I wasn’t going to write a piece like this tonight….I had a respectable attempt at journalism planned and prepared exploring potential options for the Tigers at second base. But on a night like tonight, that myopic topic seems but a raindrop in the ocean of what is wrong with this baseball team.
The Tigers fell victim to their own undoing tonight, in a pivotal early season game against a division rival. As they did yesterday, and several times prior in this barely 1/4 complete season. For the record, the final score was 4-2 Indians. Vinnie Pastano moved to 2-0 for the Tribe while Phil Coke took the loss to even his record at 1-1. Andy Dirks and Prince Fielder drove in the Tigers paltry runs, Travis Hafner homered and blah, blah, blah, boxscore.
The story isn’t in the particulars of this one game. The story is how and why these Detroit Tigers have lost their way, tripping over their own feet in new and deflating ways on a regular basis, leading the observer to wonder aloud what will go wrong next. The story is asking aloud if it can and will get better.
What curse befouls this team? What omen did we miss that suggested this was coming? How in holy hell are the 2012 Detroit Tigers 20-23, in 3rd place in the AL Central on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend?
Was it the Fielder signing? I’ve heard some fans draw the parallel to 2008 when the Tigers finished dead last in the Central on the heels of acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Were we once again distracted by a shiny new toy while ignoring fundamental flaws in this team? My gut says no, that the pieces are there to be a runaway division leader at this point.
Is it a plague? Injuries to key cogs in the machine have certainly befallen this club, both to date and going forward. Still, I believe this team has had enough talent on their roster each day to be far better than 20-23.
Is it Jim Leyland and his gang of ex-Pirates? In terms of old fashioned strategy many a fan has questioned many a decision – playing time, batting orders, bullpen usage, baserunning decisions, defensive alignments, etc Ad Nauseum.
How exactly is this different than one season ago when Jim and the gang finished the year two victories from the World Series? Questioning Leyland is akin to calling for the Lions backup QB, or the Red Wings backup goalie, or wanting the Pistons to make a coaching change, a rite of passage in this town. Mistakes are made. Risks are taken. Hunches are played. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. I don’t believe coaching has been notably better or worse so far than last year at this time.
What is it?
Is it the slumping breakout stars of 2011 dragging the 2012 version down a notch? Alex Avila was hitting .286 with an .870 OPS 1 year ago today, numbers far beyond his 2012 efforts. Brennan Boesch presents the counter argument, he’s actually been significantly better in 2012 than 2011 through May 23rd, at least statistically.
Well clearly the bullpen is the culprit, right? The Tigers were perfect in games they lead after the 7th inning last year. This time around, well, innings 6-9 have been a dumpster fire fueled and fought by a merry go round of unpredictable arms. Some times the hose wins, sometimes the fire. This bullpen has given away games in 2012. This is beyond debate. But is that the core of this mediocrity? I’m hesitant to shine a bright light there without immediately countering myself by recalling…..
Just how many times this club has failed to provide proper run support. Care to venture a guess on how many games the Tigers have scored 3 runs or less this season? The answer is 22. in 43 games played the Tigers have scored 3 runs or less 22 times. Their record in those games? 6-16. Now maybe we’re getting somewhere.
However, it is worth noting that through May 23rd, 2011 the Tigers had scored 3 or fewer runs 24 times, and posted a record of 8-16 in those contests. Overall record? 24-23. So one year later the Tigers have played 4 fewer games and have 4 fewer wins. In both cases the team has not excelled early on, particularly when considering the lofty expectations.
The problem with failure in the mind of a rational person is that it demands explanation. And not a laundry list of small contributing factors, no, the logical mind looks for the lynch pin. And, there isn’t one. This is frustrating. This makes us all weak in the knees and angry in the brains.
Just when one facet of winning baseball seems to be in place this ballclub falters in another. It’s infuriating.
It’s also baseball, and we’d better get used to it.
Players fall into and climb out of slumps daily, without the benefit of advance scheduling. Pitchers see there gems spoiled. Hitters produce only to lose a slugfest. Eight innings of winning baseball are erased by one inning of losing. Twas always thus and always thus will be.
Nuke Laloosh was right. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains.
For what it’s worth, there is one thing I’ve noticed that has seemed constant this year. The boys don’t appear to be having a whole lot of fun out there. I’m not a psychologist, and if I were I wouldn’t attempt to diagnose this situation from afar, but it sure looks tight in the Tigers dugout more often than not. The post-game interviews feature more frowns than clowns. I suppose that’s a natural effect of under-performing, but it doesn’t have to be.
The fans are in the same boat. I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple of weeks the sense of doom hovering over this fan base. My twitter timeline during games has for the most part looked like a screaming match interrupting an anxiety attack at a funeral. Passion will do that, patience and perspective can keep the panic to a dull roar.
Hate me for saying it, but it’s still early. And you can’t change the past. Those losses will remain losses. And the 119 games remaining on the schedule remain winnable.
I firmly believe this Tigers team is far better than what they’ve shown us to date. We’ve seen flashes and sparks of the potential for domination, but no fire yet. The talent is there, the experience is there, and even after dropping two straight to the Indians the Tigers remain a scant 5 games out of first place.
Maybe defining precisely what is wrong with the Tigers is an exercise in futility. Perhaps the team and its’ fans alike are wise to remember the words of Rainer Maria Rilke:
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them."
Or maybe Gertrude Stein had it right, and more succinctly:
"There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer."
Although for my money Crash Davis had the best advice for baseball situations like these:
"So relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK? Fun damnit."
A little confidence couldn’t hurt, a lot might even help. Remembering what this team can do is my answer to watching what they have done to date. I’ll take talent, even in a slump, over anything else in this game. And the fact remains the Tigers are the most talented team in the AL Central, and among the most talented in all of MLB.
Remember that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are among the elite run producers on this planet, and they both have yet to “heat up”. Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks have been among the best top of the order hitters in MLB over the last few weeks. Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and even Delmon Young have shown they can each still drive the ball with authority.
Remember that the top of the rotation is anchored by Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, two pitchers with an ERA of 2.14 or less. The back end of the bullpen features names like Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, proven commodities coveted by every team in baseball.
Remember the owner wants to win, and has demonstrated he’ll spend the money and make the deals management feels make that more likely. There will be sellers at the trade deadline, and the Tigers will be buyers.
Remember that a number of these current Tigers are better than they’ve played so far this season, and should be better tomorrow and beyond. Injuries heal, and slumps end.
Remember That the Tigers still have the same core talent that was expected to win the AL Central and contend for a championship.
And finally, remember that today of all days I told you the Detroit Tigers are going to win the World Series, this year.