Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Detroit Tigers Preview - Wilco-Style

The Detroit Tigers will win the American League Central this year. Mark it down. After some brilliant off-season moves by GM Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers have the best lineup in baseball, and a great starting rotation as well. The band Wilco is in a similar situation. They just made a key acquisition for their latest album Sky Blue Sky - guitarist Nels Cline. I recently went to see Wilco in concert here in Houston and I can say with certainty that, thanks in part to the addition of Cline, they are at the top of their game. Here is a quick 2008 Detroit Tigers preview, with the projected starting line-up (in one possible batting order), and the Wilco song lyrics to help describe each player:

Your Team outlook - "Wishful Thinking"
Fill up your mind with all it can know
Don't forget that your body will let it all go
Fill up your mind with all it can know
'Cause what would we be without wishful thinking

This summarizes the feelings of just about every baseball fan in the spring. Except for the Pirates fans. And maybe the Devil Rays fans. And possibly the Orioles fans. All right, Royals fans too. But the last two seasons have produced some unlikely World Series teams: Colorado last year, and Detroit in 2006. I suspect that the fans of those two teams were less than optimistic about their teams' chances before the season.

Curtis Granderson (CF) - "Joe DiMaggio Done It Again"
Grandma's home by the radio
On the television watching Joe
She jerks the beard off of Grandpa's chin
Joe DiMaggio's done it again

It could be argued that Granderson had his breakout season in 2007. After all, he became only the third player in major league history (and the first since Willie Mays in 1957) to have 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in a single season. However, he's still young (just turned 27 on Sunday) and has some things he can improve on. In the leadoff spot, it would help if he were more selective and took a few more walks (only 52 in 2007), and he strikes out too much (141 in 2007). He has improved his OBP each season, so I am expecting big things from Granderson in 2008. He may not be in the same class as Joe DiMaggio, but he has some serious skills, and just an incremental improvement over last year could lead to big things for the Tigers this year.

Fun Fact: Has a highly entertaining blog on espn.com.

Placido Polanco (2B) - "Outtasite (Outta Mind)"
You don't see me now
You don't want to anyhow

Polanco is a steady performer who rarely makes headlines, but gives 100 percent in every game. He quietly produced a .341 average last year, and has not made an error in the field since July 1, 2006. His play is so steady and predictably good that "out of sight, out of mind" is where he comfortably sits. And considering the ineptitude of Tiger second basemen since Sweet Lou hung up his spikes, I'm fine with that. His position in the batting order could be either 2nd or 9th. Depends on where Leyland wants to put Renteria.

Fun Fact: Seems to have a gigantic head.

Miguel Cabrera (3B) - "Monday"
Monday, I'm all right, get me out of FLA

Cabrera, along with Willis, was acquired in the offseason from the Marlins for prospects. According to reports from spring training, he has shed a lot of weight since last season, when he resembled the fat 1976 Elvis. He's reportedly down to a relatively svelte 240 pounds (he's 6'-4" - he's never gonna be below 220 or so). The Tigers are counting on Cabrera to provide some pop that was lacking from the third base position last year when Brandon Inge manned the hot corner. In four full seasons, Cabrera has averaged 31 home runs and 115 RBIs. If he meets those averages this year, the Tigers will be very happy. Even better, as of opening day, Cabrera is still only 24 years old. Long live The King (hopefully "skinny Elvis" for this year).

Trivia: Practices Santeria. Kinda like voodoo. Could be good for the team.

Magglio Ordonez (RF) - "Via Chicago"
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Via Chicago

The former Chicago White Sox rightfielder "The Big Tilde" had one of the all-time greatest seasons in Tiger history in 2007. He won the AL batting title with a .363 average, hit 28 home runs, and drove in 138 runs. Oh yeah, and he had 54 doubles. And his OBP was .434. With all the additional help he has in the lineup this year, if he even approaches those numbers, the Tigers will be hoisting the World Series Trophy in October. Not only that, but he has some sweet hair - harkens back to big Bake McBride size fros protruding from under the batting helmets.

Fun Fact: Has a son named Magglio Jr. and a daughter named Maggliana. Wife's name is Dagly. Two Magglios, one Maggliana, and a Dagly. Wow.

Gary Sheffield (DH) - "Meanest Man"
If it weren't for your talking I hear on the street
I'd be the orneriest man that you ever did meet

My feelings about Sheffield have been stated previously in the blog. He's a dick. But he can really hit the baseball. If he stays relatively healthy (120 games or more), he should have a typically productive season - 25 HRs, 80 RBI, .300 avg. However, he's 39 years old, and he's had some nagging injuries the last couple years. This has the potential to be the weak link in the lineup if Sheff can't stay healthy.

Fun Fact: Likes media attention.

