2011 Season Forecast: Detroit Tigers

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  81 – 81
2009:  86 – 77
2008:  74 – 88
2007:  88 – 74
2006:  95 – 67

Has it been that long since Kenny Rogers was doctoring baseballs in the World Series?

More to the current team – last year the Tigers were 52 – 29 at home, and 29 – 52 on the road, with comparable splits in terms of runs scored/allowed.  The Tigers were +82 in runs at home, and – 74 in runs on the road.

Runs Scored: 751  (8th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 743  (10th in the AL)

You’d think that a team that was below average in offense and defense would have a record slightly below .500, but the Tigers held on for dear life to stay at .500.

Season Recap:

The Tigers were picked by many to compete for the AL Central crown, but most people had them second or third.  After a reasonably good April, the Tigers gave back games in May, won a few more than they lost in June, and then just kind of stayed just off the fringe of the race until August.  By then, they had lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.  The Scott Sizemore experiment was a disaster, which didn’t help, and despite the best efforts of Miguel Cabrera, the offense couldn’t deliver down the stretch.

The Tigers were a team that got on rolls – good and bad.  They would win a bunch of games and make a run to the top.  Five of six off the start, six in a row in early May, eight of nine against Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona (I mean – WOW – Detroit had an easy interleague schedule) to move to 37 – 29.  The fourth streak, in early July, put the Tigers at 48 – 37 one day before the All-Star break.  Unfortunately, the Tigers lost all momentum – losing seven in a row and 20 of 25 to fall out of the race by early August.  Toward the end of the season, Detroit rattled off eight wins in nine games to get to 80 – 75, but lost six in a row and had to win the last game of the season to get to .500.

Starters:

Justin Verlander is a legitimate ace, saving his team 20 runs over league average pitching and winning 67% of his decisions.  Max Scherzer, acquired from Arizona, is a solid #2 starter and was a start away from 200 innings, which he should make in 2011.  Rick Porcello wasn’t as good as hoped, but there are things to build on.  Armando Galarraga, he of the perfect game that wasn’t, was a moderately below average pitcher in part because he, like Porcello, pitches too much to contact and doesn’t miss bats with pitches.  Jeremy Bonderman made a comeback season, but in a painful way – an ERA of 5.53 pitching in a decent pitcher’s park and with a reasonably good defense behind him – he was 32 runs worse than an average starter of his 171 innings.  An extra run a start.  Ouch.  Two others made a few starts, Dontrelle Willis – who is gone – and Andrew Oliver, who should be back in AAA.

Looking ahead, Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello return, to be joined by reliever Phil Coke – a decent middle reliever – and former quality starter, Brad Penny.  I’ve always been a fan of Penny’s (works very fast, throws strikes), but I don’t know if his body can handle the load.  He’s turning into Rick Reuschel, which can’t be good either.  However, he’s a better bet to be successful than Jeremy Bonderman.  The problem may be finding a sixth starter option.

Relievers:

The bullpen is led by closer Jose Valverde, a very good finisher, and imported setup man, Joaquin Benoit – a shut down 8th inning option.  After that, Joel Zumaya is still around (albeit a chance to get injured), and a few others are there to mop up, including Daniel Schlereth (a decent enough lefty with gobs of upside), Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas or Eddie Bonine.

Catching:

Alex Avila earned the job full time, and his backup will be DH Victor Martinez.  Avila has tolerable defensive skills, but needs to step up some with the batting average – which would start with striking out less.

Infield:

Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in baseball, and last year seemed to have beaten whatever demons befell him at the end of 2009.  Of course, he blew that heading to spring training, but he should still be able to hit the ball in 2011.  The Tigers missed Placido Polanco, a solid defensive player who chipped in by hitting around .300.  Last year, Scott Sizemore earned a shot, but gave it away by showing less than acceptable range and hitting .224 and striking out about 28% of the time.  Carlos Guillen played a little at second before his body gave way and Will Rhymes took over.  In the minors, Rhymes was never Sizemore’s equal in terms of being a prospect, but at the majors, Rhymes was a better fielder and hitter. Looking ahead, the same three guys are back – and someone will have to back up Guillen when he breaks down in June or July.  (Look, I like Guillen, but this is what happens when you get old.  If he plays 140 games, the Tigers will benefit greatly, but I don’t know that he can do it.)  Jhonny Peralta returns to play short for the full year – not a solid defender anymore but can still put some runs on the board.  Brandon Inge returns to play third base – fielding well, hitting a few homers, but otherwise being an ordinary player.

