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Phil Coke up big in the postseason.
The Tigers announced yesterday that they will part ways with closer Jose Valverde.  The rapid free fall that Papa Grande suffered in the post season made the decision an easy one.

Valverde saved 110 games in three seasons as a Tiger and blew only eight over that same span.  Yet, a pair of major playoff meltdowns in Oakland and New York left a lasting impression.

The Tigers now have to decide who will close games for the 2013 club.  Finding a closer is no easy task.  It takes a certain temperament to get the final three outs.  You can argue that the three outs relievers get in the seventh and eighth innings are just as important, but the three in the ninth are the toughest.

So where do the Tigers find their next closer?  Well, they'll have plenty of avenues to explore.

Here are some of the options the Tigers could explore:

Current roster: 

Phil Coke stepped up in the post season and despite allowing the game winning hit to Marco Scutaro in Game 4 of the World Series, he was impressive.  After struggling in August, he pulled it together in the final month of the regular season and his 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball against the Yankees propelled the Tigers to the World Series.  His clutch performances helped the Tigers through the Valverde implosion.

Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit are other choices.  Dotel is the only option of the three that has extensive experience closing, but he will be 39 next year.  Alburquerque has the strikeout stuff required but hasn't had many opportunities to close out games.  Benoit has appeared more comfortable pitching the eight.

Minor Leagues:
 

Bruce Rondon is one of the top prospects in the minor leagues.  He had a strong season, pitching at Lakeland, Erie and Toledo in 2012 recording 29 saves with a 1.53 ERA combined.  Rondon also appeared in the Futures Game, showcasing his blazing fastball.  He has been clocked at 103 MPH and throws his breaking stuff consistently for strikes.  However, he's only 21-years-old and has pitched in only 9 games above AA.  Are the Tigers ready to hand him the ninth inning?

Free Agents:

There are several established major league closers available, but the price is an issue.  Front and center is Rafael Soriano who decided to opt out of the final year of his three year contract with the Yankees.  Soriano's agent Scott Boras has intimated that his client could fetch up to $60 million over the next four years.  $15 million a  year for a closer is pretty steep considering the Tigers already have three $20 million/year players in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.

Jonathan Broxton and Joakim Soria are two other names.  Broxton is one of the top talents available this side of Soriano.  He split time with the Royals and Reds in 2012 and saved 27 games.  Soria missed 2012 with Tommy John surgery but saved 43 games for the Royals in 2010.  The Royals declined Soria's option, making him a free agent.


Closer in waiting:

Following the 2003 season, the MinnesotaTwins traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants and received Joe Nathan as part of the package in return.  Nathan appeared in 78 games the previous season, posting a 2.96 ERA but did not save a single contest.  The following season the Twins made him their closer and he went on to become one of the game's most dominant ninth inning specialists, saving 260 games in a Twins uniform.

Can the Tigers find, and trade for, the next Joe Nathan?  It's possible.  There are quite a few candidates waiting for their opportunity to close.  Of the arms that we saw this year around the league, several names jump out as closers in the waiting.  Nate Jones (White Sox), Ryan Cook (A's), Cody Allen (Cleveland) and Pedro Strop (Orioles) all have electric arms.  The asking price would be be formidable.

Finding a new closer will be one of the Tigers priorities, but it's a decision that may not be made until next spring.  It all depends on the avenue they explore.

 
 
The Detroit Tigers announced that Jim Leyland will return to manage the team in 2013.  Here is some of the reaction to today's press conference:

Jim Leyland:

"Detroit is a tremendous baseball town and I couldn't dream of a better place to manage.  The support of Mr. Ilitch andDave Dombrowski is second to none and gives the club a chance to win every year.  Tigers fans and the people of Michigan have supported us so well during our time here, I can't even begin to express how much that means to me."

Dave Dombrowski:

"Jim is as fine a manager as there is in baseball, he's done a fantastic job for the organization and we are thrilled to have him back managing the Tigers in 2013.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim and his ability to lead our club on the field.  I am confident that you will not find a harder working or better prepared manager in the game." _
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Jim Leyland will return in 2013.
The Tigers off season is officially underway and the club has already made some key decisions regarding the 2013 version of team.

Manager Jim Leyland's contract was extended one year and he will return after leading the Tigers to the World Series for the second time in seven years.

Leyland has guided the Tigers to three playoff appearances, two division titles and two pennants since taking over in 2006.  He has won 1676 games in his 21-year managerial career, ranking him first among active managers.

Yet despite the success he has had in turning the Tigers franchise around, Leyland, took his share of hits this season.  The intense scrutiny his lineups faced on a daily basis gnawed at the skipper.  His admitted loyalty to veterans that were not performing meanwhile gnawed at the fans.

