the tiger pitcher tonight was Baseball America's college player of the year in 2006; he's left-handed, throws strikes, and doesn't give up the longball. i reckon the cards'll muster 4 hits off the kid . . . . . . well, they had a decent hitting game against southpaw randy wolf wednesday; maybe that broke the trend.
SB Nation's tiger blogger, ian casselberry of Bless You Boys, traded questions / answers with me today about the states of our respective teams. for my answers to ian's questions, head on over to BYB at this link. here's what ian had to say about the tigers:
1. What are your biggest concerns about the Tigers right now?
The bullpen was a concern before Joel Zumaya's middle finger blew out, but now it just seems riddled with question marks. Todd Jones, the so-called "roller coaster" has actually been the most consistent reliever. Fernando Rodney was a dependable eighth-inning set-up guy last season, but has been inconsistent so far. And the long relief has been almost explosively bad. On the few occasions that a Detroit starting pitcher hasn't done well, guys like Wilfredo Ledezma and Jason Grilli have only made it worse. So if some of the kids coming up from the minors like Andrew Miller and Zach Miner are impressive, they might take over those roles.
First base is also a problem. Sean Casey doesn't seem to be in danger of losing his job because Jim Leyland likes his glove and left-handed bat, but he's giving the Tigers virtually no production from that position. He's not hitting for power or average, and not driving in runs. Casey's a really popular clubhouse guy, but if he's still not giving the lineup anything by July, it's hard for me to imagine that the Tigers won't try to upgrade that position.
2. Did any of the Tigers appear to suffer from a postseason "hangover" effect? If so, what snapped them out of it? If not, how do you think they avoided that trap?
I don't think the Tigers had to fight through a postseason hangover because they know that they ultimately didn't win anything last season. Obviously, they improved tremendously and making the playoffs was a huge accomplishment. But they didn't win the AL Central division (even worse, they let it slip away on the last weekend of the season), and lost the World Series to the Cardinals in a rather embarrassing fashion. They haven't run away from that. I think the entire team realizes they let an opportunity slip away, yet see enough room for improvement in virtually every area to keep them sharp.
3. One of the Tigers' biggest strengths from last year, the bullpen, is a bit of a mess so far this year. What's going on?
With the middle relievers, I think it's been primarily an issue with mechanics and injury. Rodney denied being hurt early in the season, though his difficulties with location said otherwise. But Chuck Hernandez, the Tigers' pitching coach, thought Rodney's mechanics were off and helped straighten them out. Since then, he's been pretty close to what he was last year, though I think he still makes Tigers fans nervous right now. He's already given up half as many home runs (3) as he did all of last season. And even before Zumaya got hurt, he wasn't reaching 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun, and that seemed to get in his head a little bit.
4. The bullpen's struggling, and Kenny Rogers hasn't thrown a pitch ---- yet the Tigers are in first place. How are they managing to do that, and do you think they can keep it up indefinitely?
The starting pitching has been outstanding, and has kept them in virtually every game. Even Chad Durbin, who most thought would be a poor replacement for Kenny Rogers, has pitched well. Most of the Tigers' losses have been due to the bullpen giving up the lead or the lineup not providing enough run support. So if the starters begin to falter - and injuries seem to be catching up with the rotation a bit - the hope is that the relievers and the hitters will pick up their performance. And with the weather warming up, the batting order has definitely helped the Tigers win some games.
5. The Tigers only made one off-season move of any consequence, adding Gary Sheffield. Has he made the impact you hoped he would?
Not quite yet. Sheffield has recently shown signs of being the hitter everyone expected him to be, but it still seems like he might be trying too hard. I understand he wants to do his part, but it's not like the fans or media are putting added pressure on him, so it's a little bit strange. He's drawing a lot of walks, which shows that he's patient, but there have been several times when he swings so hard trying to drive in a run or knock the ball out of the park that he ends up looking kind of foolish when he misses. (But maybe he's always done that; this is the first time I've been able to watch him game after game.)
However, even while his average is still in the .200s, I think Sheffield's presence still helps the lineup. He's still getting on base, and is a much better, smarter baserunner than I realized, which helps his teammates get better pitches to hit. And I think he's also provided some veteran tutelage to younger players like Craig Monroe. Despite all that, of course, we'd all like to see him hit a lot more.