Category Archives: detroit tigers

detroit & tampa baseball fans: a tale of two cities.

Comerica Park, Detroit.

Comerica Park, Detroit.

Baseball is my favorite sport for several reasons. The numbers and math of the game fascinate me, for one. That extends beyond the typical batting averages and WARs and WHIPs to the stands. Last season, for example, the average total attendance for an American League team was 2,384,555. In fact, for 23 of the past 25 years, the season average has been more than 2 million fans per AL team.

When my favorite team—the Detroit Tigers—take the field tomorrow against the Chicago White Sox, they will surpass the 3 million mark in attendance this season (providing at least 124 fans show up). For the Tigers, it will be their fourth season of drawing 3 million or more fans to Comerica Park. Shockingly, the Tigers never hit the 3 million plateau at the much larger Tiger Stadium, where they played until the end of the 1999 season.

It’s no surprise to me the Tigers have drawn more than the league average since 2006. They have been one of the most consistent, successful baseball franchises over the past seven seasons:
* Four playoff appearances (including this season)
* Three AL Central Division Championships (well…soon)
* Two American League Pennants

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Ostensibly, Tiger fans are loyal to this team, from top to bottom. Contrast that with another potential playoff team, the Tampa Bay Rays. With four home games remaining at Tropicana Field, the Rays are sitting dead last in attendance in Major League Baseball with less than 1.5 million fans turning out this season. It’s a bit jarring when you consider the Rays are not some flukey team, backing their way into a wild card berth.

Since 2008, the Rays have won:
* Two AL East Division Championships
* One Wild Card berth
* One American League Pennant

Over those seasons, Rays attendance has been woeful; never reaching 2 million fans and nowhere close to the league average. It’s no better this season (their only 2 million+ season was their inaugural one, 1998). In fact, less fans, on average, attend Rays home games this season than last season. And they’ve been a competitive team most of the season!

I’m not sure if there’s a definitive correlation between the fan bases for these two franchises, but it does indicate a sharp contrast in turnout, loyalty and market behavior. That aside, it’s worth pointing out the contrast in market sizes. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Detroit is the 14th most populous market (4.2 million) in the U.S. while Tampa-St. Petersburg is 18th (2.8 million).

If cost is a factor, you’d think it would impact hardscrabble Detroiters more than Gulf Coast Floridians, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Average ticket prices:
* Detroit: $26.36
* Tampa: $20.39

In fact, both Detroit and Tampa are below the league average ($27.73). Same goes for the obligatory “family of four” cost of going to a baseball game, where the league average is $210.46. Great source.

Market size, franchise history (both recent and long-term), team success and ticket prices all play factors in drawing people to the ballpark as much as keeping them away. So what gives here? Why are Detroit fans filling the stadium to near capacity every night while Rays fans are barely there?

I ran these numbers exercise in hopes of gleaning some new information to solve this riddle and I ran into a brick wall.

Stripping away the numbers, my best, most uneducated guess comes down to this: Florida is not a baseball state. It’s a football state (unless you have to include the Jacksonville Jaguars).

Yes, Florida is a great place for spring training. Baseball fans love to go watch their teams work out the winter kinks in sunny Florida. But the locals don’t seem to much care for the Rays nor the Miami Marlins (we don’t have enough time to dissect Marlins dysfunction).

Too bad Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are stuck with these two Sunshine State stepchildren. I’m sure they’d love to give them up for adoption, but that’s even more unlikely than fans ever showing true loyalty to the Tampa Bay Rays anytime soon.

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wherein i discuss the detroit tigers as though i’m taken seriously as a sports columnist.

Even though the Detroit Tigers are widening their lead over the second-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, October baseball is not a certainty. My pessimism (and long memory for historical sports collapse) won’t allow me to pop any corks just yet.

After 136 games last season, the Tigers were 73-63 and sitting a game behind first place Chicago. The Tigers went 15-11 down the stretch to finish in first place by three games over the Sox. True, Detroit’s lead over second place Cleveland is 8.5 games, but anything can happen.

Can ‘Anything’ Really Happen?
In this case, “anything” would be Cleveland going 27-0 to finish the season. If that happened—and it won’t—Detroit would need to win 19 more games to stave off The Choke Of The Century.

Even if Detroit went 13-13 down the stretch they’d probably win the division because I don’t see Cleveland going 21-6 in September. Their best month this season was 18-12 in May. My guess is Detroit will lock up the division title during their final home stand of the season.

