Sep 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Jefry Marte (55) makes an error allowing Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre (not pictured) to score during the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Expectations were high for the 2015 Detroit Tigers.
Isn’t that correct, Tiger faithful?
Virtually all the pundits had the Tigers running away with the American League Central Division title — their fifth straight — and many had this season pegged as a “World Series or bust” campaign. After all, the Tigers featured superstars in Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, David Price, Yeonis Cespedes, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, and even J.D. Martinez.
But as we now know — after 162 games — the AL Central crown is worn by the Kansas City Royals, Comerica Park is shuttered for the season; and there will be no playoff games in Detroit for the first time since 2010. The Tigers finished in the cellar of the American League Central — even a complete joke — to many a Tiger faithful.
There were a number of problems with the 2015 team, but for me, it’s the three I’s that did the Tigers in: inconsistency, injury and ineptness. Let’s travel back through the season and look at those three I’s in depth.
The Tigers started the season hot, with an 11-1 mark, but quickly fell back to earth. With a combination of injuries, the Tigers hit a low point, losing eight straight games from May 28-June 5 — including a four-game sweep at the Los Angeles Angels — and floundered in Minnesota to finish the first half of the season with a 44-44 mark.
But the pitching staff and offense were both inconsistent. For instance, Anibal Sanchez was 3-8 between April and May with a 5.72 ERA, only to go 8-2 with a 3.59 ERA between June and July. Sanchez still leads the AL in home runs allowed — 29 — despite the fact he hasn’t pitched since Aug. 18.
Alfredo “Pasta” Simon was inconsistent as well — sporting a 5-2 April to May record with a sub-three ERA — to completely falling off the table since. The right-hander has sported an ERA of over five since June, and we now know he was pitching on a bad knee.
The offensive woes were there, despite the Tigers leading the MLB with a .270 batting average, but were in the bottom half in runs scored for the season. This proves the Tigers were able to hit, but more often than not, were unable to get a key hit to score runs.
Detroit was saddled by injury all season, most notably, Justin Verlander, who missed two months with a right triceps injury. Verlander came back mid-June. Verlander went 0-7 before getting his first win on July 29. Verlander returned to form, finishing the year with a 1.09 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and a 3.38 ERA.
Miguel Cabrera won his fourth batting title in five seasons, despite suffering a grade 3 calf strain on July 3 — shelving him on the disabled list until Aug. 14. Cabrera came back, hit well — without home run power — and tried to help lead the crippled squad.
Anibal Sanchez gave up an AL-high 29 home runs before suffering a rotator cuff injury that sidelined him indefinitely on Aug. 19. The shoulder flared back up on Sept. 15, preventing Sanchez from any more action.
Victor Martinez started the season behind, due to yet another knee injury, and ended up losing a month on the disabled list back in May. Martinez, 36, never returned to form this year — batting .245 on the year — and also suffered a quad injury in mid-September.
The culmination of all these injuries — not to mention those of Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene — helped contribute to the Tigers’ inconsistency throughout the season.
Fans pointed the finger at Brad Ausmus all season, and rightly so. Ausmus was the one who pitched to Jose Altuve instead of Preston Tucker back in mid-August. Ausmus also had a miscommunication with David Price in late June, which resulted in Price undressing in the clubhouse, when Ausmus had every intention of bringing Price back in. Ausmus was questioned how he used the bullpen, among other decision-making and his leadership also came into question many times, even when Bruce Rondon was sent home.
The team itself had many moments of ineptness. Base running gaffes by Cabrera, Anthony Gose, Ian Kinsler and a host of others; along with Gose forgetting how many outs there were in the inning; and players missing the cutoff over and over.
The front office — mostly Dave Dombrowski — sat on his hands when it came to the bullpen. Coming into the season, Detroit had the fourth-worst bullpen ERA in the MLB — 4.29 — and finished 13th in the AL in the same statistic and were 14th in WHIP. Dombrowski did nothing to make the pen better.
The 2015 season fell more than short of expectations, as the Tigers fell off a cliff after the All-Star Break. However, many true Tiger fans saw this coming, including myself. The inconsistencies, injuries and ineptness snowballed into an avalanche — which could not be stopped. A successful offseason is just part of the magic elixir for 2016.