The Detroit Tigers finished up their three game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, having dropped two out of three in a series that should have been a sweep for the Bengals. The offense showed up by averaging close to six runs a game after three games in which a total of three runs were scored, including two shutouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This includes a fourth inning in game two which the Tigers power stroke appeared, when they scored eight runs, including back-to-back-to-back home runs by Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila, and then a grand slam by the wonderful Miguel Cabrera.
The offense was fine, but the potential misuse of the bullpen cost the Tigers both games they dropped in this series. Supporters of the closer role will say that the first game was lost by Jose Valverde, while Jim Leyland haters will say that it was his fault; I will say that Valverde was put into a position to fail by going against the middle of the lineup against the Orioles, which included three dangerous left-handed batters, not even including the one – Chris Dickerson – who hit the walk-off winner. The blame doesn’t go on Valverde, or even Jim Leyland, but on baseball in general. Unless a team has a shutdown closer that is good versus both lefties and righties, it is my belief that the ninth inning should be handled by whichever pitcher(s) have the best platoon advantage against the upcoming hitters. In the ninth inning of that game, that was definitely not Jose Valverde, who has shown to be much better against righties than lefties. Drew Smyly, Darin Downs, or Phil Coke should have been handling the ninth inning in that game, and more likely than not, the Tigers would have come out of it with a win to start the series, but instead ended up wasting a third great start in four games by their starting pitchers.
Jun 02, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello (21) throws in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
In the second game, the Tigers aforementioned fourth inning carried the team to an easy victory, with no bullpen misuse able to ruin a strong start by Justin Verlander. The third game was also a game in which they should have won, but it can definitely be argued whether Rick Porcello should have been facing a left-handed hitting Chris Davis – who happens to be the only challenger so far to Miguel Cabrera’s second consecutive triple crown chase – and another lefty in Chris Dickerson who hit the walk-off home run off of Jose Valverde in the first game. It has been well documented that Rick Porcello struggles versus lefties, and struggles in general as his pitch count gets closer to 100. Porcello entered the inning at only 87 pitches and had yet to allow a run, so I understand the argument that he should have been left in, but when playing in a bandbox like Camden Yards, and with two lefties coming up who were OPSing 1.324 and .992 against righties coming in, the best move was to bring in a left-handed reliever. Instead, Porcello was left in and allowed a solo home-run to Davis and then back-to-back singles by Dickerson and J.J. Hardy before then being relieved by Coke, who inherited a bases-loaded situation with no outs in a close game – unfair to a reliever who could have started the inning fresh.
The Detroit Tigers could very easily be 5-1 in the last six games, but unfortunately have wasted or blown four of those games and are instead 1-5 in their last 6. Whether it be an offense that literally couldn’t score a run or bullpen misuse, the Tigers wasted multiple strong performances by their starting pitchers in the last two series. Baseball is a sport that tends to even out close outcomes over the course of the season, however, with good teams generally finding ways to win those close games. The Tigers will be fine going forward, and in fact are still in first place in the division. It has been a frustrating two series for the Tigers, but they hope to turn it around against the Tampa Bay Rays starting Tuesday.