Oblique and Other Injuries, Nelson Cruz’s Eyebrows and One Retched Game Against Baltimore

In a nutshell that’s what can probably be looked to be the down fall of the Detroit Tigers in lieu of their ALCS loss to Texas.

Yes, Texas won in only six games, and yes the last one was a torrential downpour of runs in Game Six, but you have to look at it beyond that.
I’m not blaming the loss on anyone, injuries included, but if certain players were healthy it certainly would have made a difference. The Tigers were dealt a large medical bill in a season in which they were tabbed as a middle of the pack AL Central team that would sit at home and watch the Twins and White Sox duke it out for division prowess.
The first domino fell July 24th 2010 when in one painful game the Tigers not only lost the game, but also lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen to ankle and calf injuries respectively. Both missed significant time and neither seemed to be themselves to start the season, seeing as Ordonez got off to a slow start with the ankle still nagging him and Guillen did not return until July 16th.
Then it got worse than a Matt-Millen-run-football team as Brennan Boesch went down with a thumb injury the second week of August and was relocated to cheerleader duty while nursing the thumb. Guillen went down four days later with a wrist injury and prompted the acquisition of soon-to-be-playoff-hero Delmon Young from the rival Twins the very next day.  Alex Avila was breaking down behind the plate after a full season and showed that in the postseason with 2 hits in 25 at bats in October. According to Avila he has tendinitis and had a sprained knee in July. He officially wins the tough guy of the year award for playing through that at an All-Star pace. Imagine what he could do at 100 percent.
The playoffs brought a sense of hope to Detroit, but with them they brought long hours for Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand. Delmon Young made some history by becoming the fourth Tiger to hit two homers in one postseason game joining good company in Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Ordonez. Overall Young had 5 bombs in postseason play for the Tigers and made the case for the ALDS MVP if there was such an award. But in the series winning Game 5 victory over the Yankees he went down with a strained oblique and left the game. The ALCS rolled along without Young on the Tigers active roster. Young was added back to the roster after Ordonez’s ankle flared up in one of the lengthy rain delays in Game One. And it was revealed that he had fractured the same ankle as on that dreaded day in the last week of July in 2010.
The Phantom of the Oblique returned in the ALCS with another one of Detroit’s premier middle-of-the-order-bats, Victor Martinez. Oddly enough Martinez sustained his injury on a homerun swing. Yes, that’s right he injured himself on a homerun. Generally oblique strains occur on off-balance swing and misses. While it was a peculiar injury it still affected the Tigers.
On the pitching side the Tigers sorely needed a shutdown relief pitcher, one who could come in with runners on base and get the big strikeout, or the big out to finish off the inning. A devoted Tigers fan will give you the name of relief pitcher Joel Zumaya, who didn’t pitch at all this year because of elbow problems. The Tigers seemed to find an apt replacement if there is one in reliever Al Alburquerque. The king of alliterations (hopefully that catches on, if not oh well) had a 1.87 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched and gave up only 9 runs on the year. Yep, that’s not a typo, he can count the number of runs he gave up on two hands, pretty amazing. He also put up a 13.9 strikeout to walk ratio — a very, very impressive number for a rookie. Alburquerque’s season was altered by a concussion that he sustained in batting practice in a game against Baltimore. This isn’t the wretched game against the Orioles as preluded to in the title, but it was that game for Alburquerque. After the injury and a stint on the 7-Day Disabled list he struggled with his pitching, the lowlight being a grand slam given up to one Robinson Cano in the ALDS. For some reason this keeps popping up again despite the Yankees being out of the playoffs for some time now, weird. I thought there was no East Coast bias….
Now to that terrible, terrible game in Baltimore.At the time I thought of it as one loss in a highly successful season, nothing more nothing less. I thought that with a number of games left Texas would lose at least once and we would pull even again. But alas I was wrong, and Texas ran the gauntlet and won home field advantage in the first round and the second seed. Meaning they would host Detroit if the Tigers beat the Yankees. I knew Detroit would beat the Yankees.  I just figured that in a series where Texas has home-field advantage it wouldn’t matter because Texas is downright pitiful in Motown and probably loses all three games. Meaning the Tigers have to win one game in Texas. Again, no big deal if all that plays out. But it didn’t, and Texas won two out of three in Detroit and here we sit. So yes, one wretched little game in Baltimore might have cost the Tigers home field advantage, but had Detroit beat out Texas we would have to play Tampa, and who knows what happens there.
Now to those suspiciously tidy eyebrows of Nelson Cruz. Yes, he won the ALCS MVP award, and I’ll give credit where credit is due because they have no shot in that series without him and his new-found pension for hitting late inning homeruns. If he is out of the lineup in any way, shape or form whether it be injury or last-minute eyebrow checkup, if he’s not in the lineup it’s a borderline sweep that looks like one of the worst series ever by a losing side with no quality starts by Texas starters and a heavy dosage of that over-hyped bullpen in Arlington.
While the what-if game is nice with the injuries, I think it’s better to look forward to the future and how good this Tigers team can be with players like Boesch, Young, Martinez, Alburquerque and Zumaya back up to full speed. Not to mention Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen as well. Who knows, without the injuries to the Tigers outfield maybe they don’t go acquire Delmon Young, who looks like he could be in Detroit for a long time as the Tigers everyday left fielder. Maybe we don’t see the playoff heroics of Young and Don Kelly, maybe we don’t see players like Ordonez and Brandon Inge redeem themselves in a way with strong postseasons. So maybe the injuries weren’t the worst thing possible, but the Tigers fans still have the all-but-locked-up Cy Young win for Justin Verlander to celebrate, plus Miguel Cabrera and Verlander’s MVP candidacy as well.

