<![CDATA[Marioimpemba.com - Last Call Blog]]>Sun, 17 Apr 2016 20:14:08 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Back end balance]]>Mon, 18 Apr 2016 03:11:40 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/back-end-balance
Justin Wilson has helped turn the Tigers bullpen into a strength.
It's early, but what a difference a year makes.

Al Avila's main goal this offseason was to find some help for a beleaguered bullpen, that quite honestly, resembled  a shooting gallery last season.  Francisco Rodriquez got all of the press, (that happens when you are the all time active saves leader) but Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe have been as good as advertised.

The Tigers pen last season posted a bloated ERA of 4.38 last season.  Only the Oakland Athletics had a scarier number.  This year, albeit through only 11 games, that number has shrunk to 3.06.  Why?  Mainly because of Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe.

When the Tigers faced the Yankees last season, they trotted Wilson to of the back end of their bullpen and he opened some eyes.  Namely mine.  "Wow, I wish we had this guy," I thought to myself.  A lefty who can throw 97 MPH.  Dreams do come true I suppose, because Avila traded for Wilson this winter.  Bingo, the 7th inning is taken care of.

Mark Lowe joined the Tigers as a free agent just one day earlier to pitch the 8th and presto, the Tigers had completed a bullpen facelift that would make Joan Rivers proud.

The return of Alex Wilson, who threw an inning and a third of scoreless baseball in Houston on Sunday, and Drew Verhagen's continued progress has given the Tigers a formidable bullpen.  With Blaine Hardy's return expected soon, Brad Ausmus will feel like a kid in a candy store.

Nothing will turn your hair gray quicker than a leaky bullpen, but this season, the Tigers seem to have gotten it right.

<![CDATA[Hit the Road Jack]]>Wed, 13 Apr 2016 03:38:22 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/hit-the-road-jack
The Tigers first extended road trip of the year begins in Pittsburgh's PNC Park.
The Tigers continue their challenging month of April with stops in Pittsburgh, Houston and Kansas City on this road swing.  A road trip to Pittsburgh always means two things.  A stop at Primanti Brothers, and a visit to one of the premier road venues in the game.

​The advantage of being on the road is that your doctor can't yell at you for scarfing one of Primanti's pastrami and cheese sandwiches.  After all, what says clogged arteries more than two slices of bread, pastrami and cheese with fries, cole slaw and tomatoes stacked on top?   As if adding a fruit or vegetable (depending on how you view the tomato) to the top of this massive concoction makes it a skosh healthier.
Before lunch even happens though, my morning ritual of stopping in at Starbucks just got a little easier.  The team hotel now has a new Starbucks located on the property.  Awesome news, considering I no longer have to walk several blocks to my old favorite spot and risk running into a local wearing a Penguins jersey.  #LGRW

It's too bad that we only play two games here, because I really like the city.  I always look forward to running into the skipper Jim Leyland who still makes his home in the area.  I also can't wait to tell the story on the air about how Don Kelly is Neil Walker's brother-in-law.  What?  Don Kelly doesn't play for us anymore?

PNC Park is a gem.  Perhaps the nicest road stadium in the league in my view.  Speaking of views, the press box offers one of the most scenic vistas of any downtown in the league.  The only problem is, in order to achieve said view, the press box is located roughly a half mile from the Big Dipper.  Even Miguel Cabrera looks wimpy from our perch.

After the game is over, I usually walk back to the hotel.  The walk over the Clemente Bridge is stunning.  My favorite walk in the league.  Even if the guy playing the sax for money tries to convince me to jump because I'm a Tigers fan.

Looking forward to the series.

<![CDATA[It's not a rebuild]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 01:44:51 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/its-not-a-rebuildIt wasn't supposed to be like this.  The Tigers were supposed to be reflecting on a fifth consecutive playoff appearance in 2015.  Instead the reality of a last place finish and a 74-87 record still stings.  Only the A's won fewer games than the Tigers in the American League last year.

Yet, unlike most teams looking to pull themselves out of the cellar, the Tigers are not in a rebuild.  Far from it.

Last year's mix just didn't gel.  It's hard to resolve the events of last summer.  The talent appeared to be there, but the inability to furnish results was puzzling. While David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria are no longer part of the landscape, it's not like the cupboard is bare by any means.

However, for the Tigers to thrive in 2016, they will need more than what newcomers Jordan Zimmermann, Cameron Maybin, Frankie Rodriguez and Justin Wilson can provide.  They'll need health.

The last two seasons, Miguel Cabrera arrived in Lakeland recovering from an off season surgery.  Same with Victor Martinez last spring.  Justin Verlander's core surgery had also stunted his effectiveness.

