Saturday, April 05, 2008

This Isn't Right

This past week, the first week of the regular baseball season, the Tigers were swept by the Royals.

The Tigers. Were swept. By the Royals.

The Tigers. Were swept. By the


Now, let's face it. Over the past 2-3 years, the Royals have been slowly climbing out of the basement of futility. They've got a few solid hitters and pitchers who have found their form lately and have been trying to build something around them. This actually has little to do with the Royals at all.
No, wait. It has a little to do with them:
"In spring training this year, we had the will to get better -- a conscious effort to play the right way," catcher John Buck said. "It's carried over now against Verlander. If you can continue to have good at-bats against him, you can tire him out."
I'm not about to analyze whether the Royals are in Verlander's head. I hope not. I do think that there's a mental problem here, which I'll address in a second. But what I really want to focus on is Buck's first line, where he talks about "the will to get better" and "a conscious effort to play the right way." You know who that sounds like? The Tigers circa 2006. Remember them? They went to the World Series that year. Even after their season was spoiled by the...crap...Royals. That year, the Royals were terrible. And up until their last six games against each other, the Tigers owned them. But up until their collapse at the end of that season, the Tigers were the ones willing themselves to get better and making conscious efforts to play the right way. And doing that saw them in 1st in the Central for most of the season, it helped them dominate the first two rounds of the postseason. This season so far, it's a different story:
"You look good if you've got your concentration level where it's supposed to be and your relaxation level where it's supposed to be," Leyland said. "I think those are the two most important ingredients in playing the game.

"We don't look like we're relaxed, and we don't look like we're concentrating very good. And that goes back to me. That's just the way it is."

I'm sure that Leyland will help get these guys focused. I'm not going to declare that the sky is falling after the first week. But look at what Leyland mentions here and elsewhere in the article: mental issues. Not being tough enough, not being relaxed enough, lazy at-bats, lack of concentration. Not many signs of the will to get better and play the right way.

And yesterday, WGN showed their game against the White Sox. Today their game is on Fox. Tomorrow night their game is on ESPN. I watched the game yesterday until it seemed certain that Jenks was going to keep them from rallying and getting that first win. So they still haven't won in 2008, not with crappy pitching and not with half-hearted batting. The bats, at least, showed the most life that we've seen so far. That's good until one realizes that one of the Tigers' stars yesterday was Clete Thomas, a AA guy who was only out there because Curtis Granderson is hurt. It wasn't Pudge or Ordonez or Cabrera (although Cabrera's starting to wake up) was some guy named Clete.

You know, I resisted making this comparison, but I think I'll at least throw it out there. The Tigers, with their high payroll full of blockbuster offseason trades, mediocre pitching, and lineup that should be the second coming of Murderer's know who that reminds me of?

The New York Yankees. Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.

Okay, I'm back. Yeah, those damn Yankees. The Yankees who go out and buy themselves a team every year and just assume that they'll go win it all. The Yankees who despite that philosophy actually haven't won anything since 2000. I didn't want to make that comparison, but when the Tigers picked up Renteria, and then Cabrera and Willis, and then Jacque started to smell to me more and more like we were buying a team. And that worried me, because the other team I know who does this has only gotten so far with it. But at least they've won a game or two.

The Yankees have the confidence to do that, probably because they just look down at their uniforms and say, "Oh yeah, we're the Yankees." For some reason, the Tigers are having a mental block so far and haven't found their own swagger.

It's still only the first week in April, so to declare the season over would be overdramatic. But Detroit needs a bullpen. They need some relaxed starters. They need relaxed, confident, aggressive "Oh yeah, we're the Tigers"-type hitting.

They should probably keep Clete, too.