We start a 3-game series, with the Detroit Tigers, at beautiful Comerica Park tonight. I got to see Comerica Park in person for the first time last week and I was impressed. It is a nice place to watch a ball game. We took a side trip from Lansing, where we took in a couple of games. I was less impressed with the traffic jams driving back to Lansing from Detroit. That's what I get for taking in an afternoon game, and leaving at rush hour. I wish we had built in some time to explore downtown Detroit.
The Tigers 39-39 heading into the series, sitting 3rd in the AL Central, 6 games back of the Royals. On offense they are averaging 4.33 runs per game, just slightly better than the league average of 4.21 runs per game. They lead the league in batting average (.275), on base percentage (.334) and are 5th in slugging (.426), so you'd kind of expect them to be scoring more.
On defense, they are second worst in the league in runs allowed, at 4.51 runs allowed per game (we sit 5th worst in the AL at 4.36 runs per game).
I sent off some questions to Rob Rogacki, manager of Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Tigers' blog and he was kind enough to answer them.
I guess we might as well start by asking how a couple of our former friends are doing in Tiger colors. How are Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose doing? I'll admit to being quite happy with the Gose/Travis trade.
While he has his limitations, Rajai Davis has been a surprisingly productive player in a Tigers uniform. He is hitting .282/.326/.415 since arriving in Detroit, which includes a higher percentage of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers than we first expected. This season, Davis has a .794 OPS, 14 steals, and an AL-leading seven triples while platooning in center field. The Tigers have paid $10 million for 2.6 WAR (and counting), which is a pretty good bang for their buck.
Anthony Gose didn't get off to as hot of a start as Devon Travis did, but he was extremely productive at the plate, topping out at a .400 on-base percentage in mid-May. I don't really want to talk about what he has done since then, because it's ugly. He has a .243 on-base percentage and .475 OPS in his last 136 plate appearances with 31 strikeouts to just seven walks. He hasn't been the elite (or even above average) defender some expected either, but his range is quite impressive in Comerica Park's vast outfield.
Can you give us a scouting report on manager Brad Ausmus? I saw my first ever game in Detroit (great park), last Thursday, and he got burnt by pinch running for Victor Martinez in the bottom of the ninth, and then seeing his spot come up with 2-out in the bottom of the tenth and the game on the line.
Man, you're coming to Detroit at the right (or wrong) time for this question. Ausmus' in-game management has been scrutinized from day one given his inexperience as a manager, but the hiccups we saw throughout 2014 have persisted this season. The pinch-running gaffe is just one of a few incidents that have dogged Ausmus in the last couple weeks, including losing track of his starting pitcher at one point and failing to challenge a play when Ian Kinsler was literally doing jumping jacks in the infield.
I hate to blame things on the manager when the going gets bad for a baseball team, but Ausmus still has yet to impress me in the 240-odd games he has managed with the Tigers. His bullpen management is as archaic as you will see in baseball and he is hesitant to shuffle the lineup when it is struggling. The mental errors I cited above may be nothing, but I can't remember things like this ever happening during Jim Leyland's eight years in Detroit.
Talking about Comerica Field....there will be a number of Jays fans at the games....what would you suggest for food at the park? And what beers would you suggest (I was surprised that Labatt's Blue was so heavily advertised)?
The Canadian border is just a few miles away from Comerica Park, but Labatt is like a high-quality import down here! The state of Michigan boasts one of the strongest craft brewing scenes in the country, and several of these excellent breweries are represented at Comerica. They're not always easy to find -- I had to walk a good ways around the concourse searching for them at one point -- but they're well worth your time.
The food at Comerica Park is nothing special, but they have started to add some specialty items in recent years. I rarely eat at the park, though, because there are so many great places to eat in downtown Detroit close to the stadium. No trip to Detroit is complete without a coney dog from American or Lafayette (choose wisely, they're rivals situated next door to one another), and the fare in Greektown is also top-notch. If you have time to spare, Slows BBQ on Michigan Ave. is the place to go. The food is phenomenal, and it's only a short walk away from the grounds of Tiger Stadium, where Detroiters still play vintage baseball games.
What's going on with Justin Verlander? Do you think he'll ever be a top of the rotation type of starter again?
The days of Justin Verlander blowing away hitters with triple-digit gas in the eighth inning are probably over. Verlander's dipping velocity has been a hot topic for years now, and while it was originally by design -- Verlander wanted to be more efficient and save some energy for the later innings -- he is no longer the flamethrower he once was.
His actual level of production has yet to be determined, though. Verlander was hampered by the after-effects of core muscle repair surgery throughout most of the 2014 season, so many expected him to bounce back to a respectable level in 2015. However, a triceps strain sidelined him for the first two months of the year, and he has only made three starts for the Tigers this season. Verlander looked shaky in the early part of his last outing, but settled down nicely to get through six-plus innings in a no-decision against the Pirates. His final line wasn't especially pretty, but it was his best outing of the year.
The Tigers are sitting 3rd in the AL Central, but 6 games back (6 games back in the AL East puts you last). What is the feeling among Detroit fans, are you hopeful that they will play themselves into contention, or is there a bit of looking towards next year?
The Tigers have struggled in previous seasons before roaring back to win the AL Central, but this year has felt a bit different. Between the preseason predictions that saw the Tigers faltering and the Kansas City Royals roaring out to a hot start, Detroit's hold on the division has never felt shakier.
That said, I'm still optimistic that this team has a run in them. They have the most talented roster in the division and were missing Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander for a good portion of the year. Their offensive numbers are also better than their actual run output -- a slew of double plays is partially to blame there -- and they have one of the most aggressive GMs-owner combinations in the game to rely upon come July. They may not look impressive right now, but if they get settled, they're still dangerous.
Fewer Tigers fans share this view by the day, though. Whether it's looking to next year or the next few years, many are wondering how the Tigers can retool their roster with such a thin farm system. I don't know the answer to that one yet, so I guess I'm holding on to the talent they do have as long as I can.
Who is your favorite Tiger to watch?
While I will never admit to taking Miguel Cabrera for granted, the return of Jose Iglesias has added another dimension of excitement to this Tigers team. Arguably the best defensive shortstop this side of Andrelton Simmons, Iglesias has incredible range and a lightning-quick release that allows him to turn in dazzling plays like this on a near-daily basis.
Iglesias has been surprisingly effective at the plate as well, hitting .324 with a .378 on-base percentage. He doesn't have much power, but strikes out just 9.2 percent of the time and beats out a surprising number of infield hits.
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