If you look around baseball however, no manager is immune to criticism.  Mike Scioscia was under heavy fire this year in Anaheim and routinely takes shots despite his success over the past decade at the Big A.  It comes with the territory.

The bottom line is that Jim Leyland is the right manager for this team.  His players respect him and love to play for him.  He has the desire to continue to manage and constantly talks of how he loves the city and the organization.  This decision was an easy one.

The club also decided to bring back shortstop Jhonny Peralta and reliever Octavio Dotel, exercising the options on their contracts.  Neither decision was a surprise to me. 

While Peralta's numbers were down across the board in 2012, he still ranked third in homers and fourth in RBI's among A.L. shortstops this year.  He also had a strong post season offensively and with the glove.  At age 30, Peralta is far from over the hill.

Dotel provided the Tigers pen with a sold veteran presence.  He appeared in 57 games and even at age 38, the Tigers feel has has a lot to offer next season.

More moves to come I'm sure.

 
 
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Miguel Cabrera's two-run HR in Game 4
In many ways it was a sad, fitting ending to the Tigers 2012 post season dreams. 

Omar Infante grabbed his left hand in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series and realized it wasn't good.  Infante immediately exited the game after he was hit by a Santiago Casilla pitch. 

His hand was broken and eventually, so were the Tigers chances to make history.

No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a World Series, and the streak would remain intact.

The Tigers lost to the Giants 4-3 in 10 innings on Sunday night, drawing the curtain on an exhilarating and ultimately disappointing 2012 season.  While the Tigers needed a late September rally to qualify for the post season, a four game sweep of the Yankees vaulted the Bengals into the role of favorite in the World Series.

The Tigers starters were up to the task and with any offensive support, it may have been Detroit looking to close out the series on Sunday instead of Giants.

Yet, for all of the power the Tigers boast in the  middle of the batting order, the Giants offered a view of the benefits of a more flexible offense.  Time and time again in the post season, the Giants had a strong ability to create runs.  They scored the winning run in Game 4 with a single, sacrifice and two out hit.

As the off season settles in, and the sting of a World Series defeat subsides, the Tigers will have some decisions to make regarding next year's club.  Will they attempt to re-sign Anibal Sanchez?  Who will close in 2013?  Do they pick up Jhonny Peralta's option?

They do know that Victor Martinez should have a clean bill of health and will help form a killer 3-4-5 in the line up next year with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.  While that trio will terrorize opposing pitching, there is not much speed in the middle of the order and they may need to inject some at other spots in the lineup.

The starting rotation should once again be a strength of the 2013 group, especially with the emergence of Drew Smyly and Max Scherzer taking the next step. 

There is plenty to be excited about for 2013, and as always the coming winter will be an interesting one as the Tigers continue to build for the ultimate prize.  A prize that eluded them in 2006 and 2012.

 
 
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The Tigers offense continues to struggle.
Three games into the 2012 World Series, the Tigers feel their opportunity slipping away. 

Game 3 was the first game on their home field and provided an opportunity for the Tigers to get back into the series.  The Tigers play much better at home.  Their team average is 20 points higher at Comerica Park and they score nearly a run more per game at home compared to the road.

None of that mattered Saturday night.  In the first five innings, the Tigers hit into two double plays and loaded the bases with one out, only to squander the opportunity.  The result was a second straight 2-0 loss.

The Tigers are hitting .165 in the first three games of the series and have not scored a run in 18 consecutive innings.  Odd for a club that finished top five in the A.L. in average, slugging percentage and on base percentage in 2012.

The Tigers are now 1-11 with runners in scoring position in the series.  Much of the blame has been put at the feet of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.  True, the duo is 3-19, but the rest of the Tigers lineup is hitting .167.  There is plenty of blame to go around.

There is no blaming the pitching staff though.  Despite Verlander's struggles in Game 1, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez have pitched well enough to leave the Tigers up 2-1 at this point.

The Tigers offense will eventually come to life.  Whether it is Game 4, or next season remains to be seen.

 
 
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With two games in the books, the 2012 World Series has not gone remotely as planned for the Tigers. 

The Giants scratched and clawed their way into the series in a grueling seven game set with the Cardinals.  The Tigers swept the Yankees in four games, allowing them to set their pitching rotation.

Yet, it is the Giants that have won the first two games based largely on the back end of their rotation out-pitching the Tigers top two guns.  Doug Fister's effort in Game 2 was certainly worthy of a victory, but the Tigers offense has hit the skids at the most inopportune time.

