BY RICKY LINDSAY, Staff Writer
The Detroit Tigers faced many questions after losing a winnable series against the Mariners, who didn’t even send their ace Felix Hernandez to the mound. The series included the absence of a strong offense in two close games and the bullpen’s problem with recording key outs in late game situations.
It is hard to win games when your star hitter, Miguel Cabrera, goes 0-13 in a winnable series against a young, inexperienced team. It is also hard to win games when you take a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning, only to see your bullpen blow the save situation. These problems need to be answered before this season gets ugly.
An even bigger question heading into the four game series in Oakland was the emergence of Athletic’s Brandon Inge. Inge, the former Tiger and fan favorite in Detroit, joined the Athletics after being released by the Tigers. Inge was not performing at the Tigers’ expectations, with both the bat and the glove. A change of scenery worked for Inge, who was able to start at third base and hit a game winning grand slam against the Blue Jays before the Tigers came to town.
Any questions that fans had about the offense going into this series were answered in game one. The Tigers jumped to a 1-0 lead when red hot Andy Dirks homered to right field in the first.
Kila Ka’aihue answered back in the second with a home run of his own, scoring Seth Smith and himself. Cabrera responded from his 0-13 slump with an RBI double in the third, leading the way to a monster inning. Dirks scored a run on a Ka’aihue error at first base to take a 3-2 lead. Delmon Young hit an RBI single to score Cabrera to make it 4-2. Alex Avila hit a two run double to deep center field, scoring Prince Fielder and Young to make it 6-2. Brennan Boesch hit a double to deep left field, scoring Avila. Ramon Santiago hit an RBI double, scoring Boesch to make it 8-2. Cabrera ended the offensive juggernaut of an inning by singling to centerfield to score Santiago. The eight run third inning gave the Tigers a 9-2 lead. Ladies and gentlemen, the offense has been found!
In his next at bat, Cabrera hit another single to score Austin Jackson. This was the last time a Detroit Tiger would cross home plate for the rest of the night, but no one said anything about former Tigers crossing home. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Inge stepped into the batters’ box. I was watching the game and joked, “Watch Inge hit a grand slam.” This sadly wasn’t a joke, as Inge hit the grand slam home run to right field, scoring four runs for the A’s in the process.
This continued a rough road trip for Phil Coke, as he was charged with three of those four runs that were scored with the grand slam. Things started to look rocky heading into the ninth, but Valverde was able to slam the door shut, giving the Tigers a 10-6 victory. Max Scherzer pitched six and a third strong innings, allowing two runs and striking out nine. Bartolo Colon was roughed up in his two and a third innings pitched for the A’s, allowing eight runs on nine hits. In his last 13 innings pitched against the Tigers, Colon has allowed 13 runs.
The Tigers offense looked to continue their success from the previous night, but they were unable to be found in the shadows of bad pitching performances on the night. Cabrera had three RBI’s in the losing effort, continuing a recent hot streak in Oakland. Young had the other RBI for the Tigers in the eighth inning. This game was almost a mirror of the previous night, as A’s hitters smashed the Tigers pitching. Rick Porcello and Duane Below gave up four runs each, Porcello in five innings, and Below in one inning, while Collin Balister chipped in three runs in an inning. Inge had four RBI’s, including a three run homer. A’s pitcher Tommy Milone was sharp through seven innings, allowing one run, striking out six, and silencing the Tigers’ lethal lineup.
Game three belonged to the A’s right from the first inning. Jonny Gomes singled, scoring Jemile Weeks. Cliff Pennington, who replaced Weeks at shortstop due to injury, hit an RBI triple in the seventh, scoring Collin Cowgill. Daric Barton hit an RBI single, scoring Pennington to make it a 3-0 lead for the A’s. The Tigers’ offense was silent until the ninth, when Avila hit a sacrifice fly to score Young. Fister pitched well, going six innings while allowing one run and striking out eight. Phil Coke continued his struggles, allowing two runs in two-thirds of an inning. Brandon McCarthy threw seven shutout innings for the A’s, striking out ten along the way. Brian Fuentes closed out the game for the A’s, allowing one run in an inning pitched, as well as earning his second save on the season. With the A’s leading the series 2-1, the Tigers looked to salvage a split before heading to Chicago.
Verlander took the mound on Mother’s Day, as both teams wore pink accessories for breast cancer awareness. Verlander was on his usual A game, leading towards Verlander Domination. He was matched on the mound by Jarrod Parker, who was acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Parker showed why he is a touted prospect in the A’s organization, throwing five and two-thirds innings, allowing two runs, and striking out five. Cabrera had two RBI’s, and Jackson chipped in one on a bases loaded walk in the sixth. Verlander was dialed in from the first pitch, going seven strong innings, allowing one run on two hits, while striking out eight. The only run allowed was the Seth Smith home run in the fifth, which was the A’s second, and ultimately last hit. Valverde also picked up his seventh save of the year, allowing no hits and striking out one in one inning pitched. With this win, Verlander improves to 4-1, with a 2.47 ERA on the year. He continues to show anyone that last season wasn’t a fluke, and can continue to pitch phenomenally with a good amount of run support.
However, a problem that will continue to exist in Detroit is Inge, and will grow only larger with his success at the plate. Fans are torn over Inge’s release because he did so much for the organization. Others say that it was about time, that a .188 batting average should not get you anywhere in the major leagues, let alone the minor leagues. Inge has done a lot for the city of Detroit while sporting the Old English D, but was slowly phased out of the Tigers’ picture with the long term signings of superstar players Cabrera and Fielder. The key factor most people forget about is that Major League Baseball is a business. Being the nice guy is good, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t performing, you will be scrutinized until you are out of the picture. An example of this is Los Angeles Angels superstar Albert Pujols. He has underperformed from his usual self, and has been dissected as a result. Pujols will not leave the Angels, because he is a star, and will soon turn this around, but Inge needed a change of scenery in his situation. He required to be on a team with little to no expectations for success in the coming years. He also needed his main position back, which he received by playing in Oakland. In my opinion, it’s a win-win for both the Detroit Tigers organization and Brandon Inge.
Back to Tigers Baseball, the team travels to Chicago after winning 3 out of 7 on the West Coast. They face the White Sox in a quick two game series starting tonight. The first game features Drew Smyly taking on John Danks. Smyly dominated the White Sox earlier this season in Chicago, and will look to continue his impressive start to his rookie campaign. The second game features Max Scherzer taking on Jake Peavy. Peavy has been phenomenal this season, showing glimpses of the old ace that the Sox traded for in 2009. Peavy leads the Cy Young award conversations into May with his resurgence on the mound. This should be an interesting series as the Tigers look to win a few games before heading home to face Minnesota and Pittsburgh to end this coming week. I have the Tigers winning at least five games in this next week, because the offense is hot, and the starting pitching (minus Porcello) has been hotter.