In what was probably one of the worst kept secrets of the off season, Max Scherzer was officially announced as the Cy Young Award winner in the American League on Wednesday.
There was very little intrigue in the vote, as Scherzer garnered 28 of the 30 first place votes. It was a magical season for Scherzer who did not lose his first game until July 13th against the Texas Rangers, and by that point, he had a 13-0 record and established himself as the leading candidate to win the award.
Scherzer would finish the season with 21 wins, but some were not impressed with the victory total based on his elevated run support throughout the season. Yet, if winning 21 games was easy, everyone would do it.
Scherzer posted plenty of solid secondary numbers this season as well. His WHIP of 0.97 was tops among A.L. starters and was the only one below 1.00. Scherzer also posted a WAR of 6.2 (Fangraphs formula), the best among league starters. His season should be defined by more that just the 21 wins.
Scherzer was quick to share the victory with his teammates and his pitching coach.
“I obviously had a great year,” he said. “But the reason why so many of those wins are attached to me is because of all my teammates. This is an award celebrated with them, as well. They played the great defense, they provided all the run support, and they helped me get to this point.”
Jeff Jones also deserves a lot of the credit in getting Scherzer to the point where repeating his delivery became second nature.
Jones refined Scherzer's curveball as well, and it became more than just a show me pitch. He also has a terrific ability to identify what makes each individual on his staff tick.
Last June, Scherzer brought a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 7th against the Rays at Tropicana Field. With two out and nobody on, Wil Myers singled to right field. Luke Scott followed with a double to right and the Tigers lead was just one run. Jones made the slow walk out to the mound to check in with his starter. The Tigers pitching coach typically delivers a calm, calculated message. Not this time.
He barked at Scherzer, "Do you have this (bleeping) guy?"
Scherzer snorted, "I've got this (bleeping) guy."
"Then let's go!"
End of conversation.
Scherzer then retired Jose Lobaton on a ground ball to first to end the rally and the Tigers would go on to record a big win over the Rays.
Jones knows that each member of his pitching staff has a different personality, but his experience has taught him which approach is best with each of those personalities. In other words, what works with Scherzer may not work with Justin Verlander.
The Tigers recently announced that Jones would be a part of new manager Brad Ausmus' staff in 2014. It's a move that will be welcomed by Scherzer and every other starter on the Tigers staff.
On Sunday when Brad Ausmus was announced as the Tigers new manager in a news conference at Comerica Park, he revealed that Gene Lamont would be retained as the club's bench coach.
Lamont will provide Ausmus with a veteran presence on the bench to help guide him through the transition from an off-filed position to life on the bench.
Today, it was announced the Jeff Jones will also remain with the club as the pithing coach. On Sunday, Ausmus was non committal when questioned about the pitching coach position, but in the end, Jones was the best possible choice for the Tigers.
It is easy to look at the Tigers staff and make the assumption that it is simply a push button group. Loaded with Cy Young talent throughout, the Tigers rotation posted some some very impressive numbers in 2013. The starters led the league in wins, ERA, quality starts and strikeouts.
Beyond the numbers though, Jones has a tremendous knack for handling each personality on his staff. As he told me last season, it takes time to learn how to challenge or massage each member of the staff. He has learned who he can challenge and who needs a pat on the back. It is a learning process that takes time. Time that Jones has already put in. Turning the staff over to another voice would have started the process all over again.
Bringing Jones back allows him to build on the equity he has established with the staff. Players respect him and his return will provide a steadying influence on a club that has a new voice at the top.
The Tigers introduced Brad Ausmus on Sunday.
For the last eights seasons, Tigers fans have been treated to four playoff appearances, three straight ALCS berths and two trips to the World Series.
For the last eight seasons, Jim Leyland was the manager.
While the core of Tigers roster should remain mostly the same next season, the feel of the clubhouse could be quite different.
Brad Ausmus was introduced as the new manager of the Tigers on Sunday, and while he doesn't bring much, if any, real managing experience with him, he does provided a new vision to an established clubhouse.
