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The Detroit Tigers' 2011 season came to an end on Saturday with a 15-5 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the ALCS. Texas now heads back to the World Series, while Detroit heads home to ponder what might have been.
But despite the frustrations that inevitably come with playoff elimination, Detroit fans were happy about the season and the ride the Tigers took them on. Over at Bless You Boys, questions about some of the ALCS decisions were mixed in with a reminder of how special the team's run was.
So we should celebrate the 2011 Detroit Tigers, not damn them with faint praise.
This was GREAT season for the Tigers. 2011 didn't end in the way we hoped, but finishing in MLB's final 4 is one Hell of a successful season. There are 26 other franchises who would love to be in the Tigers' shoes.
It's safe to say this team exceeded everyone's expectations. The 2011 Tigers gave us our most enjoyable regular season since 1987. Let's not forget they took out the Evil Empire in 5 memorable ALDS games. That alone will have me feeling warm and fuzzy all winter long.
Sure, the Tigers' season ended with the Rangers scoring nine runs in the bottom of the third en route to a blowout victory. But a run towards the World Series is always special, even when it ends as the Tigers' chase did on Saturday.
For the second-straight year, the Texas Rangers are in the World Series, this time earning the right to play for the title with a 15-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS. Making it to the World Series is hard enough, but doing so in back-to-back years is always a feat, and the Rangers now have a chance to do what they couldn't last year by winning it all.
After the game, the talk in the Texas clubhouse centered on the motivation heading into the season, and the desire to make it back to the World Series.
"As soon as the season began, we were hungry, we were hungry to get back," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
But getting back wasn't just the goal, Michael Young said. As expected, the Rangers' focus was on what's next, and the biggest trophy of them all.
"This a great trophy, we're real proud of it," Young said. "But we're looking forward to the one with all the flags on it. ... Happy, but not satisfied."
Ron Washington echoed Young's sentiments, praising his team's focus and drive.
"We wanted to get to the World Series. But the bottom line is getting to the World Series and winning it. We feel pretty confident about ourselves," manager Ron Washington said. "More than anything else, the commitment they made in November after San Francisco sent us home, they held true to it."
The Rangers will have to wait to learn who they'll face as the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are still battling in the NLCS. St. Louis holds a 3-2 series lead and can close it out in Milwaukee on Sunday.
Upon considering the Yankees' payroll and the Red Sox' collapse and the Dodgers' bankruptcy, Detroit News columnist Jerry Green casts about looking for Major League Baseball's greatest franchise and alights upon ... well, here - You read it:
Bud is the fortunate commissioner, despite everything on his resume - cancelled World Series, unfinished All-Star Game, second-place teams winning championships. Major League Baseball is just plain lucky.
It does have a prestigious franchise with solid stability and rich tradition.
The Detroit Tigers have become the jewel franchise of Major League Baseball.
Not the Rangers, heading to their second straight World Series?
Well, Green gives the Tigers extra credit for having been around for 100 years ... but if you get bonus points for history, why not the St. Louis Cardinals? They're going to do at least as well as the Tigers this season, they've also got a fairly new ballpark (and with better attendance), and oh by the way their history goes back a lot farther than the Tigers'.
You want to argue that the Tigers are a jewel? I've got no problem with that. I miss Tiger Stadium and I wish we still had it, but hey nothing lasts forever. The jewel, though? Only in a local newspaper columnist's feverish fantasies.
Meanwhile, over in the little baseball game, Miguel Cabrera hit his second homer of the game, another solo shot, and now the score is Rangers 15, Tigers 5 after the top of the seventh.
H/T: BTF's Newsstand
Another inning, another non-zero on the scoreboard for the Rangers, as Michael Young took Brad Penny to deep straightaway center field, where a young fan made a nifty running catch (upon which, he was set upon by a pack of like-minded youths).
That was nothing. After a routine single, Nelson Cruz launched a two-run homer just over the scoreboard in left.
It was only Cruz's sixth home run of the series, and only set a new postseason series record.
Now, Nelson Cruz is alone.
Of course the hit parade wasn't over yet. Two more singles -- making it 16 hits for the Rangers -- brought Jim Leyland from the dugout and sent Penny to the showers.
The seventh inning's not over, but it's already Rangers 15, Tigers 4 and one can't help feeling sorry for everyone who has to suffer through two more innings of this.
I thought two good things were going to happen for the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the sixth!
Well, really one thing.
I thought Brad Penny, after throwing 182 innings during the regular season, was going to make his first appearance of the postseason (which he did) and hold the Texas Rangers scoreless (which he did not).