Carlos Guillen (1B) - "That's Not The Issue"
You've got a problem, I think you know
I'll tell you mine before you go
You've been thinking about somebody new
That's not the issue

Guillen is switching positions this year. He was a shortstop (worst fielding pct. of all major league SS) and thankfully he's moving across the diamond to first base. He has played the position quite a bit in the last couple years - due to some injuries, and the fact that Sean Casey, by all acounts a swell guy, did not have much power. First base is a position where a team typically expects a bit of power, which Guillen can definitely provide. he's a steady 20 HR, 90 RBI player, and that should do just fine. While he's no Sean Casey in the field yet, he has the potential to be very good defensively (1 error in 44 career games at first). Due to the new high quality defense on the left side of the infield, first base defense should not be a major issue.

Fun Fact: In 2006, Guillén became the first player in modern Major League history to raise his average for six consecutive seasons, batting .320.

Edgar Renteria (SS) - "A Shot In The Arm"
Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm

The acquisition of Renteria allowed the Tigers to move Carlos Guillen and his 24 errors and limited range over to first base. Renteria made just 11 errors last year and won the NL gold glove for shortstops. In addition, Renteria was no slouch at the plate, with a .332 average. He and Polanco are both very good options to hit second, so Leyland may have both of them there at various times this season. This acquisition should be a real shot in the arm for both the offense and defense.

Fun Fact: Renteria is one of only three players to be the last hitter of two World Series, having won the 1997 Series with a walk-off RBI single and ended the 2004 World Series with a groundout to the pitcher

Ivan Rodriquez (C) - "Pot Kettle Black"
I myself have found a real rival in myself
I am hoping for a re-arrival of my health

I think Pudge would agree if I said that last year was a bit of a down year for him. Hopefully it was just that, and not the start of a steady decline. He's getting old (he's 36), and he's caught a lot of games. But he's still very good defensively (4 straight gold gloves), and he's capable of getting hot at the plate for long stretches. His experience is valuable for the young pitching staff. He'll still be tough to steal on, especially since the starting staff has three lefties and Verlander, who has one of the best pickoff moves in baseball. At this point in his career, if he can play 125 games and hit .280/15/75, the team would be very satisfied.

Fun Fact: Made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers on the same day he was married (June 20, 1991).

Jacque Jones (LF) - "Misunderstood"
But you're so misunderstood
You're so misunderstood

Jacque Jones is a mystery to me. The Tigers acquired Jones this offseason to play leftfield. He appears to have some power - 13 or more homeruns in 7 of his 8 full ML seasons. However, in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field last year, he managed just five. He doesn't have much speed - 13 SB is his best season. His career average is .280. Meh. He doesn't walk much, so his OBP is not real good (.329 career OBP). He strikes out a lot. He doesn't appear to be all that good defensively and doesn't have a great arm. Am I missing something? He'll start as the regular leftfielder, but if he doesn't produce, Marcus Thames, Ryan Raburn, or even Brandon Inge could get some playing time in left.

Fun Fact: The only man named Jacque to ever play for the Tigers (this may or may not be true, but I feel safe in asserting this - any evidence to the contrary is welcome)

Justin Verlander (RHP) - "Summerteeth"
Like a cloud his fingers explode

Verlander is a stud. He pitched his first major league no-hitter last year. In two full seasons, he's won 35 games. His K/BB ratio is almost 3, and improved from his rookie year. He's a bonafide ace. I think 20 wins is not out of the question for Verlander. With the potent offense, he should have no trouble going deep into games with good sized leads. He's only 25 years old, so he should be winning games for the Tigers for many years to come.

Fun Fact: In Verlander's no-hitter last year, only three of 30 hitters managed to hit a ball to the outfield. He also struck out 12.

Jeremy Bonderman (RHP) - "Should Have Been In Love"
Your life's been stinking, your heart's been sinking,
And you're too busy thinking to stop
You blink and you're blue

Despite the fact that this will be his sixth major league season, Bonderman is only 25. Bonderman did not have a good year in 2007. He still managed to win 11 games, but his ERA was over 5. Even with a high-octane lineup, that's not good enough from your number 2 starter. If he can get his ERA down, he has the potential to win 20 games. He's a workhorse, but had lots of first inning trouble in 2007. He has already proven himself to be a money pitcher in the postseason.

Fun Fact: Was the only high school underclassman to be drafted by a MLB team (he was a junior), the A's in 2001.

Dontrelle Willis (LHP) - "Monday"
Monday, I'm all right, get me out of FLA

Willis was acquired in the same trade that brought Cabrera to the Tigers. He has been in a bit of a decline the last couple years, but the Tigers are hoping that a change of scenery will do him some good. The AL might take some time to get used to his high leg kick, but that should only take him thru the first couple months. He has been a 20-game winner before (2005), and he has pitched over 200 innings in each of the last three years. However, his trends over the last three years are not good: strikeouts, down; walks, up; HR allowed, up; ERA, up. Hopefully the Tigers' staff can get him back on the right track.

Fun Fact: In 2005, became the third player in modern baseball history to win 20 games and collect 20 hits in the same season.