Birds, Beer Makers and T-Plush Oh My

The St. Louis Cardinals have had to battle all of the last month to even get into the playoffs as they took advantage of Atlanta’s slump to get in. The Brewers, on the other, hand pulled away from these very same Cardinals to win their first division title since they were in the American League.
This might be a series were tempers flare seeing as during the regular season T-Plush, also known as Brewers Centerfielder Nyjer Morgan, tweeted that the Cardinals will be watching the Brewers in the playoffs. So there is some tension between the two teams. This will be an intense series – you’ve got the Brewers, on one hand, who will outslug you and have the pitching to back it up. Then there’s the Cardinals, who like the Tigers in the AL have some kind of playoff magic. Unlike the Tigers, who have a defined identity, the Red Birds aren’t a team that’s going out hit you, though they have good hitters in Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and some guy named Albert Pujols. But, since losing Adam Wainwright to injury they aren’t really a dominant pitching team either.
I think it will be a long series and I’ll take the Brewers to win 4 games to 3.


And Then There Were Two… And Two More

The ALCS kicks off today with the Detroit Tigers playing the host Texas Rangers in Arlington. Now take a minute to digest that.
Done digesting? If you haven’t figured out the painstakingly clear fact — there are no AL East teams even near the World Series.
You can make all the arguments you want that it would have been better to have two of the most historic teams in American Sports history (Boston and New York) in the ALCS with a World Series birth on the line. But let’s be honest here, Boston didn’t make the playoffs to begin with, and while New York lost Game 5 to the Tigers, it was pretty clear that they flopped like their Boston counterparts.
What’s more is that the Tigers and Rangers are not, that’s right ARE NOT, located on the east coast. No more of the east coast supremacy or anything like that. Also over in the senior circuit the two teams in the NLCS are the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. Yep that’s right, no east coast teams will take part in the World Series.
But back to Tigers-Rangers — both teams have offenses that could make the best pitchers go running home to mommy  and probably two of the best bullpens in the league, but I think this series comes down to starting pitching.
The obvious argument for Detroit is Justin Verlander and his ability to start possibly three games. But if you look beyond that you’ll realize that there’s more to Detroit World Series candidacy than just him. Just to be clear, in no way am I discrediting Verlander’s likely CY Young win and shot at the MVP, but it’s not a one-man show. Games two, three and four will feature Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. No miss-prints, Jimmy Leyland is sticking to his guns with his rotation. This means Verlander goes again in Game 5 and Fister toes the rubber in a potential Game 7.
With 2008 World Series participants Tampa and Philadelphia out of the playoff picture it’s clear that Detroit has the best rotation left standing in the playoffs. Yes, Texas is good with CJ Wilson and designed-for-postseason  pitcher Colby Lewis, and Milwaukee’s new additions of Zack Grienke and Shawn Marcum plus Yovanni Gallardo and Randy Wolf make them formidable, but I’ll take Motown’s four over anyone else’s rotation.
