Detroit Tigers Flex Muscles In Series Opener With Toronto Blue Jays
Greatness. Sometimes you expect to see it and even when you do, it’s still amazing when something happens that reminds you of why greatness was expected all along. We’ll wax rhapsodic about a certain All-Star’s greatness in due course. But first…
A match up happened on Tuesday between two teams that were on most short-lists for contending teams in the American League in 2013. The Detroit Tigers are, of course, the defending AL Champions and two-time defending AL Central Champions. The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, completed an off-season of wild player accumulation where they stockpiled talent on top of the solid core already on hand from the power-laden group assembled in 2012. Game One in the series featured a confrontation on the hill between Anibal Sanchez for the Tigers and Brandon Morrow for the Jays. Both clubs are off to rather ordinary starts as Toronto was 2-4 while the Tigers had managed to level their record at 3-3 by winning their first home series against the Yankees over the previous weekend.
The Tigers won this tilt, 7-3. That’s fine for what it’s worth in early April. We can only take away so much from one early season ballgame and the Blue Jays could rip Rick Porcello and turn the tables on Wednesday afternoon quite easily for all we know. But there were some notable performances and few decisions that can be explored a bit to try and uncover some nuggets to watch as the Spring progresses into Summer.
For the Tigers, Sanchez took to the mound and pitched an impressive 7 innings allowing two runs with 8 K and 1 BB. Sanchez worked quickly and was able to limit early damage with the help of solid defense from Don Kelly and Torii Hunter. Kelly and Hunter get mentions for entirely different reasons. Kelly made a certified web-gem robbing JP Arencibia of a certain homer when Kelly ran with reckless abandon into the left-field fence with absolutely no regard for his health. If Kelly had gathered himself for even a half-step as he approached the wall, it seems unlikely he corrals that shot from the Blue Jays’ catcher. Kelly also made a quiet, practically unnoticed, play on the second batter of the game by reacting quickly to a single down the line in LF by Melky Cabrera (one of the best signings in the AL). Cabrera’s single would have been a double and the possible start of a rally during many years in Detroit when one summons a mental checklist of the lumbering oafs that have played LF for the Tigers in recent times. Hunter meanwhile made no outstanding plays. Instead he approach all kinds of balls hit to right-field with utter confidence that is readily evident to any viewer. This stands in complete contrast to the decade long adventure of watching Magglio Ordonez, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, or a few others plying their trade on defense. Hunter may not have the legs he had ten years ago but there is a saunter to his gait out there that has to give all Tigers pitchers an easy feeling when a ball is lifted in his direction.
Brandon Morrow meanwhile ran into immediate trouble. Morrow’s nasty stuff seemed not be with him on this cool day in Motown. He was behind in some counts and appeared very hit-able throughout most of his stint. He was chased in the 4th inning after allowing 5 runs on 9 hits and two walks. He failed to strike out a batter. Detroit actually left plenty of runs on the table throughout the game which kept this one closer than it felt into the late innings.
Let’s get back to “greatness”. There were plenty of high-caliber offensive players on the field at Comerica Park. Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, and a few others. However the Tigers offense is really built around one man who should dominate the discussion first and leave scraps for the rest in his wake. Miguel Cabrera was unstoppable on this day as he is on many days. He did in a way that is also familiar to MLB pitchers. Cabrera simply used all fields and covered the strike zone from top to bottom and corner to corner. In the fourth inning he flashed a swing that I believe illustrates his immense power and hitting savvy as much as anything else he does. Cabrera was batting with two-on and two-out in a 2-1 game. Morrow fell behind and any veteran Cabrera-watcher leaned into whatever screen they were watching in anticipation of what might be about to happen. What we received from Cabrera is my favorite Cabrera-moment. He took a pitch that was in the lower half of the zone and the outer half of the plate and he lasered into the right field stands for a three-run homer. Cabrera often does this with a swing that looks more graceful than menacing but the immense power packed into this elegant swing (as opposed to Fielder’s effective yet violent corkscrew lashes at the ball) enables Cabrera to do what only the most select sluggers can do to the opposite field.
There was also a rather baffling decision made by Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons in the 8th inning facing Cabrera. There was a runner on third base, 1-out, with the score still manageable for the Blue Jays at 5-2. Cabrera stepped up with a base open against lefty Darren Oliver. Lefty and double-play candidate Prince Fielder was on deck. Putting Cabrera on-base and hoping to induce the DP with the platoon advantage of lefty-on-lefty seemed prudent. Instead Gibbons let Oliver face Cabrera, and I’m sorry Mr. Gibbons, the result of Cabrera getting his 4th hit to drive home the insurance run was highly predictable. Gibbons didn’t chase a better match up and paid for it.
Elsewhere in this one, Hunter kept his hot hand going at the plate in the early going and Alex Avila hit a rain-maker homerun among his two hits while just missing another homer. Only Jhonny Peralta appeared really out of sync among Tigers’ batters on this day where 15 hits and 4 walks were piled up against Blue Jays pitching.
For Toronto it was a quiet day overall. It is interesting to look at their club and try, as a non-daily follower of their team, and get a sense of what they will become as this season goes on. Personally, I don’t see them winning the AL East. I feel like they have a “slapped together” look to them this year. I don’t think that’s avoidable when you swing 11-player deals and sign multiple free agents in one off-season. These guys are still strangers to one another in many respects. The bullpen looks a bit thin and I really don’t “love” their rotation as much as some. NL pitchers moving the AL is a real challenge and they have more than one making the move.
I also noticed one small moment that may mean nothing. It’s a “chemistry” thing. I’m usually loathe to mention things you can’t really quantify. We don’t really “know” how these guys get along. Many times we end up guessing at snippets we get to see in public. (So let’s do that!) In the middle innings Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis nearly collided on a short fly to right-center field. Rasmus caught it as Davis just barely pulled up. Often when we see this happen around MLB we see some grins and friendly joking when the out is made. I thought the iciness between Rasmus and Davis in this instance was palpable. It looked like Rasmus was genuinely ticked and Davis didn’t seem to want to even acknowledge him. All this could, and probably does, mean nothing. Just something to file away as the season wears on in Toronto. What kind of clubhouse evolves there as these new faces all meld together.
Porcello and Mark Buehrle square off tomorrow. Porcello has had issues with Toronto in the past but, again, it’s kind of a new Jays’ squad. Certainly Buehrle, after his tenure with the Chicago White Sox, is no stranger to most Tigers. Should be a good ballgame, weather permitting as storms strafe the Midwest, as the season starts to pick up steam in the second week of action.