Looking at this, the problem is that the front four are (a) on the down side of their career, or (b) trying to age faster than he has to by adding weight and drinking heavily.  This can’t be a good sign if you are a Tigers fan.

Outfield:

Austin Jackson was fantastic last year – a lot of hits, decent defense, and flashes of brilliant speed (10 triples, 27 stolen bases).  He is among the best centerfielders in the AL.  Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is getting long in the tooth, still can hit, but his defense is problematic.  And he can’t DH as much as you’d want because Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH.  In left, either Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch, who are essentially the same player, will get to play.  Raburn is marginally better – higher average, slightly better glove – but you wouldn’t complain (as a pitcher) if your outfield were Raburn, Jackson, and Boesch.

DH:

Did I mention that Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH?  He replaces Johnny Damon, who heads to Tampa because everyone from the east heads to Florida to retire.  Martinez should contribute more than Damon, but not a TON more.  Martinez played in Boston and generated about 83.4 runs of offense, while Damon played in Detroit and generated 79.7 runs.

Down on the Farm:

Alfredo Figaro looked like the best pitching prospect at AAA Toledo, but even with a decent W/L record and K/W data, his ERA was the same as the team average and when he got a cup of coffee with the big club, he was treated rudely by batters.  The best hitters are on the Tigers – Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes.  Not a lot of immediate help here…

Heading to AA Erie, the most interesting person there might be outfielder Brandon Douglas.  He has NO power.  None.  What he has is amazing contact skills and has hit .331 in his several stops in the minors.  I can’t tell how good a fielder he is – he’s bounced around between second and short, which means he’s a second baseman in the bigs.  If he’s ANY good at all, in a year or two he could be the next Placido Polanco.

Another guy who could be interesting is pitcher Adam Wilk.  Wilk made 14 starts in low A ball after coming out of Long Beach State and struck out 67 and walked just seven batters.  He had comparable numbers at A+ Lakeland (100Ks, 19 walks in 24 starts), and then slid into AA for three starts – and all were successful.  He’s not making the Tigers in 2011, but he COULD make the team in 2012 and be a good fourth or third starter.

Last year’s #1 pick Jacob Turner did what you wanted to see in his first year of professional ball, and will likely start 2011 in A+ Lakeland before moving to Erie mid-season.  Second round pick Andrew Oliver is moving quickly through the system and was given a cup of coffee in 2010 with the parent club.

Season Forecast:

I’m not convinced that Detroit will compete.  Inge, Guillen, Peralta, and even Cabrera are candidates to regress from 2010.  That could be 20 runs defensively and 40 runs offensively.  The outfield will stay the same – the gains in center field and possibly left are offset by the potential losses in right field.  Then you get to the pitching staff, and I don’t see how Coke is better than Galarraga and even though Penny is better than Bonderman – how many starts will that be?  10?  20?  30?  The sixth starter option doesn’t appeal to me – so if it’s 10, the pitching won’t be much better in 2011 than it was last year.

Given this, I think the Tigers will score about 720 runs and allow about 760, which is about 77 wins.  It’s not too unreasonable to think it could be worse, especially if Cabrera misses a significant amount of time or plays below the level we are used to seeing.  This team could injure it’s way out and suffer through six months that were as bad as the Tigers were in July and August.  That’s a 70 – 90 team.

Where can you find optimism?  Brad Penny making 30 starts, Rick Porcello getting a bit better, Guillen and Ordonez not only maintaining batting skills but playing 130 games each, and Ryan Raburn bouncing up in his numbers.  If ALL those things happened, the Tigers could win 85 games.  I just think that’s a lot to ask for.

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Felix’s Reign Extended; Marlins Commit to Winning Uggla

Agreeing to a multi-year deal (details not yet released), the Seattle Mariners have apparently signed their ace starter, Felix Hernandez, for the long haul.  Last year, Hernandez was as good a starter as there was in baseball and he has been consistently good in his five years in Seattle.  Seattle, to its credit, has been an active player in the off-season.  [MLB]

The Marlins again opened up the pocketbook – this time signing second baseman Dan Uggla to a one-year, $7.8 million deal before heading to arbitration.  Uggla is good – hits for power, showed a bit more patience even has his batting average fell, and while he didn’t have his best season with the glove, is dependable and solid turning two.  He’s certainly worth a one year deal at that amount.   The Marlins also reached agreements with Reynal Pinto and Anibal Sanchez.  [MLB]

