Tigers v. Mariners 7/08/07

With the question about what affect the loss of Zumaya’s arm and presence out of the bullpen hanging in the air, and a potential to tie their high-streak of eight wins from 2006 the Tigers came back from an early deficit to show just how good the players off the bench can do. As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m highly impressed with how good the Tigers utility players have been coming off the bench, both defensively and at the plate. Today was no exception, Omar Infante was playing Center Field tonight and he went Three for Three, a home run away from hitting for the Cycle.

After Bonderman, who’s performances have been bumpy -especially in the first inning- allowed a three-run home run in the first inning went scoreless for the next two while the Bottom of the batting order started clicking on all cylinders and tied it up fast. After tying they went ahead, and continued to pile on runs all throughout the order. Despite allowing a total of five runs Bonderman pitched well, getting six strikeouts and generally keeping the ball in the zone. I absolutely attribute how many runs the Mariners scored to their dynamite hitting, they hit several pitches that were way out of the zone and nearly in the dirt.

And in the end Ichiro got on base in the 9th inning with a well executed bunt, which in my opinion is one of the few ways to get on base with the way Todd Jones pitches to contact, before Craig Monroe and Magglio Ordonez made two gem defensive plays to get Jones his thirteenth save.

Off the Bench

The Tigers have a great set of utility players that, this season, have really started to shine through, both with some decent hitting and great performance on the field. I’ll start with Marcus Thames, who was the DH for the Tigers at the end of last year and generally filled the role well after Dimitri Young was let go. He’s also an outfielder capable of catching the ball and getting it back into the infield before any damage is done. In the off season and Spring Training he started playing first base which will allow an overworked Sean Casey to rest while still keeping a good bat in the order. Chris Shelton shined through early last year, but caved under the pressure, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see him unless Sean Casey is Injured.

Speaking of Injuries Vance Wilson should be back soon, which will add a very capable back up catcher and a heavy bat back into the off-the-bench pool of players. Rabello is a good enough catcher, with a lot of potential to hit the ball, but he is still hitting under .100, while it’s hard to judge a rookie who hasn’t appeared in many games, it’d have been more reassuring to see him hitting a few fore base hits.

Moving onto Utility Infielders Omar Infante is fairly impressive at center field, doing a good job with routine balls out his way and in getting on base when he’s at the plate. There’s no doubt that he’s a much better infielder and that if he was in the order regularly his average would be climbing with the rest of the team, but he, like Thames at first, does an adequate job. Moving on to Neifi Perez, a utility infielder picked up late last year as a perceived mistake on Leyland’s part is finally beginning to show through as a quality player. He’s had a few quality at-bats, including a rather surprising 3-run home run in Sunday’s game in Kansas City, and has made some shining plays in the infield proving that -when he needs to be- he can hold up for the guys being rested or whom are on the DL. he’s played Second and Third already -to my current recollection- this season and has not made any blunders at either position, and at least one sparkling play at second.

All in all the Tigers have a lot of talent coming off the bench, and Jim Leyland, while many are quick to second guess and criticize, has made some decisions that -in the long run- have and will continue to pay off.

Swinging the Bat

So the Tigers have their bats in order, the collective Batting Average is climbing out of the dismal hole that is >200. From top to bottom they’ve got them moving, unfortunately Craig Monroe and Ivan Rodriguez aren’t swinging the way that they’re capable of -in my opinion. Constantly swinging at bad pitches and either striking out or embarrassingly grounding out. Magglio is a joy to watch as he cleans up the men on base night after night, a bat that, for the most part, I feel the team is going to be relying on, but not so heavily that the bottom of the order are just thrown away at bats. Especially with clutch hitters like Monroe and Inge sitting in the bottom three.

Sean Casey can be a worry, but I see his stats climbing to where they were at the end of last year as he works his way out of the funk caused by the first for weeks of the year. While Casey is certainly the slowest man on the team, seconding Perez easily, in terms of base running he makes up for it with base hit RBIs and dynamite defensive plays that will help Guillen cut back on the errors for sure. While I’m on the subject of Guillen I feel he might have been better off keeping with the new throwing angle, in my opinion it seemed like he would be coming up with more plays reliably without causing a crucial error. Alas it seems he’s gone back to the old sidearm, that’s probably not such a bad thing, he’s familiar with it, and Casey is good enough that he pretty much gets anything you throw his way. I’d like to see Guillen’s new angle back, however, but it would probably require a lot of arm strengthening and I doubt the team can afford to keep with something a player is not comfortable with.

Seven-Game winning streak, I love it, great baseball, a lot of comeback runs like the Tigers are capable of, and fewer of these strong early innings and weak late games that lead to their losing. Do I think they can extend it to eight-wins? They’re certainly capable of winning every game they play if their entire order is clicking on all cylinders and if their pitching delivers from the starter to the bullpen. Do I think they can sweep three teams in a row? Again they’re very capable, but Seattle is not as easy a team to topple as say Baltimore or Kansas city, and being that they play the team only a few times in a given year the lineup is bound to be too unfamiliar with the pitching to make any kind of accurate prediction. Thankfully the same goes for Seattle, despite the fact that the Tigers are a team everyone is watching and scouting out.

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