Max Scherzer struggled through the first five innings, allowing three runs and base runners in every inning but the third. A rare 2013 home run from Andy Dirks accounted for the Detroit scoring, and it appeared most of the Tigers’ offense was having lackluster plate appearances against Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey, who entered the contest with a bloated 7.94 ERA.
It was almost expected that they would come into Monday night’s game a little less than focused. It had all the signs of a typical MLB loss for a good team during a long season–an inferior opponent in town after a nationally televised game against another one of the sport’s elite teams. The Tigers mowed down the team formerly known as the best in baseball, the Atlanta Braves, in a sweep punctuated by a rare Detroit appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. The 8-3 win had all the characteristics of a usual 2013 Tigers’ victory–solid starting pitching, potent offense and the bullpen a non-factor because of a large lead.
Conversely, Monday’s game had the looks of a typical Tigers loss in 2013: solid starting pitching, shoddy bullpen and an anemic offense.
Luckily, with one swing of the bat, Prince Fielder changed the course of the game. Finally pitching with the lead, following the three-run moonshot, Scherzer went into cruise control and quietly finished with 10 strikeouts (including the last four batters faced) while pitching into the eighth inning.
Prior to the game, Jim Leyland stated he was not ready to use closer Jose Valverde three days in a row, so that meant a blast from the recent past–closer by committee. Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit combined to mow down all the Twins they faced in an inning and two-thirds, preserving a 4-3 win.
The Tigers have earned many of their 14 victories this season by obliterating the opposing pitchers–and they have lost many of their 10 games by seeing the offense disappear. Since April 18, the Tigers are 5-5. In the five wins, they averaged more than seven runs per game–in the losses, they scored a total of seven runs. They also found a way to win a one-run game for just the second time this season (2-3), and first without going to extra innings.
Finally, it was nice to see that Detroit could close out a team in a one-run game using closer by committee, something that had more failures than successes before Papa Grande’s arrival last week. Perhaps for one of the first times all season, the Tigers appeared to grind out a victory.
We’ve discussed how the Tigers’ had a tough schedule for the first month of the season, which ends tonight. The schedule gets a bit easier the rest of the way. No matter what happens in tonight’s game, fans should be encouraged that while everything seemed in disarray last week, a more well rounded team is beginning to emerge at the start of May.