Monday, October 02, 2006

Oh Good God

Well, I guess I should start by congratulating the Minnesota Twins for winning the American League Central. They tried pretty hard to gift wrap it for the Tigers, but the Tigers returned it like it was a garden gnome. Second, after dogging on Todd Jones so much this season for not being able to throw more than one inning, I’d like to congratulate him on doing such a good job yesterday. He seemed to be the only pitcher yesterday who could get the mighty Royals out consistently. Finally, I’d like to congratulate the Tigers again for making the playoffs for the first time since 1987. My prediction at the beginning of the season was that they would have a shot at .500 going into the final series of the season, and then they would break my heart. I guess you can just replace “.500” with “the division”. That’s all I’m going to say about this weekend because if I start talking about Neifi Perez leading off the last inning or the Tigers blowing leads of 5-0 on Friday and 6-0 on Sunday, I will go crazy.

The important thing now is to focus on beating the Yankees. Every year, it seems like everybody says it won't be done, but somebody has done it every year since 2000. The Tigers just need to figure out how to be that team in 2006. The series starts tomorrow, and the Game 1 starters will be Chien-Ming Wang and Nate Robertson. In Game 2, Mike Mussina will face off against Justin Verlander. Rogers will start for the Tigers in Game 3, but the Yankees' starter will depend on how Randy Johnson's herniated disc in his back is feeling. I fretted about the Yankee lineup last week before shrugging my shoulders and saying they’re not our problem yet. Well, they’re the Tigers’ problem now and here’s what they can fire at you:

1. Damon CF
2. Jeter SS
3. Abreu RF
4. Giambi DH
5. Rodriguez 3B
6. Matsui LF
7. Sheffield 1B
8. Posada C
9. Cano 2B

So, you know, they’re no Kansas City Royals, but they can plate some runs just the same.

So there’s the bad news. The Tigers totally backed into the playoffs. They have to play the $200 million Yankees as a result, and if they’re able to win, they’ll probably have to win a series against the Twins when the Twins will have home field advantage. (That’s the less mentioned little nugget that is a result of this weekend.) Where’s the good news?

Well, if you’re going to beat a team, you have a better shot in a short series than you do in a long one. That is a fact. So, if you’re somebody who assumed the Yankees were going to beat the Twins if they played in the first round, the Tigers are catching a bit of a break by drawing the Yankees in the first round rather than the second because it’s clearly easier to beat them three times than four.

You want more good news than that, you say? Well, how about this? The good people at Baseball Prospectus did a study of what it is that seems to get it done in the playoffs, and they came up with three key ingredients. The first was a power pitching staff that strikes batters out. The Tigers don’t really have that, but they did strike out more batters than the Yankees this season. The second ingredient was a good closer. We have Todd Jones; they have Mariano Rivera. Um…The third ingredient was a good defense. Whew, two out of three for the Tigers, because the Tigers converted balls in play into outs better than any team in the American League this season. At least they had before this past weekend. I haven’t checked the final standings on that particular category and the 342 hits they gave up to the Royals over the weekend may have hurt them. So, if BP has it right, the Tigers may actually be able to hang this week. Actually, BP did a story talking about those three ingredients and evaluated which teams they were good news for, but it was a subscription article and I haven’t shelled out the dough required to read their premium content stories. It’s too bad my birthday isn’t coming up soon. Oh wait…

So, good reader, that’s all I have for you this morning. I’m actually feeling much better this morning about things than I was yesterday, and I’m pretty sure I will continue to feel better as 7:35 approaches tomorrow. That’s because the shock, dismay and anxiety that resulted from watching the Tigers fail to win one of their final five games will be almost fully converted into hope that they can win three of the next five.

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