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Johnny Damon, Jose Valverde Earn Their Tiger Stripes

The Tiger faithful love their team, and stand by their players through good and bad.

That is, after said players have won them over.

Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde didn’t exactly hit the ground running in their first few games donning the Olde English D. It took Damon until mid April to get above the Mendoza line, and Valverde blew his very first save opportunity of the year (as many as Fernando Rodney blew all of last year).

The moves were highly-questioned to begin with, within the Tigers fan base and outside it

Many wondered why the Tigers would pay $14M to sign a closer rather than giving young guns Joel Zumaya or Ryan Perry a chance to earn the job. For reasons I still can’t understand, some baseball experts actually contended the Tigers overpaid for Valverde.

Many baseball people liked the Damon signing, but a great deal of the Tiger fan base sure didn’t. They made the mistake of determining that the Tigers essentially traded fan favorite Curtis Granderson for the older, “washed up” Damon, seeings how he was signed with money the team saved by trading Granderson.

On Monday night, before a national audience fittingly enough, the two showed they belong.

Damon and Valverde starred in a thrilling 5-4 win over the defending champion New York Yankees on an emotional night when the Tigers paid tribute to the late, great Ernie Harwell.

In his first game against his old squad, Damon homered off Sergio Mitre and Valverde slammed the door on the bombers by striking out three of their most feared sluggers.

It was as exciting a regular season game as you’ll ever see. The Tigers led from the bottom of the 1st on, but there was always a sense that the Yankees were just one big hit from seizing control of the game. The Tigers had to hold on for dear life, and their two off-season prizes helped them do it.

I know what you’re thinking; “It’s one game, in May.” I agree with you, In the grand scheme of things, this win doesn’t mean much.

But as far as the acceptance of Damon and Valverde goes, there’s no denying the significance. Any reasonable Tigers fan who hadn’t yet been won over by Damon or Valverde was on Monday night. When that ball soared over Nick Swisher’s head into the right field bleachers, it must’ve crossed the minds of many a Tiger fan, “This guy is a Tiger. He’s one of us.” They probably felt the same way when Valverde struck out Alex Rodriguez to end the game.

This town, as great a fan base as they are, is notoriously hard on high profile players. Detroit is a blue-collar town and the people don’t appreciate all-stars not earning their paychecks; just ask Gary Sheffield and Edgar Renteria. It even took Miguel Cabrera a while to endear himself to this city.

High profile signings or not, Damon and Valverde are actually just the kind of guys Detroit fans have always loved to root for.

For all his flair and big personality, between the lines, Damon is all heart and hustle. He never seems to have a bad at bat, runs the bases exceptionally well, and keeps things loose in the clubhouse. His effect on the team thus far has been obvious, and he is exactly the kind of veteran you want on hand for the youngsters to learn from.

After many heart-racing, at-times frustrating years of watching Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney in the 9th inning, Tigers fans get to watch the best closer the team has had since Willie Hernandez in Valverde. If that wasn’t enough, the guy is just a trip to watch his antics on the mound. Call it excessive if you want, I personally don’t care what he does as long as he gets the job done.

The Tigers are no closer to winning a division title after today. We are only starting to close in on the 40 game mark Sparky Anderson famously maintained was the earliest time you could get a read on what your team is made of.

There’s a lot of baseball to be played, and there’s no telling what the rest of the season holds in store for the Tigers.

All I know is I feel a lot better about their chances with Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde here. I’m looking forward to watching these guys all year.

After last night’s game, I’m guessing a lot of you feel the same way.

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2010 MLB: April Month in Review

25 Observations and Thoughts on April

1. Dear Red Sox Nation: Chill. As bad as the Sox have looked so far, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Target Field looks gorgeous; high on my list of ballparks to see.

3. Anyone who has followed baseball the last few years has known Ubaldo Jimenez is Colorado’s ace. In light of his no-hitter against Atlanta, we now need to start mentioning him when talking about the very best pitchers in all of baseball.

4. Arizona’s bullpen is really bad. At least they’ve got Kelly Johnson goin’ for them.

5. Robinson Cano is finally realizing his full potential. With all due respect to Chase Utley, we may be calling Cano the game’s best 2B by the end of the year.