He also provides a resume that includes 18 seasons of playing experience which should provide an instant credibility.
"I understand the locker room dynamic," he said on Sunday. "I understand the modern day player's makeup."
Ausmus can make such a claim because he has played in the big leagues as recently as 2010. While the Tigers clubhouse features a variety of personalities, it is also a team that is established with veteran core players. The fact that Ausmus should able to closely relate to his clubhouse should assist in the transition.
One other way to mitigate his lack of managing experience is by retaining Gene Lamont as his bench coach. Lamont will provide Ausmus with a link to the current club and more importantly provide a former manager's point of view on the bench when the game inevitably speeds up.
The Tigers have committed at least the next three years to Ausmus with an option for a fourth year, but with the resources available here in Detroit, the hope is that the talent level will help smooth the transition for a long successful run.
Ausmus realizes the advantage a first-year manager enjoys with the ball club he will inherit.
"I'm well aware that you don't generally get dropped into an situation like I will be this coming season with a team like the Detroit Tigers have."
In other words, Ausmus is fully aware that the club he will skipper is far more talented than most clubs a first-year manager inherits. He does however possess the one skill that all successful managers have, and that is the ability to communicate with players. Over the years I have learned that toxic club houses are usually the result of a lack of communication.
"It's important to be honest with guys," he said. "If you're not, you can loose the clubhouse quickly."
So, was Ausmus the top candidate all along? Not necessarily.
"It really became quite clear for me, for us, that he would do an outstanding job for us," General Manager Dombrowski said. "It was probably not where I started, but it's where we ended, and I feel very good about that."
Ausmus is a great example of how a job can be won during the interview process. "Frankly, when we interviewed, we were taken aback at how impressive he was," Dombrowski said.
The Tigers have their new leader and a club that remains a favorite to reach the World Series in 2014. Hopefully Sunday was the start of a long and prosperous relationship.
This was supposed to be the season the Tigers were built to win it all.
The sting of a four game sweep at the hands of the Giants in the 2012 World Series served as a backdrop for an off season in which the Tigers re-tooled their offense with the addition of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez from a knee injury.
It was an offense that would finish first in the American League in average and second in runs scored. The Tigers also boasted a pitching staff that had the ability to shut down the best of offenses. The Tigers ERA of 3.61 was third best in the A.L. and they racked up a record 1428 strikeouts.
For most of the season, the Tigers were the favorite to win the World Series. The club overcame incredible expectations to win 93 games in the regular season.
After dispatching the Athletics in a rugged five game series in the ALDS, the Tigers faced the Red Sox for the A.L. Pennant.
What the Tigers staff did in the post season this year was remarkable. The Tigers struck out an amazing 130 batters in 11 post season games. The starting pitching good enough to get the Tigers to another World Series. In fact, at times it looked like the starters may never give up a run. The club posted the second lowest ERA and opponents batting average against among all playoff teams. Only the Cardinals were better in both categories.
Yet, in the end the offense failed them once again. The same offense that led the league in hitting. While the bullpen deserves its share of the blame, the Tigers couldn't get the job done with the bats in too many critical situations.
Jim Leyland would use a familiar phrase all too often this year during his press gatherings when his offense fell into a slumber.
"We have to hit fellas, it's as simple as that," he would say.
As it turns out, the post season proved that the defense, the bullpen and base running also needed a boost.
In my opinion though, the Tigers simply need more ways to score. They are a team built on power and that formula garnered them 93 regular season wins this year. Yet, when that power goes into a slump, the Tigers are left with few ways to score runs. We saw it in the World Series last year and we saw it in the post season again this year.
Going forward, the core will remain the same. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez are three of the best hitters in the American League. Their games won't change. There is not a whole lot of speed there. While Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter did a marvelous job of setting the table for the middle of the order, neither is a base stealer.
It's evident though that the Tigers have to find a way to become more versatile offensively. There are not too many spots in the lineup where speed can be injected.
It will be interesting to see how the offense will be affected when the new manager puts his fingerprints on the club.