The Home Stretch
After tomorrow’s game against Cleveland, the rest of the season for Detroit is:
* @ Boston (3)
* @ Kansas City (3)
* @ ChiSox (3)
* vs. Kansas City (3)
* vs. Seattle (4)
* vs. ChiSox (3)
* @ Minnesota (3)
* @ Miami (3)

The Red Sox series could be a preview of the ALDS or ALCS. The main issue for the Tigers is keeping up the intensity and clinching one of the top two seeds to secure home field advantage for at least one series. Those six games against the Royals will be critical; same goes for the six against Chicago. The Royals have been tough on Detroit all season long. They won’t go quietly. The White Sox have gotten better since the trade deadline, going 16-12 in August.

Contrary to popular belief, the home stretch will not be an easy coast.

October Baseball
For my money, the five AL playoff teams are pretty much decided: Boston, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Texas. You can almost put that in cement. Who plays whom and when and where is still strictly in pencil. My gut tells me Boston and Detroit get the top two seeds, Texas takes the AL West and the Athletics and Rays are the wildcard teams.

How has Detroit fared against these teams?
* Boston (3-1)
* Oakland (3-4)
* Tampa Bay (3-3)
* Texas (3-4)

Despite all the hype around the Tigers’ starting pitching and middle batting order, it will not be a cakewalk.

Miggy for MVP…Again
For the past two weeks, everyone agrees Miguel Cabrera is the odds-on favorite to win the AL MVP trophy. Well, everyone that isn’t a Mike Trout sabermetrics nerd. Miggy’s numbers in ever major offensive category are better than last year.

Despite Miggy’s miraculous batting exploits, it hasn’t put his name alongside other greats like Albert Pujols, Tony Gywnne or even Hank Aaron. No. He’s being mentioned in the same breath with Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby. And Cabrera’s earned it.

Will he win the Triple Crown again? It would be something, but he’s got to catch Baltimore’s Chris Davis first. Either way, I think it’s a safe bet wins the MVP award. Again.

Mad Max
Pitcher Max Scherzer has distinguished himself as the Tigers ace this season. Cy Young worthy? Depends on whom you ask. I think he’s a leading candidate, but I also know the sabermetrics nerds like to bust out their slide rules and dump water on pithy stats like wins and ERA as meaningless, 20th century contrivances.

Here’s what they forget, with regard to Scherzer:
* Leads the AL in wins (19) and WHIP (1.06)
* Second in the AL in strikeouts (201) and WAR (5.8)
* Fourth best ERA (2.90) in the AL

In other words, Max Scherzer is at or near the top in all the statistical categories that matter. And yes, saber-nerd, wins matter.

The Return of Jhonny Peralta(?)
The Tigers shortstop will be eligible to return to his team just in time to play in the final three games of the season at Miami. While Peralta was having a career season at the plate prior to his 50-game suspension, credit GM Dave Dombrowski for acquiring Jose Iglesias, Detroit’s shortstop for the future.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Leyland held Peralta off the postseason roster. It has less to do with the nature of his suspension and more to do with being rusty. Besides, Iglesias is a better defensive shortstop and has proven to be a more versatile hitter in the batting order.

In Summation…
* Tigers will win their third consecutive AL Central Division title and the best record in the American League
* Miguel Cabrera will win the AL MVP award. Again.
* Max Scherzer will win the AL Cy Young Award.
* Tigers in six. I’ll let you figure that one out.

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the detroit tigers bullpen circus continues.

Papa Grande exits the game against Kansas City after blowing his third save of the season.

Papa Grande exits the game against Kansas City after blowing his third save of the season.

While the Tigers’ series against Kansas City was ultimately a dud—dropping two of three, despite quality starts from Doug Fister and Justin Verlander—it might turn out to be a gift. No, losing is never a good thing. But watching closer Jose Valverde melt down in this series, including blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning yesterday afternoon, pretty much guarantees one thing: the Jose Valverde Reign Of Terror has finally reached its sad, undignified end.

Truth be told, it’s hardly fair for Papa Grande. For two seasons, he was mostly a lights-out pitcher. He locked down 49 saves in 49 opportunities in 2011. While not perfect in 2012, he was still a big reason the Tigers repeated as Central Division champions. Unfortunately, when the end came for Valverde, it was about as subtle as falling off a cliff. Blowing two post season saves last year spelled the end, or so we thought.

To Valverde’s credit, he took his lumps and rebuilt himself in minor leagues to earn his way back to the bigs with the Tigers. Of course, his return was aided by the reality that Detroit’s bullpen has been a shaky mess all season. Valverde’s return brought some stability, but it seems he’s already run out of gas. In 17.1 innings of work this season, Valverde’s given up 13 hits and five home runs. He’s leading the team in saves with nine, but he’s also blown three saves. This is not the same Jose Valverde even from last season.

