Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brad Penny's attempt at no-hitter ends in 1st inning

1. After "Pork Chop" Penny mowed down Yunel Escobar to lead off the first inning, you could cut the tension with a knife at the Rogers Centre. With the crowd on it's feet and the world watching, Corey Patterson somehow found a way to calm his nerves long enough to just make enough contact to send a ball off the wall in center field. Just like that, Penny's bid for a second straight no-hitter had been spoiled. Like the seasoned veteran that he is, Pork Chop sucked it up and gave the Tigers another strong quality start with 7 2/3 innings and a pitch count that finished at 94. Pork Chop has been a pleasant surprise this year, especially of late. He has given up six earned runs in his last 27 innings pitched (2.00 ERA) and like the other white meat, has proven to be a nice compliment to a strong stable of starters.

2. Yes, Verlander was exceptional on Saturday. For an entire game, he pitched. In most games, you can almost sense that Verlander is using the same strategy he employed in high school in college when no one had the talent to catch up to his fastball or the hands to hit his curve ball. I am sure this is where he learned to work at a ridiculous pace. When you can mow down each batter with the efficiency of a McDonald's drive through window, what's the point of taking your time to focus on pitch location? He could always simply reach back and ramp up his high 90's fastball to get out of trouble. He's added two more deadly pitches and is one of maybe five MLB pitchers with four above average pitches. The problem is that all are above average because of their incredible movement and velocity. The more trouble JV gets into, the more velocity dials up. Which is why he leads the league in innings thrown but never finishes a game. Even after this phenomenal outing, he sounded disappointed that "he didn't have a lot of strikeouts tonight". Strikeouts are exciting and incredibly useful with men on base but generally, they burn too many pitches. JV threw 73 pitches in the first three innings against the Yankees and announcers were cooing over his stamina when he tossed 130 pitches through six innings. The only number that mattered was six innings. Too often, JV is gone with too much of the game left in question which was fine when we had Zumaya, Rodney and Jones to finish games. This year, the Tigers have the worst performing bullpen in MLB statistically which means leaving in the 5th or 6th is playing with fire (JV had left after six innings in three of his last four starts). If the Tigers are going to contend, they'll need Verlander to slow down and pitch to contact early in games. When you have a nasty slider, change piece and curve ball, 93 MPH is more than enough when located. 101 MPH is just another ball when thrown two inches off the plate.

3. Brandon Inge still sucks at baseball. Leyland's grizzled warrior is batting .209 and has six hits in his last eleven games. That's one hit every two games for those without a calculator handy. He's stranded more men in 2011 than the SS Indianapolis. "What about his stellar defense Mazeroski?" Great point, I forgot to mention his five errors, which would be tops in the the majors if not for the sure handed Kevin Kouzmanoff from Oakland. If you are a fantasy fan, you would know that Brandon is the 30th rated 3B in baseball and is owned by 1.5% of players (most likely the same dumb asses that vote for Inge for player of the game every night in spite of his three strike out performance). It's time the Tigers do what fantasy owners did long ago - cut losses and accept that this is the best Inge has to offer and continuing to start him daily may cost them a division title.

4. Who the hell do the Indians think they are? They lead the league in wins(22) and run differential(+48) and are top 5 in most hitting, pitching and fielding categories. In 2010, they finished 26th in runs scored, 24th in ERA and 26th in errors committed. I continue to wait for their first big losing streak and it just isn't happening. When an unexpected team starts hot, it normally out performs in one of those three categories but a team this hot across the board is here to stay all year. The rest of the league will need to get used to Cleveland contending and listening to that damn rally drum beating endlessly throughout all of their home games.

5. It should not come as a surprise that the Tigers are scoring more with AJ starting to heat up. Sunday was his second straight game with three hits and his two-run blast in the 7th was the finishing blow on a close game today. Jackson is hitting .368 in his last ten games and has only struck out twice in his last four games. Obviously, a lead off batter consistently on base puts opposing pitchers in the dangersou position of facing Cabrera from the stretch.

6. Why do managers pitch to elite hitters with men in scoring position and first base open? Each team might have 1-2 players with the skill level to hit your starter's best pitch, even if it is located correctly. So, don't pitch to them. In the 3rd inning Sunday, Penny faced Bautista with a man on 2nd and 1st base open with oen out. Bautista is leading the league in average, extra base hits, slugging percentage, on base percentage and before Sunday was 2nd in home runs. Basically, he is the most dangerous stick in the league. Brilliantly, Leyland decides to pitch to him in a tie ball game with first base open. On a 3-2 pitch, Bautista took 1st place in the one statistic he wasn't leading by depositing a weak Pork Chop fastball deep into the left field bleachers. The next two batters grounded out. How many times has Leyland seen this back fire on opposing managers who decide to pitch to Cabrera with first base open? The same applies to football when coaches continue to punt to Devin Hester. Ask Bo Schembechler how well that strategy worked against Notre Dame when "Rocket" was returning kicks. Drop the ego and play the percentages Leyland.

7. In 2010, Gerald "Lard" hit five home runs and drove in 25 runs while hitting a very Ingle-like .207, ahead of only the might Lou Marson in Cleveland. Through 35 games in 2011, his replacement is hitting .292 with 23 runs batted in and six home runs. The catcher slot was not unlike the pitcher slot on a National League team - we were celebrating to simply get on base. "EverReady" Alex Avila, has been powering up the lineup all year and you can make a strong argument for AA as the Tiger MVP through April. Time and again, he has come up with clutch extra base hits and shown a great eye and willigness to take what opposing pitchers give him. Alex has easily been the most productive catch in baseball in 2011, leading in slugging percentage(.573), OPS (.909), RBI(23), hits(28), doubles(7) and has tossed in two stolen bases for good measure. Defensively, only Kurt Suzuki has caught more runners stealing and Alex has had more than a little to do with the success of our starting rotation as he gets to know the staff with more starts. If Avila keeps this torrid pace, he will deserve a spot on the AL All Star team and would start if not for the overwhelming advantage that Martin will have in New York.