What we’re seeing so far isn’t the big additions and subtractions that a lot of fans are craving right now – just more roster churn. Guys up, guys down. Guys to the DL, guys off. For fans who plummeted from World Series expectations to the depths of despair – this, it would seem, can’t possibly be enough. But… maybe it is? Thinks aren’t half so grim as they were 10 games back.
The big thing, as we saw yesterday afternoon, is that Doug Fister is back and sharp. For half of the year (give or take) the Tigers have been Fist-less and you’re not going to win a lot of fights just slapping guys around. In the games that Fister has missed (started by either Casey Crosby or Adam Wilk) Tigers starters’ ERA has been almost 9.00. In the 7 starts that Fister has made this season – while he hasn’t been as amazing as last year’s miraculous stretch run – he has a 2.68 ERA. Given the innings they’d be expected to pitch – that really is a drop of FOUR RUNS allowed every fifth day. That’s enough to drop the team ERA by 0.80 comparing the Tigers with and without Fister. Mind-boggling.
The second thing – as we also saw yesterday afternoon – is that Ryan Raburn has gotten some hits after his wholly undeserved recall from Toledo. Since the call-up he’s 4-12 with a couple of doubles and a walk. Can he keep that up? Who knows. I have no idea why he couldn’t hit the ball (at all) in Detroit OR TOLEDO. He’s also getting some time in the outfield, where his defense is good, as opposed to second base, where his defense is bad. We saw Matt Young get shipped down when Fister came off the DL, so ‘that’s who’s getting the cull’. Young, unfortunately, did not make the most of his cup of coffee in Detroit.
The third thing is that Casey Crosby has been officially deemed “unready” and will not be making another start while Drew Smyly stews on the DL. He did walk 11 guys in 12 innings, so it’s going to be pretty hard for even the loyalist of Crosby supporters to argue with that one. The guy that came up from Toledo when Crosby got sent down was Thad Weber (another guy who didn’t make the most of his first cup of coffee in Detroit) but rumor has it that Crosby’s start will be made not by Weber but by Jacob Turner. After Friday’s heavy taxing of the Detroit bullpen, Weber certainly had value as an emergency arm.
Jacob Turner isn’t going to come up and “save the Tigers”, that’s not the reason that it’s such positive news that he’s even being considered for a spot start. The fact is that after his pre-season “dead arm” we all just about wrote the guy off as far as 2012 was concerned and in his first starts with Toledo he did little to impress. But… over his past three starts he has looked like much more of the “top prospect” that has been expected of him – with a 1.42 ERA in June. I don’t know if he’s ready and I don’t know if his stuff is back to last years level, but I’m more than pleased that he is in the picture once again. It could even be that Turner’s next start in the majors is more of an audition than anything else… Given how well Smyly has pitched (and the question marks his health has created) he might be a much more expendable trade chip for the Tigers than before – and certainly more expendable than Nick Castellanos, though he has struggled since being promoted to Erie.
As far as additional roster churn – that’s about it. We’ve had news that was more negative on Andy Dirks (achilles) – it now appears that he will not be activated as soon as expected. Dirks is a concern: lingering pain could mean a slight tear or some scar tissue, or it could simply be tightness that a good physical therapist can take care of. Alex Avila (hamstring) is progressing and about to head to Toledo on a rehab assignment. The only positives to make of this are that Gerald Laird and Quintin Berry continue to play well enough (with 8 hits between them today) to get the Tigers through this trying time.
Certain disappointing Tigers have stopped playing poorly: Ramon Santiago is getting a lot of starts at second and batting .303 over his last 10 games. Jhonny Peralta is hitting .343 (with 6 walks) over his last 10. Brennan Boesch is hitting .342 (with a couple of big flies) in his last 10. Brayan Villarreal‘s spectacular revival (30 Ks in 20 1/3) has done wonders for the Tigers bullpen, though he is by far the only contributor to that turnaround. Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit have also been impressive, to name a few. As a unit they’ve posted a 2.92 ERA for the month of June compared to 4.81 in May.
Earlier this week Matt Klaasen at Fangraphs dedicated an article to the Tigers deadline needs. Sharing top billing (with the gaping hole at second base and the lack of any real offensive production at DH) was the need to augment the rotation which, according to Klaasen, is basically just Verlander and four washouts [Scherzer and Porcello are disappointments on which to consider pulling the plug, Smyly and Fister walking wounded who can't be as good as they've looked anyway]. Do the Tigers need a place-holder like Kevin Millwood (or Livan Hernandez?) to contend? I’d have to say no. Fister is back and healthy. Smyly in on the DL for a couple of weeks from a blister for Christ’s sake. It isn’t as though he has unexplained shoulder stiffness or something. There are, in fact, excellent reasons to expect Porcello and Scherzer to regress up. Are there any such reasons to expect good things from an aging, mediocre innings-eater? The fact is, both guys have looked to have improved stuff but have given up an awful lot of hits on balls in play. Today Scherzer showed us what you should expect to see happen when a pitcher strikes out 12 and walks none. The Tigers won: 5-0.
This is not a team without warts… Over the past 10 games the Tigers have allowed 9 unearned runs and their bullpen blew two games in the 10th inning. Nonetheless… the team is 7-3 over that span with an ERA close to 3.40, scoring at a pace of 5.1 runs a game (what was expected of them before the season). The White Sox lead in the division has shrunk to 3 games, though the Tigers are still 2 games under .500. The White Sox are on pace to take the division with only 86 wins – that team is better than last year but far from a world-beating crew. Far from being “out of it” if the Tigers do nothing and simply let their guys play, I think they’ll probably finish this month at .500 or a game over and very much in the thick of things. I’m not saying that they won’t or shouldn’t make big trades or signings in the weeks to come – but at this point I’m not sure they have to in order to grab this division by the throat.