Anatomy Of A Failure–The 2014 Detroit Tigers


Well, the last embers of the 2014 Detroit Tigers have been extinguished and it’s open season for the second-guessers and “I told you so” crowd.

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This writer will not yield to that temptation.

However, I will take the opportunity to examine a series of seemingly isolated events, which taken together conspired to undermine a team once considered a World Series favorite.

December 3, 2013

The Tigers trade Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi.

This was a regrettable trade made by a strong General Manager, Dave Dombrowski.

We need not go beyond Doug Fister‘s 2014 regular season numbers (16–6, 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) to recognize the value he would have added to a Tiger team that struggled to win its division. Fister also got the decision in the Nationals’ only NLDS victory, throwing seven shutout innings while allowing only four hits.

Somebody please hide the razor blades.

Meanwhile, the club got next to nothing from the trio Washington was only too happy to jettison in return for an accomplished major league starter.

You’ve heard of the gift that keeps on giving?

Well this is the trade that keeps on hurting.

February 28, 2014

Shortstop Jose Iglesias sidelined with shin splints.

Iglesias would not play again in 2014.

His injury was a severe blow to the Tiger infield. The young defensive wizard was sorely missed as a procession of substitutes was unable to conjure up the magic that Iglesias displayed on a daily basis.

March 3, 2014

Andy Dirks plays his final spring training game.

The left fielder, who had been expected to platoon with Rajai Davis, battled back and hamstring problems all year. After returning from back surgery in Lakeland in July, Dirks suffered a series of physical setbacks throughout the summer and was finally shut down in August.

He never rehab’ed to the point where he could rejoin the Tigers, and the loss of his left-handed bat and defensive skills were missed, particularly in the postseason.

March 16, 2014

Bruce Rondon pitches in his sixth and last spring training appearance.

Within a week Rondon underwent Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season.

Not unlike the loss of Iglesias, Rondon’s unavailability was a mortal blow to the team. With his 100 mile-per-hour fastball, Rondon had been counted upon to stabilize the back-end of the bullpen.

It could be argued that Tiger hopes for a World Series crown vanished the day Rondon went down.

May 2, 2014

In response to a slow start by closer Joe Nathan, the Tigers sign recuperating reliever Joel Hanrahan to a $1 million contract plus incentives.

Hanrahan never recovered his full pitching arsenal and by the end of the summer was a nonentity, having not thrown a competitive pitch.

May 18, 2014

The Tigers sweep the Red Sox in Boston to elevate their record to 27–12.

From that point through the playoffs they would play .500 ball – 63 wins, 63 losses.

Not exactly the stuff of which champions are made.

June 16, 2014

Justin Verlander loses to Kansas City, allowing 12 hits and seven earned runs in six innings.

His ERA balloons to 4.98.

Though he finished strong in late September, Verlander did not have a vintage year, and at times was the least effective Tiger starter. The decline of their former dominant starter placed further stress on a bullpen frequently not up to the task.

July 23, 2014

The Detroit Tigers obtain Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers for Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson.

Though the price was dear, it appeared at the time the Tigers had solidified their bullpen, as Soria arrived with 17 saves and a 2.70 ERA.

This was not to be the case.

After an erratic start, Soria was injured and spend a month on the disabled list. Upon his return he threw well in spurts, but as a Tiger ended the season with an ERA of 4.91. It didn’t get any better in the playoffs, as he allowed five earned runs in two games, while retiring only three hitters.

July 24, 2014

Reliever Joba Chamberlain allows two hits and an earned run to the Los Angeles Angels.

This game marked the beginning of Chamberlain”s precipitous second-half decline. Coming into the game, he sported an ERA of 2.40. From that point forward through the end of the regular season, Chamberlain’s ERA was 5.81.

Yet he remained the eighth inning set-up man to the bitter end.

As with Soria, Chamberlain’s postseason performance was humbling, as he retired one hitter while allowing four earned runs in two appearances.

August 5, 2014

In a last – ditch effort to bolster their bullpen, the Tigers sign Jim Johnson, who had washed out with the Oakland A’s.

After a brief stint in Toledo, Johnson joined the big club on August 16th. Politely stated, the former All-Star was not the answer, as he was bedeviled by control problems.

In a gallant effort to impress his new team, Johnson lowered his ERA from 7.14 as an Athletic to 6.92 with Detroit. Even considering Detroit’s flaccid bullpen, this was not good enough to make the postseason roster.

August 13, 2014

Not to be confused under any circumstances with  the term “chick flick”, after another rocky outing closer Joe Nathan “chin flicks” Tiger fans at Comerica Park.

The gesture has European roots and means “buzz off” or something a bit saltier. An R-rated publication could be more precise.

Though Nathan apologized and later made an attempt to reconcile with fans, the act stands as the most enduring image of his 2014 season.

September 27, 2014

Rajai Davis suffers a groin injury against the Minnesota Twins.

Davis, who had inherited the center field position upon the trade of Austin Jackson, suffered an untimely groin injury during the penultimate game of the season.

Though the speedster was eventually placed on the postseason roster, he played at less than 100% and was limited to six at bats. He was pulled early in game two and appeared only as a pinch-hitter in game three.

At a time when the team needed him most, his absence from the line-up greatly limited the team’s flexibility and production at a key position.

October 2, 2014 – October 5, 2014

Baltimore Orioles sweep the Detroit Tigers in three games in the ALDS.

The wound is still fresh, so this will be brief:

Game 1: Baltimore 12, Detroit 3

Staff ace Max Scherzer yielded five earned runs in seven and a third innings.

He got no help from shortstop Andrew Romine, who made a deflating error that opened up the floodgates in the bottom of the eighth.

True to form, the bullpen (Chamberlain, Soria, Coke) imploded, leading the way to a 12-3 massacre at Camden Yards.

Game 2: Baltimore 7, Detroit 6

This was the unkindest cut of all.

Carrying a 6–3 lead in the top of the eighth inning with nobody out, third-base coach Dave Clark foolishly sent Miguel Cabrera home on Victor Martinez‘s double.

Cabrera was thrown out.

Clark’s gross miscalculation was beyond comprehension and is the type of mistake from which teams often do not recover.

This was borne out when the bullpen–with the notable exception of Anibal Sanchez, whom Brad Ausmus should’ve allowed to pitch the eighth-inning– suffered yet another late meltdown, denying the team a crucial split in Baltimore.

Neither Clark, Ausmus, Chamberlain nor Soria could have slept well after this debacle.

Game 3: Baltimore 2, Detroit 1

Though David Price pitched well, he was nicked by the cheapest of home runs by Tiger-killer Nelson Cruz, and was eventually outpitched by Bud Norris and the Oriole bullpen.

The Tiger bats were quiet until the ninth, when their abject lack of depth was exposed. Back-up catcher Bryan Holaday failed to advance a runner, and–with one out in the ninth and the winning runs on base–Ausmus called upon Hernan Perez to pinch-hit for light-hitting shortstop Andrew Romine.

The 23-year-old Perez had a grand total of five major league at bats during the entire season, all in September.

He promptly grounded into a double play.

Game over. Series over. Season over.

As the pall of defeat hung over Comerica Park, Tiger fans exited quietly into the fading autumn light which had once shone bright with promise.