DETROIT, MI - JUNE 03: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers reacts after giving up a lead off home run to Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees during the game at Comerica Park on June 3, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.The Yankees defeated the Tigers 5-1. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
In the past week, the Tigers went 2-5 against the AL East powerhouses, New York and Boston. A number of the games were winnable, but execution or forces outside of Detroit's control reared their heads at the worst times. It's June 4 and Detroit is four games under .500 and six games out of first place. Who saw that coming?
I'm just going to say it: This is not a fun team to watch. Right now, anyway. It's surprising that any team with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of its lineup could be so hard to watch. But these Tigers manage to do so. Few in the lineup manage to find successes on the same day. Most have frustrating at bats, either because they have absolutely no patience or command of the strike zone, and/or because they end up hitting into double plays or popping out.
And then there's the pitching. Justin Verlander lost three starts in a row. Casey Crosby made his major league debut, but walked four and allowed six runs, and didn't make it out of the fourth inning. Doug Fister hit the disabled list for the second time in two months. Jose Valverde blew another save. (Thankfully his teammates picked him up later in the inning.) And it's just not the closer, Octavio Dotel took a loss and gave up a few more (less consequential) runs later in the week.
The defense? Oh that defense. The Tigers are near the bottom of the MLB in defensive efficiency. They're only slightly better than the Yankees in Defensive Runs Saved. They're last in the league in UZR/150 games. They've turned the fewest double plays in the AL. When Austin Jackson is not playing, it's hard to find a single player with fielding aesthetics.
The injuries are adding up, too. Two of Detroit's most effective players at the plate are Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks. Neither have played for awhile. Dirks has battled several nagging injuries throughout the season, but an Achilles injury put him on the DL. Meanwhile Jackson hit the DL with pain in his side. Not that Detroit was winning a lot when both players were in the lineup, but it's even harder when two-thirds of the starting outfield ends up hurt. Add in Alex Avila and Gerald Laird, catchers who are currently walking wounded and left Omir Santos playing. (That third catcher callup makes good sense now.) Then you've got starting pitcher Doug Fister missing a large chunk of the season, playing, being bothered by pain in his latest start and hitting the DL again. What else? Seemingly half the bullpen has been unable to go at some point in the season due to injuries that didn't rise to the level of the disabled list. Meanwhile Luis Marte was hurt before opening day and Al Alburquerque has been hurt the entire season.
You don't want to blame injuries, but you have to acknowledge them. No one's going to feel sorry for the Tigers, as the saying goes. Other teams have injuries, too. True. But if you were asked before the year what could derail the season, injuries had to be ranked No. 1 and defense No. 2. Injuries have caused the Tigers to constantly tap into the minor leagues. In fact, four of the six pitchers who competed for the fifth starter spot this spring have made it to the big leagues -- in the first two months! That would hurt pretty much any team in the game.
Which is worse: Stranding 10+ runners in scoring position, or stranding one? I know. You just want the runners to get home. It's frustrating to see them left on the bases inning after inning. Still, that's preferable to a game like Sunday against Phil Hughes and the Yankees when Detroit was 0-for-1 with runners in scoring position. Just one opportunity, despite four hits and three walks? That's just awful.
Maybe it's time to completely re-do the lineup. I know the argument for keeping the lineup the same: Players have certain spots they're used to hitting in. They know what their neighbors in the lineup are capable of. There's a certain chemistry, so to speak. Well, throw all that out. These Tigers cannot score runs. It's obviously not working. If you want to know the biggest problem, it's that the players who have batted in the five and six holes have done little all year. So even when the top four in the lineup do their job, the next couple of players stumble. The No. 5 spot has a .249 batting average with .285 on-base percentage and .131 isolated power. That puts the OPS among the worst in the AL. No. 6 in the lineup has batted .203 with an OPS of .611. No ability to get on base, no power. Last year. Detroit's No. 5s had .797 OPS and No. 6s has .842. If you want to know the big difference, that's it right there. Delmon Young just shouldn't bat that high in the order. Nor should Brennan Boesch. Detroit should try moving Jhonny Peralta up. Maybe move Dirks into the middle of the order when he returns. Changes have to be made -- the only problem is that few players have batted well enough to justify moving them up.
But despite all the negative, we'll give BYB commenter SingleDigit another day in the sun. He listed several reasons Detroit finds itself in a bad position this morning. But he finished:
And yet ... a small handful of games under .500 and still only a handful of games behind in the Central Division.
I'm not saying the Tigers will run away with anything, but with all considered it's easy to be optimistic. Ya just gotta be realistic first.
So there you have it. If you believe nothing is going to change, injuries will continue, key pitchers will continue to falter, several regular batters will suffer the worst seasons of their career, then you think the season can only get worse for Detroit. But if you find it improbable that everything will continue to go so wrong, then you've got plenty of reasons to believe things just might improve during the final four months of the year.