There are a lot of interesting stories surrounding the Tigers this year.
Miguel Cabrera, who drew headlines when police were called to break up a domestic dispute that got physical in his home on the morning of his team’s one-game playoff against the Twins last October (a game Detroit lost despite Cabrera’s three-run homer in the third), went to rehab for his alcoholism over the winter and has opened 2010 as one of the majors hottest hitters (.370/.457/.639 with a major league best 33 RBIs).
Dontrelle Willis, who arrived with Cabrera from the Marlins in a trade during the 2007 winter meetings but had been limited to one win in 14 starts over the past two years by leg injuries and mental illness, has emerged from his struggles to lead the rotation in ERA in the early going, though he’s been scratched from his start tonight due to the flu.
Jeremy Bonderman, the former Moneyball draftee who went to the Tigers in the Jeff Weaver/Ted Lilly deal with Carlos Pena, was a part of Detroit’s pennant winning rotation in 2006, but had been limited to three wins in 13 starts over the past two years by the after effects of heavy workloads in his early 20s, is also back in the rotation and pitching effectively. He’ll face Phil Hughes, whose innings limit was surely partially inspired by Bonderman, on Wednesday.
Joel Zumaya, the rookie fireballing relief sensation of the 2006 team who has suffered a variety of arm injuries since, including one stemming from too much Guitar Hero and one suffered while moving his belongings out of the way of the California wildfires of late 2007, is also healthy and dominating out of the pen having struck out 23 men in 18 1/3 innings without allowing a home run or a walk.
Then there’s Austin Jackson, the Yankee center field prospect sent to Detroit in the three-way deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. It was widely believed that the 23-year-old Jackson needed a bit more seasoning in Triple-A, but the Tigers made him their Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter and he has responded by blowing everyone’s damn minds, leading the league with a .371 average, the majors with 49 hits, and producing a total line of .371/.420/.508 with six steals in seven attempts.
I was a Jackson doubter (his .300/.354/.405 average for Scranton last year looked like a lot of empty batting average, which is performance thus far this year might prove to be as well), but then I doubted Robinson Cano, too (he was, after all, a career .278/.331/.425 hitter in the minors). Sometimes talent and athleticism win out over prior performance, particularly with young players (Cano was 22 when the Yankees installed him at second base), and in Jackson’s case, particularly with a young athlete who had primarily focused on basketball before the Yankees backed a truck full of money up to his house at draft time.
If Jackson is anything close to the player he has appeared to be in the early going this year, the Granderson trade is going to look like a major bust. Remember, it wasn’t only Jackson, but Ian Kennedy, currently sporting a 3.48 ERA and 3.18 K/9 in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, and Phil Coke, who has been a big part of the Tigers major league best bullpen this year, who were dealt for the currently-injured and previously-slumping Granderson.
Seeing Jackson and Johnny Damon start things off for the Tigers while their replacements, Granderson and Nick Johnson languish on the disabled list won’t be much fun for Yankee fans in this series, nor will any game that pivots on the relative abilities of Coke and Boone Logan. Still, it’s important to remember that the Yankees are thisclose to the major league’s best record, while the Tigers are a decidedly average team.
Though they led the AL Central for most of 2009 before being overcome in Game 163 by the Twins (a team the Yankees quickly dispatched in the Division Series), the Tigers were actually outscored on the season, and coming into this week’s four-game set, their 2010 run differential is a meager +3.
The Tigers have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors by good distance (2.17 ERA vs. the Rockies 2.43) and are fourth (second in the AL) in WXRL, but their rotation has been among the majors’ worst, thanks in large part to poor starts by 21-year-old New Jersey native Rick Porcello and 25-year-old Max Scherzer, who arrived from Arizona in the Granderson deal (Porcello starts against Javy Vazquez on Tuesday, the Yankees will miss Scherzer).
That works out to a roughly league-average pitching staff to go with an offense that’s just a hair better having weighed down the production of Cabrera and Jackson with a poor start from rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore (.241/.319/.337) and a complete offensive black hole at the catching position (.155/.256/.300, with 23-year-old rookie Alex Avila representing only a modest upgrade over Gerald Laird’s brutal start).
