enough. Why must it be so hard to not play the Yankees?"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mets 6, Dodgers 5
(Mets lead series 1-0)

Playoff baseball is the best.

Relaxing moments in this game were rare and fleeting. The Mets got pretty good hitting and pitching, but defensive lapses, some surprising and some not, helped turned this into a very tense game. Still, the Mets got a win despite replacing their starting pitcher at the last minute, leading one to wonder if anything can stop their march to the pennant.

Given the state of their starting pitching, the Mets will probably have to score a bunch of runs to go anywhere this postseason and Carlos Delgado made sure they got off to a good start. In his first playoff game, the Mets' first baseman drove in the team's first run with a monstrous home run over the center field wall in the fourth inning. He finished the day with four hits, two runs and two RBI. Cliff Floyd also homered in the fourth, giving the Mets their first slim lead.

Meanwhile, John Maine stepped up on short notice and Willie Randolph got him out before the game had a chance to get away from him. He allowed one run on six hits and two walks in four and one-third innings while striking out five. He was helped out by a bizarre play in the second that saw two Dodgers get tagged out at home plate within seconds of each other, but overall he was solid. And the Mets' deep bullpen did a great job backing him up, as Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford each got one out in the fifth with two runners on base.

The Mets built their lead to 4-1 in the sixth on one of David Wright's two doubles, but the comfort of that margin was short-lived. With one on and none out in the seventh, Jose Valentin fielded a ground ball and tried to make a very difficult throw to second rather than taking the easy out at first. He got neither out and this snowballed into a three-run inning on Guillermo Mota's watch. Valentin has been very good defensively all year but this lapse could have been very costly.

Also having a rough defensive game, somewhat less surprisingly, was Shawn Green. I don't know if Endy Chavez would have caught the ball that went over Green's head in the second, leading indirectly to the Dodgers' first run. But I think he probably would have gotten his glove on one or both of the doubles hit to right against Billy Wagner in the ninth. Those doubles added up to LA's fifth run while Chavez was standing in left, having replaced Floyd in the eighth. On the other hand, Green did go hitless in four at bats with four runners left on base, so at least he didn't ground into any double plays.

A lot of players contributed to this win. Offensively, in addition to Delgado, Floyd and Wright, Carlos Beltran drew three walks and scored one run and Jose Reyes walked, stole second and scored in the seventh. And the Mets used six pitchers in a way that didn't really tax the bullpen. Mota pitched two innings--one excellent, one not--but Feliciano and Bradford threw a total of eight pitches, Aaron Heilman pitched a perfect eighth and Wagner needed just twenty pitches despite giving up a run on two hits and striking out two.

Tom Glavine (15-7, 3.82) will be the guy hoping to give those relievers some extra rest tomorrow. He's 12-10 with a 3.58 ERA in thirty-two career playoff starts. The Dodgers will counter with Hong-Chih Kuo (1-5, 4.22), who has not started thirty-two playoff games but did pitch well against the Mets one time in September. We'll see if the Mets have figured him out yet as they go for a commanding 2-0 series lead Thursday in prime time.

Maybe I'm just paranoid

Autumn in NY

Well, Nate battled, but it wasn't good enough. He didn't completely unravel when the Yanks went crazy in the third, and it's amazing how a break here or there would have kept that from being a big inning. I was happy the Tigers didn't lay down and actually had the tying run at the plate in the seventh.

I guess we will just hope for better tonight with Verlander on the hill. At least the kid has got a sense of humor. After being barraged with questions about how great the Yankees' lineup is, Verlander quipped: "They're pretty tough to get out when the ball is sitting up on a tee. That was probably the only better lineup I faced than these guys."

Tigers had their chances early last night and either ran themselves -- or didn't run themselves -- out of innings. Once they ran into a DP, another time they didn't run, and hit into a DP. Oh, well. I have no fears about them scoring some runs. Just need to keep NY in the 4-6 range. Verlander made 1 start vs. NY this season and gave up 6 runs in 5 IP. Obviously, we need better tonight.

It kills me to see Abreu in pinstripes smacking the ball all over the yard.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Note to El Duque

From, Satchel Paige: “Avoid running at all times." Satchel, too, was born in 1969.

Tom Glavine's calf to enter witness protection program

The Mets may have lost another starter to a calf injury, as Orlando Hernandez "felt discomfort" in his right calf while jogging on Tuesday. He's now questionable for his game one start and likely to be replaced by John Maine, though the extent of the injury is not yet known. If El Duque is unavailable to pitch at all in the series and the Mets therefore have to use Oliver Perez or Darren Oliver as their fourth starter, this could be a serious blow. On the other hand, if Hernandez's injury isn't serious and he just has to be bumped back to game three, it might actually represent an upgrade in the Mets' top three, trading Steve Trachsel for Maine. Either way, the Mets have the offense to slug their way through this series, even if Shawn Green has already been announced as starting. But the hitters' job may have just gotten a bit tougher.