Jim Edmonds wants to make a comeback – and offered to play for the league minimum with the Cardinals.  Hmmm…  The Cards have plenty of outfield options and Edmonds – one of my favorite players – hasn’t played in a year and to be fair had started to age in 2008 when he last played.  We’ll see what comes of it.  [MLB]

Jermaine Dye a Cub?  Maybe as a utility role…   It’s been a long time since he was traded to Kansas City for Michael Tucker in 1997 – and back then people were upset that Tucker was allowed to leave.  In retrospect, it was one of the really good moves the Royals made back then…[ESPN]

Business News…

Peter Gammons writes about the widening revenue gap between the top and bottom teams in baseball – and suggests that a lot of teams are being more creative with $40 million dollar salaries.  [MLB]

Umpires ratified a five-year deal with MLB, that includes changes to determining what umps work the playoffs and World Series.  [SI]

Old News…

I was looking for this story – after writing that the Tigers might go a cheaper route with the ninth inning by signing Joel Zumaya, the Tigers signed Jose Valverde to a two year deal with an option – the first two years are worth $7 million each, with the 2012 season coming in at $9 million if the Tigers like what they got.  Valverde was really, really good last year and has had enough good seasons to be worth the cash, but I didn’t know the Tigers still had that kind of money to spend.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are:  Chick Gandil (1888), Ken Frailing (1948), Jon Matlack (1950), Brad Mills (1957), Chris Sabo (1962), Phil Nevin (1971), Chris Stynes (1973), and Amaury Telemaco (1974).

I saw Telemaco pitch for the Daytona Cubs back in about 1994 and you could tell that he was going to make it in the majors.  He pitched a lot like Joaquin Andujar – and I couldn’t wait to see him in the bigs.  It didn’t work out for him, but I still remember his initial presence.  Daytona has a neat old ballpark (Jackie Robinson Stadium), which sits on the intra-coastal waterway.  If you sit high enough in the bleachers on the third base side, you can watch boats go by over the right field wall.  If you get a chance, you should see a game there.

First “Hurry Back!” of 2009…

Before we get to the two interesting stories of the day…  Let’s delve once more into the latest Mark McGwire fall out, and that’s the stance and role of Tony LaRussa, who has benefited as much as any manager (save, perhaps, Joe Torre or the mid 2000s Boston Red Sox) from looking the other way as regards steroids.

Kevin Hench (not to be confused with the occasional outfielder, Kevin Mench) wrote perhaps the most interesting article discussing how Tony LaRussa has blindly (or, rather, not so blindly) allowed things like Mark McGwire’s use of PEDs to happen on his watch.  [FoxSports]

On to better things…

The Detroit Tigers, occasionally mentioned as a suitor for Jose Valverde, may have a cheaper option for the ninth inning, having signed Joel Zumaya to a one-year, $915K deal.  Zumaya has struggled with injuries the last two seasons, but he still throws hard and he might actually be healthy now.  If so, and he can close, the Tigers will have saved perhaps $5 million on relief duties.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about looking backwards at relief pitching; how you can review a pitcher’s ERA to see how legit it is by running his hits allowed data through the same tools as a batter and determine his estimated runs allowed based using Runs Created formulas the way we do for hitters.  I did this for Zumaya.

2009 Season:

3 – 3 4.94 – 31 innings, 34 hits, 30 strikeouts, 22 walks – 18 runs allowed, one was unearned.

Looking backwards:

34 hits included four doubles, a triple, and five homers (ouch) – plus two stolen bases without a caught stealing.  Estimated runs created – about 21.5.

So – looking at this – one would conclude that his ERA was actually low for the combination of hits and walks allowed.  That’s not a good thing.  The lack of consistent health is not a good thing.  So, the only thing Zumaya has going for him is (a) the memory of 2006, when he was a surprise stud, and (b) he’s cheap.

Still, at less than $1 million, it’s one of those chances you’d want to take.

Hurry Back!

Carlos Beltran surprised the Mets by announcing that his knee is not healed – that arthritis is so bad he required surgery – and will not be able to start his spring training until after the season starts, with hopes he could play in May.  My gut feel for this is that we have seen the last good and full season for Beltran, and his problem has gone beyond just basic ligament damage and now will be a problem forever.  This is very sad for me, as I remember rooting for him as a rookie in Kansas City (I had season tickets back in the day) and thought with a young core of Beltran, Damon, Dye, and Sweeney (among others) the Royals just needed a few dependable arms to vault to the front of the division.  All four turned into solid professionals, but the Royals never got the arms and eventually gave up all four of these guys (though Sweeney played for about a decade in Kansas City).

