For the first time in recent memory, the Detroit Tigers entered the regular season facing serious questions about their starting rotation. Chief among those concerns was the Tigers’ rotational depth.
After a 2014 season in which Brad Ausmus had to rely on young, average arms, such as Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer, it became clear that the Tigers would be in trouble, in 2015, unless they signed a veteran insurance policy.
They did not.
Now, at the outset of a four game series with Anaheim, things look bleak within the rotation. No one can argue with David Price’s results, but outside of Detroit’s ace and the surprising Alfredo Simon, the results have become troublesome.
This is no more apparent than in the case of Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers’ right-hander, who was pegged as the second starter in the rotation, has been atrocious in 2015. Following another disappointing start against Houston, Sanchez had allowed five or more runs in half of his starts.
By the same token, Shane Greene has proven to be unreliable. While the young starter has shown exceptional stuff, and produced admirable results in a handful of starts, he has also had his fair share of struggles. The most telling stat, in Greene’s case, is that while he has six starts in which he has allowed two runs or less, he has allowed 28 earned runs on the season.
What is more disconcerting for Detroit, however, is that their problems extend beyond performance. Kyle Lobstein, who himself was a replacement for the injured Verlander, is now on the disabled list and Simon is on the bereavement list due to an unfortunate family emergency.
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Because of those holes in their rotation, the thin line between the Tigers and mediocrity is once again being exposed. Fortunately, for Detroit, Justin Verlander may soon be returning to bridge the gap.The Tigers have cleared their former ace to start for Triple-A Toledo, which could signal a near return that is desperately needed.
While it may seem excessive to view Verlander as necessary addition, it is clear that the Tigers can not coast through the AL Central once more. It nearly cost them the division in 2014, and certainly will, in 2015, if they have to rely on the likes of Kyle Ryan, rather than the steadying veteran presence of Verlander.
The narrative of Verlander’s decline has been repeated ad nauseam, but the fact remains, that outside of a deadline deal, a better starting pitcher is not walking though Detroit’s door.
And, whether Verlander returns at full strength, or just a fraction of his former self, he provides the Tigers with a legitimate option in the starting rotation, in any slot.
Furthermore, while Detroit entered the weekend series with the Angels with 28 wins, and would be on pace for 94 on the year, without Verlander, that pace could drastically slow. In 2015, the AL Central is the best division in baseball, and in the best division in baseball, every game, and each start matter. At 32, Verlander is not the answer to every problem the Tigers have, but he can certainly help plug some of the holes in the levee.