The Paper Tigers were supposed to roar through the 2008 season with the second highest payroll and a lineup that many projected to score 1000 runs only to lose their first 7 games and 10 of their first 12.
Little could they have imagined that they would have to do without Curtis Granderson until this past Wednesday after breaking his hand in spring training or that Gary Sheffield would need cortisone shots for both of his aching shoulders or that Placido Polanco would miss 8 games with a cranky back or that Jim Leyland would feel it necessary to flip-flop Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner infield positions or that Justin Verlander would come into tonight's start with a 5.93 earned run average.
Dontrelle Willis would not only walk 9 in 5 innings but be disabled with a twisted knee in his second start. They would come into this game with the worst starting pitching ERA in the American League and only 4 quality starts through 25 games.
But this week this team that scored 2 runs or less in 6 of its first dozen games exploded for 37 runs against the mediocre pitching of the Texas Rangers. Leyland had reassembled the defense and now tonight hopes Verlander will regain his delivery and velocity and continue the process of fulfilling Detroit's lofty expectations.
Now, before I tear this "report" to shreds, a couple caveats: 1) the guys at Fire Joe Morgan do this kind of thing much better than I ever will and 2) I am very fond of Peter Gammons.
So, with that, let's parse.
Now, I understand what Gammons is trying to do here. By talking about all the misery that befell the Tigers, he's reminding the casual viewer of the folly of predictions as well as the quirks and the human element of baseball - 'That's why they play the games.' That sort of thing. Gammons has a very romantic view of baseball and that's always been part of his appeal for me.
Having said that, I read an awful lot of baseball writing and many if not most of these disaster scenarios were not only predictable, they were in fact predicted.
Where do we start?
The Paper Tigers...
I love how he disses and dismisses them as "paper tigers" who presumably don't deserve the acclaim they've been given and then proceeds to give us like 57 reasons they haven't achieved everything that was prematurely projected.
A lineup that many projected to score 1000 runs...
I'm too lazy to link to all the sites and writers that de-bunked the 1000 runs theory; let's just say that those who projected it share their analytical framework with John Kruk, who sagely predicted that Randy Johnson would win 30 games for the Yankees in 2005.
They would have to do without Curtis Granderson until this past Wednesday after breaking his hand...
It's fair to say they couldn't have imagined an injury with this amount of specificity, but a good number of analysts pointed out Granderson as a strong bet to regress in 2008.
...or that Gary Sheffield would need cortisone shots for both of his aching shoulders...
Gary Sheffield is 39 years old and missed roughly 150 games over the previous two seasons combined. The real shocker would be if he didn't miss significant playing time in 2008.
...or that Placido Polanco would miss 8 games with a cranky back...
Polanco missed 20 games last year and 52 the year before. They'd be lucky if he only misses 8 games this year. Where are you going with this, Peter? Peter? I think he wandered out into the driveway again. I hope he's wearing shoes this time. Be right back.
...or that Jim Leyland would feel it necessary to flip-flop Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner infield positions...
Miggy is a wonderful hitter, among the best in the game, but he is a
fat tub of goo large bodied individual who is a butcher with the glove challenged by the defensive requirements at the hot corner. I've been reading for two years that he would have to be switched to 1B or DH eventually.
As for Guillen, it was already unusual that he moved to 1B from SS (when Edgar Renteria arrived from Atlanta in the offseason to play SS); 3B is a more natural transition for an aging shortstop and a better fit for his offensive and defensive profile....or that Justin Verlander would come into tonight's start with a 5.93 earned run average.
Verlander's velocity has been down and it's no surprise that his results have suffered. Chances are, it's just a slump and by September none of us will remember his slow start. Hell, his ERA is less than half of what C.C. Sabathia's was through three starts.
Having said that, I've always felt Verlander was at least a teensy bit overrated in the popular imagination. As his struggles so far suggest, if he doesn't have that superior velocity, he's a very average pitcher. Still, I'd be willing to bet this is mostly just small sample size nonsense.
UPDATE: Verlander surrendered 6 ER on 7 H and 4 BB in 5 and 2/3 innings to up his season ERA to 6.50. Uh oh.
Dontrelle Willis would not only walk 9 in 5 innings but be disabled with a twisted knee in his second start.
Putting aside the wildness, which I think was eminently predictible (his walk rate has been rising steadily over the past few seasons), it feels like Gammons is resting his 'could little have imagined' case on the weird specificity of these injuries. Could the Tigers have imagined at the end of March that Willis would go down with a twisted knee in his second start? That Sheffield would require cortisone shots in both shoulders? That Cabrera would eat and digest a frightened and confused Brandon Inge in front of his teammates in the Detroit clubhouse? Probably not. You win again, Gammons. You win again.
They would come into this game with the worst starting pitching ERA in the American League and only 4 quality starts through 25 games.
You're right, Peter. We all thought they would have 5 quality starts and the second worst ERA in the American League. That's the folly of prediction. Lesson learned.
But this week this team that scored 2 runs or less in six of its first dozen games exploded against the mediocre pitching of the Texas Rangers.
They were cold? Now they're hot? They got hot against bad pitching? This is Hall of Fame stuff, Peter. What's that? You're already in the Hall of Fame? Dammit!
I give up. Gammons wins again.
OMG, he's rocking with Theo! He's so cool!111!!!111!