I still root for you, Carlos – but you are the new Tony Oliva.  God speed, sir.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:  Jack Taylor (1974), Billy Meyer (1893), Smead Jolley (1902), Sonny Siebert (1937), Dave Campbell (1942), Derrell Thomas (1951), Wayne Gross (1952), Roderick Myers (1973) – a Royals prospect who never panned out but I loved to watch play, and Mike Pelfrey (1984) – who says that he’s going to bounce back in 2010.

Interested in Erik Bedard? You’ll Have to Wait…

If Seattle had plans to trade Erik Bedard, those plans were dashed when the lefty hit the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his last start, Bedard fired 81 pitches in just three innings.  I’ve written about this before – 100 pitches isn’t the problem, a heavy pitch count in an inning or two is much worse.  Returning to the rotation will be Jason Vargas.  [ESPN]

Brett Gardner broke his thumb breaking up a double play, and the Yankees outfielder will miss the next month of the season.  His thumb is in a cast, but fortunately doesn’t need surgery.  [ESPN]

Jim Leyland remains optimistic that Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya might return this season.  Zumaya hopes cortisone shots will help avoid season ending surgery (an eventuality, really) and Bonderman has been throwing lately without discomfort.  [SI]

Kansas City isn’t giving up on Tony Pena.  It’s just giving up on the idea that he can play shortstop.  Now, the strong armed Pena will be given a shot to pitch.  I like the idea…  [FoxSports]

Texas starter Kevin Millwood left his start against Kansas City after two innings with a pain in his butt.  The strained left glute muscle wouldn’t allow him to extend his front leg when throwing…  Now Texas is waiting to see if this means Millwood might miss a start.  [MLB]

A lot of action on the transaction wire…

Hurry Back!  Cincinnati pitcher Jared Burton heads to the DL with shoulder fatigue.  Brewer pitcher Seth McClung heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey heads to the DL with a left oblique strain.

What Gives?  Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment by Seattle.  The power/speed prospect hasn’t panned out – in 400 major league at bats, he’s hit .209…  Houston did the same with Chad Paronto, who hasn’t stuck with six organizations.  At 33, he’s running out of shots.

Player to be Named Later:  Jess Todd was sent from Memphis to Cleveland to complete the Mark DeRosa trade.  Todd is a reliever with some talent – he was the closer for Memphis, has great strikeout numbers, good control, and a fighting shot to help the Indians as soon as 2010.

Pirates Sell Out Again; Does Adam LaRoche Help Boston? And, I’m Embarrassed for Broward County (FL)

Red Sox Nation, awash in fear after (a) being swept by Texas, and (b) watching the Yankees take over first place in the AL East, can rest assured that help is on the way.  Maybe.

The Boston Red Sox made two deals yesterday in hopes of stirring a sleeping offense.  First, Boston recalled Adam LaRoche from Pittsburgh, the new AAA team for Red Sox Nation, requiring only a small deposit of minor leaguers.  Then, St. Louis, desperate for a productive shortstop, chose to take a chance on Julio Lugo for the relatively low price of OF (DH) Chris Duncan.

In the case of Lugo for Duncan, St. Louis gets a slowing infielder who hits like Brendan Ryan and unloads a disappointing Duncan, who is a hitter without a glove – albeit a hitter who has been less and less productive (and powerful) since his arrival in 2005.  Every year has seen declines in his batting average, slugging percentage, and on base percentage.  If the Sox wanted someone who could hit a little, pinch hit a little, and occasionally DH or log innings, couldn’t they have conned Sean Casey out of retirement?  Duncan, who had been dispatched to AAA by the Cards, now heads to Pawtucket.

For the soon to be 30-year-old Adam LaRoche, the Red Sox hope to get a player with a second half hitting reputation.  Adam has power – but only once has cleared 30 homers (2006).  And, I’m not convinced he has decent fielding skills.  His numbers in 2008 showed him to be among the most immobile first basemen in the league (Ortiz is probably more immobile, which is why he’s a DH).  And – what does that say about Ortiz and Mike Lowell?  Who is going to sit to let LaRoche play?  Is Mark Kotsay heading to the broadcast booth?  I think these are fair questions to ask, Boston fans.  If Boston had picked up Jack Wilson, I would have understood.  But Adam LaRoche?

