Monday, May 08, 2006

How to lose a game in MLB

The Tigers proved on Saturday why they are still the same old Tigers. There is reason to be excited about the future since the organization is talented at every position and at every level. However, until the Tigers quit doing the things that have made them the “same old Tigers”, they will continue to be closer to the doormat that has frequented the cellar in the American League for the last 15 years than a playoff contending team.

As usual, I sat down on Saturday with great anticipation for a Tigers victory with Jeremy Bonderman on the mound. The Tigers blasted the Twins last weekend and took the first game of this series. On paper, this game seemed like a mismatch. But, as some dude on Sportscenter says, “that’s why they play the games.” The Tigers played the quintessential Tigers game on their way to a 7-6 loss to Minnesota. This loss wasn’t a normal loss. The 7-2 shellacking that the Tigers took from the Angels on Thursday was a normal loss. The 4-2 loss that the Tigers suffered at the hands of Johan Santana on Sunday afternoon was a normal loss. In both instances, the other team played better and the Tigers deserved to lose. The Angels are a good ball-club that will give the Tigers fits every time they play. This loss to the Twins was much different.

The Twins were nine games behind the Tigers in the standings entering Saturday’s game. They were struggling in every aspect of baseball. They were last in the AL in ERA. They were struggling in the lineup. By all accounts, this was a game the Tigers should’ve won, and more importantly, needed to win. These are the types of games that end up being the difference between winning the Central Division and finishing 5-10 games back. The Chicago White Sox keep playing teams they are supposed to beat and they keep beating teams they are supposed to beat. The Tigers must follow suit.

The way the Tigers lost this game was annoying for the casual fan and extremely troublesome for the diehards. There were four things that made this game a disaster that was much worse than what the scoreboard indicated. If a team wants to summon up the ghosts of the 1919 ChiSox and lose a game on purpose, I guarantee that doing these four things will get the job done.

1). The Tigers left 10 men on base. They struck out ten times and had zero walks. The Tigers have struggled this year in moving runners over. Saturday was no different. Time after time, Tigers hitters come up with runners in scoring position with no outs only to strikeout or pop-up in the infield. The Tigers have been amazingly inefficient at the plate this season. For all the talk of the Tigers being more disciplined this year, not much has changed. With a runner on second and no outs, a run should almost be a guarantee if played right. The Tigers have consistently failed to put down good bunts, let alone bunts at all. They’ve consistently failed to hit the ball out of the infield to move runners over. The most basic principles of baseball are the things that the Tigers are struggling with. That’s never a good sign.

2). I’m as big of a Jeremy Bonderman fan as there is. I think he has a bright future. He’s only 23 years old and he has improved since his early days as a Tiger. However, the first inning mental block that has plagued his short career is something that needs to be addressed. Too many people talk about it as if it’s normal and OK. It is not OK for a MLB pitcher to have issues getting out of the first inning. Obviously, Bonderman and the Tigers don’t want to have problems in the first inning. I’m not saying they haven’t worked on this issue but unless Bondo wants to become the next Chuck Knoblach, the Tigers need to get over this significant mental hurdle. Right now, the difference between Bondo being an All-Star ace, and just an average pitcher is the first inning.

3). For all the talk about the Tigers bullpen this year, I wouldn’t bet a dollar on any game that the Tigers are up one run in the ninth inning. Despite having issues with walking the leadoff hitter, Fernando Rodney has been pretty good. He has put the Tigers in far more precarious situations than his ERA would otherwise indicate. Combine that with the mess that is Todd Jones and the Tigers don’t have nearly the force to close out games as most Tigers fans believe. Joel Zumaya is an unbelievable pitcher. He was throwing gas yesterday with pinpoint accuracy. However, Zumaya is currently the 7th inning guy. Rodney and Jones are patrolling the 8th and 9th innings and that isn’t such a good thing. Jim Leyland will likely stick with Todd Jones as he doesn’t want to mess with his confidence. However, that will not be the last time Jones blows a victory. Jones and Rodney must understand the importance of NOT walking the leadoff man in the ninth.

4). While the first three are troubling and not all together shocking, the fourth reason the Tigers lost yesterday came as a huge surprise. Anybody who’s anybody has attributed the Tigers success this season to Jim Leyland’s arrival. Gone were the days of second-guessing the Manager’s decisions. Or, at least they were gone until yesterday. With one out, and the go ahead run on third base in the ninth yesterday, the Tigers had an ace up their sleeve. They had the luxury of putting the batter (Luis Castillo) on first base bringing a game-saving double play into the picture. This seemed like the no-brainer of no-brainers. The first pitch was a designed pitch-out which led me to believe that the Tigers were indeed going to walk the batter. What followed has left me speechless even 12 hours after the game ended. The Tigers proceeded to pitch to Castillo. The Twins only needed ONE run to win the game. Walking Castillo could not have hurt in any possible way. Castillo is one of the better contact hitters in the league. Instead of increasing the odds of a successful outcome, the Tigers pulled the infield in and hoped for the best. In MLB, simply hoping for the best is not acceptable. Leyland blew the call and the Tigers paid the price.

In one short nine-inning game, the Tigers went from ten games over .500 and .5 games behind the White Sox, to being the same old Tigers that give games away for inexplicable reasons. Sure, the Tigers are more talented than in years past. Sure, the Tigers will win more games than in years past. Unfortunately, winning more games and being a contending ball-club don’t have to be one in the same. The Tigers have the same old Tigers issues and this season will have the same old Tigers results—golfing in October.

1 comment:

robert paulson said...

the best teams in baseball lose 4 out of every 10 games over the course of a season. And those Twins that were slumping so bad and the Tigs had to beat, well in hindsight they were just getting rolling on a red-hot streak.

The Tigers are doing just fine. Reading much of anything into 1 game (hell 10 games) in a baseball season is just crazy.


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