6. No Halladay north of the border? No problem; the Jays still had three pitchers take no-no’s into the 6th inning at least.

7. But that Halladay guy is still pretty sweet. I’d be even more genuinely impressed by the guy being as good as advertised in April had it not been so predictable.

8. Ned Colleti’s comments on Matt Kemp were completely out of line.

9. Johnny Damon hit .329 with a .431 OBP in April, and Jose Valverde anchored a Tigers bullpen that led the league in ERA at the end of the month. What exactly were critics of those signings thinking?

10. There’s a reason I didn’t even think of Zack Greinke as a Cy Young candidate preseason, and it’s nothing against Greinke; he’s one of the top four pitchers in baseball. A 2.56 ERA in April is all well and good, but it doesn’t do you much good if your offense is giving you less than four runs of support a game.

11. Looks like the Mets may finally have a legit number two in Mike Pelfrey.

12. Those who thought the Mariners were a disappointment waiting to happen might have been on to something. Their pitching was fine, but boy, do they look offensively-challenged.

13. What a find Colby Lewis was.

14. Dave Duncan is a genius. He teaches Brad Penny a sinker and stresses pitching down in the zone, and Penny suddenly looks better than he’s looked in years.

15. I believe an apology is in order to The Tribe and their fans. They didn’t have a great first month, but it’s clear that they’re not “the worst team in the AL” as I called them in my AL Central Preview.

16. I don’t care if you’re not a Braves fan (unless you’re a Cubs fan, or Carlos Zambrano for that matter), Jason Heyward’s first bomb had to have made you smile or at least make your jaw drop.

17. Jorge Cantu is setting himself up to be quite the sought-after commodity this coming off season.

18. Carlos Zambrano: $18M setup man. Thank you Jim Hendry for making me feel indescribably better about the Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis contracts.

19. Maybe Cinderella isn’t in Baltimore (If Trembley is around in July, I’ll be shocked), but a little farther down the B-W Parkway; so far, so good for the Nationals. They’re probably not contenders yet, but there are reasons to be optimistic in the Nation’s capital.

20. Early indications are that I (and several others) gave the White Sox too much credit. I had them winning the division; I’m starting to think 3rd or maybe even 4th place is a more likely finish for the South-siders.

21. Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, and Vernon Wells still may not be justifying their contracts, but their teams (the Giants in particular) have to be thrilled with the production they’re getting out of them.

22. What a sad excuse for an organization the Astros are.

23. How about those Padres? I’m not hoppin’ on the bandwagon yet but you can’t help but be thoroughly impressed by what that team did the first month.

24. MLB had its longest rainout-free streak to start a season in 25 years; awesome. There are few worse feelings then heading down to the ballpark all pumped up, only to get rained out.

25. The Rays were my preseason pick to win the World Series last year. This year, I predicted 83 wins and a 3rd place finish. Was I a year off? Time will tell.



Report Cards Through April 30

A: Cardinals, Padres, Rays, Yankees

A-: Giants, Mets, Nationals, Twins

B+: Athletics, Tigers

B: Angels, Phillies, Reds

B-: Blue Jays, Indians, Mariners

C+: Cubs, Marlins, Rangers

C: Pirates, Red Sox, Rockies, Royals

C-: Astros, Brewers, Diamondbacks

D+: Braves, Dodgers, White Sox

D-: Orioles



Sizing Up The Races


AL East

Thus far, this race has gone nothing like I expected it to. I was wrong about the Rays. They have put 2009 behind them and are surely a team to be reckoned with. While the Yankees are playing pretty good baseball even with several of their top players injured or underachieving, the same cannot be said for the Red Sox.

Like I said though, it’s way too early to write them off. The Jays and O’s look like they’ll be taking up the rear this year once again. Whereas the Jays look like they’ve made strides, the O’s look to be in for a pretty disappointing season.


AL Central

Early signs are that this is going to be a two horse race. Clearly, playing outdoors is not going to have an effect on the Twins, and neither is Joe Nathan’s injury. Mauer’s injury is reason for concern, but the Twins looked awfully good the first month.

