Don’t worry. This isn’t some diatribe about the poor play of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are clearly a pretty good baseball team. They’ve started the year 10-6 against the likes of the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox, and come out on top more often than not against some pretty good pitching. They’ve even done so without their #2 starter, Doug Fister, who has only got 3.2 innings under his belt so far this season, and could be out another couple weeks yet. The Tigers offense has struggled as well after an impressive season opening series against the Red Sox. Despite this, they find themselves perched on top of the Central, a half game ahead of the Chicago White Sox, and one game ahead of the Cleveland Indians.
The general consensus is that the Tigers aren’t competing for just the Central Division in 2012 however, this Tigers team was built to get beyond the ALCS this season, and to do that, it looks as if they are going to have to go through the Texas Rangers to do so.
The two time defending American League Champs have started 2012 with a bang. No, more like an explosion. At 13-3, the Rangers haven’t wasted any time to fire on all cylinders, and have shown that the road is no problem for the best team in the American League, with an 8-1 record . Their starting pitching depth, their lineup depth, and their bullpen depth are all things to admire, not just for Detroit, but for the entire American League.
After the first two games, the Tigers starters acquitted themselves well against the impressive lineup the Rangers can put out there. It’s a lineup that when Adrian Beltre is healthy, guys like Mike Napoli and his 30 home run power hit 7th in the batting order. One through nine, I am not sure anyone in baseball can match the Rangers level of production offensively. They lead the American League in batting average at .303, and in runs as well at close to 6 per game.
Even when you pitch well against the Rangers though, it still doesn’t mean victory awaits.
They boast a quality staff themselves, and maybe an even more impressive bullpen. The Rangers staff as a whole has an ERA of 2.48 so far this season, a full half a run better than the next team, the Oakland A’s, and a full run better than the Tigers. If a starter for the Rangers goes down, they don’t replace him with Adam Wilk, they replace him with Alexi Ogando. If they don’t want to use Ogando, they could use the young Robbie Ross, or dip into a bountiful farm system that has Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez awaiting their opportunity in AAA.
The Rangers farm system is ranked near the top by most people in baseball, and I personally believe it’s the best system in baseball. Should the Rangers run into injury trouble during the summer, or just feel they need to add a piece to their club, they are more than equipped to make trades, like the ones they did to land Koji Uehera and Mike Adams last summer.
The same can’t necessarily be said for the Detroit Tigers, especially considering the early stumbles of guys like Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby.
One thing that was a little glaring this past weekend against the Rangers, is that the Tigers lineup and bullpen just don’t stack up against the current American League’s best team. The Tigers bottom third of the order is in a little bit of trouble. It would be one thing if it was just the result of slumping players, but having guys like Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge in the lineup right now is hurting the Tigers, basically giving up a couple outs at the end of the order. We all know that Raburn will eventually come around in July and August, but Inge hasn’t shown anything the last couple of years to show that he will. The problem is, who is a better option? Ramon Santiago is a slight improvement, but not one in which you can comfortably say he is the answer. The same for Danny Worth.
The bullpen of the Rangers is another reason to be envious. On any give night, they can run out a multitude of guys that can shut down the opponent. In contrast, the Tigers have already been juggling things, sending Daniel Schlereth down recently, and seeing a much more human Jose Valverde this season so far. Duane Below turned in a heck of a performance in long relief this weekend, but his right-handed counterpart, Colin Balester, hasn’t been as impressive. The one Tigers reliever that has been lock-down so far is the well traveled Octavio Dotel.
Defensively, it’s not much of a contest either. While the Tigers defense hasn’t been terrible, it’s not to the level of the defending American League champs. It’s never going to be either, as the Tigers roster just isn’t constructed that way. It’s just another thing that separates the two teams right now.
It’s difficult to say with any certainty from a series in April, how things are going to turn out in October. After all, a lot could happen to both of these teams. Players can get hurt, or players can be added (Victor Martinez?). Right now though, it appears the Tigers have some work to do, not to win the Central, but to win the American League and head to the World Series.
Ultimately, losing 3 out of 4 to the Rangers now won’t mean anything later, but it did show the level of ball club the Tigers are going to be competing with come October.
First things first though, the Tigers have to make good on winning that Central Division like they are supposed to.