What happened Tuesday night at Comerica Park is what the post season is all about. Defining moment after defining moment, and in the end, the Tigers picked themselves up off the floor and forced a Game 5 with an 8-6 win over the Oakland A's.
For a good portion of the day, it looked as if the sputtering Tigers offense would leave its fans wondering if the off season was knocking on the door. A's right hander Dan Straily no-hit the Tigers for the first four innings, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the 5th, it would take a bloop single from one of the strongest guys on the field to jump start the offense. Prince Fielder's looper to left was followed by a Victor Martinez single and Jhonny Peralta slammed a three run shot to left to tie the game. Suddenly the crowd was alive.
The reason for Peralta's return to the Tigers lineup the last two games is pretty clear. He can hit. Jim Leyland rolled the dice, hoping that Peralta's bat would compensate for his outfield defense. Although he was suspended for 50 games for violating major league baseball's drug program, The Tigers were willing to bring him back after serving his penance. Today, Tigers fans are happy they did.
Peralta's homer was the first of may defining moments on Tuesday.
With your back against the wall, you throw the book out the window. Leyland did just that when he brought in Max Scherzer in the seventh, despite Drew Smyly's availability, and two lefties leading off the 7th inning. Scherzer would give up a run, but after the Tigers reclaimed the lead, Scherzer came back out for the 8th inning.
What followed will be remembered for a long time. A walk, a double and an intentional walk loaded the bases with nobody out. Scherzer fell behind Josh Reddick 3-1 and it looked like the Tigers were on the brink. Scherzer would strike out Reddick, and after fanning Stephen Vogt and getting pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center, Comerica erupted again.
Scherzer stomped to the dugout and nearly dislocated five shoulders while high-fiving teammates on the bench.
So it's off to Oakland for a game 5 on Thursday night. It's not exactly how the Tigers expected the series to go, especially after Scherzer's dominating start in Game 1. Yet every year the post season teaches us that nothing ever goes as expected.
Max Scherzer was brilliant in Game 1
The third deck of the O.co Coliseum was opened for the first game of the 2013 ALDS. The noise and atmosphere was to be deafening.
Max Scherzer had other ideas. Scherzer smacked the A's offense around for seven innings and the Tigers offense set the tone with three first-inning runs against Bartolo Colon. Crowd silenced.
It wasn't until Yoenis Cespedes rocketed a two run homer in the 7th inning that the crowd had reason to make noise.
It was an impressive start to the series for a Tigers team that has heard all of the whispers about how much better this A's team was to be after the Tigers bounced them out of the post season last year. The A's are perceived as the deeper team with another year of experience after suffering a Game 5 loss to the Tigers in last season's ALDS.
Yet, it was the Tigers that showed plenty of moxie when things got tight late in last night's game. The Bullpen was lights out and the Tigers held on for the win. The Tigers have plenty of experience of their own. This version is battle tested, thanks to three straight playoff appearances. Their manager is the all time winningest skipper among actives.
It was a subtle move that seemed to go unnoticed last night, but Jim Leyland decided to elevate Alex Avila to the sixth spot in the lineup. The Tigers have received little production from the six hole since the Jhonny Peralta suspension and Avila got the call last night based on his strong numbers against Colon. Avila responded with two hits including a first inning RBI single which turned out to be the game winner.
It's the little things that often win games in the post season and it was Leyland's decision to start Scherzer in Game 1 despite Justin Verlander's dominating numbers against the A's, and the move of Avila to the six spot that proved to be the difference.
Jim Leyland has decided how he will attack the Oakland Athletics this weekend as the Tigers begin the ALDS against A's. Leyland has decided to go with Max Scherzer in the first game of the series, with Justin Verlander pitching in the second game.
Last weekend, I chatted with Leyland in his office about how tough of a decision he faced in setting up his pitching for the first round?
"What carries more weight," he asked. "The postseason last year or this season's numbers?"
Last year Verlander dominated the A's in the ALDS but the skipper never really considered starting JV in Game 1. He has pitched well in his last two starts, but in my opinion, the pick had to be Scherzer all along.