Almost as impressive were the Tigers, whom I am growing more and more confident will finish at least second. On the other hand, the AL’s most disappointing team thus far have easily been the White Sox. They didn’t hit or pitch much in April. The Indians look nowhere near as bad as I thought they would; I can’t say the same for the Royals.


AL West

No race is harder to handicap a month in.

The surprising A’s scored the most runs in the division in April, and Chris Carter and Michael Taylor could both be up by the end of the year; that’s scary.

With Erick Aybar posting a lackluster OBP so far, the Angels certainly miss Figgins a little and their starting pitching has been pretty bad thus far as well. I still think they’ve got more than enough to hang around all year.

The Mariners are getting great pitching and playing sound defense, but their offense looks like a genuine liability. Because no team really stood out in April, I’m standing by my preseason pick the Rangers.

To my surprise, it was Texas’ pitching that carried them in April, not their offense.


NL East

Thus far, this has been the most bizarre race of them all. Despite getting little quality pitching from guys not named Roy Halladay, the Phillies survived April.

The surprise is that it’s the Mets and Nationals giving them a run for their money, and not the Braves and Marlins.

The Mets may very well be for real, as there is no shortage of proven major league talent on that roster. As good as the Nationals have looked so far, I’ve still got them headed for a last place finish.

That won’t happen though if the Braves, the majors’ most disappointing team thus far, don’t get it together. Bobby Cox deserves a better swan song than this.

The Marlins are hitting and getting solid pitching, but are these guys ever going to catch the ball?


NL Central

At this point, I’m basically begging for a little drama and intrigue to this race.

It’s been the Cardinals and then everyone else thus far, and I can’t say I’m surprised.

The Cubs have shown signs of life lately, but a sub .500 OPS from Aramis Ramirez is no recipe for continued success.

The Reds have not excelled in any one facet of the game thus far (their pitching was straight-up awful), and yet they managed to finish April 12-11.

As if the Brewers’ offseason pitching additions not working out so far wasn’t enough, the team now has closer issues.

As for the Pirates and Astros, I predicted they’d duke it out for 5th place all season and it doesn’t look I was wrong. Advantage, Bucs…so far.


NL West

The Padres were supposed to host a fire sale this summer, but they obviously missed that memo.You really can’t ask for much better pitching than the friars got in April.

Speaking of pitching, the Giants’ staff has been stellar thus far. I still am convinced their pitching is going to lead them to a division title this year.

As terrible as Edwin Jackson and their entire bullpen was, I’m clueless as to how Arizona got out of April a mere game under .500.

Colorado’s simply being bitten by the injury bug right now; when they get all the pieces back in place, they’re going to start to roll.

I do not have that same confidence in the Dodgers, even though they were my preseason wild card pick. Getting Manny back will certainly help, but so would anything resembling production out of the fifth spot in the rotation.



All Stars Through April


AL: David Aardsma, Andrew Bailey, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano*, Shin-Soo Choo, Carl Crawford*, John Danks, Doug Fister, Matt Garza, Alex Gonzalez, Vladimir Guerrero*, Jose Guillen, Orlando Hudson, Phil Hughes, Austin Jackson, Derek Jeter*, Paul Konerko, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano*, Evan Longoria*, Justin Morneau*, Dustin Pedroia, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada*, Mariano Rivera, Jon Rauch, Ichiro Suzuki*, Nick Swisher, Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, Jered Weaver, Vernon Wells*, Matt Wieters, Ty Wigginton


NL: Heath Bell, Ryan Braun*, Marlon Byrd, Jorge Cantu, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Ryan Doumit*, Andre Ethier*, David Freese, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez, Roy Halladay, Livan Hernandez, Jason Heyward, Josh Johnson, Kelly Johnson*, Ubaldo Jimenez*, Matt Kemp*, Tim Lincecum, Bengie Molina, Roy Oswalt, Mike Pelfrey, Albert Pujols*, Hanley Ramirez*, Mark Reynolds*, Francisco Rodriguez, Pablo Sandoval, Alfonso Soriano, Troy Tulowitzki, Chase Utley, Joey Votto, Jayson Werth*, Brian Wilson, Barry Zito

* – denotes starter.

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