What does Pittsburgh get?  Argenis Diaz, a AA shortstop who must be a whale of a fielder because his career minor league average is about .273 with no power or speed, and he doesn’t wrestle his way to first with walks or getting hit by pitches.  They also received a 20 year old pitcher, Hunter Strickland, who is doing well for an 18th round pick out of high school.  He has good control (just 13 walks in 83 innings with Greenville in AA), but isn’t necessarily overpowering.  While he looks like he might help in two years, Strickland hasn’t registered on the top ten list for Baseball America.   I have never understood what the Pirates management was doing – they unloaded Jason Bay and Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche despite being just a few games away from topping .500.  Aren’t they supposed to get serious MLB potential talent for three established MLB hitters?

For your latest Roy Halliday trade rumors, give this a read.  [FanNation/SI]

Jason Marquis will miss a start to heal a blister on his throwing hand.  [FoxSports]

I’m saddened by this…  The Baltimore Orioles are moving spring training from Ft. Lauderdale to Sarasota.  That means the furthest south spring training hits on the east coast will be Jupiter – home of the Cards and Marlins – an hour north of Ft. Lauderdale.  Look, Roger Dean Stadium rocks, but his is embarrassing for Miami’s sister city.  We used to have spring training in Pompano Beach (Texas), and to lose the Orioles is to basically give up on baseball from February through March down here.  What does Sarasota have that Ft. Lauderdale doesn’t?  Okay – the Ringling House and Circus Museum.  Woo Hoo!!!  Broward County should be embarrassed.

The Tigers are watching to see how Joel Zumaya’s shoulder responds to treatment, else it’s surgery for the hard throwing reliever.  Maybe he throws too hard.  [MLB]

Hurry Back!  Washington placed Jordan Zimmermann on the DL with elbow discomfort, then recalled Collin Balester from AAA Syracuse.

Welcome Back!  Minnesota sent Kevin Mulvey back to AAA, and recalled Jesse Crain.

Mitre is Number 5 for Yankees; More Cubs Taking Time Off to Injury

With Chien-Ming Wang on the DL, the Yankees will audition Sergio Mitre in the number five spot of the rotation.  Manager Joe Girardi knows Mitre well – Mitre pitched for him in Florida back in 2006.  Mitre had a good May and June that year, but fell off after that.  He’s been injured – and then missed 50 games this year after testing positive for androstenedione.  The 28 year old pitched well in three minor league stops, but has never had any extended period of success in the majors.  At this point, one wonders why the Yankees insist on not using Phil Hughes – though Hughes has been successful in the eighth innings as Mariano Rivera’s caddy.  [FoxSports]

Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya returns to the DL with an injured shoulder, suffered in last night’s loss to the Yankees.  [SI]  Ryan Perry gets the nod from AAA Toledo.

Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun is day to day with a wrist and thumb injury.  He left last night’s game saying he couldn’t grip the bat.  [MLB]

Cub starter Ted Lilly will miss today’s start against Washington due to a sore knee.  Randy Wells moves up a day, and Kevin Hart will pitch tomorrow.  [SI]

Lilly’s teammate, the struggling Alfonso Soriano, will miss a few days (at least) with a dislocated pinky.  He says he hurt it diving into first base on a pickoff play.  [SI]

Is Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez done?  Texas released him from his minor league contract. [FoxSports

The injury riddled career of Reds reliever Mike Lincoln hit another bump…  Lincoln will have surgery to replace a disc in his neck.  [FoxSports]

Sandberg Speaks Sosa; Cleveland Losing (W)Edge?

Ryne Sandberg says Sammy Sosa won’t be elected to the Hall of Fame because sportswriters are taking a stand against steroids.  Sandberg noted that the description of a Hall of Famer includes the word “integrity” (even in the logo) and people in general seem to be taking the same position on steroids.  Even as he noted that he didn’t think Sosa belonged in the Hall, Sandberg admitted that Sosa did have a great work ethic, and thought that the added muscle was due to offseason workouts when they were teammates from 1993 and 1997.  

Let’s face it; that’s what is problematic about this.  Nobody doubts that Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire weren’t putting in time in the gym.  Ultimately, it’s disappointing that these guys (and many others like them) chose to break federal laws in acquiring substances that otherwise couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be obtained without prescriptions and valid reasons for having them.

Is Wedge Next Manager to Go?

Cleveland manager Eric Wedge is hearing it from Cleveland fans who now wonder aloud if he will be fired.  Meanwhile, Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks that fans calling for the return of Mike Hargrove may wind up equally disappointed

What Should Detroit Do With Magglio Ordonez?

Fox Sports baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal thinks the Tigers should drop Magglio Ordonez before he gets enough plate appearances to vest an $18 million dollar contract extension.