If the Giants had one advantage over the Tigers heading into the series, it may have been in the bullpen.  The Jose Valverde "situation" has left the Tigers pen unsettled.  The Giants bullpen meanwhile backed Madison Bumgarner to seal Game 2.

Had Phil Coke been available to pitch in the seventh inning instead of rookie Drew Smyly, it may have been a different result.  Jim Leyland possibly elected to hold Coke for later in the game for a closing opportunity.   Regardless, the Tigers need to jump start the bats if they want to get back into the series.

Perhaps the momentum of Game 2 was shifted when Fielder was thrown out at the plate in the second inning.  However, just as the missed call on Omar Infante at second base in the Yankees series didn't define that outcome, neither should the Fielder play define this series.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .268 in the post season and Fielder, just .205.  The Tigers offense starts in the middle.  Cabrera and Fielder must get it going as the series shifts to Detroit.

The Giants feel good about their chances considering they will throw Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in Games 3 & 4.  Winning the first two games has put the Giants rotation back in order, but if Justin Verlander can be beaten, so can Cain and Vogelsong.

With temps expected to hover around the mid 40's, it will be chilly at Comerica Park the next three days.  Not exactly conducive to heating up stagnant bats, but the Tigers will need to find a way.

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AT&T Park in San Francisco.
As the Tigers head west to face the San Francisco Giants for the first two games of the 2012 World Series, many pundits have predicted that the Tigers will prevail, winning the big prize for the first time since 1984.

While the Tigers route to the Series was certainly less stressful, the Giants should still provide a stiff challenge.

Coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the NLDS and a 3-1deficit in the NLCS, the Giants have proved to be a resilient bunch.  While the Giants roster may not possess the star power that the Tigers boast, I see this as anything but a walk in the (AT&T) Park.

The two teams offer a difference in style.  The Tigers boast more pure power than the Giants, but San Francisco has perhaps a  better ability to manufacture runs.  That may be an issue in the four games that could potentially be played in San Francisco.

Power bats are seemingly neutralized at AT&T.  The park surrendered only 84 homers in 2012, the fewest in baseball.  Comerica Park by comparison yielded 159, an it is considered a pitchers park.

This all points to the theory that the Tigers table setters must be at their best.  Sacrifice bunts and the occasional hit-and-run may be necessary more that usual to for a Tigers offense that relies more on the thunder provided by Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young.

The Giants have had many examples of how they like to play the game this post season, and it has served them well.

Barry Zito dropped down a perfect bunt with David Freese playing back at third base in Game 5 of the NLCS.  Zito beat it out for an infield hit and it helped fuel a 4-run fourth in a 5-0 win.  In Game 7, Marco Scutaro's hit-and-run single in the first inning set up the game's first run in a 9-0 win in the clincher.

The Giants dropped down 69 sacrifice bunts this season, one of the top totals in the N.L.  The Tigers by comparison had only 36.  Based on their personnel, it clearly is a big part of what they do.

The Tigers rotation will also be a key.  The Bengals have a decided advantage in that area and the pressure will be on to continue to pitch the way they have in the post season.  This becomes particularly important against a Giants offense that has proven to be quite potent in stretches.

The Giants offense has scored four or more runs in an inning five times in the post season.  The Tigers staff will need to control the damage and limit the big innings in the series.

The Tigers are rested and an early clinch provided them with an opportunity to set their rotation for the series.  With Justin Verlander going in Game 1, the Tigers should get off to a good start.




 
 
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ALCS MVP Delmon Young.
With Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday in either St. Louis or San Francisco,  Jim Leyland had a tough choice to make.  Without the DH in National League parks, the Tigers had to decide whether Delmon Young's offense is worth the risk his lack of defensive ability carries.

Apparently the Tigers have decided to keep Young in the lineup.

While the Tigers admittedly are not a gold glove calibre defense as a whole, they have no choice but to keep Young in the lineup and roll the dice in the field.

It wouldn't make much sense for the Tigers to take the ALCS MVP out of the lineup with the ultimate prize up for grabs.  There are two main reasons Young needs to play. 

First, the Tigers reached the World Series largely because of a dominant pitching staff.  The Tigers have been limited to three runs or less in five post season games.  Offensively, the club needs Young's bat to continue to provide the spark it has.   Young has hit two home runs and has knocked in eight runs in nine post season games.

Secondly, someone has to protect Prince Fielder.  Fielder will get less pitches to hit if there is no threat behind him.  The production Young has provided, and Jhonny Peralta for that matter, is critical.  Without any depth to the bottom of the Tigers lineup, pitching around Cabrera and Fielder becomes increasingly easier.