It’s disappointing to see a guy who was integral to the team’s success implode. But it’s not as calamitous as fans might think. Valverde’s implosion is a gift to the team, to the fans and, perhaps, to himself. This collapse occurred at a time in the season when the Tigers can weather the storm and, potentially, find a permanent fix.

As of this moment, the Tigers situation looks like this:
* 4-1/2 game lead on the division
* Starting pitchers are crushing it
* Offense is mostly playing well

That’s pretty good when you consider your leadoff hitter’s on the mend and the bullpen has been a big, fat question mark, with or without Valverde. Which brings me back to the “gift” of the KC series: Valverde is no longer the closer. He can’t be the closer; not when you’ve been an adventure on the mound in your most recent outings. It’s over.

Painful as that is—especially after the heartbreaking loss yesterday—coming to that realization in Game 64 is a whole lot better than coming to that realization in Game 1 of the ALCS. In a sense, Christmas came early. It just rode in on a black stallion and stabbed you in the heart. Merry Christmas!

Fear The Beard? Is Brian Wilson ready after his second Tommy John surgery?

Fear The Beard? Is Brian Wilson ready after his second Tommy John surgery?

Bring in “The Beard?”
Brian Wilson may seem like a sexy pick—and who knows? Maybe he can come back and be lights-out—but coming off his second Tommy John surgery likely has teams less inclined to sign him; especially if he’s bringing a high price tag. If he can still pitch and won’t cost Detroit too much money, go for it, I say. But there might be a good reason he’s still on the shelf. Can’t discount that. But we’ll have to wait and see if anyone still fears The Beard.

It’s going to take a few weeks for Detroit to iron out their bullpen woes (if it’s even possible to address them all). It’ll be interesting to see if GM Dave Dombrowski makes any moves for a closer or if they try once again with the closer-by-committee approach, which is a short-term bandage. It can work in a few situations, but not for another 100 games. Bottom line: Detroit needs a closer. The question is will he come from within or will he arrive before July 31.

We shall see.

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miguel cabrera triple crown watch.

Photo by Getty Images. No, I don’t own the rights to the photo. I make ZERO MONEY off this blog. But if Getty tells me to yank it, I will.

The 2012 American League playoff picture may look focused, with the five postseason teams already decided, but who’s playing whom has yet to be sorted out. We’ll need to wait until Game 162 to determine travel arrangements. The more compelling story for Detroit Tigers fans right now is Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase. He’s current sitting atop the AL with a .331 (.330645161, actually) batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs.

With one game left in the season, a lot can still happen to dash his hopes of being the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. Namely, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton can happen. Trout, the rookie phenom with the Angels, is currently batting .324 and still has a chance to overtake the batting title. Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is one home run behind Cabrera for the HR title. Given the fact that the Rangers are now in a must-win game vs. the Oakland Athletics for the West Division title, Hamilton will be looking to hit one or two out tomorrow.

The RBI Chase.
Is over. Cabrera’s nearest competition is 11 RBIs away. NOBODY is having a 12-RBI day tomorrow!

The Home Run Chase.
The HR scenario is pretty simple. If Hamilton hits two tomorrow and Cabrera either sits or doesn’t hit any homers, no Triple Crown.

The Batting Title.
Trout is not going to sit tomorrow. He’s already a lock for AL Rookie of the Year, and many believe he should be the league’s Most Valuable Player. If he has a monster performance in a meaningless game against the Mariners tomorrow, he could surpass Cabrera for the batting title. Let’s look at a couple scenarios.

Cabrera sits out the Tigers’ final game.
He’ll end the season with a .331 batting average (rounded up from .330645161, to be precise). Trout is currently batting .323741007. To overtake the lead from a dormant Cabrera, Trout would need to hit 6-for-6 in tomorrow’s finale. That would give him a .330960854 batting average. No, 5-for-5 wouldn’t cut it.

Cabrera plays and goes 0-for-4.
He would end the season with a .328525641 batting average. What would Trout have to do to beat him? Four-for-four would edge him just past Miggy with a .328571428 batting average. That’s right. A 4-for-4 day from Trout and a donut from Cabrera would give Trout a .000045839 edge.

What if Cabrera goes 1-for-4?
He’d be over .330 for the season and Trout would need a 6-for-6 monster game.

In summation.
It’s pretty simple. For Miguel Cabrera to win the Triple Crown he needs:
* Josh Hamilton to hit one or zero home runs against the Athletics tomorrow.
* Mike Trout to make one out vs. the Mariners tomorrow.

