September 26, 2011

The Tale of 2011, Told Through Power Rankings Comments

One of my favorite parts of being the Tigers blogger on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot Network is contributing to the weekly MLB Power Rankings. While I don’t have a vote in where the Tigers rank, I do have a tiny voice in reporting the state of the club.

Rather than do a traditional season recap, here’s how the 2011 Tigers season unfolded, one week — and one comment — at a time.

WEEK RECORD RANK COMMENT
Week 1 1-2 15 Tigers pitchers solved Mark Teixeira’s early-season hitting woes — surrendering three homers to him in as many games during the opening weekend — and were lucky to leave the Bronx with one win.
Week 2 3-6 23 Other than a dominant performance by Justin Verlander against the Orioles and similar work by Phil Coke in his first start, the otherwise Tigers stunk it up last week with a dormant offense, dropping two of three to the Royals at Comerica (three hits off Bruce Chen?).
Week 3 7-9 16 The Tigers are starting to string together wins more regularly but won’t be able to do so consistently until the offense is better balanced. Their most urgent need is getting leadoff man Austin Jackson (.175 batting average) going — and fast.
Week 4 12-10 14 The Tigers used dominant pitching and opportunistic hitting to sweep the White Sox and finish a 5-1 week. Detroit pitchers held the Sox scoreless over the last 20 innings of the series.
Week 5 12-16 20 Back-to-back sweeps, first to the Mariners then to the Indians, have left the Tigers reeling. Free-agent prize Joaquin Benoit surrendered six earned runs in two-thirds of an inning this week and was tagged for two of the losses against the Tribe.
Week 6 17-18 16 Fans of the Jekyll and Hyde Tigers are in better spirits after a week in which they took three-of-four from the Yankees, Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays and leadoff hitter Austin Jackson at last showed signs of life (8-for-24 this week) at the plate.
Week 7 22-18 9 From swoon to surge in a matter of weeks. The Tigers have won seven straight and 10 of their last 11. Speaking of surges, Jhonny Peralta hit .529 for the week to raise his season average to .307.
Week 8 23-23 14 So much for momentum. The once-surging Tigers scored 10 runs in their last six games — only five in the three-game weekend series against the Pirates. At the same time, the bullpen has unraveled, posting an ERA over 14.50 last week.
Week 9 26-26 16 Want just one reason the schizophrenic Tigers trail the Indians by six games? How about a run differential of minus-11 versus Cleveland’s plus-45?
Week 10 31-27 15 The Tigers are only 2.5 games behind the Indians for many reasons, including seventh-inning specialist Al Alburquerque. Last week, he struck out nine and allowed one hit in 4.1 scoreless innings. He has 35 K’s in 19.2 IP so far in ’11.
Week 11 35-30 10 The first-place Tigers’ offense depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is the suddenly hot Austin Jackson. After two sleepy months the Tigers’ leadoff man is hitting .370 in June with a .420 OBP.
Week 12 39-33 6 The past week belonged to Justin Verlander, who nearly threw his second no-hitter of the season on Tuesday. His line from two complete-game starts last week: 18 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 1 BB, 17 K. Oh, and this month he’s 4-0 with a 1.06 ERA in four starts.
Week 13 42-36 9 Three Tigers tidbits: In his start against the D-backs on Friday, Justin Verlander had 14 strikeouts. In his last 10 games, Austin Jackson has 14 strikeouts. Joaquin Benoit seems to have settled down: he’s allowed just two runs in his last 10 appearances (8.1 IP).
Week 14 45-40 11 Tigers pitchers surrendered 14 or more runs three times last week and 32 in a three-game set against the Mets. The 54-run total likely cost pitching coach Rick Knapp his job on Sunday.
Week 15 49-43 13 For the fourth time in Jim Leyland’s six years as Tigers manager, the club is in first place in the AL Central at the All-Star break. And last year they were only a half-game back. How this team finishes will determine if Leyland gets a seventh season in Detroit.
Week 16 50-45 13 The Tigers continue to play with fire: They’ve lost six of their past eight series but still manage to hang around the top of the AL Central. Look for them to make upgrades via trade soon to fuel a more consistent run to the division title.
Week 17 54-47 9 It looks like the Tigers have solved their second base problem with Carlos Guillen’s return to the lineup. Lou Whitaker he’ll never be, but if Guillen hits anywhere close to the .360 he’s posted in his first seven games, the Tigers will take the tradeoff of his slow-footed defense.
Week 18 57-51 10 After posting a 13-13 record in July, the Tigers look ahead to August, when they’ll face Central Division foes in six of nine series — including six games against the second-place Indians.
Week 19 61-53 10 The Tigers enter the week with a four-game lead on the Indians. With a three-game set on tap in Cleveland (one that unfortunately won’t feature a Justin Verlander-Ubaldo Jimenez matchup), they’re poised to put some serious distance between themselves and the Tribe.
Week 20 64-56 10 If the Tigers are determined not to run away with the AL Central, it mirrors their approach to winning games. The club’s last eight wins all were by one run. Their last win of more than a lone run came on July 29, a 12-2 win over the Angels.
Week 21 68-58 9 If you told Tigers fans a week ago that Delmon Young and Brandon Inge would play key roles in wins over the Twins and Indians, they’d have asked what bizarro world they were living in. Young batted .308 with two homers during the just-completed homestand and Inge homered in his first at-bat after returning from Triple-A.
Week 22 73-60 7 August has been a breakthrough month for the Tigers: Justin Verlander won his 20th game, the tireless Alex Avila is hitting .400, and Jose Valverde continues to rack up saves — to the tune of 39 straight. And they’re six up on the Indians, four more than on Aug. 1.
Week 23 78-62 8 Austin Jackson is getting hot at the right time for the Tigers. The leadoff man hit .500 last week (16-for-32) with two doubles, three triples and a pair of homers. What’s more, he had nine hits in the weekend sweep of the White Sox.
Week 24 84-62 4 How have the Tigers strung together nine straight wins? For starters, their standard lineup is hitting .339 so far in September, led by Victor Martinez at .361. Meanwhile, setup man Joaquin Benoit hasn’t surrendered a run since Aug. 2, a span of 16 2/3 innings.
Week 25 89-64 3 With the AL Central title secured, there’s little drama left for the Tigers. Remaining questions: Can Jose Valverde pad his his club record for saves and sustain his season-long perfection? And how many wins over 90 can they notch over the final 10 days of the regular season?
Week 26 92-67 5 The Tigers’ last bit of remaining business is to catch or pass the Rangers to secure home-field advantage in the ALDS. If Detroit and Texas finish with the same record, the Tigers will hold the tiebreaker.

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