Now, the Tigers are healthy.  This season can't possibly be as frustrating as 2015.

The question though, is can the Tigers win at least 13 to 15 more games than last season, the presumed requirement to reach the post season?

In my view, yes.

Again, this is not a rebuild.  The lineup will include a healthy Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez.  J.D. Martinez proved the term fluke did not apply to him.  That's a very potent 3-4-5.

Scoring runs again should not be a problem in 2016, which gets us back to that chemistry thing.  Last year's pieces ultimately didn't fit and the Tigers lost nearly 90 games games.  This, despite leading the league in average and hits and finishing second in on base percentage and third in OPS.

This, not surprisingly points to one thing.  Pitching.  More specifically, the bullpen. Opponents hit .271 against the Tigers pen last year, highest in the league.  The bullpen ERA of 4.38 was 14th in the league.  Frankie Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson should bolster the beleaguered group.

The 2016 Tigers will boast a potentially top flight offense, improved pen, solid rotation and gold glove calibre defense at several positions.

Only time will tell if it will be enough to dethrone the Royals.  On thing is for certain though,  a healthy squad has already put the Tigers lightyears ahead of March, 2015.

<![CDATA[ALCS Prediction]]>Thu, 15 Oct 2015 18:52:37 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/alcs-prediction
Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales lead their respective offenses into the ALCS.
The 2015 ALCS is set, and after a bumpy ride, the Royals and Jays are where many predicted.

When the Tigers faced the Blue Jays in Toronto late in the season, I had a front row seat to to an impressive display by the Jays offense.  Toronto outscored the Tigers 29-6 and hit eleven home runs in the series.  Their offense is deep and powerful.

The have a legitimate ace in David Price and power arms in the back end of the bullpen.  Rogers Centre is one of the best home field advantages in the game in my opinion.

The Royals meanwhile are defending A.L. champs and certainly have enough to get back to the World Series.

With a lineup that puts the ball in play and doesn't strikeout much, the Royals are more versatile.  Kansas City's offense had the fewest strikeouts in baseball.  They have more speed and the ability to create.

The Jays have quick strike capability and can score in bunches.  It's a contrast in styles and I'm not sure one is better than the other.  They're just different.

The Royals have a reputation of being outstanding defensively, and they are.  Perez, Escobar, Cain and Gordon are legit with the glove.  But so are Goins, Pillar, Donaldson and Tulowitzki.

The Royals staff got a late season boost when Johnny Cueto and Yordano Ventura returned to form.  Their rotation may be a little deeper, but Price and Marcus Stroman are a formidable duo.

While the Royals pen is considered the gold standard,  they pitched the most innings in the A.L. this season and the loss of Greg Holland makes the back end a little shorter.

The Jays pen meanwhile was underrated.  They boasted the fifth best ERA in the league and the third best opponents batting average.

I picked the Jays to win it all at the beginning of the post season and I'll stick with that prediction.

Jays in seven.

<![CDATA[The Ace returns]]>Sat, 12 Sep 2015 04:14:22 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/september-11th-2015PictureJustin Verlander has returned to form.
If you didn’t know any better, you would think it was 2007 all over again.

Justin Verlander was on the mound featuring an upper 90’s fastball and a mix of crisp breaking balls.

It was the ninth inning and scoreboard showed a zero under the hit column for the opponent.  But unlike 2007 against the Milwaukee Brewers, Verlander would fall short in his bid for a no-hitter on August 26th against the Angels.

Still, the similarities were eerie.  While Verlander couldn’t finish off the no-no, he appears to be back.
Verlander became just the third active pitcher to throw four 1-hit shutouts in his career, joining teammate Anibal Sanchez and Matt Cain.

More importantly it appears the Tigers have their ace back.  With potentially five years remaining on his contract, that might be the best news of all.  In his last 6 starts, Verlander has an ERA of 1.27 and a WHIP of 0.87.

As Al Avila scours the off-season free agent listings, his job became a little easier in constructing a new rotation.   Verlander's resurgence has lessened the need to find an ace.  With uncertainties surrounding Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene, having one key rotation piece in place is critical.  

<![CDATA[Mario's Minute:  J.D.'s Magical ride]]>Thu, 18 Sep 2014 20:28:02 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/marios-minute-jds-magical-rideThis season, I am producing one minute features about the Tigers that will air on more than 30 radio stations around the state of Michigan.  The feature is called Mario's Minute and can also be found here.

                                                                         J.D.'s Magical Ride
No one could have predated what J.D. Martinez has accomplished this year.  Not even the Tigers.

After his release from the Astros in March, the Tigers jumped on Martinez, taking a flyer on a kid with raw power, but just average numbers at best.  That raw power has been supplemented by a healthy dose of confidence
and the results have been eye-popping.