Let’s see if we can’t look at this pragmatically. First, Ordonez is now a year and a half removed from that .363 season which was miles above what he normally hits (and he’s a good hitter).  So, this year’s slump could be, in part, an evening of fortune for hitting so well in 2007.  I mean, Mike Lowell, who always struck me as one of the most consistent players I have ever seen, has had a season where he hit .236 and another where he hit .324. 

Second of all, there has been a consistent decline in Ordonez’s outfield play.  In 2006, he was about 4 plays below average in right field per 800 balls in play, costing his team about 13 runs.  In 2007, it was five plays per 800 balls in play.  Last year, he was – 12, which likely cost his team almost 33 runs because of all those extra hits falling in out there.  When you add up the offensive production (about 101.4 runs) and his lack of defensive range (-32.6 runs), I have him as the 20th best right fielder among those playing at least 80 games there in 2008.  Fourteen were better hitters, and then you have his fielding problems.

Finally, Maggs is 35 – which is young to me, but not in baseball years.  It might be that his legs aren’t beneath him anymore, either. I haven’t gotten to the letter “M” in my player profiles, but having looked at it, Ordonez would have been a serious candidate for a season of decline – probably hitting more like .270 with 15 homers.  Assuming he hits his career norm for the second half of the season (about .310 with 12 homers), he’d finish right about where my prediction hits.  And, he’s really best suited to be a DH at this point in his career.  Is that the type of production you’d want to pay $18 million for?  So, when you do the math, I reach the same conclusion as Rosenthal – but hopefully without any unnecessary meanness of spirit.

On the injury beat… 

Brandon Webb may not pitch for Arizona this year.  Webb is about 35 runs better than the average pitcher over 230 innings – one of the best in the game. To lose him and replace him with someone in AAA, who likely won’t be league average, is probably a 50 run hit to the runs allowed column, turning a team that could have finished with 75 wins into a team that could easily win more like 65 wins – which is what the Diamondbacks are pacing for. Ouch. 

And, Josh Hamilton is less and less likely going to be ready to play by the All-star game.  I remember thinking that when they announced his surgery. 

Let’s get some good news.  Roy Halliday will likely pitch Monday against the Rays in Toronto.  To their credit, the Blue Jays have played well over the last two weeks, given all the injuries to the pitching staff. 

Hurry Back!  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey – 15-day DL with a left oblique strain.  Brad Lidge will get his slot on the roster.  Brewer pitcher Dave Bush gets seven days off in AAA for right arm fatigue.  Cincinnati catcher Wilkin Castillo goes to the DL with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  And, Arizona loses catcher Chris Snyder to a lower back strain. 

Welcome Back!  Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore, San Diego’s Scott Hairston, and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, who says that depression following the death of his father last August has contributed to serious panic attacks and anxiety.  As someone who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, I can definitely relate to that.  Hang in there, Joey.

Breathless!

Working late, I had the Chicago Cubs – Detroit Tigers game on.  If you want to know why I am a baseball fan, you needed to watch this game.

First, you had two solid starting pitching efforts from Edwin Jackson, who throws HARD, and Carlos Zambrano – one of the truly great horses in baseball.

In the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 2 – 1, Brandon Inge takes Zambrano deep for a two-run homer to take the lead.  What is especially cool about this is that Inge had spent the day at a local hospital hanging out with kids and signing autographs.  At one point, he’s mingling with a kid named Tommy Schumacher, and Inge tells Tommy that he’s tired of signing autographs; he wants one.  So, Tommy takes a marker and writes his first name on Inge’s right forearm.  When Inge is batting early in the game, you can see Tommy’s autograph clearly and the broadcasters mention it.  Cool stuff!

Not done, though.  In the eighth, in comes Joel Zumaya.  Zumaya is probably the hardest thrower in the game.  Against Milton Bradley, he throws four straight pitches that MLB’s PitchFX data shows ranging from 101 to 103 MPH.  The TV Radar actually read 104 (!) on the gun with the last strike.  Bradley started his swing as the ball was being thrown around the horn.  Anyway, with a runner on, Zumaya tried to sneak a change up past Micah Hoffpauir, but Hoffpauir turned it around for a lead-changing two run homer.

STILL not over.  Kevin Gregg, who had been on a good roll, comes in to close the game out for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, but Ryan Rayburn hits a pinch hit two run homer to win it.  It was the first PH game-winning homer by a Detroit batter in the 9th inning since Lou Whitaker did it in 1995!  A BREATHTAKING game!