Since sweeping the rebuilding Indians in their second series of the season, the Tigers have gone 12-13, and they seem unlikely to turn the tables this year on the run-away Twins, who already have a 3.5 game lead on the second-place Bengals. If they manage a split in this series it will likely result from the fact that the Yankees pushed all of their pitching problems past the Boston series to this one.
Much to his chagrin, Andy Pettitte is being skipped tonight after reporting tightness in his pitching elbow during his last start. Sergio Mitre will start in his place, looking to build on the solid long-relief work he’s done in the early going (total line: 9 2/3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 3 K).
In Game Two, Javy Vazquez will start on nine-day’s rest having failed to escape the fourth inning in his last two starts. I’m unclear as to why Vazquez should be expected to do better now than he would have done in his regular turn, save for the fact that the Tiger offense and ballpark are less dangerous than their Boston equivalents.
After that, the Yankees get back on track with Hughes and CC Sabathia. The latter will rematch with Justin Verlander, who kicked his excellent 2009 season into gear by winning a late-April duel with Sabathia at Comerica. After compiling a 6.95 ERA in his first four starts, Verlander already seems to have turned his season around (1.80 ERA in his last three to go with 23 strikeouts in 20 innings), but then so has Sabathia, who struggled into May last year.
This is the Yankees first series of the year with an even number of games. They will also play a pair of two-game series at home next week against the rival Red Sox and Rays. The Yankees have gone 9-1 in series thus far in 2010, all of them three games long.
Finally, with Romulo Sanchez having gone 3 2/3 innings Sunday night, he’s being swapped out to Triple-A for fresh arm Ivan Nova, who was off to a great start for Scranton (2.43 ERA, 2.67 K/9 in six starts).
2010 Record: 17-14 (.548)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 16-15 (.516)
2009 Record: 86-77 (.528)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 81-82 (.497)
Manager: Jim Leyland
General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Home Ballpark: Comerica Park
Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-97, LH HR-96
RH Avg-105, RH HR-118
Who’s Replacing Whom:
- Austin Jackson is replacing Curtis Granderson
- Johnny Damon is replacing Marcus Thames, Josh Anderson, and Clete Thomas (minors)
- Scott Sizemore has inherited Placido Polanco’s playing time
- Brennan Boesch (minors) is filling in for Carlos Guillen (DL)
- Alex Avila is taking over much of Gerald Laird’s playing time
- Ramon Santiago is taking over much of Adam Everett’s playing time
- Don Kelly has inherited Aubrey Huff’s playing time
- Max Scherzer is replacing Edwin Jackson
- Dontrelle Willis has taken over the starts of Armando Galarraga (minors)
- Jeremy Bonderman has taken over the starts of Jarrod Washburn, Nate Robertson, Luke French, Zach Miner (DL), Alfredo Figaro (minors), and Eddie Bonine
- Jose Valvarde is replacing Fernando Rodney
- Phil Coke is filling in for Bobby Seay (DL)
- Joel Zumaya and Brad Thomas are taking over Brandon Lyon’s innings
- Eddie Bonine is replacing Zach Miner (DL) in the bullpen
1B – Miguel Cabrera (R)
2B – Scott Sizemore (R)
SS – Ramon Santiago (S)
3B – Brandon Inge (R)
C – Alex Avila (L)
RF – Magglio Ordonez (RF)
CF – Austin Jackson (R)
LF – Johnny Damon (L)
DH – Brennan Boesch (L)
R – Ryan Raburn (OF)
R – Gerald Laird (C)
R – Adam Everett (IF)
L – Don Kelly (UT)
R – Justin Verlander
R – Max Scherzeer
L – Dontrelle Willis
R – Rick Porcello
R – Jeremy Bonderman
R – Jose Valverde
R – Joel Zumaya
L – Phil Coke
R – Ryan Perry
L – Fu-Te Ni
L – Brad Thomas
R – Eddie Bonine
DH – Carlos Guillen (left hamstring strain)
LHP – Bobby Seay (torn rotator cuff)
RHP – Zach Miner (elbow tendonitis)
R – Austin Jackson (CF)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Magglio Ordonez (RF)
R – Miguel Cabrera (1B)
L – Brennan Boesch (DH)
R – Brandon Inge (3B)
L – Alex Avila (C)
R – Scott Sizemore (2B)
S – Ramon Santiago (SS)