Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Around the Division: This Might Be Detroit's Year

Since this blog is generally read by Cleveland fans, and, as the marvelous Mike Polk points out, "We're not Detroit," some fans may not have noticed the finish to the Tigers-Royals game yesterday.  For Cleveland fans, this had an eerie feeling to it.

Erstwhile starter Brian Bannister allowed a total of four baserunners through 6 innings on a walk and three singles.  No Tiger even reached second base, and he struck out two hitters in the 6th to look as strong as ever.  The highest number of hitters he faced in an inning was FOUR.  The Royals even scored a fifth "insurance run" in the top of the 7th when Yoon Betancourt got a hit.  This pretty much defines "your day," right?  Brian Bannister shuts down the opposition, and Yoon Betancourt gets a hit off Joel Zumaya.

It was not "Kansas City's day."  It may not be their "month."  Or "life."

Okay, so Bannister was pulled precisely when his luck ran out: after a K, he walked Brandon Inge and gave up an RBI double.  No big deal.  Bring on the Parade O' Relievers.
Roman Colon: double (run 2), foulout, double (run 3)
Someguy Hughes: infield single, walk (loads bases)
Juan Cruz: walks in run (run 4), 2-run double (runs 5 & 6)

There you have it.  Sure, there was more Fail, but no more runs, and it didn't matter anyway.  Detroit wins, 6-5.

Now, listen: no one is going to argue that the KC bullpen is Super Excellent.  Maybe Super Excrement.  But not Good.  Consider this stat from Rany Jazayerli:

Starters: 19.2, 2 ER, 0.92 ERA
Relievers: 9.1 IP, 14 ER, 13.50 ERA

And that was posted Friday, April 9.  Do you think it's better now?  I don't think it's better now.  So rallying against the Royals' bullpen is not entirely a Sign of Great Things.  More a sign of Sentient Bipedalness.

But do you remember in 1995, when the Tribe seemed to win a ton of games in the last three innings?  Before 1995, you never expected to win a game if the Indians were behind in the late innings.  And since 2006, you actually expect the Indians to LOSE a game if they are AHEAD in the late innings.  But through the Magical Years, you didn't wonder IF Cleveland could come back, you simply wondered how the WOULD.

Detroit is developing that "feel."

I won't recap Sunday's loss.  Sunday's loss makes my stomach lining weep.  But it was the same thing: starter is great, gives up a couple runs late, bullpen comes in, and not ONE of the pitchers performs in a manner preferable to genital electrification.

So if you're looking for three reasons, consider these:
  1. The KC Comeback
  2. The Cleveland Comeback
  3. The Other Comeback
What is the "Other" Comeback?  Well, it's the one factor that could be a lot more serious in terms of defining Detroit as a real Division Crown Threat:

Jeremy Bonderman.

Bonderman was pretty bad in 2007 (5.01 ERA, 1.56 WHIP).  Bonderman was bad and hurt in 2008.  Bonderman barely pitched at ALL in 2009.  I wrote him off, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone.

On April 10th, Jeremy Bonderman gave up 1 R on 1 H in 5 IP, striking out 5 and walking 2.

Obviously, it's only one start.  And Cleveland isn't a very good offensive team.  On the other hand, they pounded Justin Verlander, universally considered an excellent pitcher, the next day.  And although it's only one start, it's one more excellent start than Bonderman has had since May 27th, 2008.

The game comebacks may be nothing more than a comination of good fortune and execrable bullpens.  If Bonderman's comeback is real, Detroit could be prohibitively difficult to catch.

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