What they got was not only raw power, but a clutch performer that has saved the Tigers season.

Martinez has given the Tigers a powerful bat in the critical 5-spot in the lineup, right behind Victor Martinez.  No other #5 hitter has hit more homers or driven in more runs than J.D. in the A.L

He has also been clutch.  J.D. has more RBI’s in the 7th inning or later than any other player in the A.L.  

With a knack for late dramatic home runs, he has placed himself firmly into the plans for 2015.

<![CDATA[Mario's Minute: Martin shakes up lineup]]>Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:00:45 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/marios-minute-martin-shakes-up-lineupThis season, I am producing one minute features about the Tigers that will air on more than 30 radio stations around the state of Michigan.  The feature is called Mario's Minute and can also be found here.

                                                                                   Martin shakes up lineup
Billy Martin was known for his fiery personality as Tigers manager in the 1970’s .  He was also known for his lack of patience when things weren’t going well.

In 1972, Martin was frustrated with his team’s lack of offense, so he decided to try one of his more interesting maneuvers.  

Martin decided to pick the batting order out of a hat in the first game of a double header. Slugger Norm Cash’s name was picked first and he would bat leadoff.  Meanwhile Eddie Brinkman, who hit .203 that year, would bat cleanup. Not ideal

Yet, Cash would end up with two hits and Brinkman doubled in a run. 

Incredibly the stunt worked as the Tigers won 3-2.  In the second game of the doubleheader, Martin went back to his regular lineup.  The Tigers lost 9-2.  Go figure.

<![CDATA[Mario's Minute:   New Age Defense]]>Fri, 18 Apr 2014 04:08:08 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/marios-minute-new-age-defenseThis season, I am producing one minute features about the Tigers that will air on more than 30 radio stations around the state of Michigan.  The feature is called Mario's Minute and can also be found here.

                                                               New Age Defense
In the good old days, playing a hitter to pull meant sliding over a step or two to the pull field.  

These days, video and statistical analysis has thoroughly changed the way some big league teams align their defense.  This season, you can include the Tigers into that group.

When the Tigers hired Matt Martin as defensive coordinator, It signaled a change in philosophy for the Tigers defensively.  

These days you’ll see everything from three defenders to one side of the bag, to the third baseman running across the diamond to play in short right field.

Martin admits that you may get burned in the short term every now and then, but long term, the numbers indicate that you steal some outs but by being creative with positioning.

So, don’t be surprised if the Tigers employ some no so conventional alignments this season.

<![CDATA[Mario's Minute:  Joba Chamberlain]]>Wed, 16 Apr 2014 00:01:35 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/marios-minute-joba-chamberlainThis season, I am producing one minute features about the Tigers that will air on more than 30 radio stations around the state of Michigan.  The feature is called Mario's Minute and can also be found here.

                                                                       Joba Chamberlain
When Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain was growing up in Lincoln Nebraska, he was involved in several sports as a youth.  He would soon find that his true love would be baseball.

As kids, people can have a profound effect on us and for Chamberlain that person was one of his teammates, Nate Raun.

Chamberlain and Raun became very close friends.  Two years later, Chamberlain would learn to live for the moment, when his friend Nate died of brain cancer.

Nate Raun wore number eight.  From that day forward, Chamberlain decided he would pay tribute to his buddy’s number.

Since he is a pitcher, he must wear a double-digit number.  Joba wore 62 with the Yankees.  Six plus two equals eight.

When Joba signed with the Tigers in the off season he selected 44.  And the tribute to Nate Raun continues.

<![CDATA[Thursday's Spring Notes]]>Thu, 06 Mar 2014 15:14:01 GMThttp://marioimpemba.com/last-call-blog/thursdays-spring-notesAndy Dirks met the media this morning and talked about his pending surgery to repair a disc in his back.  It is a surgery that Brad Ausmus had several years back, and he provided some advice for Dirks.

"Right now it seems like a long, dark tunnel," Ausmus said.  "The first few weeks will be hard because you can't do anything, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

For his part, Dirks seemed upbeat in the clubhouse.  "The good news is that it's fixable and I should be back in a couple of months," he said.

Good news for shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Iglesias is suffering from shin splints an he ran for the first time yesterday.  

"A specialist watched him run yesterday and made some adjustments to his orthotics," Ausmus said.  "It seemed to relieve some of the pressure, it was a good sign yesterday."

Casey Crosby has been sidelined with elbow soreness, and Ausmus said he will face live hitters tomorrow for the first time.

Ausmus also revealed that his three college choices  as a kid were Dartmouth, Princeton and Harvard.  He was accepted to all three.  He eventually chose Dartmouth.

I'm sure we can all relate.]]>