From the moment Max Scherzer left the Detroit Tigers to sign with the Washington Nationals, the target on Justin Verlander’s back grew larger and larger during the offseason. More than ever, it became clear that in order to contend, Verlander would need to return to form at the top of the Tigers’ rotation.
Then the season began.
Suddenly, what was supposed to be a glaring weakness, especially without Verlander, became a strength, and the Tigers’ beleaguered ace was in the headlines less and less.
Yes, both local and national media outlets chronicled Verlander’s throwing regiment, as well as his continual MRIs, but the narrative that Detroit could not win without the Verlander of old, quickly became inaccurate.
To no one’s surprise David Price was phenomenal from the outset. What took many off guard, was the performance of his supporting cast. Namely, the young Shane Greene, and the journeyman, Alfredo Simon. Greene, who the Tigers acquired from the Yankees, jumped out to a blistering start. To begin the 2015 campaign, he allowed just one earned run, combined, in his first three starts with Detroit, and struck out 11, while only walking five. By the same token, Simon was equally exceptional, posting a 4-0 record to begin his career in Detroit.
Even Verlander’s “replacement,” Kyle Lobstein, far surpassed expectations.
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The tide, however, is now beginning to shift in Detroit, and Verlander’s absence is rapidly looming larger and larger. While the veteran right-hander continues his comeback, the Tigers’ pitching staff is coming back to Earth.
Greene, has been horrendous in his last two starts. First, at home against Cleveland, the young hurler let up eight earned runs in just four innings. Then, on the road against Minnesota, who he handled easily in his opening start, Greene let up another seven runs, and was only spared a loss due to his powerful offense.
Simon, himself was disappointing in his recent start against Kansas City. In just 4 1/3 innings, the Royals took Simon to task, by pounding out nine hits, and six runs.
Now, Detroit is 15-8, and in all likelihood, Greene and Simon will inevitably rebound. However, Tigers fans have been subjected to the harsh reality that even the best offense, can stumble at the finish line, and if Detroit expects to win a World Series, or even the AL Central, the offense cannot be expected to buoy two weak links, in the rotation, and the bullpen.
The former MVP was essential to this team’s title hopes to begin the season, and even at this early stage of the 162 game season, it is clear that he is even more important now. While Simon, and Greene, have both been exceptional at times, they were not acquired to be front-line guys in a playoff series. And even their front line has question marks. Specifically, in the form of Anibal Sanchez who has been mediocre to begin 2015.
Will he ever be who he was when he won that MVP award, again? Realistically, no. But, when healthy, Verlander is still a solidifying presence, who will compete until the last out, and eat innings. If he can even slightly resemble his past self, it will go a long way in helping the Tigers fend off the Royals, and will keep their title hopes alive.
If not, Detroit could be in serious trouble.