Wasn’t it just last year that we were scraping and bowing and praying for .500? Yes. Now we lose, what is it, 4 in a row? And people are acting like the Ambassador Bridge has been torn down by a ravenous, radioactive version of Jim Thome.
TEH DEFENSE SUXX0RZ OMG WE LOSE @ LIFE 4EVA yes, I get it. I’m not real happy with Brandon Inge right now, and it takes a lot for me to say that, but fair is fair. I am an admitted Brandon Inge apologist, but he has made some ARod-like plays out there lately (and I mean that in a New York-tabloid-inflaming sense). Shame, Mr. Inge, shame. Get your act together.
As far as I can tell, though, that has been the biggest problem: errors, mental and otherwise, screwing up pretty good pitching performances. Rogers threw a good game today and got busted over Inge’s, uh, excess of defensive enthusiasm. Verlander threw a pretty good game (get to that in a second). Is it just me, but IS THAT NOT THE IMPORTANT BIT? We’ve HAD defensively cruddy stretches before, IN THIS VERY SAME SEASON, and Leyland had a little fit in the clubhouse or everyone just collectively sacked up and IT GOT FIXED and we went on to WIN SOME MORE GAMES and all was SUNSHINE AND RAINBOW-COLORED KITTENS.
Could this be the beginning of a horrible, ignominious downslide into shame and division defeat? Maybe. This is baseball; anything is possible. But do I have ANY LOGICAL REASON for thinking so? NO. Do I have logical reasons for thinking that just the opposite will happen and we will recover in good time? YES.
I know it’s wicked frustrating to watch games go down like that, and I know it’s wicked hard to subject your optic nerve to a few games like that and maintain any semblance of calmness in your heart. Viscerally speakin’, I’m freaking out as much as anyone. But I am TRYING to be a voice of CATDAMNED REASON here, OK? Cool. We are all cool. Except for Brandon Inge. He is not cool until he sacks the f’ up.
Now about that Verlander kid.
He was off-rotation. He was. Off. Rotation. He had skipped his usual spot in the rotation in order to give his skinny little babyfleshed arm some rest, so that we, the Tigers organization, would not spontaneously turn into the Mariners and start ruining young pitchers hither and yon. Huzzah for not turning into the Mariners. We are all agreed. But there is a REASON teams will juggle around call-ups and such to keep their young pitchers pitching on their usual scheduled day. There is a REASON a lot of pitchers have a love/hate relationship with the long offensive inning. Routine is important and it helps a lot of guys pitch better. Part of it is mental and part of it is physical but either way, there it is.
And the problem, so far as I can tell, was not that Verlander’s velocity was way off (it wasn’t) or that his vaguely defined “stuff” was at fault. The problem was that he was not locating very well. Which, hey, how about that, young guy, off-rotation, maybe a little rusty out of the gate, and his location’s not real good. WELL BLAST OFF ME BLOWHOLE IF THAT AIN’T A PERFECTLY NORMAL LOOKIN’ KINDA OUTCOME.
Leyland’s now saying that he thinks Verlander is tipping his pitches, and that in part is why the Wrong Sox were able to get around on him so effectively. If this is in fact true, it’s something he needs to work out, and work out RIGHT NOW, before whatever twitch he’s using that tips them off becomes fully integrated into his pitching motion and thus harder to remove.
If true, it would also go a good ways towards explaining something else from that last game, namely, the fact that Pudge was calling for a ton of fastballs. Crazy as it seems, there has been some muttering from Tigers fans around the internet that Verlander should get Vance Wilson as his personal catcher, and I’ve talked to a (small) number of Tigers fans who used this last game as a sort of final straw, see-how-right-we-were example.
So crazy. So crazy for so many reasons. Verlander should not get a personal catcher because he’s a young kid and he needs to learn how to work with the freakin’ starting catcher like everyone else on the team, for one, and he shouldn’t get too used to throwing to Vance because Vance is somewhere in the realm of 700 YEARS OLDER THAN VERLANDER and will only be around for a small fraction of what will, forgiving arm muscles willing, be a very long Verlander career, for two. Three, a personal catcher should be for guys who have a specialized pitch that they need a specialized catcher to handle regularly and effectively (like in the case of a dedicated knuckleball pitcher) or for guys who are crotchety headcases but happen to be good enough that a manager will sigh and indulge their absurd whims (like in the case of, uh, Randy Johnson). Verlander is neither of those things.
And four… no. Just, no. I am aware that Vance is having a really good year, and I am so happy for him, what a joyous thing it is, w00t w00t etc. Having a backup catcher who can contribute in all aspects of the game is definitely a part of the Tigers’ success this season, and in fact I was planning a post at some point in the near future about how much better he was and how much more positive an impact he’s having on the team than other such catchers (like, say, Doug Mirabelli).
However, Vance Wilson is… Vance Wilson. 44th Round. I realize that game calling has never been the biggest and bestest part of Pudge’s rep, but there is a REASON why Pudge is a squillion-time All Star/Gold Glover/money-makin’ franchise-legitimizin’ catcher and Vance is basically a career backup. The year he (Vance) caught the most (played in 96 games), 2003, saw him batting a shiny .243/.293/.373. Hawt. The last time Pudge caught fewer games than that was back in 2000 (played in 91 games), when he (Pudge) batted .347/.375/.667. In the last 12 seasons, Pudge has batted under .300 ONLY 3 TIMES. That is crazy-sick. Again, I realize that that says nothing about his ability to call a game, but he’s been in baseball long enough that he probably knows SOMEthing about it, or at least enough to let his pitchers do the work and let his offense make up for the rest.
This past game was not an example of Pudge being unable to call the kind of game that makes Verlander feel safe and happy inside. If the Wrong Sox were indeed sussing out Verlander’s pitches, OF COURSE Pudge is going to call for a lot of fastballs. That’s Verlander’s best pitch. Remember last year, when he was but a scrawny call-up, and he was striking people out on his fastball DESPITE THE FACT THAT HIS OFFSPEED STUFF WASN’T WORKING AT ALL? And we all marveled at this, right? Don’t try to tell me you didn’t, I distinctly remember marveling.
Even assuming his offspeed stuff was more or less on independent of tipping (which, given the off-rotation business, I would not assume at all), it still makes nothing but sense for Pudge to call for a lot of fastballs. Unless it was some wildly blatant motion it’s not the kind of thing that was going to be correctable in-game, and so Pudge would just have to ask for what is usually Verlander’s best pitch and hope that the kid’s raw stuff would be enough to overpower the Wrong Sox even without the benefit of surprise, which is PRETTY MUCH WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON.
Why am I still talking about this? I don’t even know. Y’all are crazy. Of course I can’t talk, because I am also crazy, and I understand that losing so frustratingly is making us all a little nuttier even than usual.
I am, as of this moment, ordering every single serious Tigers fan out there to go to take three deep breaths, roll their neck a few times, get up, stretch, and go visit CuteOverload.com. RIGHT NOW. LOOK AT THE WEBSITE.
There. Doesn’t that feel better? And be thankful I haven’t set up a site of cute Tigers players photos, or you’d be directed to that instead.