Player Focus 5.26.08

Verlander Strong in No-Decision Against Twins
The Detroit Tigers bullpen failed Justin Verlander on Sunday afternoon when Francisco Cruceta gave up a grand slam to Jason Kubel in a 6-1 Twins victory. The silver lining for Detroit was that their ace went seven strong innings and did everything he could to set them up for a win, something he hasn’t done much of this year. His pitch count was getting high, but JV was still bringing the goods as his fastball was reaching mid-to-upper 90s regularly in the 6th & 7th innings. This was third in a trio of quality starts from Verlander dating back to May 14th. Control was a bit of an issue at times today with 4 walks, but the Tigers are happy to have their anchor back on track.

Verlander was absolutely brutal in April and continued to struggle with his first two outings in May. Both the team and Verlander himself insisted that there was no underlying injuries that were causing the poor performance. Many pundits claimed that his velocity was down, but that just seems to be something trotted out anytime a pitcher with past success falls on hard times for an extended period. I watch every single Tigers game on MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings and I didn’t see a noticeable decline in his velocity. Instead, he was often getting behind hitters and they were making him pay. That and he just seemed to hit a wall in the 5th or 6th inning of every start. In fact, his OPS allowed chart tells that story: 1st-3rd innings is .696, 4th through 6th innings is .730 and the 7th-9th innings is 1.248. If you bought low or stayed the course with Verlander, you’re now reaping the benefits of that savvy and there is plenty to more to come as the season wears on.

Holliday & Hawpe Injuries Leave Rockies Punchless
The injury bug has bitten the 2008 Colorado Rockies. Again and again and again! When outfielder Brad Hawpe hit the disabled list, it wasn’t a crushing blow because of how poorly he’s been performing this year and perhaps the time off would do him some good. But when they had to place Matt Holliday on the DL to join both Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies fans were left asking, “Could anything else go wrong?!?!” Unfortunately the answer is yes as Garret Atkins sat out the entire weekend with a stiff neck and might join his superstar friends on the DL. And don’t forget that their leader in slugging percentage, Clint Barmes, hit the DL on Saturday. The Rockies will now feature a Minnesota Twins-esque lineup with Scott Podsednik, Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and Willy Taveras manning the outfield. If Atkins does miss extended time, Chris Iannetta and Todd Helton become their premier hitters. In Minnesota, the Twins look to a catcher and first baseman when they need a key RBI, too.

That’s a lot of bonafide talent to lose at one time. But showing the 2007 production isn’t a complete picture because it leaves out Barmes’ strong performance thus far in 2008 and Tulowitzki’s horrid work before giving way to Barmes once he hit the DL several weeks ago. For those curious, the quintet has put together a .289/.353/.470 line 25 HRs-104 RBI-101 R in 764 combined ABs through Sunday. And just to make things more exciting, ace starter Jeff Francis holds a 6.18 ERA through his first 10 starts of the season. It wasn’t a stretch to say the Rockies wouldn’t make the playoffs with a complete team in 2008, now it’s more unlikely than a Marlins-Rays World Series.

One final note: Dusty Baker is an idiot. Oh wait, I said that yesterday. Chances I say it again tomorrow? Vegas has it opening at 1:3 despite the Cincinnati off-day.

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