After a merciful day off, the Mets welcome the defending AL champion Detroit Tigers for a three-game weekend set. While the city of Detroit has fallen under hard times, the Tigers are in the midst of a Golden Age. They lead the surprising (pretending?) Cleveland Indians by five games in the AL Central, seem destined for their third straight playoff, and are looking to avenge last season’s sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
On a personal note, this weekend marks a rare time when I can sit down and watch the Mets with my college friends…who are all Tigers fans. Detroit holds a near-monopoly on the state of Michigan, and Hope College in Holland is no exception. My guest today is one of my good friends and classmates, Tom Zahari, who recently started writing for FanSided’s Motor City Bengals. Tom has had me as a guest on his semiweekly sports talk show on WTHS Hope College Radio and we have frequently talked about the Tigers’ recent string of success, and he believes that this golden goose is running out of eggs to lay.
Will DeBoer, Rising Apple: All discussion on the Tigers starts and ends with Miguel Cabrera. He’s been banged up a bit lately, bleeding out from his knee in yesterday’s game. Should Detroit be concerned he’s overdoing it?
Tom Zahari, Motor City Bengals: Personally, I think that Miguel Cabrera needs a few days off and maybe even a stint on the 15 day disabled list, but Cabrera is not human. This is the picture of him bleeding during an at bat on Thursday. Cabrera has dealt with an injured abdominal muscle, hip flexor, and knee this year, but is still putting up numbers that surpass his Triple Crown numbers from last year. As long as Cabrera does not do something to seriously hurt himself which would keep him from participating in a stretch run into the postseason, he could still play. Cabrera can barely run the bases right now, so he is just trying to hit home runs so he can trot around the bases. Cabrera is the best hitter in the game and is a treat to watch on a nightly basis. Enjoy what he does while at the plate, because he has little movement at third and will not run the bases at all.
WD: Justin Verlander hasn’t been on the top of his game this year. Is this a trend for the future or just a temporary blip?
TZ: In 2011 and 2012, Verlander was looked at as the best pitcher in the American League and probably the best in the game. It is not a secret that Verlander has not been his best this year and no one really knows why. I believe it is because of just wear on his arm. There have been multiple occasions in which Verlander have needed to change his mechanics from his glove hand needing to drive more, his arm lagging behind his body, and his head not being in the right position when he delivers his pitch. Verlander was even accused of taking PEDs but Jack Clark who was fired the next day. Verlander is going to be alright because the stuff is there. He just needs to get his location, mindset and movement back. Even the best of the game are allowed to have a down season and that is what this is for Verlander.
TZ: Scherzer has had a phenomenal season in 2013 and he has earned his 18-1 record, but no one gets to 18-1 with help from his team. Scherzer leads the league in run support at 6.04 runs per start (WD: Matt Harvey can only dream of that support…). People look at that win-loss record and want to give Scherzer the Cy Young, but even without that record, he is still having a great year. He has a 0.90 WHIP which is the best in the AL, his ERA of 2.82 is good for 6th in the AL, he is 2nd in the AL in K’s at 185 and has a WAR of 5.4 which is good for 3rd in the AL.
The best kept secret in baseball is also on the Tigers’ pitching staff in the form of Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez is only 11-7, but has a WHIP of 1.182 and an ERA of 2.45 which is the 2nd best in the AL. Doug Fister has also been tremendous in the second half of the season and Rick Porcello has been the second hardest pitcher to hit for right handed batters since the end of April. Scherzer is the pitcher who gets all of the love this year and it is well deserved, but people forget about Sanchez, Fister, and Porcello, who are also a part of the best pitching staff in baseball.
TZ: When Jose Iglesias was acquired from the Boston Red Sox, Tigers fans were told that they were getting a player who will do things with the glove that people have never seen before and he has not disappointed. Peralta was basically a construction barrel at shortstop. He made the plays that were hit to him, but he did not track any balls down which is especially important when Cabrera would be moving better with a Segway on the field. Peralta was a better hitter than Iglesias, but Iglesias has done pretty well with the bat. He has hit .302/.343/.365 in 19 games with the Tigers which more than what is expected of him. Iglesias’s plate discipline isn’t where it needs to be as he needs to lay off of the breaking ball off of the plate away, but Iglesias has done everything that he has expected to do and more. People do not even say Jhonny’s name anymore and Iglesias will be a mainstay for many years to come.
WD: What’s the status on the Tigers’ much-maligned bullpen, and is it a major concern as Detroit marches towards the postseason?
TZ: A lot has been made of the Tigers’ bullpen problems this season, because it was an easy target. Since the Tigers did not have a proven closer to start the season, many people pointed at the bullpen as the reason the Tigers would lose every game. The bullpen has not been great, but it has not been bad. Drew Smyly has been a fantastic left handed reliever and he is a natural starter. Joaquin Benoit has been phenomenal this season in both the 8th and 9th innings this season. Bruce Rondon has come up from the minor leagues and been productive after having a tough start to the season and Jose Veras has been a nice deadline acquisition. Phil Coke, one of Detroit’s best relievers in the 2012 postseason has been terrible this season and was demoted to AAA earlier this week, and Al Albuquerque has not been as good as he can be, but the bullpen has not been that bad. The bullpen has given up runs, but the Tigers have had some problems scoring runs at certain times this season which is surprising of the highest run scoring team in baseball. The bullpen has had its troubles, but is hasn’t been as bad as people have made it sound.
WD: You’ve mentioned to me many times that this year is World Series or bust for the Tigers. What makes this year so important, and what will be the team’s key factor in determining which route they take?
TZ: The Tigers have been in win now mode for years. They have made big splashes in the signing of Prince Fielder, the resigning of Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera is putting up numbers this season that are the best ever for a right handed hitter. The Tigers have the best pitching staff in baseball and this staff is probably not going to be able to stay together. For the Tigers to win the series, they will have to ride this pitching staff. The key to winning the World Series is the balance that this team has. The starters will have to pitch well, but the lineup will have to produce at key times, which did not happen last season against the San Francisco Giants. One problem the Tigers have is they have three DHs in Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera, and unless Martinez catches, they cannot all play in the same game. One final key for the Tigers is Austin Jackson. The Tigers are at their best when Austin Jackson is on base and scoring runs. When Jackson scores, the Tigers have won more than 70% of their games since 2010. When Jackson is on base, he opens up the hole for Torii Hunter who has hit over .300 this season and the puts men on base for Miguel Cabrera and we know how that ends.
It is important to win the World Series this year because Scherzer is going to be a free agent and the Tigers do not have the money to sign him. Austin Jackson and Doug Fister will also be free agents soon and the Tigers will just not have enough money to keep everyone around. With an aging owner in Mike Illitch who will do anything to win, he has spent tons of money to try to put together a team to lift the World Series Trophy in October. The Tigers have come close the past two seasons after getting bounced by the Texas Rangers in the ALCS in 2011 and swept by the Giants last year. There is a time when you need to have the expectation for your team to be the best. This is the year for the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series.
The Mets and Tigers square off from Citi Field tonight at 7:10 EDT, as recent New York acquisition Daisuke Matsuzaka takes on Detroit’s Doug Fister. Saturday afternoon’s marquee “Ace/Off” matches All-Star starters Matt Harvey and Max Scherzer, while Sunday afternoon features Dillon Gee and Rick Porcello. My thanks go out to Tom, who you can follow on Twitter and read at both Motor City Bengals and The Farm Club. Any West Michigan residents out there can also hear Tom on WTHS Real Radio, Tuesday and Thursday nights at 5:30 on 89.9 FM.