Still, Verlander provided an interesting option, considering that he beat the A's in Oakland earlier this season, allowing 1 run in 6 innings. His lifetime ERA against the A's is 2.48 in 15 career starts.
Leyland decided to go with his horse who has dominated from Day 1. Scherzer is the favorite to win the Cy Young Award this year and was the Tigers most consistent starter. He deserves to be the Tigers top starter as the post season begins.
This will allow Leyland to slot Anibal Sanchez into Game 3 at home where he was dominant this year. Sanchez was 8-3 with a 2.70 ERA at Comerica Park in 2013. He also had 110 strikeouts in a little over 93 innings.
Doug Fister, will pitch Game 4 if needed.
Back in March, I spoke with Tigers hitting Coach Lloyd McClendon about Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown exploits from 2012. McClendon thought that while Miggy won the award last season, his numbers were not that different than those from previous seasons. In other words, the Triple Crown often happens because of circumstance.
This season may be a prime example of that. While Cabrera's numbers are better than last year at this point, Chris Davis may prevent him from winning the title in back to back seasons. Does that diminish the historic pace that Cabrera has established this year? Not in the least.
Through 116 games in 2012, Cabrera was hitting .323-29-99, with an on base percentage of .386 and a slugging percentage of .579.
This season, his numbers are .360-40-120. His on base percentage is a lofty .452 and his slugging percentage is .689.
Yet, if Chris Davis doesn't slow down (he leads Cabrera by five home runs), and indications are that he might not, Cabrera would have to settle for his third consecutive batting title, while leading the league in RBI's in three of the last four years.
What separates Cabrera from Davis, and many other hitters for that fact, is consistency. Cabrera has put up similar numbers for a decade now. His statistics compare favorably to those of Albert Pujols through his first 10 seasons.
Does the triple Crown define Cabrera's remarkable season? No.
It would however place him in rare air if he were to accomplish something that has never been done before in the deep history of the game. Ted Williams never did it. Nor did Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson or Rogers Hornsby.
That in itself is worth Cabrera's weight in gold.
The 2013 season for Alex Avila has been a challenge to say the least. The former All Star has struggled to find the consistency he enjoyed in 2011.
Fans have become impatient with the Tigers backstop and understandably so. Avila's average has been under .200 for most of the season. He would show flashes of emerging from his season-long malaise, only to slump again.
Perhaps the latest flash of offense is finally a sign of things to come. Monday night in Cleveland, Avila was bumped up to 7th in Jim Leyland's lineup. The absence of Jhonny Peralta for the remainder of the season will burden the bottom third of the order. Someone needs to step up, and it appears Avila may be the guy.
In July, Avila took a step forward, hitting .269 with 19 RBI's, making it his most productive month of the season. Despite his low average, he has provided the Tigers with three of the club's most dramatic hits this season, all homers, all game winners.
While his ninth inning long ball to beat Houston in May and his grand slam against Stephen Strasburg on the last home stand were clutch, last night's three run shot off Chris Perez may have been his biggest.
"We got to their bullpen and put some good swings on the ball," Avila said after the game. "I got one."
Actually Alex, you've gotten three this year. I just proves that even in the throws of a frustrating season, baseball will always provide you with an opportunity to be a hero.
As the Tigers arrived in Cleveland tonight following a quick 30-Minute flight from Detroit, they were greeted by a familiar face in the lobby of the Marriott.
Jeremy Bonderman was waiting to renew acquaintances with the organization that first brought him to the big leagues.
The Tigers will purchase Bonderman's contract from Triple-A Toledo prior to tomorrow's contest against the Indians. Bonderman was in the major leagues this season with Seattle before he was designated for assignment after going 1-3 with a 4.93 ERA.
After signing with the Tigers, he allowed 0 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings with Toledo, all in relief. Bonderman will pitch in long relief with the Tigers. To make room for the right hander, Evan Reed was sent down.
Bonderman's lasting memory was his gem in Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS when he knocked the Yankees out of the post season with 8 1/3 innings of 2-run ball.