During the offseason, the Detroit Tigers focused on re-tooling their defense to provide more stability behind one of the best starting pitching staffs in the major leagues.
Despite the improved (infield) defense, the Tigers still have other question marks on the club. This past winter, the Tigers elected not to go after many of the top free agent relief pitchers with the exception being Joe Nathan.
Nathan was signed to a two-year deal to be the closer, and if everything worked out, Nathan would pass the torch to Bruce Rondon, the young fireballer.
Other high-risk, high-reward bullpen arms were added such as Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke. The bullpen was essentially remade, but it’s starting to look like they will fall apart during the second week of the long regular season.
The domino effect all started when it was announced that Bruce Rondon would require right elbow surgery and would be placed on the 60-day disabled list. Rondon–the presumed setup man to Joe Nathan–has been missed in the bullpen, despite his inconsistencies in 2013.
Then, Phil Coke started pitching, and the Joe Nathan “dead arm” news came out, even further depleting the bullpen.
Through seven games, the Tigers bullpen (excluding the six scoreless innings from starter Drew Smyly) has compiled this stat line:
14.1 IP, 23 H, 13 ER, 6 BB, 12 K
To say the very least, that is not very good. But, the Tigers are still 5-2 and one of the top teams in the American League. Is the bullpen as big of a concern as everyone makes it out to be?
In the long-run–yes–and the Tigers’ starting staff will be paying for it in various ways.
For the past eight years, the Tigers No. 1 goal has been to win the World Series and bring the trophy back to Detroit for the first time since the great run in 1984. The Tigers have come so close recently that minor problems have become major issues to many Tigers fans.
But the bullpen is a real problem and threat to the Tigers as they search for the first championship in 30 years.
With the shaky bullpen, the starters will be asked to pitch longer outings earlier in the season than they would like. The Tigers depend on their excellent starting pitching each and every night because, more than likely, the bullpen will be giving up a couple runs (13 ER in 14.1 IP is just insane).
Will the starting staff wear down by the time the hottest days of the summer roll around? I would say the regular season isn’t the issue, it’s the playoffs. If the bullpen keeps this unbearable pace up, the starting staff may be running on fumes come October.
Another trickle down effect is the fact that the combination of a poor bullpen and a team offensive slump could really hamper the Tigers for a couple weeks and possibly an entire month of the regular season. It’s tough on a player’s psyche knowing that when the starter gets pulled after his third 120-pitch outing in a row, the bullpen won’t be able to hold it.
The Tigers won’t score the amount of runs that they have in the past, so the offense can’t carry the poor bullpen late in the game like they used to carry the poor defense for an entire game.
The biggest effect the poor bullpen could have on the team will happen come playoff time. Pitching has won championships in recent years whether it was the San Francisco Giants superb starting staff or the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox flashing their bullpen arms late in games to shut the door on the opposition.
Playoff teams are so similar in skill that it basically comes down to pitching. The Tigers don’t have to match ups late in the game to hold off any kind of rally from a good team come playoff time.
The bullpen is subject to change as there are some relievers who are still free agents. Of course, every year there are bullpen arms to be had at the deadline, a time where Tigers president Dave Dombrowski does a great deal of damage. Fellow MCB writer Tom Zahari touched on some options for the bullpen on Monday.
Some say, why not pull up some of the young bullpen arms in Toledo? Well, Brad Ausmus and his staff knew the bullpen was shaky, so if they are ready or are better than the arms already in the pen, those young bullpen arms would already be up with the big club.
Even though the Tigers are 5-2 and off to a solid start, the bullpen is concerning and the starting staff could be the most effected by the poor bullpen in 2014, especially come playoff time, if the Tigers were to qualify.