Of MLBs Big Guns, Tigers Last Laggard


The story so far of this young baseball season has been the struggles of the league’s high payroll top teams, of which the Detroit Tigers are but 1. We Tigers’ fans could take comfort in knowing that the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox and Angels – all of whom were expected to win – weren’t performing well either. Not anymore.

Yesterday the Tigers loss to the Boston Red Sox pushed that team over .500 for the first time this season. On the same day, the Angels won their 8th straight game to go to 26-25. With that the two teams joined the Yanks and Phils as teams lagging in their division but over .500 and presumably in contention. The Tigers, on the other hand, fell to 23-26.

It’s no secret what had caused certain of these teams to flounder. An unexpectedly weak offense and a suspect bullpen in LA, the lack of a pitching staff in Boston and New York and a plague of injuries in Philadelphia. [And, of course, an unexpectedly weak offense and a suspect bullpen in Detroit]. But… elsewhere those problem areas have turned around in recent days. The Boston bullpen has been good, lately. Albert Pujols has been on a tear, lately. The injuries keep mounting in Philly, but the Yankees have begun to get some good starts from Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and on occasion even Phil Hughes. The Tigers? Not yet.

It’s also no secret what it would take for the Tigers to go on a tear to match – they need to hit and they need to hold onto leads. In a sense, their transformation already began: the team OPS since May 10 is .778. They did hit 5 home runs in those last two losses to the Sawx. The problem – offensively – has been a lack of hitting with men on base, and a lot of double plays. That and the fact that while clubs like the Angels have “Gone On A Tear”, the Tigers lineup has merely mean-reverted.

Still – while their offense returned very nearly to what was expected of it, the Tigers went 8-11 while the other big guns pulled things together enough to finally get their heads above water. Why? The obvious answer would be “pitching”. Over the past 19 games, the Tigers allowed more runs than they scored, plain and simple. The team ERA was 4.58. I’d actually be more inclined to place the blame in this situation on luck and team defense. After all, over 163 innings in those 19 games Tigers pitchers struck out 179 while walking only 48. Those are ace-type peripherals. What we’ve been seeing is (in addition to too many home runs allowed, which we can’t possibly blame on defense) oo many unearned runs (11 in 19 games), too few double plays, too many hits on balls in play and too few runners stranded.

That sounds, potentially, a little grim… the Tigers were built to be a terrible defensive team that would mash it’s way into the playoffs. And one with a power pitching staff that would keep opposing batters from testing that defense to begin with. So far it isn’t working out. Maybe, just maybe, what the Tigers need to really get going (other than playing 10 consecutive games against the Twins) would be better luck for the pitching staff. That could happen. If they need better play in the field from guys like Cabrera and Fielder…? I dunno about that.