Friday, March 14, 2008

As the Snow Melts

I just stepped outside at lunch time here at the office. The temperature was easily 13 Celsius, or 55 Fahrenheit. The sun was shining warmly on my skin. The birds were singing.

And the snow was melting.

As I stood there enjoying the warmth, I couldn't help but start to make a list of all chores about to come due:

  • Clean the brush out of the gardens
  • Overhaul the lawnmower
  • Sand and paint the decks
  • Get the patio furniture out
  • Clean out the garage
  • And one day even open the pool

And I started to think about my long lost summer routine: coming home from work each night, throwing on a bathing suit, grabbing a beer, and sitting out on the back deck listening to my beloved Detroit Tigers on the radio.

And I started to think about baseball. I started to think about my Detroit Tigers heading home in a few more weeks to open the season at Comerica Park. I started to imagine what our team will look like after our block buster trade in the fall where we acquired an all star third baseman in Miguel Cabrera and an all star starting pitcher in Dontrelle Willis.

Our former shortstop Carlos Guillen, easily one of the most under-rated players in the league will move this year to first base. Edgar Renteria was also acquired from the Atlanta Braves and will join our infield as well.

So these three new players will join our already strong roster of Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Maglio Ordonez, Placido Palanco, and Curtis Granderson.

To a person who knows major league baseball this sounds pretty strong.

Our starting pitching rotation got stronger as Willis joins Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson.

To a person who knows baseball – this sounds like an indestructible team.

But we have an Achilles heel. Our bullpen.

For years past, we relied heavily on our closer Todd Jones. Two years ago we got our hands on a young rocket – fireball thrower Joel Zumaya, who filled our short relief role. Fernando Rodney had always been strong in the long relief role, as did Jason Grilli. These four guys did an incredible job in 2006 by being rock solid and helping the Tigers get to the World Series.

But alas, last year was a different story. Our bullpen let us down. Bad. Joel Zumaya injured his finger on his pitching hand playing "air-guitar". Fernando Rodney had something wrong because his pitch speed dropped from the mid 90s to the mid to high 80's and was getting blasted all over the park. Jason Grilli just plain lost it, as did Todd Jones, who had trouble getting anybody out.

There were so many games that we should have won last year, but lost because the bullpen let five run leads slip away and lose. We were leading the American League Central at the All Star break. Everyone was talking about the Tigers coming back to the World Series in 2008. But we didn't even make the playoffs.

That same bullpen is in spring training. And from everything I can read and hear on the radio – it sounds like the same bunch of problems. Zumaya is still hurt. Rodney and Jones are still not right.

As Yogi Berra would say, "it's deja vous all over again."

It would be a shame to see such an amazing batting line up go to waste. Getting eight to ten runs in a game only to lose in the closing innings. It would be a shame to see Verlander, Willis, Rogers, Bonderman, and Robertson pitch 6 innings of shutout ball, only to see the remaining three be a slug-fest for the opposition.

It could easily be a year of frustration. Not only for the Tigers, but the fans as well. Knowing full well the bullpen issue has been visible for the last ten months. But nothing change.

Or the bullpen boys could turn it around. Get the job done. Hold 'em off.

But that's not what we are seeing in spring training.

I better make sure I get those decks sanded and painted first. That'll give me a place to put the radio and set my beer down so I can listen to the games each night.

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