Thursday, October 26, 2006

Before Game Four

When we saw Jeremy Bonderman display flashes of potential in his rookie year, isn't tonight's contest the kind of game we all envisioned him pitching in someday? We probably all dreamed about a day when the hard throwing Bonderman would take the hill with a World Series in the balance. I doubt any of us thought this day would arrive so suddenly.

In our silly dreams of just a few years ago, Bonderman would have been the Tigers number one starter in a World Series. However, Bonderman's role on this Tigers squad isn't what we would have guessed. A combination of Bonderman's second half struggles, the emergence of Justin Verlander and the arrival (and success) of veteran Kenny Rogers have pushed Bonderman further down the pecking order. Nate Robertson's bulldog approach and lefthanded slants allow him to take his turn on the bump in this post-season before Bonderman does, as well. Bonderman a number four starter? I don't think many of us dreamed that scenario.

Yet, that's where the still young righthander finds himself this evening -- a number four starter. Sure, some of that is match-up driven, but the Tigers had a week off before the World Series and Jim Leyland opted to leave Bonderman the fourth starter. There is a reason for that decision. Much of it comes from Bonderman's post-July fade. 2006 isn't exactly the first time August and September have been unkind to the Tigers hurler. While his overall numbers continue to improve each season -- a great trend -- his inability to find a consistent third pitch and trouble holding big leads in the closing months have raised a few questions about his ceiling. It's even led to what was unimaginable as recently as the beginning of this year -- trade rumors.

In just a few minutes, if the rain allows, Jeremy Bonderman will indeed pitch in the World Series for the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to over-hype or be terribly melodramatic about this thought, but this start could not only alter the direction of the World Series, but may decide Bonderman's future in the Olde English D.

If Bonderman comes out an dominates the Cardinals and ties the Series at 2-2, one could argue that Bonderman can indeed pitch in clutch situations and his previous issues were just part of the maturation process. His supporters will point to better numbers each season and a strong World Series performance as reasons to continue to have faith in him.

A Cardinals win, particularly a decisive one, might lead some to wonder if Bonderman has reached his limit and, with other prospects waiting in the wings, if he's an expendable piece of the puzzle. The critics will point to a series of second half disappointments and an uneven, at best, performance in big game situations as reasons to wonder if Bonderman will be any better than he is today.

Yeah, it's a big game. Both for the Detroit Tigers and for Jeremy Bonderman, as well. Here's hoping for a Bonderman win and a long, successful stay in Detroit.

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