Detroit Tigers: Redemption in the Bullpen For Last Push to Playoffs
Three seasons ago the Detroit Tigers were coming off of a four-peat American League Central Division championship.
Two seasons ago the Detroit Tigers finished below .500, taking fifth in the division. Last season Detroit narrowly missed the playoffs by losing to their division rival, Cleveland Indians, to wrap up the 2016 season and finish with a record of 86-75, second in the AL Central.
Despite veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez finishing fifth in the majors with 44 saves last season, and only 5 blown saves, 2017 brings a new set of question marks to Detroit’s bullpen.
It appears as though manager Brad Ausmus will keep Rodriguez’ innings the same. The question remains: Which pitchers will take over the middle relief and can they succeed?
When Will Jimenez Make His First Appearance?
Detroit optioned up top prospect reliever Joe Jimenez on Monday while also sending down Bruce Rondon to Toledo, the team’s Triple-A location.
Following spring training, Ausmus labeled Rondon as the eighth-inning guy; however, after three opportunities, two of them ending in three-run innings versus the Red Sox, it was time to make the switch.
It’s no question the Tigers are looking for a big season this year. Once all-star outfielder J.D. Martinez returns, the team will be at full strength and looks to have all the tools to get at minimum, a wild card spot.
Time is Running Out
Many analysts believe 2017 will be Detroit’s last big push toward a deep playoff run, and, if things don’t go as planned, the next offseason will result in losing Justin Verlander, Rodriguez, Jose Iglesias, or even J.D. Martinez.
This is why the bullpen needs to step up.
Rodriguez can get a save every time he steps on the hill. The middle relief guys need to give him the opportunity to do so, though.
Who Is Available to Pitch?
Here is Detroit’s bullpen: Rodriguez, who is reliable and appears to still be effective, but is also 35. Justin Wilson, Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, Kyle Ryan, Joe Jimenez and Anibal Sanchez.
Sanchez, who once was an effective starter, has been bumped to the pen to make room for Matt Boyd. Boyd ended last season 6-5 with a 4.53 ERA, 18 games started and 97 innings pitched. With Sanchez being moved to the pen, Tigers management will keep an eye on him to turn things around and move back into the rotation, or possibly become an effective reliever.
The Importance of the Wilson Boys
Alex Wilson and Justin Wilson will be crucial in determining just how far the bullpen can carry Detroit. Alex went 4-0 with a 2.96 ERA in 62 appearances last season and Justin is coming off of a World baseball Championship with Team USA. Justin has shown he can be a serviceable reliever in any role Ausmus decides to put him in.
A 6’2″ righty with an aggressive cutter, Justin Wilson has the ability to make lefty hitters look foolish more often than not. Wilson has given up an opponent batting average of .228 in his career.
Then, of course, there is Jimenez. It’s no question Ausmus and company are waiting to turn him into the closer of the future. And, after multiple impressive outings in Toledo, Jimenez looks ready to take on a tougher role and help the bullpen contend.
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The Bullpen Needs to Help the Team
Behind Cabrera, Castellanos, Upton, Martinez, both J.D. and Victor, Kinsler and Iglesias, no one is wondering if the team can score runs.
The starting rotation also looks as though it will compete all season. Verlander is coming off an incredible season, Zimmermann worked on some technicalities in spring training and wants to get back to his peak and of course, Michael Fulmer is ready to cement himself as the next, great young pitcher in the MLB.
That just leaves the pen.
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If the bullpen can hold up and compete, which is a large “if” for any team, Detroit is looking at divisional championship contention or at least, the first wild card spot.