With the Twins and Tigers series coming up this weekend, Ian from Bless You Boys and Sweaty Men Endeavors and I had a little cross-blog interview. I asked him questions about the Tigers, and he asked me questions about the Twins. We did this year, and due to popular demand (at least that's what we tell ourselves) have brought it back. I'll post Ian's responses here, and mine will be over at Bless You Boys.
(1) I think it's safe to say that Gary Sheffield has struggled thus far since coming to Detroit. What seems to be his problems? Can they compete for a division title if he is only average?
Ian: From what I've seen, I think Sheffield's just trying too hard. He came to a World Series team and got a big contract extension, and I think he's putting some pressure on himself. And it's only gotten worse as he continues to slump. He's swinging at bad pitches and seems to be pulling most every pitch. He just looks uncomfortable; even his stance looks different from what I remember.
And no, I don't think the Tigers can compete if Sheffield doesn't figure it out. They have a decent record right now, thanks to their pitching, but I don't think that can last throughout the season. Eventually, they need Sheffield to provide the run production expected of him. There's no other player on the roster (well, maybe Magglio Ordonez) who can put up those kinds of numbers by himself.
(2) To be blunt, Sean Casey has been pretty atrocious thus far. Do they have any other options to turn to if he keeps struggling like this?
Ian: Definitely. Marcus Thames has already been starting against left-handed pitchers, so I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think he could play that position every day, if necessary. Or Chris Shelton, who was the first baseman most of last season, could be called up from AAA Toledo. Either move would probably strengthen the lineup. However, the defense at first base would suffer, and that's not an unimportant consideration to Jim Leyland. Casey's already saved several throwing errors with his glove. But if neither option is to the Tigers' liking, they'll try hard to trade for another first baseman.
(3) Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman have both followed up successful seasons last year with great starts to this season. If you had one game to win, which guy would you rather have on the mound?
Ian: I'd choose Bonderman, and not just because of his experience. Before the season, I thought Tigers fans were laying it on a little thick, saying he could be a Cy Young Award candidate, but so far, he's pitched to that level. Two of his last three starts have been phenomenal, and he'd bring that talent and determination to a must-win game. For whatever reason, Bonderman can still struggle in the first inning, but if a team doesn't get to him then, something clicks and he locks in. He could absolutely go nine innings in a Game 7, and I don't think you can say the same thing about Verlander.
(4) I must admit, it usually gives me hope as a Twins fan to see Todd Jones coming out to pitch the 9th... but then he usually gets the job done (even with the measly K rates). What makes him so effective?
Ian: I think a lot of Detroit fans often ask the same question. But it seems like Jones succeeds largely through stubbornness and conviction. He knows what kind of pitcher he is, so he pitches to contact and lets his defense make the plays. If Jones tried to blow fastballs by everyone, he'd get hammered out there. But as long as he keeps his ball moving, so the batters can't square it up, he'll be effective. He'll allow at least one baserunner per save situation, but then induce a double-play grounder to close out the game. A few times a season, he'll have a meltdown and blow a three-run lead. Yet he comes right back the next day, just as all the good relievers do.
(5) Where do you see the Tigers finishing up this season? Who do you think are their main competitors in the Central?
Ian: It probably looks like a hometown pick, but I really do think the Tigers are the best team in the AL Central and will eventually finish on top. With Kenny Rogers' injury, they no longer have the best starting rotation in the division, but I'd still like their top four over anyone else's. What I'm most encouraged by - and what should worry the other teams in the Central - is that they've been competitive despite disappointing production from their lineup and inconsistent pitching from the bullpen. Sheffield should eventually start hitting, and if Casey doesn't, the Tigers will somehow upgrade the position. And the starting rotation will be bolstered either by Rogers' return, or a call-up from the minors, such as Virgil Vasquez or Andrew Miller. So ultimately, this team is in good shape.
Once again much thanks to Ian from Bless You Boys and Sweaty Men Endeavors. Ian does great work on the Tigers, Detroit in general, and really all of sports. So be sure to check him out!