The Detroit Tigers may finally have a dominating bullpen

When's the last time you could say that?

Detroit Tigers v New York Mets
Detroit Tigers v New York Mets / Dustin Satloff/GettyImages
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Detroit Tigers relief pitchers have been called on to pitch 17 innings across the first four games of the 2024 season. They've been tagged for just one earned run during that work, good for a 0.53 ERA.

Monday night in New York, the bullpen was tasked with keeping the Tigers in a scoreless game against a good Mets lineup while Detroit's struggling offense flailed. They did just that, giving up just one hit and two walks across 4-1/3 innings and buying enough time for the lineup to break loose for a 5-0, extra-innings win.

That pushed the Tigers to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2015 and their first 4-0 start on the road since 2006.

What's that strange feeling? Could it be ... late-innings optimism?

The team finally has a bullpen that doesn't cause fans to reach for antacids -- or something stronger. Not only that, but the bullpen has arguably been the strongest part of the team. How long has it been since you could say that?

A few bullpen numbers through the first four games:

  • . 183 -- Opposing batters OBP vs. Tigers relievers
  • 19 strikeouts and 5 walks for a 3.80 K:BB ratio
  • 0.647 WHIP
  • 3 one-run wins
  • 2 extra-innings wins
  • 0 heartbreaking losses

The bullpen hopefully won't have to be that good every single night -- at some point all those high-stress innings are asking for trouble. But right now they're keeping the Tigers in every game just long enough for the offense to finally get something going.

Anyone who survived the era of awful bullpens trying to ruin every game a decade ago knows what a different feeling that is.

Jason Foley is a legitimate closer for the Tigers

Manager AJ Hinch hasn't named a closer officially -- but he's used Jason Foley as if he is one. Foley has finished two of the four games, and was tasked with taking the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Mets to preserve a 0-0 game. In total, he's pitched in three games and has a win and two saves to show for it.

Not only that, but Foley's completely dominated the batters he has faced, striking out four of eight. That at least has the look of being a closer.

It's not just the stats that jump out to you though. It's the stuff he's throwing. He's combining a sinker that averages 98.5 mph and often tops 100 with a slider coming in at 89 mph.

He's got some competition in Shelby Miller, who finished Monday's game in calming 1-2-3 fashion after tossing two scoreless innings in the Tigers' come-from-behind victory on Saturday.

Last season's closer, AJ Lange, is still around, too, though the three-walk performance in his only appearance so far this season looks a lot more like what fans were used to.

Times have changed, and right now, it looks like the Tigers have the kind of dramatic, dominant late-innings pitcher in Foley that they've so often missed.

Things already feel a lot different this year.

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