Penny did retire two of the first three Rangers he faced, but after an intentional walk and consecutive singles, the Rangers had piled on for two more runs. They've now scored in three of the six innings, the same as the Tigers ... with the difference, of course, being that the Rangers scored nine runs in the third.
This game seemed out of hand at 7-2, out of hand at 9-2, and out of hand at 10-2.
Now it seems really out of hand: Rangers 12, Tigers 4 after six full innings.
But the point is that a member of the Rangers stole a base with a huge lead. In some circles, this is a big no-no. It's part of the famous unwritten rules that aren't in the book that they don't hand out to rookies during orientation. Some managers would take exception, and there'd be the possibility of a fracas, or even a brouhaha.
I doubt that Jim Leyland is one of those managers, though. He seems more like a Whitey Herzog kind of guy:
Unwritten rule, my ass. People talk about the "book" in baseball. There ain't no damn book, and if there was, you'd rewrite it whenever you need to.
(Looks like you can read a bunch of the linked book online, which is good. I'm sure the author made millions off the royalties already.)
If you don't want people stealing on you, you should probably throw them out. And in the next inning, with the Rangers up by five, Elvis Andrus tried to steal. Leyland ordered a pitchout, and Andrus was gunned down. That's a better to deal with the situation than complaining about it.
For most of this postseason, Austin Jackson has looked completely overmatched. He's looked overmatched as a leadoff hitter, and he would have looked overmatched hitting ninth.
But there's a reason he keeps playing. Well, two reasons. The first is his defense, and the second is that he does have some untapped offensive potential. In the fifth inning, with one on and two outs, Jackson got the Tigers just a little bit closer by bombing a homer to right-center to make the score 9-4. That FanGraphs win-expectancy chart? It went from 97% down to 94% after the homer.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the Rangers got momentum back when Josh Hamilton made a leaping catch against the left-field fence to end the top of the fifth. And while momentum is just swell, it doesn't win games by itself. Runs win games, and the Rangers got another one in the fifth on a sacrifice fly from Hamilton.
The win-expectancy chart is right back to 97%. Easy come, easy go.
Okay, so this game's practically out of hand so it's hard to blame the broadcast for going off the rails a bit.
But when the subject of Moneyball: The Movie came up, things went from bad to worse in a hurry.
First, Ken Rosenthal paraphrased some lines from the movie.
Pro Tip: If you don't know the lines exactly, don't bother. There is nothing on the whole planet more boring than someone paraphrasing movie lines. Nothing.
Then -- and this had to have been queued (cued?) up, so maybe it's not the score's fault -- this bizarre thing happened:
Tim McCarver: It's funny, Joe. With the series that Nelson Cruz is having, how Moneyball, that book and movie, has kind of changed the language in baseball. Used to be that a guy like that was a 'money ballplayer'. But since Moneyball, 'money-ball-players' equal on-base percentages. So we've gone from clutch to on-base percentages.
While McCarver was going through that obviously planned litany, we were treated to this awesome graphic:
BASEBALL'S DEFINITION OF MONEY BALL
Prior to 2002: Money Ball Player : CLUTCH
Since: Money Ball Player : ON-BASE PCT
Look, I get what McCarver's saying and it's not a completely uninteresting observation. It's something you might toss out there in passing and hope someone's mildly amused. But to prepare a graphic memorializing it?
And the punch line came when Joe Buck allowed that he's not seen the movie yet. Which can only reinforce the commonly held opinion that he really doesn't give a damn about baseball and can't wait until November when he can get back to focusing solely on the sport that he loves.
No, you wouldn't necessarily expect to see Daniel Schlereth in what seemed like perhaps the key moment of the Detroit Tigers' season.
But what else was Jim Leyland supposed to do?
He could have left Max Scherzer in the game, but managers are impatient in October and it's hard to really blame them.
The bases were loaded in the third inning, and David Murphy was coming up next. Murphy bats left-handed. Schlereth throws left-handed. In his career, Schlereth has held lefty hitters to a .211/.327/.345 line. Murphy's essentially never been a full-time player because he's never done much against lefty pitchers, including a .298 lifetime on-base percentage against lefties.
Leyland made the right move. It just didn't work out, as Murphy hit a two-run single and things just snowballed from there.
It happens. Managers can do only so much, you know?
Meanwhile, we're entering the fifth inning and it's still Rangers 9, Tigers 2.