No matter how the season ends tomorrow, when is the last time we’ve had so much post season and individual achievement drama playing out on Game 162?

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lousy end to the season, but no shame for the tigers.

If you’re looking to assign blame for the Detroit Tigers’ six-game nosedive in the American League Championship Series, you can cry all you want about an umpire’s strike zone in Game 1 and you can scream about Nelson Cruz’s check swing in Game 6. You might have screamed at your television when Leyland stuck with a struggling Max Scherzer in Game 6 (as I did). And you know what? You’d still be dead wrong. This series was not decided by a biased umpire (as some Detroit homers believe) or by a blown call on a check swing (a check freakin’ swing!). It was decided by the Texas freakin’ Rangers.

When it mattered the most, their big hitters lit up the scoreboard like a Fourth of July display. Their pitchers got out of the early jams and silenced any rally Detroit could muster. You can put away your tinfoil hats because the Texas Rangers were, quite simply, the better team.

The problems that plagued the Tigers from April-September were laid bare and exposed in October. The free-swinging Austin Jackson. The inconsistent Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The inability to rack up big innings. You can get away with that against the Seattle Mariners in June, but not against the reigning (and repeating) American League Pennant Champion Texas Rangers in October.

Tiger pitchers are going to see Nelson Cruz in their nightmares. Every ALCS game was like BP for him. The Rangers bullpen was solid coming into the series and looks untouchable heading to the World Series.

Detroit has a lot to be proud of this season. No one expected them to win the division (and at least one manager lost his job because of it). And Dave Dombrowski made some brilliant moves down the stretch that will pay dividends beyond this season. The acquisition of Delmon Young from Minnesota and Doug Fister from Seattle were genius. But it wasn’t enough to mask the deficiencies. Austin Jackson as leadoff hitter may be an experiment worth retiring. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my leadoff hitters to not be strikeout kings.

The Tigers certainly have some pop in their lineup. But when that pop begins and ends with hitters 3-4-5, you’ve got problems. Look at both the Yankees and Rangers. “Easy out” is not a phrase you will say too often when glancing at their lineups.

I’m disappointed the way the 2011 season ended for the Tigers, but it was a great ride. I’m already excited for 2012.

When do pitchers and catchers report?

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2012 alcs game one breakdown: has anyone seen my old friend alex avila?

It would take more than one hand to count the number of missed opportunities for the Detroit Tigers tonight—almost two hands, as a matter of fact—as in, nine. That’s the number of runners the Tigers left stranded on base. And it gets worse. They were 1-7 at the plate with runners in scoring position. What’s even more amazing is they only lost to the Texas Rangers by one run, 3-2, on a night when ace Justin Verlander was looking like a mere mortal (even on an off night, he’s still better than half the pitchers in baseball). The Rangers now lead the American League Championship Series 1-0.

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland copped to Verlander’s lack of control in his postgame presser. Did losing ALDS hero Delmon Young to injury for this series affect the Tigers tonight? Maybe, but Leyland wouldn’t take that bait. Did the two rain delays have an impact on the game? Probably. But you might argue it helped Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, who was running into a bit of a pickle in the fifth inning, giving up a pair of runs and loading the bases before the rains came down, forcing umpire Tim Welke to clear the field for a second time. Leyland remained matter-of-fact, upbeat and anxious to get onto Game 2 preparations.

When play was resumed, Alex Avila continued his postseason disappearing act and weakly struck out to reliever Mike Gonzales to end the inning. Threat over.

Despite only mustering one more hit in the final four innings, there were positives for the Tigers tonight:
* Even when Verlander is having an off night, he only gave up three runs.
* The bullpen held the Rangers to only one hit in the final three innings.
* Rick Porcello looked sharper than Verlander (scary, I know).

While Leyland was certainly disappointed to lose Game 1, he took it in veteran stride, understanding the series is far from over. But even he does not yet know how a second consecutive rain-disrupted series opener will affect his pitching rotation. Porcello was slated to start Game 4. He threw two quick innings tonight. Can he get back on the mound in four days?

The questions for Tiger fans are mounting too:
* Is there a pitch Austin Jackson can resist?
* Will Alex Avila get off the milk carton and back in the game?
* Can the 1-2 punch combo of Miguel Cabrera-Victor Martinez actually land some 1-2 punches???

I don’t have a scary sense of foreboding about Game 1, as I do not believe it is a harbinger of things to come. But if the Tigers head back to Detroit down two games to none, it might get a little foreboding around here.

Stay tuned.

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