The chance of Young botching a play in left is worth the potential thump he provides the offense

 
 
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As a sunny Thursday afternoon transitioned into the early evening at Comerica Park, the excitement of a return trip to the World Series was beginning to build. 

The Tigers were putting the finishing touches on a stunning sweep of the seemingly indifferent Yankees as 42,477 towel-waving fans geared up for the final out.

When the dust settled, the scoreboard showed an offensive explosion for the Tigers to the tune of eight runs on 16 hits, by far their most spirited effort of the post season.

While the bats fueled the win in the deciding fourth game, there is no disputing the fact that the Tigers starters are the reason the Bengals are headed back to the World Series. 

Max Scherzer followed the lead of his three predecessors and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in what was a dominant display of a wipe-out changeup and mid 90's fastball.  Scherzer made the Yankees look silly, piling up 10 strikeouts in the process.

It was the latest in a line of fabulous performances by the Tigers overpowering rotation.  Scherzer has combined with Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez to post a 1.02 ERA in the post season.  In the ALCS, the starting staff blanketed a Yankees offense that powered through the American League with 95 wins.  The Yankees led the A.L. with 245 home runs in 2012, but managed only three in the four game series.

This season has once again taught us that all you really need to do is find a way to get in.  Teams catch fire and win championships.  While this has been an uneven season for the Tigers to say the least, the club's attitude was anything but.   Even through the most gut-wrenching of losses, the Tigers clubhouse never wavered.

At times in September, you would walk through the locker room and wonder to yourself, "Do these guys realize that they are running out of time?"  This team however followed the lead of its manager.  A quiet confidence seemed present in the clubhouse, even as time was running short.  In the end, the Tigers ripped off 11 wins in the season's final 16 games.  Now they are four wins away from a World Series ring.

As we worked the field for post game interviews following Thursday's clincher, the emotions were painted on every face.   Joaquin Benoit was near tears as he spoke of how the bullpen picked up the slack for struggling teammate Jose Valverde.  The unending grin on Max Scherzer's face washed away the personal tragedy he suffered this summer with the passing of his brother.  The look of confidence and accomplishment on the face of Andy Dirks as he talked about looking forward to the World Series.  Gerald Laird celebrating on the field with his kids in his arms. 

As the party began to wind down, the streets of the city began to clear.  Compared to 2006, the celebration seemed a bit muted.  There was a sense that this time there is still another celebration waiting to erupt.

It was a special night in the Motor City, and one that should turn even the most cynical fans into believers.  The pitching should make the Tigers favorites against the National League's representative.  By the end of next week, we'll have a good idea if it's mission accomplished.





 
 
The feeling was deflating.  The Tigers were headed to Midway airport in Chicago after suffering a  5-4 loss to the White Sox on September 17th, leaving them three games behind Chicago in the standings, with 13 games to play.

In many baseball circles, the Tigers were done.  Math was not on their side.  We all know what happened after that.  The Tigers went on to win 11 of 16 down the stretch and the White Sox faded.

Now, just one more win and the Tigers return to the World Series for the first time since 2006.

Tuesday night, the ballpark was jammed and the feeling of Destiny returned.  Justin Verlander did what Justin Verlander does:  dominate.  The Yankees seemed like a helpless bunch.  With their season in the balance, Alex Rodriguez never took his Yankees sweatshirt off.  He never picked up a bat and stayed glued to the bench all night.  A bat responsible for 647 career home runs never left the bat rack. 

As the Yankees mounted a ninth inning rally, manager Joe Girardi stuck with left-handed Raul Ibanez against lefty Phil Coke.  Coke won the battle and the Tigers won the game.  This series looks over.  The Yankees look cooked.

Robinson Cano is 1-30, A-Rod is benched, Curtis Granderson is 3-29 with 15 strikeouts in the post season and the Yankees will pin their hopes on the sizable shoulders of C.C. Sabathia tonight.

It seems like the inevitable is right around the corner.  It feels like the Tigers are ready to bring a World Series back to the Motor City.

The last time the Tigers swept the ALCS in 2006, they fell flat in the World Series.  They had to wait a week to start the Fall Classic.  In essence they won too quickly.  Bad weather prevented the Tigers from doing much more than practicing bunt plays at Ford Field while they awaited their National League challenger.

The same hurdle exists this year if the Tigers dispatch the Yankees tonight.  Game 1 of the World Series will be played next Wednesday the 24th.  If the Tigers send the Yankees packing, hopefully they can stay sharp in the coming week.  If they advance and play the Cardinals again in the World Series, exacting revenge would surely be sweet.