The good news for the Tigers and their fans? An American League team has scored seven unanswered runs in the ALCS before to overcome a huge deficit. The Boston Red Sox did it all the way back in 2008, going from seven down to win Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-7.
The bad news is that the Red Sox still lost the series. So even if the Tigers come allllll the way back and somehow manage to keep the Rangers from adding on to their lead, they still have another game to look forward to.
The other good news for the Tigers is that a team has come back from an eight-run deficit in a playoff game and won the series. That would be the Philadelphia A's, who came back in Game 4 to stun the Cubs.
The worse news for the Tigers: They aren't playing the Cubs, 1929 or otherwise.
Right now the Rangers have a 97% chance of winning according to the win-expectancy graph at FanGraphs, which gives them something like a 99% chance of going to another World Series. I guess that means that the Rangers have a 1% chance of trading for Brad Penny in the middle of this game and leaving him on the mound for a few innings.
Not that anyone should need it, but Game 6 has been one more object lesson: The past is not necessarily prologue; sometimes it's just the past.
Granted, he didn't give up any homers in his short stint in Game 6. But there just wasn't any reason to think his 2.70 ERA in 13⅓ postseason innings told us more about Max Scherzer than the 4.43 in 195 innings.
Well, make that 15⅔ innings after Scherzer lasted only 2⅓ innings tonight. Worse for the Tigers, Daniel Schlereth replaced Scherzer and, given just one job -- retire left-handed hitter David Murphy -- Schlereth failed, with Murphy driving a two-run single into center field to make the score 5-2.
Worse still, with Rick Porcello having replaced Scherzer after just one hitter, the second-base umpire missed a call -- granted, it was an exceptionally close call -- on a fielder's choice when Ramon Santiago fielded a grounder and went for the force at second rather than the easy out at first. Which loaded the bases again.
Which brought Ian Kinsler up, and he drilled a two-run single to left field to make it 7-2.
Okay, it wasn't quite that simple. Murphy was going to stop at second, except Delmon Young kicked the ball in left field so Murphy cruised home, with all the other runners moving up a base.
Which made the score Rangers 9, Tigers 2 and brought Jim Leyland out of the dugout for yet another pitching change.
Derek Holland's average fastball velocity this season: 94.1 miles per hour, fifth in the American League.
Max Scherzer's average fastball velocity this season: 93.1 miles per hour, ninth in the American League.
Velocity certainly isn't everything -- you don't have to go down too far to find Brad Penny on the list, for example -- but it sure is fun to watch two young pitchers face off and do the live-arm bit. (Though it's probably past the point when we can call Scherzer a young pitcher; he is 27, after all.)
Well, it's fun until they start getting knocked around.
Scherzer hasn't been sharp at all, throwing 34 pitches in the first two innings, with fewer than half of them for strikes. In the third, he walked Elvis Andrus with one out, which set up a bloop single from Josh Hamilton that fell in front of Delmon Young. If there was a time when Young was a five-tool prospect, it was a long time ago, before he loaned a couple of them to his neighbor who never brought them back.
With runners on first and second and one out, Michael Young doubled down the left field line to drive in both runners and tie the game at 2-2. Three pitches later, Adrian Beltre singled through the middle to score Young to give the Rangers the lead.
Mike Napoli then walked to bring up Nelson Cruz with two on and one out. Scherzer, pitching for his life, then walked Cruz to load the bases. After just 2⅓ innings, Scherzer was pulled for Daniel Schlereth. Ouch.
Is it too early to start counting outs? Sure is. But I'm stupid like that, and the Rangers are 18 outs away from their second straight World Series appearance, and they're threatening to add more.
Early in Game 6 and it's deja vu all over again.
In the top of the second, Jhonny Peralta drove one of Derek Holland's outside fastballs just over the right-field wall for a solo home run.
The Tigers have now hit 11 homers in this series, and nine have come with nobody on bases.
Which obviously helps explain, just a little bit, why they're down 3-2 in the series.
But there's nothing wrong with a 2-0 lead in the second inning, and now the Tigers have that.
We've been told that Holland's on a short leash, but there's not a lot you can do with a pitcher who gives up one opposite-field homer per inning, except send him back out there every inning and hope it stops.
In the top of the first inning, Austin Jackson a) had a good at-bat, and b) reached base. If the universe wanted to give Derek Holland a sign that it wasn't going to be his day, that would have done nicely. Two 95-m.p.h. fastballs later, though, Holland was working with the bases empty and two outs, as Ryan Raburn grounded into a double play.
