Sunday, May 29, 2005

Tigers' Fate This Season May Already Have Been Decided By An Achy Knee And A Hernia

Oh, what could the Tigers be with a healthy
Guillen (left) and Ordonez?

Quick question: if Tigers shortstop/DH -- actually, it's more like DH/shortstop nowadays -- Carlos Guillen can hit around .360 with a painful right knee that most likely shouldn't be played on, what in the world is he capable of doing when he's healthy?

Quick question II: have there been a more expensive set of 10 at-bats than the ones of Magglio Ordonez for which the Tigers are paying?

Lets take II first. The truly frustrating part of Maggs' odd injury, or rather, ailment, is that the Tigers are basically shooting for 2005's hopes with 2004's lineup. Not that the 2004 lineup is chopped liver, mind you. For the month of April this season, anyhow, it was one of the most productive batting orders in all of baseball. Life without Ordonez, out til after the All-Star Break with a hernia that needs to heal, was seemingly do-able, even though his was supposed to be the big, ferocious, fearsome bat in the heart of the lineup that the team craved.

But then all those .300+ averages started to tumble, and the Tigers, who had been routinely winning games 12-3 and losing them 3-2, suddenly were still losing 3-2 but also struggling to win 3-2 or 4-3. The runs stopped coming. The team scuffled around for offense. And Ordonez, 0-for-10 this season, became someone for whom to pine -- healthy, that is. There still isn't that monster power hitter in the cleanup spot that GM Dave Dombrowski envisioned when he offered Maggs all that jack. And boy, could the Tigers ever use one!

The cruelly ironic thing about Ordonez' health is that when the Tigers meticulously structured his contract, they did so with all sorts of provisions about Maggs' knee, which had been severely injured in 2004, a la Pudge Rodriguez's contract re: his back. Nobody seemed to work on or care about a hernia issue. But here it is, ugly and front and center. And all the Tigers can do is sit and wait for him to get better while they cut paychecks that are obscene.

As for Guillen, he is clearly not a healthy man, right knee-wise, and I'm not sure if his ability to remain the no. 2 hitter in the American League is more of a testament to his natural batting skill or is merely a vivid example that good hitting doesn't involve the knees all that much. I saw him run out a groundball Saturday on TV against the Orioles, and it looked like me running wearing a Guillen jersey. Hint: that's not a good sign.

Guillen, by all rights, should probably be having surgery, although I'm not a doctor and don't even play one on TV. But common sense tells me that if this was October, and not the end of May, Carlos would be under the knife, followed by months of rehab. But the Tigers, 22-25 as of this posting, are neither in nor out of this AL Central race yet, though they're more out. Still, it's too early to lose Guillen for any major amount of time. Read: school isn't out yet and the Tigers haven't gotten their post-school attendance bump, and it will be much easier to get such a bump if they can keep fans interested until at least Father's Day.

Yet I get this sinking feeling that this season is already shot, and the maddening part is that the starting rotation, and the bullpen for the most part, has kept up its end of the bargain. The team ERA is a respectable 3.80-ish, and that ain't bad around Tigertown, especially with the offense the Tigers purport to have. Who knew that the White Sox, of all teams, would go nuts, playing at a near .700 clip for the first two months? If it was just the Twins, as usual, the Tigers were chasing, the gap would be alright and not insurmountable. But the Tigers struggle to keep within 11 lengths of the Chisox, and with three teams ahead of them -- don't forget the Indians -- and with everyone playing everyone else in the division seemingly every weekend....well, you know where I'm going.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope Carlos Guillen's knee responds to the treatment of being DH and whatever goes on behind the scenes in the trainer's room. I hope Magglio Ordonez can rejoin the team in July and start clobbering home runs and gobbling up RBI. I hope closer Troy Percival returns and bolsters the bullpen, although Ugie Urbina has held down the fort quite well. I hope the starters can continue to grind out a high percentage of Quality Starts.

And I hope the White Sox come down to freaking earth.

Yes, I hope all this. But you know what? Even if all the above happens, I still have the notion that it's "Wait til next year" at CoPa.

It's enough to give a fan a hernia.

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