Why The Detroit Tigers Are An Early Surprise

ALSO: BASEBALL HAS GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

The same day Arizona centerfielder Tim Locastro went on the IL with pinky dislocated for foolishly sliding head-first, Atlanta superstar Ronald Acuna, Jr. injured his lower abdomen the same way . . .

Braves infielder Sean Kazmar Jr., now 36, played 1,068 games in the minors between major-league appearance . . .

Yadier Molina is the first player to catch 2,000 games for the same team . . .

The Yankees have won only one division titles since 2012 . . .

Giancarlo Stanton hit six homers in seven playoff games last year but has been an overpaid dud since the bell rang on the 2021 season.


Leading Off

Detroit Tigers: Early Season Review

By Joe Underhill

Baseball is an endurance sport. With the exception of the Covid-shortened 60-game season in 2020 (or a strike-shortened year), Major League Baseball has required over 140 games (an interesting article on how we got to 162 can be found here), to determine the regular-season champions and who would ultimately play in the World Series. While we are only on the first leg of the baseball marathon, it is a good time to take a look at the early surprises, disappointments and trends of the early season.

For the Detroit Tigers, this was supposed to be the year the team began being legitimately competitive on the field. While the Tigers did not go after the high-priced free agents, they did add some solid contributors who have had mixed results early in the season. The free-agent acquisitions like the Tigers offense can be described in one word: inconsistent.

As a team, the Tigers are hitting only .209 (27th in MLB) with an OPS of just .637 (30th in MLB). The Tigers are averaging just over 3.35 runs and striking out over 9.9 times per game.

Robbie Grossman has been solid as the primary lead-off hitter, drawing 13 walks on the young season and posting an OBP of .366. Unfortunately, he is only hitting .200 and there has been little power so far.

Power has not been the issue for Wilson Ramos who is currently tied for the AL lead in home runs (6), and played well enough behind the plate. Ramos is currently second on the Tigers in RBIs, OPS, and OPS+. On the pitching side, Jose Urena started the year roughly but has improved with each start. For Urena, the key to future success is tied to limiting his walk rate (6.8/9). Julio Teheran had a strong start but is now on the IL (60-day) along with Nomar Mazara (10-day), who seemed to just be finding his hitting rhythm when he went down with the injury.

The starting rotation has been an early bright spot, even with some inconsistency from the rookies (Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal) and Urena. Collectively the rotation has pitched to a 3.90 ERA with a WHIP of 1.25. With the mix of young pitchers, coupled with the return of Spencer Turnbull and the resurgence of Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer, the rotation looks to be the strength of the 2021 Tigers.

The season started promisingly for Miguel Cabrera with an opposite-field home run in the snowstorm of Tigers Opening Day. Cabrera is chasing history this season, and it was disappointing to see him go down with yet another left bicep injury.

It looks like Cabrera is close to being activated but his health will be something the Tigers and their fans will be monitoring closely. Another disappointment in the early going for the Tigers has to be the performance of their bullpen. The Tigers’ bullpen arms have put up an ERA of 6.56 in the early going while walking 39. There are a number of players in the bullpen who have been successful in their roles before, so there is hope they can improve.

The biggest surprise of the year has been the play of Rule-5 selection Akil Baddoo. While Baddoo has cooled off recently, he is still showing potential which makes him a very interesting component of the Tigers future.

When you draw up what a successful start to a career is, Baddoo’s opening series is pretty much the gold standard. Game one, pitch one, home run. Game two, grand slam. Game three, walk-off base-hit. Calling the start great is probably a major understatement. However, baseball is all about adjustments and Baddoo now has to adjust to how pitchers are attacking him. He showed a really strong understanding of the strike zone in spring training so the Tigers hope that will carry over into the majors and allow Baddoo to be a power/OBP outfielder.

There is still a lot of season left and the Tigers have shown they will be a competitive team that will compete. The rotation will keep them in games and as the season progresses, there will be a number of young position players who will start to make their debuts.

