There is more to the Detroit Tigers than Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. To help fill us in on the San Francisco Giants’ World Series opponent, Kurt Mensching was nice enough to answer my questions. Mensching is the Managing Editor of Bless You Boys, a Detroit Tigers community on SB Nation.
1. How do you think the Tigers will handle having a big layoff? Is it an advantage, disadvantage or just a post hoc narrative device writers use?
I think it’s kind of a narrative. It can go both ways. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer, for instance, should benefit from having the extra break. He had some issues in September and even against the Yankees you could see him wearing out later in the game. It also allows the Tigers to get the rotation in order. The ALDS going to five games got things a bit out of whack. Extra time could help there, too. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned, thanks in a large part to the meltdown of the 2006 World Series. The Tigers have tried different ways to stay sharper, including playing against some players who were on the active roster at some point this season, minor league players and even taking live pitching from Tigers pitchers.
2. The Tigers starters scare the hell out of me but the bullpen seems to be the weak underbelly of the team. Is that really the case? Which reliever makes you reach for the Xanax when he starts warming up?
A big advantage the Tigers have is taking starters deep into games. Every member of the playoff rotation is able to go eight or nine innings effectively. So while I do want to credit the Giants for having better pitchers in the eighth or ninth innings, I wouldn’t chalk the pens up to being that different to the advantage of the Giants. Al Alburquerque is excellent, and Drew Smyly shut down the Yankees in extra innings in Game 1 of the ALCS. Octavio Dotel is as steady as they come. Just keep the ball out of Jose Valverde’s hands. Detroit’s got some good pieces in the pen.
3. After watching Dusty Baker and Mike Matheny make some crucial strategic mistakes with their team’s bullpen, what should we expect from a strategic perspective from Jim Leyland?
Leyland has never been accused by Tigers fans of being a bullpen genius. But he did learn from the Valverde episode and relegated him to the bench for the rest of the series. Honestly, I’d have to say he punched almost all the right numbers in the playoffs so far. You have to give your closer a second chance, and he did that. The mistake was leaving Valverde in a batter or two too long against the Yankees.
4. The advanced stats seem to dislike the Tigers defense, are they really as bad what the stats say?
It depends which metrics you look at. By Defensive Runs Saved, they’re definitely in the bottom third, but far from the worst in the MLB. The Tigers are certainly a below-average team defensively, but a lot of the nattering experts out there haven’t watched them enough to realize they still make most of the plays they need to make, and they’ve looked better in the past. Keeping Delmon Young out of the outfield (uh-oh) and shoring up second base were key to that.
5. Outside of the big stars on the team, which players have been the biggest “under the radar” contributors that we should watch out for?
At this point in the season, it’s hard for any contributions to really go that far under the radar. You’ve got Delmon Young being honored with the ALCS MVP after doing little all year. Two other position players could have earned it as well, though. Jhonny Peralta had a great series and is playing the best he has all year. He’s even making plays in the field. He hit .343 with a .921 OPS in the ALCS after having a bit of a letdown season. Austin Jackson, I still don’t know if he gets the attention he deserves. His glove in center field wasn’t really as good this season as last but he’s still one of the top outfielders. He’s really the pace setter who makes the offense work, too.
I want to thank Kurt again for answering my questions, if you are looking for a great place to check out things from a Tigers perspective, I highly recommend Bless You Boys.