When your team goes to the World Series one year, comes back the next season with that team almost complete intact (sans one middle reliever) and adds one of the stronger bats in baseball, expectations, understandably, get cranked up a bit. So when the Detroit Tigers lost on Opening Day to the Toronto Blue Jays, and have played a bit un-even since then, fans are starting to get a bit concerned. Even I called for Andrew Miller to replace Chad Durbin in the starting rotation after just one game. I'm just as guilty. But, relax Tigers fans. Sure, the Tigers could be better than their 4-3 start, but it's early, it's still very cold, and as the weather heats up, so too will the Tigers bats.
Two players currently facing the heat from the Tigers faithful are third baseman Brandon Inge and designated hitter Gary Sheffield. Both signed long-term, expensive contract extensions during the off-season, and both have had a dreadful start to the season. Inge is 0-20, still hitless, and was given the night off in yesterday's victory over the Baltimore Orioles (when you are being benched for Neifi Perez, that's probably a bad sign). And as Danny Knobler writes this morning over @ MLive.com, Sheffield isn't faring much better, though he still has the confidence of his manager.
Meantime, manager Jim Leyland isn't anxious about his big acquisition, who is hitless in his last 12 trips to the plate and batting .120 from the designated hitter spot.
"I think right now Gary is just trying too hard," Leyland said. "He wants to do good so bad for us right now he's getting out of his zone a little bit. He'll be absolutely fine."
I agree with Jim Leyland (which I've learned over the past year is usually always the right thing to say.) While some may think that Brandon Inge is showing his true self in his 0-20 slump and Sheffield is proving he's an overrated has-been, and both extensions were big mistakes, let's not overreact to five or six games. Yes, their struggles are concerning. Sheffield especially because he's striking out a lot which has never been his history throughout his career. But that's just why we shouldn't be worried. The struggle for Sheffield has been out of character, and it won't last forever. You don't forget how to be great hitter overnight, especially when you have Hall of Fame talent like Sheffield does. Is he trying a bit too hard at the plate right now? Probably. But he won't struggle forever.
And neither will Inge. While Brandon may never be a .300 hitter, he will hit .250, .260, and he'll hit you 25 home runs a season. And right now, he just needs to get one hit. When you are are 0-20 every pitch that comes your way looks like a Joel Zumaya 103 miles-per-hour fastball and every well hit ball finds a fielder. I think those calling Inge's off-season extension a mistake aren't looking at the broader picture. He plays a gold-glove calliber third base, he hit 27 home runs last year, and he's not going to go 0-500. Let him snap out of this slump. Maybe he'll hit .180 in April. But he won't hit .180 in May, and he won't hit .220 this season. He'll start to get his power back, and by the time July rolls around, he'll be back near .250, .260. A great average? No. But, Inge has never been a great for-average hitter. So long as he continues to drive balls out of the park, and drive in runs, and play as well defensively as he is capable off, he'll be just fine. No worries.
Elsewhere around the Blogosphere this morning...
If you want a review of the Tigers Inge-less win over Baltimore last night, head on over to Kurt at Mack Avenue Tigers who has you covered.
Thanks to Dave over @ Maize-n-Brew for the very kind plug of this blog yesterday. Dave runs a great site dedicated to the University of Michigan athletic programs, and for the latest on John Beilein's efforts to keep Tommy Amaker's 2008 recruits in the fold, check out his latest entry. Brian at M-Go-Blog also has the latest on Michigan's recruiting successes.
The Detroit Red Wings start their 2007 playoff run tomorrow, and while he's written a lot about the Wings-Flames series, Dave @ Gorilla Crunch also has predictions on all of the other NHL playoff series as well. And OnTheWings has the latest on whether or not Todd Bertuzzi will be suiting up when the Wings play Thursday night. I'll have some more thoughts on the Wings series (aside from the preview I wrote earlier this week) before tomorrow's game.