Posted by Bob Biscigliano in Detroit Tigers, Fu-Te Ni, Gerald Laird, I was going to list a lot of other players but blogger wont let me, Jim Leyland
Spring Training is in the air. The aroma of sticky pine tar on fresh maple lumber; shiny white pearls blurred as they fly through the air; that distinct leather popping noise, akin to the sound of fresh kernels popping in the microwave. It's a smile on just about every single player, joking and happy to be on the diamond with their teammates again.
Jim Leyland barking out instructions in between smoke breaks. Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge clowning around. Zumaya talking about his guitar hero notes streak. Rick Porcello getting calculus help from the ever-so-wise Gary Sheffield. It's a beautiful time of the year where everyone can be lax and cool. It's effing Tigers Spring baseball!
Today, the Tags got to business, however and kicked off their Spring Training season against the Atlanta Braves. With both teams predominantly starting their projected opening day lineups, Verlander took the bump against former-Tiger Jair Jurjens.
The Tigers' bats were hot to start the game, with two hits and a run in the first inning. They managed to produce four more runs the rest of the game en route to a exciting 5-4 victory. The winning run came in the bottom of the 8th off an RBI single by Ramon Santiago, scoring Cale Iorg. (Apparently, this kid is legit at SS and had we not signed Everett, or anyone else for that matter, he could have been our Opening Day SS)
I felt like there were only two real hiccups today for the Tigers. The big one was Brandon Lyon. He let an error get inside his dome in the 5th inning and wound up giving three "box score unearned" runs. By that I mean, they were pretty much the result of Lyon, but because of the metrics of baseball they do not appear that way in the box score. Anytime you come in and throw an inning and give up two hits and walk a guy, that was a poor outing (unless, of course, you're Todd Jones and you still somehow pick up the save). Lyon doesn't have the heart of Todd Jones yet to be going and acting so cocky. (Brandon's error could also probably be mentioned, but I'd rather pick on the new guy).
The second disconcerting thing about this game was Justin Verlander (don't freak out- it's just a minor hiccup). I was a little thrown off by the two walks that show up in the box score next to his name. In Spring Training you're going to have your guys who struggle to get the rust off or in Verlander's case, who are trying to change the speed of their delivery a little bit. Personally though, I'd rather see a guy give up a few hits than pinch the zone and walk guys in Spring Training. I know pitching coach, Rick Knapp would too, considering he's all about pitchers throwing strikes. Not a big deal, but I will admit I was a little disappointed. (Notice the Tigers walked 3 guys the entire game, and all three came from Lyon and Verlander. Maybe I'm on to something. Maybe I've been hanging out with Michael Phelps too much. Who knows?)
The mega-positives were really promising Tiger debuts from Gerald Laird (triple and a double) and Fu-Te Ni (picked up the win after working the 8th--Leyland said he was "tickled for him"). I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of numbers Laird can put up this year being in the lineup pretty much everyday and hitting behind the type of guys he will be. I really think he's going to have a heck of a year.
In all, the Tigers have a lot of reasons to feel confident going into this season. For one, they are a whole lot healthier than they were last year (punch Woody Woodpecker in the face for luck). Their lineup is going to produce runs, it's just a matter of whether the pitchers perform as well as they might indicate they would on paper. Everyone thinks the starting rotation is full of bums, but it's no slouch (the number five might be a former All-Star! Don't forget that). The bullpen could be anywhere from suspect to one of the best in the league if everyone is healthy and performs like they have in recent years. What will also help the pitching is that the Tags have shored up their defense with the acquisitions of Laird, Everett and repositioning Inge back to third. From the dugout, aside from Knapp, Leyland is a year older, wiser, and grumpier (more prone not to take crap from anyone effing up).
Let's be serious people; this team is really no different than the team we had last year. The only guys missing from last year's team are decrepit Pudge and Kenny Rogers, roller coaster Jones (Lyon might be his twin?), and Edgar "I can't hit in the American League" Renteria (good! Everett can't either!). So why not assume this team can't be just as good as EXPERT analysts were saying in 2008 Spring Training?
But that's fine. Flying under the radar is exactly how I like it. As a result, this Tigers team is going to surprise a lot of people. Even Barrack Obama was saying, completely taken out of context, "we will recover." It's going to happen, America.
Detroit Tigers in 2009.