Sometimes, when things go bad, they go real bad. Such is life for the Detroit Tigers and their fans right now. Word is that Tigers catcher Alex Avila is headed to the disabled list with a hamstring problem, joining Austin Jackson and Doug Fister as critical pieces to the Tigers success on the shelf. Oh, and that’s not to mention Andy Dirks either, who has been one of the Tigers better hitters all year.
Not good for a struggling offense. That may just be stating the obvious, but let’s be realistic, the Tigers weren’t playing well when all those guys were healthy. Since the Tigers 9-3 start in the first 12 games of the season, this team has gone just 16-27. They now sit just four games ahead of the Minnesota Twins for last place in the Central, and just a half game ahead of the fourth place Royals. That means they are closer to the cellar than the 2nd place Indians, who are 4.5 games ahead of the Tigers. Think about that. Closer to the Twins than the Indians.
The Indians are 4-0 against Detroit this season, and they just made Ubaldo Jimenez look like a Cy Young candidate last night, when he hasn’t looked like a Cy Young candidate for the better part of two years. Part of that is the Tigers fielded a lineup that featured Quentin Berry (he’s been great, but isn’t a long term plan) and Matt Young at the top, and part of it is the Tigers fielded a lineup with Jhonny Peralta, Brennan Boesch, and Ramon Santiago at the bottom. You could throw Delmon Young and Alex Avila into that mix as well. Point is, outside of a couple people, the Tigers lineup isn’t producing.
But there is something more than just poor offensive performance going on here. Problem is, I can’t put my finger on it, and I’m not sure that Tigers manager Jim Leyland can either. That isn’t a knock on Jim Leyland by any stretch. This team is confusing in it’s ineptitude. Judging by Leyland’s comments recently, I have to believe the wily ole Manager of the Tigers believes his players lack a little bit of fight. He has mentioned it in interviews more than once this season. Maybe that is the case, but I don’t see any blatant lack of effort going on, other than the occasional Miguel Cabrera posing going on after he hits a ball off the wall. But he has always done that.
It almost seems if it’s just a lack of concentration, or the lack of ability to do the routine parts of the game that should almost be robotic to professionals.
If this team were a puzzle, it would be like having 500 pieces, but a few of them pieces were missing and replaced by ones from another puzzle that don’t fit. When the Tigers get a good start from a pitcher, the bullpen blows the lead. When they don’t pitch well, that’s when the offense puts up some runs, but they still lose. The offense itself is a walking contradiction. They are terrible with the bases loaded, but one of the best overall in the league with RISP. It seems the pitchers fail to pick up the defense when they make an error. It seems as if the defense fails to pick up their pitchers ever. The pitchers are striking guys out, but give up 0-2 hits left and right, frustrating the heck out of everyone.
Maybe all of these things point to a lack of mental toughness. If that is the case, that isn’t something that Jim Leyland can necessarily fix, and certainly wouldn’t bode well for the Tigers going forward . They either have it or they don’t. Whatever it is that is haunting this Tigers team, it is time to get things turned in the other direction soon. It’s not so early anymore. We are into June, just over a third of the way into the season.
Part of problem is expectations, we and others in the National media probably expected too much from this team without truly dissecting the makeup of the roster. A surprise Prince Fielder signing shocked and delighted us all, softening the blow that Victor Martinez suffered what is likely a season ending injury. Prince, despite what people might want to believe, has been just as good as Martinez offensively, hitting almost as well with RISP with more power. Defensively, he has been abysmal, and the effect of the poorer defense at both the corners has assuredly had an impact on at least a game or two at this point.
Last season, the Tigers outperformed their Pythagorean record by 6 games last season, winning 95 when their statistics and run differentials predicted them to win 89. So essentially, in theory at least, last seasons team was an 89 win team. But that was with several guys having career years. Most of us knew better to expect Alex Avila to repeat his 2011. You could look at his BABIP and see that there was likely to be some decline in his offensive prowess. And the truth is, besides throwing out runners, he still has a ways to go as a receiver. You could look at Jhonny Peralta’s career and realize that he has a tendency towards spike years, and that an OPS of barely over .700 is a more likely result than what he did for the Tigers in 2011. Delmon Young’s late season home run barrage masked what many of us already knew, that he is a sub-par every day LF. We knew Brennan Boesch was streaky, and that he is just as likely to have a long bad one as a long good one. Still, we believed Boesch had turned a corner, despite finishing last season on the D.L. with a wrist problem, and not knowing if that would effect him. The Tigers played with fire going with Ryan Raburn as their starting 2nd baseman to start 2012, despite the overwhelming evidence he just doesn’t do the job offensively early in the year to mask his deficiencies with the glove. Should we be surprised that he is now trying to get right in Toledo right now?
Injuries have played a part as well, but should this be a surprise? Besides a short stint on the D.L. by Martinez last season, and Boesch being hurt the last month, the Tigers were relatively healthy last season. This year, luck hasn’t been on their side. Maybe it’s just a case of moving towards the norm. No offense to guys like Quentin Berry, Matt Young, Omir Santos, and Danny Worth, but day in and day out, they just aren’t going to stack up against the guys they are replacing. That of course isn’t unexpected. Few teams have the kind of depth that could sustain D.L. stints by multiple key players at the same time.
The Tigers still have a lot of season left, and as optimistic as I try to be, things just aren’t in a good place for that team right now. The good thing is, despite everyone selling the White Sox and maybe the Indians short, this division is still within reach. Those teams have their warts too. But if the Tigers lose tomorrow, and the Royals win, that puts them into fourth place, and as more teams stack up ahead of them, the more difficult it will be.
I wish I had the cure for what ails the Tigers, but right now, I am not sure there is anything the finest baseball doctors could do. If the Tigers were a body, their whole system would be shutting down. Someone needs to get this team a respirator though, to breathe some life into this team, and hopefully start fresh from there.