The Time of What Ifs

It’s the best time of the year for the baseball fan. Every team has an equal chance during the Spring, and every fan is convinced their team will make it to the World Series this year!

In reality it is a time of “what ifs” and your teams chances will depend on how many of those “what ifs” get fulfilled. It is a much needed break from the “what ifs” that ended the season too soon for most baseball fans the previous year.

As a Tigers fan I have more “what ifs” than I can possibly describe to you. My one looming question from last season is “What if the Tigers won that all-important 163rd tie-breaking game versus the Minnesota Twins?” I have to believe the Tigers would have faired better than the Twins. That very nearly happened. “What if the missed hit-by-pitch call to Brandon Inge was called forcing in the tying run?” Wow.

But the past is in the past. This year my “what ifs” go something like this: “What if Justin Verlander wins that elusive 20th game and is in serious contention for the Cy Young?” “What if Magglio Ordonez has another monster year like he did in 2007?” “What if Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya come back completely healthy this year?” In the back of my mind there are lingering doubt “what ifs” such as “What if the Tigers did not trade everyone in Detroit’s favorite player, Curtis Granderson?” “What if Johnny Damon only produces a minimal amount of runs?”

In baseball I’ve come to expect the unexpected. No one expected the Tampa Bay Rays to go to the World Series in 2008 after being the laughing stock of baseball. No one expected the Detroit Tigers to go in 2006 after their terrible years in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. “What if the Washington Nationals have a great year for the first time in their history and make the playoffs?” What if.

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Operation Opening Day

Mario Impemba, the Play-by-Play Announcer for FOX Sports Detroit did a great service for the men and women of the US Armed Forces this year.  He is offering a free DVD to active-duty military members of the Detroit Tigers home opener 2009 versus the Texas Rangers.  The Tigers won the game 15 to 2 behind the stellar pitching of Armando Galarraga and a grand slam by Miguel Cabrera.

 

This week I got my DVD in the mail, and promptly watched it!  It was great to see the local Detroit broadcast, considering I live in the Seattle area now.  Additionally, I was out at sea when this game actually took place.  The DVD features the complete pre-game festivities and the post-game show.  During the game Tigers legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell is interviewed about his relationship with the late great George Kell.  Willie Horton was also interviewed on how sports affects the economically downtrodden Detroit.

 

I want to thank Mario for getting me a little piece of home while I am doing my time for the Navy.  I still think of Michigan as my home, even though I have only spent a matter of weeks there over the last few years.

 

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Why I Hate the Chicago White Sox

Wow – hate is a strong word.  It is something I avoid when talking about a ball club.  But in the last few years it has become apparent that the Chicago White Sox have drawn on themselves the anger of most fans in Major League Baseball.  It is not Ozzie Guillen – he is quite a character.  It is also not the players.  If anything, they are innocent victims.  It is not the city.  Chicago is a beautiful area with lots of cultural activities.

 

It is the fans.  The fans are utterly disrespectful to other teams’ players and fans.  My visit to US Cellular Field last year was interesting, but did not go well.  I quite often was told, “go back to Detroit” or “sit down” when the Tigers made a good play of which I was applauding.  The fans routinely chat “De-troit Sucks” even when the Sox are losing by a large margin.  The fans of the White Sox are insensibly harsh to Magglio Ordonez, who gave them many fine years of service.  Then there is the rivalry with Cubs, which doesn’t make sense to me.  Why do you hate another club from the same city, just because they are in another league?  Chicago dwellers are lucky to have a large enough fan base to support two clubs.

 

What really gets my goat is the TV announcers for the White Sox.  It is one thing to call your team the “good guys.”  That is understandable, since announcers are expected to be biased towards their team.  But recently they have gone to calling the opposing team the “bad guys.”  They additionally look for reasons why they lose games other than the truth.  For instance, the Tigers have won 3 games in the 5-game weekday series.  The announcers blamed umpire blown calls (which was not the case, by-the-way) instead of the fact they were simply overmatched.  The Sox are just not playing good baseball right now.  That is it.

 

The Tigers continue to dominate the American League Central, and they are well on their way to winning the division.  The key is the pitching, which has been exceptional.  I am somewhat concerned about the offense, which has been sputtering a bit.  But the Tigers can get it done with small ball, as they have demonstrated all year.

 

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Get Out the Brooms

The Detroit Tigers are in a habit of sweeping their opponents this year!  They have swept the Texas Rangers twice – just completing the sweep today in addition to the home opener in April.  Earlier this month the Tigers swept the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics, as well as being swept by the Minnesota Twins.  Speaking of sweeps, the Tigers have swept all Saturday and Sunday games so far this season.

I am going to the San Francisco Giants/Seattle Mariners game this Sunday in Seattle.

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Their Best Ball

The Detroit Tigers swept the Oakland Athletics in spectacular fashion over the weekend, putting Paws and the crew in first place of the American League Central while the rest of the division was scuffling.  The Tigers are still perfect for weekends this year, winning all of their Saturday and Sunday games.  Talk about “Workin’ for the Weekend…”

 

The A’s just were not playing their best ball.  They made numerous errors and Detroit took advantage of them, just as they should.  The home team is playing their best ball and looking mighty sharp doing it.