*stats through 4/21/2021

Joe Underhill is a diehard baseball fan and fan of the city of Detroit. Joe currently writes for www.tigstown.com. You can follow Joe on Twitter @TransplantedDet.


Cleaning Up

Baseball Has Good Guys And Bad Guys

By Dan Schlossberg

In any walk of life, there are good people and bad people. Baseball is no exception.

During my 52 years of covering the game, I’ve been extremely lucky to rub elbows with famous people and even befriend a bunch of them.

I’ve found that most people have good hearts and will treat others the way others treat them. I also understand, of course, that people in baseball are basically young, inexperienced, immature, and spoiled by the insane amounts of money they are paid. They are also hassled by fans who badger them for autographs and media members who repeatedly ask the same questions.

That being said, I was intrigued to learn during a lengthy telephone conversation that my long-time friend and colleague Kevin Barnes, a New Jersey transplant who now covers the Braves from his Atlanta home, actually has a a**holes list – a grouping of more than a dozen people who have rubbed him the wrong way at one time or another.

When Kevin asked me if I had a similar list, I started thinking about it. I didn’t have a list then, but I do know – since taking a two-hour drive home from Philly after watching your team held to one baserunner leaves plenty of time for musing.

As one who believes that people are quick to criticize but slow to praise, I have to preference my “bad guys” list with the other extreme – people who went out of their way to be nice.

That being said, here are the “good guys” I’ve encountered during my half-century in the game:

1. Jeff Torborg – A fellow Jersey guy, he starred at Rutgers, married a former “Miss New Jersey,” caught Sandy Koufax, survived numerous George Steinbrenner purges as a Yankees coach, and managed five major-league teams, including the Mets. Bright, sensitive, warm, and genuinely nice, he’s a deeply religious man who disdains vile language and has a terrific sense of humor. I am honored that he and his wife Suzie are my friends.

2. Dale Murphy – The National League’s version of Cal Ripken, Jr., he was dynamic, dependable, and capable on the field, winning consecutive MVP awards and dominating so much during the decade of the ‘80s (first in total bases, second in both home runs and runs batted in) that he deserves a Hall of Fame spot. A five-time Gold Glove outfielder after converting from catching, Murphy is a Mormon who doesn’t drink, smoke, or swear. He’s also the father of nine who has never forgotten his friends. In my office, I proudly display a picture of him posing with my daughter Samantha.

3. Steve Garvey – The only man who ever thanked me for interviewing him, I told him that I should be thanking him. He said, “You did your homework; most writers don’t.” No wonder this articulate, handsome, and soft-spoken man was called “The Senator.” Blessed with a benign personality and constant smile, this durable slugger did more than enough on the ballfield to merit a plaque in the Cooperstown gallery.

4. Gary Carter – Similar in personality to Garvey, he too was polite to fans and media, but was also good enough as a catcher and hitter to merit his well-deserved spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I appreciated him forwarding proceeds of his autographed picture sales to the Leukemia Society in honor of his mother.

5. Ron Blomberg – The first designated hitter has been a willing partner in a book, on several baseball theme cruises, and in other promotional ventures. Always happy and outgoing, he never met a salad bowl he didn’t like. Nor did he forget his loyalty to the Yankees, who once billed him as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle.” He’ll always be known as Designated Hebrew – a name he picked when the late Dick Schaap asked what it was like to be the first DH.

6. Art Shamsky – A hero of the 1969 Miracle Mets, he and Shamsky became good friends even before both were managers in the Israel Baseball League. Invariably articulate and polite, he has also joined me for baseball cruises and press club lunches at my invitation. He’s even been in my house.

7. Al Clark – An umpire everyone could love, he has a great memory and a loud voice, assets that proved useful tools when we collaborated on Called Out But Safe, his autobiography. Another Jersey guy, he grew up in suburban Trenton as the son of former Trenton Times sports editor Herb Clark, whom I knew when I worked for the AP from 1969-71. A lover of golf, animals, and baseball cruises, Al is both a great host and a great guest.