On a lighter note, much of the media coverage of this story refers to Hernandez as a "40-year-old right-hander" even though his profiles on the ESPN and MLB websites claim he was born in 1969. I just don't know what to believe anymore.

Who dat?

"Dave Robertson," Yanks manager Joe Torre said, "is a left-hander who's not afraid to throw strikes."

As the Detroit News pointed out, Nate Robertson does that, too.

Dumb and dumber

Angelos and Loria.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Let the games begin

Now that the disappointment has subsided, and it's hard to remain too disappointed about being in the playoffs for the first time in 19 years, I'm hopeful that the way this all has played out can be to the Tigers' advantage.

Certainly, it's tough going into the playoffs on a five-game skid. But this all could play into Leyland's masterful hands.

The Tigers enter the postseason having accomplished nothing, in a way, and should have a chip on their shoulders. I'm sure Leyland will point out that no one is giving them a chance to beat the Yankees. I'm sure he'll mention how little respect they're getting despite leading the majors in ERA and winning 95 games -- only two fewer than NY.

Chances are that the Tigers would have had to beat the Yankees at some point to advance to the World Series. I'd rather have to beat them only three times than four, so this five-game set again plays to their favor.

Nate Robertson, who has earned my respect this year for his toughness, starts Game 1. He faces a ridiculous NY lineup filled with All-Stars. But I believe he is going to battle his butt off. He had a 2.76 ERA in September. He gave up 2 ER in 7 IP in his only Yankee Stadium start this season and threw a 1-run complete game against them last season (and lost). Lefties hit just .221 against him this year.

Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks' starter, shut out the Tigers in 7.2 IP in his only Yankee Stadium start against Detroit. He gave up five runs in 4 IP in a start at Comerica.

I think Detroit will score some runs -- that hasn't been a problem lately. It's a question whether they can slow down the Yankees' offense. I think Robertson has a chance. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but it certainly would rattle the cage if he can.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's the most wonderful time of the year

After a weekend sweept of the Nationals, the Mets finished with a record of 97 wins and 65 losses, fifth best in team history. They'll begin the Division Series on Wednesday at 4 PM against the Wild Card Dodgers (88-74). These teams played seven times in the regular season and the Mets won four.

Orlando Hernandez (11-11, 4.66) will start game one for the Mets. He was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers this year, but he's pitching better now than he has all season, posting a 2.01 ERA in five September starts. Derek Lowe (16-8, 3.63) will start for the Dodgers. He pitched just once against the Mets, allowing two runs in six innings, and he was also good in September with a 3.08 ERA in six starts.

These two have actually started against each other in a playoff game once before. In game four of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Lowe's Red Sox beat El Duque's Yankees 6-4, though neither pitcher figured in the decision. Each allowed three runs, Lowe in five and one-third innings, Hernandez in five. Lowe also pitched in relief in two games Hernandez started in the 1999 ALCS. The Yankees won both games and Hernandez pitched considerably better than Lowe, allowing four runs in fifteen innings compared to Lowe's three runs in five and one-third. It will certainly be fun to see them face off again for another two teams with a bit of postseason history. It's time we got some payback for 1988. Let's go Mets!

Stumbling into the postseason

After the Tigers clinched a postseason spot, I kept telling myself it didn’t matter whether they won the division or not. They were playing with house money, I figured.

I also figured the players would relax after weathering the storm and play loose, and play well down the stretch.

Now, after watching Detroit drop its final five games, including the last three to KC, I feel differently. I feel deflated. One win, that’s all that was needed to win the division and stay home against Oakland in the playoffs. Now, it’s off to NY.

The offense wasn’t bad – the Tigers averaged 6 runs per game over their final six games. The pitching, though, went south, and that’s very troubling.

Kenny Rogers finally tailed off, although since he carried the team in August and September, I figure he deserves a pass. But he’s definitely got to step it up now. Justin Verlander was rested, so hopefully that pans out.

Nate Robertson will start Game 1 in NY. He’s either the Tigers’ third or fourth best starter, so that’s a bit of a concern. Where you rank Robertson depends on whether you rate Jeremy Bonderman on his stuff and potential, or on his performance.

Bonderman again came up small on Sunday, failing to hold a 6-0 lead. Your ace, or future ace, whatever the talking heads want to call him, needs to preserve that kind of advantage with the division on the line. Bonderman is a stand-up guy and always takes the blame for his failures, but we could do with less standing up and more stepping up.

Hopefully, Jim Leyland can get the team to put its disappointment – and losing streak – behind it and be revved up for the playoffs. He’s pushed the right buttons so far, but I fear this will be a challenge.

The house never lets you enjoy that money.