 

Armando Galarraga concerns me.  He has had a very hard time his last four starts.  I knew he was struggling, but I certainly didn’t expect him to last only 2/3 of an inning on Sunday.  Zach Miner did an admirable job, along with the offense; to back him up to not let him get another loss after giving up 5 runs in the first inning.  That was quite a comeback for the Tigers and I am proud of how our boys performed under duress.  Perhaps Jeremy Bonderman will take Armando’s spot in the rotation while last year’s Tiger of the Year figures things out.

 

The last three series has been sweeps.  The Tigers took them all from Cleveland, lost them all to Minnesota, and then got out the brooms again for Oakland.  It was nice to see a more consistent offense after the 14 – 1 victory over the A’s.  Typically in that situation last year, they would have struggled to get another run the whole series.

 

Things are really looking up for the Tigers!  Hopefully they can continue their winning ways against one of hottest teams in baseball this week, the Texas Rangers.

 

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A Grand Night Out

Wow!  What a grand night for the Detroit Tigers!  Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge both hit grand slams (home run with the bases loaded).  The Tigers bats have put on a show.  Maybe they are getting a little frustration out that was built in from the Minnesota series.

 

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Run Support for Jackson

It sure is nice to see Edwin Jackson getting his run support tonight.  After 5 innings, the Detroit Tigers have given him a command 8-run lead.  After dropping all 3 against Minnesota, it sure is a good feeling on Fireworks Night in the Motor City.  Let’s hope the crowd can avoid the raindrops.

 

The Tigers have been weekend happy this year.  So far they have won every single Saturday and Sunday game both on the road and at home.  If this holds true this weekend, it would mean a sweep of the Oakland A’s.  Go Tigers!

 

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Extra-Inning Emotional Affair

Dontrelle Willis came back to pitch for the Detroit Tigers this evening, going over four innings, walking two and giving up four runs.  It was not the prettiest of returns to the starting rotation, but it was not that bad when compared to last year’s stats.  The Minnesota Twins’ starter actually performed worse.  As it turns out, Willis would get a no-decision.  Dontrelle showed a lot of emotion, wearing it on his sleeve for all to see.  When he would get crucial outs, he would fist pump and yell encouragement to his relatively new teammates.  It was good to see, but it was not the end – not by a long shot.

 

Brandon Inge would homer for the ninth time this year to put the Tigers ahead.  But, like they have a habit of doing, the Twins came back again.  But Miguel Cabrera hit a monstrous 3-run home run to put the Tigers up again.  Jeff Larish also contributed with a long ball.

 

Manager Jim Leyland was ejected from the game after Paul Shriver, the home plate umpire for tonight, actually shoved Magglio Ordonez out of the batter’s box after he struck out.  Leyland aggressively defended his player and not unexpectedly paid the price.

 

The game went to extras tied at 9.  Curtis Granderson got a triple in the top of the 13th, and came home on a balk.  But the Twins won in it in the bottom half with a walk-off grand slam from Joe Crede.

 

Both teams played their hearts out.  The White Sox and Royals also lost, so this 5-hour heartbreaker didn’t hurt that much.

 

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Complete Game Shutout

Justin Verlander  pitched his most incredible game since his no-hitter in 2007 tonight, this time against Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.  Verlander pitched a complete game shutout for the Detroit Tigers, only allowing 2 hits.  Lee also pitched an exceptional game, but Clete Thomas  got an RBI when he hit an infield single to bring in Curtis Granderson on third.  The speed and good pitching did it again!

 

Granderson stole a home run from Grady Sizemore in the bottom of the ninth to save the game, when he reached over the wall and brought it back.

 

Verlander got his ERA down a bit from his elevated level due to his bad start, but his ERA for the last three games is under 1.  He gets only his second victory against Cleveland in Jacobs Field.  This was especially important, with the Tigers trying to keep up with the up-start Royals.

 

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Nicknames

The Detroit Tigers have been playing good this young season and I am pretty satisfied, although Edwin Jackson seems to be going through the Nate Robertson or Justin Verlander disease of throwing a great game – except for one inning.  Nate suffered enough that he is in the bullpen this year.  Verlander has recovered and is looking every bit of his 2006-2007 self.  Forget about last year; he is in high gear now.

 

There are a number of nicknames that Tigers fans apply to their favorite player.  The most common that I have seen usually end up with an “E” at the end – aka Grandy for Curtis Granderson  , Polly for Placido Polanco , Miggy or Cabby for Miguel Cabrera , Ingy for Brandon Inge  – and the list goes on and on…  It’s rather fun, and I love seeing the looks of fellow baseball fans when I yell out “Hit it out of here again Ingy!”  But I did read one comment today which the author seemed to resent “childish” nicknames.  OK, I have to admit, perhaps all those “E’s” go too far.  Something a little more creative may be in order.  “Snacks” can apply to any of the larger brethren, so perhaps Miggy could deal with it and become a slimmer Pudge.  Tigers TV color commentator Rod Allen likes to call backup catcher Dane Sardinha “Pineapple.”  After all, the dude is from Hawaii.  I have come to call Grandy “Granderslam” especially since he has been on a power trip.  What are your favorite players’ nicknames?

 

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