Monday, August 13, 2007

I'm confident, yet concerned, about the Tigers (If that makes any sense...)

Tigers fans can now get down off of the ledge they were on the verge of jumping off just a few days ago. Amazingly, despite the recent struggles, the Tigers regained 1st place in the central with Sunday's win. Over the weekend, the Tigers bore a strong resemblance to the team that stormed their way though the league before the near month long slump reared it's ugly head.

I have a feeling the prefect storm of injuries, combined with a team wide slump, has passed.

But that feeling can be fleeting, as we all know. There are plenty of reasons to be confident. But there are also plenty of reasons to be concerned, as well.

Going into the meat grinder that will be the Tigers' schedule through the rest of August, let's look at 6 reasons why I'm confident, and 6 reasons why the ledge is still an option.

The good...

1. Gary Sheffield - He's healthy, and has his bat speed back. The most important cog in the Tigers offense has returned. Thus, so has the offense. Notice how well Magglio Ordonez is hitting since Sheffield re-entered the lineup? I'm thinking it's not a coincidence.

2. Marcus Thames - Thames, and his Ruthian power, was sorely missed while he was on the DL. His return also means less Craig Monroe in the Tigers everyday lineup. Thames isn't a savior by any means, but the Tigers are a much more threatening team with his powerful bat in the lineup.

3. Fernando Rodney - In his 2 appearances since his return from injury rehab, Rodney has pitched like the lights out set-up man he was in 2006, rather than the arsonist he was during the first half of 2007. His 1-2-3 mowing down of the A's in the 8th inning of Saturday's win was the best Rodney has looked all season. He could be a huge factor for the Tigers over the next 6 weeks. If Rodney's on, the games become 2 innings shorter.

4. Ryan Raburn - TBHoS's suspension turned out to be even more of a blessing, more than just his no longer being on the roster. It allowed Raburn to get a 2nd shot at the big leagues, and he has not wasted that chance. All he has done is hit since being recalled. He's also quite serviceable at several positions, and that has not been lost on Jim Leyland in finding ways to ride a Raburn's hot bat. The Tigers may have lost a good fielding shortstop, but gained a much more valuable piece in in Raburn, whom can play more positions, and hit higher than Paris Hilton's IQ.

5. Magglio Ordonez - His slump seems to be over. He continues to lead MLB in hitting, and the power stroke has returned, as shown by 3 home runs over the weekend. The AL MVP race has pretty much boiled down to Maggs, and the likely winner if the media was polled today, Alex Rodriguez. I could care less if Ordonez wins the MVP, as long as his bat helps carry the Tigers to a playoff spot. It'll be hard to ignore a .350+ BA, and 140+ RBI though.

6. Placido Polanco - Is there a more invisible All-Star player than the Placidome? He's only hitting .346, and hasn't made an error in what feels like decades. Yet the only people who seem to notice are Tigers fans. I'm not sure there's another Tiger I would want at the plate when the game is on the line. He's an elite 2nd baseman, and deserves accolades, dammit!

But on the flip side...

1. Jeremy Bonderman - What happened? His 1st inning struggles have become even more pronounced. Over the past month, Bonderman has been hit around like a no-armed man in a boxing match. His season has taken a right turn, and has gone from excellent, to meh. Bonderman has to, needs to, step up for the Tigers, as the pennant race kicks into high gear.

2. Joel Zumaya - Will he or won't he be effective in his return? That's the question everyone will ask, as he begins his minor league rehab this week. Rodney came back with a flourish, but can Zumaya do the same? Considering the odd nature of his injury, there are no guarantees. If he does come back healthy and effective, with Rodney and Jones pitching well, games become 6 innings long. If not, the Tigers inability to pick up another relief pitcher at the deadline will loom large.

3. Craig Monroe - He's finally gotten his average over the Mendoza Line, but .222 is nothing to brag about. With Monroe's tendency to speak himself in the 3rd person, I'm surprised Craig Monroe hasn't bragged as of yet. The hopes that Monroe was going to catch fire in the 2nd half seems to have left everyone but Jim Leyland, who for reasons unknown, continues to use Monroe fairly regularly. Considering Raburn's scorching bat, and Thames being a threat to go deep every swing, there is no reason to play Monroe even every other day, as Leyland stubbornly continues to do. Monroe should be nothing more than a defensive replacement for Thames.

4. Pudge Rodriguez - He's still hitting somewhat respectively, with a .279 average, but his free swinging ways have dropped his OBP to .290. That is just awful. Not Craig Monroe .264 OBP awful, but awful all the same. Pudge finally looks to be slowing down at 35, as both his offense and more importantly, defense, have trended noticeably down. He's still in the top half of MLB catchers, but he's no longer in that top tier. I once thought it was a sure thing that the Tigers would pick up the option year of his contract. They probably still will, as there is no depth in the organization at catcher, but it's no longer a no-brainer decision. Could the Tigers get similar, or better, production from a Mike Rabelo / Vance Wilson combo, at a fraction of Pudge's price? It's something to ponder for 2008...

5. Jason Grilli - He's used much too often, in too many high leverage situations, for a marginal major league pitcher who sucks. HARD. 'Nuff said.

6. Kenny Rogers - The Tigers need The Gambler back for the pennant race. He seems to be a calming force for the entire starting rotation, and when healthy, gives the Tigers a very good chance to win every time out. Unfortunately, he's been healthy for about 3 starts, total, in 2007. Even though news hasn't been encouraging in regard to his valuable left elbow, Rogers claims he's coming back for the stretch drive. If he does return, will he even have a semblance of his pre-blood clot, and then pre-aching elbow, form? And will Rogers ruin his already quite aged arm in the process?

The pennant race will begin in earnest with the 13 upcoming games with the Tribe and Yankees, starting tomorrow. In 2 weeks time, I think we'll find out if the ledge is still an option.

No comments:

Post a Comment