That brought up Miguel Cabrera, who might develop into a heckuva ballplayer one of these days. Cabrera hit the sixth pitch of the at-bat, a fastball down the middle of the plate, and drove it to the opposite field, giving the Tigers an early 1-0 lead. It was a wheel-of-cheese swing: Holland's not even mad. He's amazed.
Max Scherzer started the bottom-half of the first with three straight balls, but came back to get Ian Kinsler to pop out on a 3-1 count. After Elvis Andrus singled, Scherzer then retired Josh Hamilton on fly ball to center. Andrus stole second, but Michael Young popped up to end the inning.
From a nice little profile in the Times about Nelson Cruz, who has (according to the piece) exceeded expectations:
That is underlined because none of the other 29 teams claimed Cruz, a career .270 hitter, when the Texas Rangers placed him on outright waivers and sent him to the minor leagues in 2008 after 10 uneven seasons in professional baseball.
Even those who watched him slowly develop into a feared hitter in the minors, and who predicted greatness from him, could never have foreseen this production.
Of course nobody could have foreseen this production, what he's done for the Rangers this month (and last October as well). But this is not some miracle story, some humdrum minor leaguer who suddenly learned how to hit in his late 20s.
Nelson Cruz has been an excellent hitter for a long time. The Rangers waived him, I will assume, because they had roster issues. None of the other 29 teams claimed him, I will assume, because they bought into the notion that there are Quadruple-A hitters in their mid-20s, guys who thrive in Triple-A but just can't hang in the majors.
Which is, generally speaking, bullshit. And I'm a little surprised that all 29 other teams were foolish enough to ignore what Cruz had done in the minors.
It's not exactly the most surprising news of the American League Championship Series, but after sending Justin Verlander out for 130+ pitches on Thursday, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has ruled out using his ace for the rest of the series.
If you see Verlander pitch again it will be good. It will mean we're in the World Series.
It would take a special kind of insane for a manager to pitch his ace two or three days after throwing a season-high pitch total, and Leyland is not that special kind of insane. The world would be more interesting if he were, though.
Who does Leyland have available to him in the bullpen? From Jerry Crasnick:
Leyland's bullpen tonight after Scherzer: Porcello available, Coke, Benoit, Valverde, with Schlereth a possibility to get out vs. lefty.
Porcello threw 96 pitches on Wednesday, so bringing him back on two days' rest is somewhat surprising, though it's hard to imagine Leyland bringing him in in a situation other than extra innings.
The Texas Rangers are trying to get to their first World Series since a few months ago, and the lineup they're trying to do it with is ... curious. It reminds me of the old saying: "When your DH is Endy Chavez, your DH is Endy Chavez."
Mitch Moreland hasn't been setting the playoffs aflame, so getting him some rest is pretty inspired. Shift Michael Young to first, and you can get a nice bat in there to DH.
Or Endy Chavez.
Chavez did have a very nice year with the bat, don't get me wrong.
|2011 - Endy Chavez||83||256||37||77||11||3||5||27||10||30||10||5||.301||.323||.426|
But his value will always, always, always be in his defense. By accounts statistical and anecdotal, he's one of the very best defensive outfielders in the game. He's better than David Murphy, he's better than Josh Hamilton, and he's better than Nelson Cruz. But those three will start in the field, whereas Endy Chavez will DH.
This is probably because Ron Washington doesn't want to put those three hitters in an unfamiliar role. Not everyone can DH -- sitting on the bench, waiting to hit, drove Pat Burrell crazy. There's a chance that the gain made by having Chavez field would be offset by David Murphy's bat being hurt by all the waiting around.
I don't know. Just spitballin' here. There has to be some reason, right? He's a career 0-for-1 as a DH, and that at-bat came after he pinch-ran for Mike Sweeney.
Endy Chavez, designated hitter.
Endy Chavez, yo.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland is using the same nine starting players he used in Game 5, won by Detroit, with just a few changes:
Leyland’s moves are often inscrutable; this can’t be because it’s a different-handed pitcher throwing, as lefthander C.J. Wilson threw in Game 5 and another lefty, Derek Holland, goes for the Rangers in Game 6. It’s not even the same lineup that Leyland used in Game 2 against Holland; that Game 2 lineup made Holland throw 76 pitches and issue four hits and four walks in less than three innings.
It’s probably a hunch that has Leyland moving Ryan Raburn up to second and switching around the bottom of the order as well. With their proverbial backs to the wall and a trip home for the offseason looming if they don’t win, who’s to say it won’t work?
Nelson Cruz looks to power the Rangers ticket to the World Series.
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