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June 26, 2013

What You Need to Know

Meet the Detroit Tigerrors

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Coming off of a series in which they took three of four from the Red Sox, two-plus weeks removed from a sweep of the second-place Indians, and with a 3 ½-game cushion over the sliding Tribe in the Central, the Tigers could afford a night to forget. And, boy, did they have one on Tuesday.

The first two innings of the wild, 14-8 Angels victory passed uneventfully, offering no indication of the madness to come. Mike Trout drove in J.B. Shuck with an RBI single in the top of the third, but there was nothing odd about Mike Trout driving in a run. Even less odd: Miguel Cabrera quickly countering that knock from his chief rival in the 2012 Most Valuable Player race with a two-run blast, his 21st of the season, to put the Tigers ahead after three. Hank Conger made amends for a throwing error—which was rendered irrelevant by Cabrera’s homer—with a run-scoring hit in the top of the fourth, and the game went to the fifth knotted at 2-2.

That’s when all hell broke loose for Rick Porcello and the Tigers.

Trout flied out to Torii Hunter to begin the inning, but after that, the Angels sent 10 hitters to the plate without making an unproductive out. Albert Pujols doubled. Mark Trumbo singled. Howie Kendrick singled. Josh Hamilton singled—and took second on a throwing error by Hunter (a two-hopper that catcher Bryan Holaday should have handled at the plate). Porcello intentionally walked Alberto Callaspo, and that was it for the right-hander, whose ERA has climbed from 4.37 to 5.27 as a result of consecutive clunkers.

Darin Downs relieved Porcello and fared no better. Conger drew a bases-loaded walk. Erick Aybar chipped in a sacrifice fly that marked the second out of the inning but brought home another run. Shuck singled. Trout singled. Pujols singled. And that was it for Downs.

Evan Reed entered, and his mop-up work went about as well as Downs’ cleaning efforts. Before Trumbo could end the disastrous inning with a ground out, Reed threw away a pickoff attempt, allowing Trout to cross the plate with the Angels’ eighth run in the frame. Reed later failed to touch the bag after catching a throw from Prince Fielder while covering first in the top of the sixth—but that blunder, unlike the others, did not come back to haunt the home team.

In the top of the seventh, though, Holaday got in on the throwing-the-ball-all-over-the-place party. Aybar, the leadoff man, walked and stole second, and then kept on running to third after Holaday misfired on his throw down. That enabled Shuck to bring Aybar home with a sacrifice fly, partially countering the Tigers’ three-spot in the bottom of the fifth.

And the Tigers weren’t done helping the Angels light up the scoreboard yet.

Trumbo led off the top of the eighth with a grounder to Cabrera and went 180 feet on a two-base throwing error by the portly third baseman. Hamilton walked. Callaspo singled. And that was it for Reed.

But Luke Putkonen picked up where he left off. Aybar singled. Shuck singled. And Cabrera committed another throwing error—which, thankfully, proved harmless when Pujols grounded out to second to halt the rally.

The Tigers headed into the home half of the ninth with fewer runs scored than errors committed: five of the former and six of the latter. And while they escaped that bit of embarrassment with their second three-spot of the day, it was far too little, far too late.

Detroit’s six errors represented its worst defensive showing, from a catching and throwing standpoint, since September 11, 1982, when the Tigers lost, 13-3, to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. And they did not help the club’s defensive efficiency—the third-worst in the league heading into Tuesday’s nightmare—which came under question when the addition of Prince Fielder moved Cabrera to third base before the start of the 2012 season.

Porcello’s recent struggles, and those of Downs and the other relievers, are of greater concern going forward than the airmailed and bounced tosses. Manager Jim Leyland, always a straight shooter, ragged on the “miserable weather” at Comerica Park before encouraging everyone to “just turn the page.”

A double vodka or scotch should suffice. And Leyland needed one anyway, to keep pace with Machado, who on Tuesday notched his league-leading 35th.

Matchup of the Day
If the Giants are to dodge a sweep at Dodger Stadium this evening, they will likely need Tim Lincecum to outduel Clayton Kershaw, a task that many of San Francisco’s starters have found to be impossible. Kershaw tossed a complete-game shutout on Opening Day in Chavez Ravine and broke a scoreless tie in that contest with an eighth-inning solo homer off of George Kontos. He took a no-decision on May 3 at AT&T Park, but held the Giants to just one run over seven innings in a game in which a walk-off homer by Buster Posey was the difference.