Now to the fireworks. Both the Rangers and Tigers are ranked in the top five in run scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Both have added pieces in the last year that put their GMs up for executive of the year. Texas brought in Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli to strengthen a lineup that already was a top-tier squad in the hitting department. Meanwhile in the offseason the Tigers added Victor Martinez, who led the league in batting average with runners in scoring position — something that is extremely important when hitting behind one Miguel Cabrera. The midseason additions of Delmon Young, Wilson Betemit, David Pauley and the aforementioned Fister have also boosted Detroit into the postseason.
This is no walk in the park by any means for either side. Both are evenly matched and honestly this thing could go either way. To give you an idea of how close it is here is a position-by-position breakdown on who has the advantages:
• Catcher- Push
• First Base- Detroit
• Second Base- Texas
• Shortstop-Detroit
• Third Base- Texas
• Left Field- Texas
• Center Field- Detroit
• Right Field- Texas
• Starting Pitching- Detroit
• Relief Pitching- Push
That’s four advantages each with two pushes. Talk about a nail-biter.
This series could end up as a seven-game thriller or could be a four-game offensive dominated sweep. I’m taking more of the former here, but not seven. I think the offenses will cancel each other out, and the pitching will decide this series. That’s why I’ll take the Tigers 4 games to 2.

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner, For All?

In the offseason before 2010 the Detroit Tigers made a trade that confused their fans, me included. They dealt fan favorite, model citizen and player Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees. Edwin Jackson a young starting pitcher coming off an All-Star appearance was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Detroit was also coming off a season where they missed the playoffs by one game. But in hindsight maybe it wasn’t terrible. The Tigers needed to save money and dealing players in Granderson and Jackson who both had big numbers next to the money symbol they did just that. They got four guys who the casual fan hadn’t really heard of. They got top prospect and likely Granderson-successor, centerfielder Austin Jackson. Also coming over from the Yankees was reliable relief pitcher Phil Coke. The Diamondbacks sent over two young pitchers in fireballer Max Scherzer and relief arm Daniel Schlereth, who was probably best known then as being former NFLer Mark Schlereth’s son. But like I said, in hindsight it wasn’t bad. Jackson was Granderson’s immediate predecessor and finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting in his first year. He has also established himself as one of the game’s more reliable centerfielders. Scherzer has won double digit games in each of his two years in Detroit, and Coke and Schlereth are both vital parts of the Tigers bullpen. The financial side of the deal looks good as well seeing as they used part of the money to sign closer Jose Valverde who has been a huge part of their success this year.
The Diamondbacks side of the deal is that they got their ace in pitcher Ian Kennedy from the Yankees, along with Edwin Jackson, who after throwing a no-hitter, was spun into Daniel Hudson, their current number-two pitcher. The second Jackson deal came a la the Chicago White Sox.
The Yankees got what they needed, a centerfielder, who not so coincidentally fits the Yankees style of out-slug-the-other-team almost every day of the week. The Yankees did part with nice young players like Kennedy and Jackson, but they preferred Phil Hughes to Kennedy and thought that Granderson was obviously a better fit than Jackson.  The Hughes preferential seemed to work out as he posted double digit wins in a breakout year, but then fizzled this season as the Yanks went with a more patched up rotation.
So enjoy your chicken dinner Detroit, Arizona and New York.