The Tigers' bullpen was again expected to be weak this year, but by the end of May the group was turning those thoughts on their head. The weakness had become the strength, and a 2.05 ERA should have caused doubters to silence themselves.
Not all doubters were ready to shut up, of course.
Nope. Sorry. Not going to give the bullpen its due. Come back to me in a month or two.— Kurt Mensching (@BYBKurt) May 23, 2015
A few advanced metrics pointed to the likelihood things weren't going quite as well as they appeared -- to say nothing of the eye test on a couple of relievers. Joba Chamberlain didn't look good, and his ERA was even better than it should have been after a few runs were marked as unearned. And he wasn't the only one. It was only a matter of time before Angel Nesbitt found himself a trip south.
Fast-forward to the end of June and the notion of waiting a bit before lauding the bullpen looks like the wisest choice. The Tigers had an AL-worst 4.94 ERA for June -- only the Brewers were worse in baseball at 5.62. Disconcertingly the Tigers' FIP (4.81) and xFIP (4.70) show that to be no fluke. They were who we thought they were.
You had a few bright points -- Alex Wilson and Al Alburquerque notably, with 1.13 and 1.64 ERAs, respectively, in a combined 27 innings.
And then you had the questionable decisions. How could manager Brad Ausmus keep finding innings to use Joba Chamberlain (7.50 ERA) and Tom Gorzelanny (11.05 ERA)? They weren't the only outliers of course. Ian Krol was inexplicably called up again, only to give up six runs on eight hits and three walks in less than four innings. Even closer Joakim Soria gave up six runs in 10 innings while blowing a save.
Now, it might be better by the end of July. That is, if the Tigers make a couple of roster moves soon, such as releasing Chamberlain and Gorzelanny. (Will they? You'd like to think so, and yet ... .) You'd expect Soria to look a better than he did in June as well. On the other hand, the worry has to turn to Wilson -- at least a little bit. He's been overexposed and doesn't miss nearly as many bats as you'd like to see. I don't think we'll see a Joba-like fall from grace, but you do have to think the road's going to get bumpier.
Regardless, the Tigers bullpen has issues and will continue to have issues. It was nice to imagine otherwise in May, but that was just never truly the case.