Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Timid Tigers, Animal Bannister, and Showboat Gomes
You can’t win a pennant (or a division title) in April, but you can come awfully close to losing one if you’re not careful. That’s the predicament the Tigers find themselves in, having lost their first six games of the season despite being cast as pre-season co-favorites in the American League Central.
What has been Detroit’s undoing? Well, just about everything. We knew the bullpen would be questionable because of first-half injuries to Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, but the Tigers’ problems extend well beyond the identity of the set-up corps to Todd Jones. With arguably the most talented lineup from top to bottom in the league, the Tigers were supposed to make a run at 1,000 runs this summer. Well, that’s not going to happen. Injuries to Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield have shackled the offense, which has shown a disturbing tendency to ground into double plays (ten in the first six games, including five on Sunday night). Without Granderson, most of the Tigers’ speed is gone, making them more susceptible to rally-ending twin killings. The team’s defense, particularly in center field (where Brandon Inge is no Granderson) and the left side of the infield (where the offensive-minded Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria reside), is shaky. And even the top of the rotation, in the form of Cy Young contender Justin Verlander, has bombed, with Verlander looking more like Jose Lima and Felipe Lira, vintage 1996, in the Sunday night game against the White Sox.
No matter how talented a team might be, no one wants to open the first week of the season without a win. Certainly not the Tigers, who reside in the same division as the equally regarded Indians and two improved teams in Chicago and Kansas City. None of this is meant to indicate that the Tigers are done–they’re only four games out in the Central–but the depth of the division and the difficulty of the schedule will not give the Tigers much of a buffer. If the Tigers do not turn their situation around within the next two weeks, they will find themselves having to play catch-up in a deep division, while having to overcome a shaky bullpen, a thin starting rotation, and constant reminders of high pre-season expectations.
It’s hard to believe, but the Tigers are already facing a critical watershed to their season. The 162-game schedule may be a long one, but it’s not long enough for a team to simply sleepwalk through the first month of the season…
Observers continue to be surprised by the success of Kansas City’s Brian “The Animal” Bannister, largely because of his lack of velocity and a general paucity of strikeouts. But should we really be surprised by Bannister’s continuing mastery of American League hitters, especially after his dismantling of the Tigers in his 2008 debut? Bannister owns a terrific curveball, throws strikes with regularity, and mixes his pitches with the kind of artistry that one would expect from the son of a former major league pitcher (his father is former Mariners and White Sox lefty Floyd Bannister). Those three strengths put the younger Bannister three steps ahead of many major league pitchers who throw 95 miles per hour but have no other discernible weapon in retiring opposing hitters…
Jonny Gomes is fast gaining a reputation as a hothead who talks too much and thinks too little. He only added to that reputation on Saturday afternoon, when he twice failed to run hard on long drives to the outfield. (Who does he think he is, Manny Ramirez?) In the first incident, Gomes assumed that a drive to right field would result in a home run, so he lollygagged his way to first base. And then, halfway between first and second base, Gomes realized that the ball was in play; Bobby Abreu nailed him at second base on what should have been an easy double for Gomes. One would have thought Gomes would learn from the experience, but later in the game, he once again went into a home run trot, this time on a deep drive to left field. Luckily for Gomes, the ball cleared the fence for a home run. I can only hope that Rays manager Joe Maddon said something to Gomes after one–if not both–of those at-bats… Of course, now I’ll have to hear criticism from some Internet hotshot for being an old-fashioned curmudgeon, fuddy-duddy, or worse. (Is there anything worse than being called a fuddy duddy?) God forbid that we get upset when players lazily run into outs on the basepaths because they’re too busy posing for alleged home runs.