Nate Robertson (LHP) - "Unwelcome Guest"
I treat horses good
And I'm friendly to strangers
I ride and your running
Makes my guns talk the best

Nate is the quiet guy on the staff. Verlander throws a no hitter. Bonderman throws 95 mph heat. Willis has won 20 and has the unorthodox delivery. Rogers shoves cameramen. Nate just goes out and pitches. He's made at least thirty starts in each of the last four years. He's probably good for nearly 200 innings and double digit wins. He lets his results do the talking for him. What do those results say? Steady, decent lefty who tends to give up a lot of HRs and doesn't strike out a lot of guys.

Fun Fact: In a rare coincidence, Robertson logged the exact same number of innings pitched in back-to-back seasons, with 196.2 in both 2004 and 2005.

Kenny Rogers (LHP) - "One By One"
One by one my hair is turning gray
One by one my dreams are fading fast away

Good old Kenny Rogers is still at it. He's the only guy on the team that's older than me. He's 43 (born in 1964). He's the quintessential "crafty lefthander" much like Frank Tanana was in his days as a Tiger. Rogers was limited to only 11 starts due to an injury last year, but he reached at least 13 wins in the previous five seasons. He doesn't really strike anyone out anymore, so he has to rely a good defense to help him out. Kenny is this year's wild card in the rotation. He could make 34 starts, or he could break a hip and miss the majority of the season.

Fun Fact: Knows when to hold them, and also knows when to fold them. He is well aware that you never ever count your money when you are sitting at the table. There will in fact be time for counting when the dealing is done.

Todd Jones (CL) - "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
I am trying to break your heart
I am trying to break your heart
But still I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easy
I am trying to break your heart

What can you say about Jones? Due to another freak injury to Joel Zumaya (2006, guitar hero; 2007, moving boxes for wildfire), the Tigers enter the season with Todd Jones as their closer again. Jones is quite unusual for a closer - he doesn't strike anybody out (33 K in 61 IP). Most closers are fireballers. For example, the Angels Francisco Rodriguez had 90 K in 67 innings. Some closers make you want to watch the ninth inning to see how silly they can make the hitters look flailing at their unhittable 99 MPH fastballs. When Todd Jones enters the game, I tend to cover my eyes or change the channel. He does still have a nice badass porn-stache/biker-stache.

Fun Fact: On September 27, 1999, Jones threw the last official pitch at Tiger Stadium, striking out Carlos Beltran as the Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals 8-2.

Bullpen - "Why Would You Wanna Live"
It's all happened here before.
I know you've seen it too

This is the biggest question mark on the team. The bullpen, including closer Jones, could potentially be a disaster. If Leyland can coax good seasons out of the likes of Jason Grilli, Yorman Bazardo, Zach Minor, and Bobby Seay, his credentials as a hall-of-fame manager are further burnished.

Jim Leyland - "Box Full of Letters"
Wish I had a lotta answers,
'Cause that's the way it should be
For all these questions,
Being directed at me

Jim Leyland has enjoyed quite a career renassiance after coming out of retirement to manage the Tigers. He is very good at what he does, and Dombrowski has assembled a great team for him to manage this year. The only way the Tigers don't win the AL Central this year is if they have a rash of injuries. They have enough guns to survive an off-year from a couple players, but if they lose multiple players for significant time, they're in trouble - just like almost every major league team.

Fun Fact: Once, when he was being interviewed by ESPN, he was asked about his well-publicized tendency to smoke cigarettes in the dugout. Leyland paused for a moment, put his head down and delivered the obligatory platitudes about how bad smoking is for you, how children should avoid smoking, how he knows it's unhealthy. Then he looked directly into the camera, his eyes very wide, and said, "Still. Smokers out there, you know what I'm talking about. That moment, after you've had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale ... that's about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic." I love it.

Bless You Boys!


Taxman said...

outstanding preview assman - nice work on the wilco songs matching up with the Tigers...i have not been this excited about a baseball season since the mid 80s Sparky teams. The offense should be ridiculous - literally capable of breaking historic records. If this team played in Fenway or Wrigley instead of the spacious Comerica, you'd have to think they'd score more than 1000 runs. Even now, look at that lineup;
Granderson, Polanco, Maggs, Cabrera, Sheff, Guillen, Renteria, Jones, Pudge....not only are there power guys but everyone of those guys are capable of hitting over .300 - many of them capable of hitting .330 or better. You have to like the rotation but the 'pen is cause for concern. Leyland has talked about asking his starters to go a little longer - pitch 7 or 7 plus innings. Why not? Pitchers did it all the time in the good old days - 4 of the starters are in their 20s - they should be able to do it and protect that bullpen until someone emerges.

The Tigers in the top 5 payrolls in baseball? Thank you Mike Ilitch for stepping up - here's hoping the players can reward the owner and the long suffering fans.

Go Tigers! (and go Wilco too)

Assman said...

You think you're excited? I'll betcha Theo has a 24-hour woody. The only potential weak spot in the lineup is left field. And when I say "weak" I mean only a .280 average. I wish the season were starting today - "I Can't Stand It."

Brakeman said...

I can get two seats behind home plate from a buddy of mine who handles our 401k plan. He has a full season package. Let me know if you guys want to come in for a game.