One mistake from Lincecum could continue the Giants’ recent tailspin, spurred by an erratic rotation and a leaky bullpen, both of which contributed to San Francisco’s 1-3 weekend showing against the Marlins. Fortunately for the Giants, Lincecum has been able, in the past, to quiet the potent bat of Adrian Gonzalez, who leads the Dodgers with 10 home runs and has authored a .333/.390/.514 triple-slash line in 39 home games this year.

The 31-year-old Gonzalez is just 8-for-44 (.182 average) lifetime against Lincecum with four walks, 16 strikeouts, not a single extra-base hit, and only one RBI in 48 plate appearances. That’s good for a 432 OPS, the lowest mark assembled off of the University of Washington product among all hitters that have locked horns with him at least 40 times.

In Gonzalez’s defense, most of those plate appearances came when Lincecum was dialing his fastball up to the mid-90s and contending for Cy Young Awards, rather than dabbling in the 90-92 mph range and sporting a 4.52 ERA. But Gonzalez went 0-for-5 in their meetings last summer and earlier this season, hitting five ground balls, four of which became outs and one of which was booted. Two of his four career walks also came in those meetings.

Gonzalez has taken home 41 hat tricks, and Lincecum has been responsible for four of them, most recently on August 15, 2010, when the first baseman was a member of the Padres, who were then jockeying with the Giants for the National League West title. All three of the punchouts that day came on the splitter, Lincecum’s preferred put-away offering—one of them in the strike zone and two (one, two) well placed just outside of it.

Lincecum’s approach to Gonzalez has not differed markedly from his approach to left-handed hitters as a whole, but Gonzalez has been felled, in part, by his inability to handle down-and-away splitters. The right-hander has also often tried to go up and in with his fastball, another soft spot in the swing of a hitter who thrives when he is able to extend his hands.

If Lincecum can continue to hit those targets this evening, it could be another long night for Gonzalez, who is likely to bat third in Don Mattingly’s order, directly behind rookie phenom Yasiel Puig. But Lincecum has made a plethora of location miscues this season, often with runners already on base—as evidenced by his 535 OPS allowed with the bases empty and 732 clip otherwise—and Gonzalez is too talented a hitter to not eventually capitalize on one (10:10 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Elbow tightness plagued Pirates starter Jeanmar Gomez in his most recent outing, a one-inning, four-run drubbing at the hands of the Reds, which preceded a 23-day stint on the disabled list. Now, the 25-year-old sinkerballer is ready to return, and he’ll do so in a duel with Felix Hernandez at Safeco Field. Gomez has thus far amassed a 3.07 ERA—it stood at 2.30 before the aforementioned clunker—despite walking 16 batters and striking out only 23 over 44 innings of work. Some regression is likely in store, because the last pitcher to amass a sub-3.50 ERA while whiffing fewer than five batters per nine innings and working chiefly in the rotation was Kevin Tapani, who did it for the Twins way back in 1991 (3:40 p.m. ET).
  • After fanning 11 and walking none, but still taking a loss in his first big-league start of the season, Roy Oswalt will attempt to redeem himself in his second: a date with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The 35-year-old right-hander flashed impressive velocity in his 2013 debut, touching the mid-90s with his fastball throughout the five-inning, four-run outing at Nationals Park, and the next step will be showing that he can sustain it from game to game. Oswalt gave up four runs in 1 1/3 innings in a relief appearance at Fenway Park last August as a member of the Rangers. This afternoon’s tilt will mark his first-ever start against the Red Sox, who are set to counter with John Lackey (4:05 p.m. ET).
  • Shaun Marcum is on the verge of becoming the first Mets pitcher to lose 10 consecutive decisions since Mike Stanton in 2003-2004. And Stanton did all of that losing as a reliever. The last Met to suffer 10 losses between wins while serving primarily as a starter—the role in which Marcum has been dealt eight of his nine defeats—was Anthony Young, way back in 1992-1993. The 31-year-old has permitted at least five runs in each of his last two starts, and he’ll almost certainly need to do better in tonight’s matchup with the White Sox to avoid another “L” (8:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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