8. Milo Hamilton – The late, great broadcaster began his career in 1953 and earned his place in the “broadcast wing” of the Baseball Hall of Fame. His lifelong feud with Harry Caray, featured in our book Making Airwaves, sparked a newspaper war in Chicago and Houston. Milo came prepared, bringing briefcases stuffed with notes to all of our interviews. He loved restaurants so much that he often played maitre d’ in his favorite haunts. Milo not only broadcast Hank Aaron’s 715th home run but years later let me “do an inning” as his broadcast partner during an Astros exhibition game in Kissimmee. Watching Aaron was great but broadcasting a game was special.

9. Bobby Cox – Speaking of special, I will never forget sitting next to him, in a rocking chair on the porch of a Baseball Winter Meetings hotel, and talking politics for 45 minutes. Bobby also gave me a thrill by inviting me to jump onto his golf cart and accompany him from the dugout to the back fields at Disney spring training, where he obliged hordes of young autograph seekers. We had many conversations, about baseball, weather, and more, that led to his agreement to author the foreword to my book When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags Over Atlanta.

10. Ernie Harwell – Like Torborg, he was a man motivated by strong religious beliefs to be kind and polite to everyone he encountered. A writer who became a composer as well as a poetic broadcaster with a golden voice, Ernie was also a favorite on my baseball theme cruises, including one that also featured Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson, and Monte Irvin. The TV voice behind Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world,” Harwell had his best broadcast years in Detroit.

11. Stan Musial – Spending time with him on board ship showed me why he was Milo’s favorite player. Musial not only played the harmonica (“The Wabash Cannonball”) with the band but also did napkin tricks I never did figure out. But the personal highlight was going to the top deck of the American Queen riverboat and practicing for the kite-flying contest. Just Stan Musial and me. Amazing.

12. Cal Ripken, Jr. – While in pursuit of his streak for consecutive games, I arranged for an exclusive spring training interview by promising I would not ask about that chase. Ripken drove up to West Palm Beach, where his Orioles were scheduled to meet the Braves in an exhibition game, and gave me a solid 45 minutes in a visitors clubhouse that was otherwise empty. Later, when a cloudburst canceled the game, he went down the left-field line to sign autographs while a teammate held an umbrella to keep the paper dry. He also signed autographs at the end of the Hall of Fame jeep parade in Cooperstown. What a mensch!

13. Dusty Baker – During his rookie year as a player, I wrote the first magazine piece about him, suggesting Dusty as Aaron’s heir in Atlanta. He never forgot it, through his long playing and managing career. The second-oldest active manager, after Tony La Russa, Dusty is stuck with a team everybody hates because of the 2017 World Series sign-stealing scandal but he’s never lost his Mr. Nice Guy personality or Old School managing style. At 72, he’d like to land his first World Series ring as a manager.

Honorable Mention: Jim Bouton, Chip Caray, Tom Glavine, Jeff Idelson, Monte Irvin, Jay Johnstone, Jim Kaat, Clyde King, Tim Mead, Phil Niekro, Phil Rizzuto, John Smoltz, Don Sutton.

Tomorrow: the Jerk List

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and contributor to forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest. He is also the author of 38 baseball books. Contact Dan by e.mail at ballauthor@gmail.com.


Timeless Trivia

The Dodgers have three MVP winners and three Cy Young Award winners . . .

After surrendering their farm system for Blake Snell, San Diego received a slim return on investment, with the pitcher failing to reach six innings in any of his first three starts and unable to survive the first inning against the pathetic Pirates in Pittsburgh…

In 1996, the Padres swept the Dodgers on the last weekend to claim the NL West crown but went 0-6 in the playoffs – the same record posted by the wild-card Dodgers that year . . .

Sign of the times: the Rays and Rangers struck out 29 times in an 8½ inning game . . .

Atlanta really misses jack-of-all-trades Charlie Culberson, who played every position but catcher, proved his prowess as a pinch-hitter, and pitched well when asked . . .

Corbin Burnes of the Brewers just might give Jacob deGrom a run for the Cy Young Award.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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