Bengal Beat: Tigers opening weekend in review

According to complex projections of the 2012 season, Alex Avila is supposed to tail off this year. But the Detroit catcher has two homers already.

Every Monday morning during the season I’ll take a look back on the previous week in Tigers baseball.

Overview: 3-0 vs. Red Sox, 3-0 on the season, 1st place
It was an exciting three-game series to open the ’12 season in Detroit. We saw a three-act play with nearly every sort of story line we could have imagined.

First, Justin Verlander proved again why he’s a special pitcher. With a belly full of Taco Bell, JV took to the hill and dominated the Red Sox lineup. A couple of scratch hits in eight innings was all he surrendered. Obviously, the Tiger ace is still one of the best pitchers in the game. Jim Leyland yanked him after eight innings with a 2-0 lead, calling in Papa Grande. But as I warned earlier this spring, Valverde is not likely to have as good a season in ’12, and he showed it right away. The Sox pushed across two runs and tied it up in the ninth.

That set the stage for the first dramatic moment of the week. Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila came through with singles setting up a bases loaded situation for Austin Jackson, who delivered the first walk-off hit of his career – a single down the left field line. 3-2 Tigers and 47,000 plus went home happy.

Act II was a laugher on Saturday and the Tigers showed off their deadly duo in the middle of the lineup. We know Migeul Cabrera is going to hit home runs this season. We know The Dreadlocked One is going to hit homers this season. We don’t know how often they’ll do it back-to-back and in the same game. We found out that it might be often on Saturday. First, Miggy blasted a homer in the first (with AJax on base again), then Prince hit a leadoff blast the opposite way in the fourth inning. But the fireworks went off in the fifth inning when Cabrera hit a shot to left center that (“after further review”) was his second homer. Fielder followed with a line drive home run that looked like it could have decapitated someone in the right field bleachers. Knockout punches delivered, the Tigs won the game 10-0.

Then came Easter Sunday, when the Tigers decided to ruin Valentine’s Day instead. There was a lot to be worried about in this game (more about that below), but Cabrera saved the day in the bottom of the ninth with a monster blast to left to tie the game at 10. Then, when the Tigers bullpen put Detroit back into a hole, Avila (who early in the season looks like he won’t have a letdown after his All-Star season in ’11) delivered a two-strike, two-out homer to right that gave the Tigers a 13-12 win and sent Boston out of town with a headache.

3-0 in exciting, dramatic fashion. If this keeps up, Tigers fans may die of excitement watching their team this year.

The Good
Cabrera is swinging the bat well, no effects visible at all from him taking that baseball to the face in Lakeland. Avila and Prince are getting around on the ball, which gives Detroit three power bats that are already warmed up in April. But the best sign offensively is the approach that Jackson is taking at the plate. He’s been on base 10 times in the first three games, including two walks. If AJaz could get his OBP above .350 this year, he’ll be a good leadoff man and an All-Star.

Despite missing a pitch out sign on Sunday, reliever Octavio Dotel still has good stuff in spite of his age and having played for everyone except the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars.

Cabby has show he can make the routine plays at third, has a strong enough arm to handle the hot corner, and can even stretch out to snare line drives hit that way. He won’t win a Gold Glove, and he admitted he flinched at a ball hit hard to him on Opening Day, but Tiger fans should rest easy about the big guy playing third.

The Bad
The worst thing we saw this past week was Doug Fister leaving the mound with a rib injury. The Tigers immediately placed their #2 starter on the 15-day DL, which should concern us. Fister is key to the team’s success in ’12, make no mistake about it. Given that Mad Max Scherzer looked terrible on Sunday (what the hell happened to his delivery?), it causes more alarm. If Scherzer struggles and Fister is out, that puts more pressure on Rick Porcello and the fifth starter, whoever that proves to be. For now, Duane Below seems to be the beneficiary of the shifting rotation – he’s shown enough that he should get a start or two. He performed well in relief of Fister on Saturday and then pitched mop-up on Sunday. His reward? Two wins, the first of his big league career.

Also, let’s get it out in the air. Yes, the Tigers are 3-0, but their defense is going to be an issue if they keep playing like this. First, you should realize that errors aren’t the only thing to look at when evaluating a team’s defense. So far, only Cabrera has been tagged with an error, but there have been – by my count  - four misplays so far, leading two one and possible two runs. Ryan Raburn misplayed a grounder on Opening Day. Cabrera made another misplay on a grounder that didn’t get him an error, but it was lost in the 10-0 laugher on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Raburn made two misplays, first failing to properly handle a ball that could have led to an inning-ending DP, then juggling a one-hopper in left field where he could have potentially made a throw to home to get a Boston runner. We know Raburn has lead hands in the field, but we hope his offense will make up for it. The worry is that these little mishaps will cost the Tigers in close games, the type of games you usually see in the post-season. Oh, and even Avila was sketchy on a play at the plate, when Jackson delivered a nice throw in plenty of time to cut down a runner, but for some reason the Tigers catcher played it from behind the plate and couldn’t secure it in time for a tag. The Detroit defense is porous, and JV and the powerful lineup will hide much of it, but there could come a time when we are all cringing and praying that the ball isn’t hit toward Raburn. Or maybe we already are?

This Week
The Tigs host the Tampa Bay Rays (also 3-0) for three afternoon games at CoPa. We’ll see Porcello, Verlander, and then Drew Smyly will make his major league debut. Detroit will see Matt Moore, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, on Tuesday, and then James Shields, who is perfect at Comerica Park in his career so far, and like Verlander (whom he’ll face) usually goes deep into games.

Then over the weekend in Chicago, Detroit will have some decisions to make. Smoky hasn’t announced his starting pitcher for Friday’s game, but we know Porcello will go Sunday and Scherzer will pitch in the series. Max could get the ball on his regular turn on Saturday or be pushed up a game to start Friday. Either way, someone, maybe Below or one of the guys who lost the battle for the #5 spot in spring, will get a start. My money is on Andrew Oliver getting the ball on Friday and Scherzer and Porcello following. Though Below could potentially get the start on Friday, having rested four days from his last relief appearance.

Comments

comments

About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.