Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Detroit: Slightly Better Team, Much Uglier Downtown
2005-06-10 16:09
by Mark T.R. Donohue

A friend and I went on a road trip from Chicago to Detroit last year to see two games between the Tigers and the Orioles. Comerica Park is a nice place to see a baseball game. The gigantic stone tiger statues are a little much, but at least the outfield doesn't have any arbitrary indentations and there's no retractable roof. Comerica is surrounded by about two blocks of nice-looking shops and theaters, after which the urban blight starts in full force. Less than a mile away in mid-blight is the old Tiger Stadium, which hasn't been knocked down for the simple reason that nobody wants the land it's on. It looks very forlorn for a piece of architecture.

The Tigers are in sort of a bind as a team. They were so awful two years ago that they felt they owed it to their fans to add a few signs of life. Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen are good players, but a more patient GM might have waited until the farm system was better before pulling the trigger on expensive veterans. This year things got a little silly, as the Tigers misread their modest success last year as indication they were ready to contend for a title, and gave Magglio Ordoñez and Troy Percival big wads of cash. On cue, both got hurt, and Detroit has received 10 at-bats and 14 1/3 innings pitched so far for their investments.

The Tigers have an $89 million payroll and are three games under .500. Their neighbors in Milwaukee are paying a lot less to be the same. Detroit aren't as good as the White Sox or Minnesota, and probably aren't as good as Cleveland, and they're shelling out more money than any of those teams. Granted, this is the last year of the ghastly Bobby Higginson contract (he'll make $11.85 million this year) but the Tigers owe a lot of money going forward to Ordoñez and I-Rod, two guys past their primes, one of whom is a 33-year-old catcher. Past Jeremy Bonderman, who's going to start games for a theoretical Tigers playoff team?

The Tigers' starters' ERA is a decent 4.31, but that's somewhat illusory given that Comerica is a pretty good pitchers' park and the two guys with the best ERA numbers, Jason Johnson and Nate Robertson, have K/9 ratios of 4.33 and 4.18 respectively. That means they're getting lucky on balls in play, and it's foolish to believe that that will continue. Bonderman, 3.90 with a much nicer 7.48, is the ace of this staff. Mike "Kingman" Maroth is plugging along with a 4.73 ERA, and fifth starter Wilfredo Ledezma has been hittable (1.71 WHIP, 7.07 ERA). The Rockies will get Maroth, Bonderman, and Robertson in this three-game weekend series. Jamey Wright, Jason Jennings, and Byung-Hyun Kim will oppose them.

The Tigers' bullpen has been pretty good, led by the unheralded Chris Spurling, Jamie Walker, and Franklyn German. Cubs discard Kyle Farnsworth has 33 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. Percial has been pretty decent since his return to the DL, with a sub-1.00 WHIP. Offensively the guys to watch out for are former utilityman Brandon Inge, who's hitting .302/.383/.464 as the everyday third baseman, Guillen, and DH Dmitri Young (11 homers).

The Rockies should be able to get on base against the Tigers' starters and hopefully win two of three in this series. That's not too much to ask, right?

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