Pop-Tart 14 is the Detroit Tigers, one of baseball’s most historic and beloved franchises. Let’s review how the 2015 season has gone so far.
How’s It Going?
Well, few people saw the disaster coming that was the Detroit Tigers’ 2015 season. Thought to be a contender, the Tigers have been lackluster all year, and currently sit at 51-54. While they are only 3 games out of a wild card spot, Tigers ownership has said publicly that their club is “retooling”. Needless to say, the Tigers are going to be busy this offseason in order to regain their AL Central dominance.
Despite playing in a known pitcher’s park in Comerica Park, the Tigers have always had first-rate offensive production. A big part of this is having one of baseball’s top 3 hitters overall in Miguel Cabrera. Miggy was having one of his finest seasons ever before succumbing to a left calf strain. Cabrera’s presence makes the Tigers a different ballclub. Before he went down, the Tigers were above .500. Cabrera is still a machine when healthy; he mashed at a .350 clip with an absurd .456 OBP (that’s getting on base for 45% of at-bats!!) and 15 taters. One of his biggest supporting pieces was Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban left fielder. Cespedes has since been traded to the Mets for a couple of pitching prospects. Victor Martinez is still the DH and cleanup hitter in his advanced age, but is finally looking old after years of turning back the clock. Martinez has only hit .246 with 6 homers, and his OBP sits at a low .314. Ian Kinsler at second base is batting .297, but his trademark power and speed have faded from him; he only has 5 homers and 7 steals. J.D. Martinez (no relation to Victor) has been a very pleasant surprise in right field batting 5th. Martinez has hit .288 and is among the AL leaders with 29 homers. Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis are an effective platoon as center fielders and leadoff men, and James McCann is a catcher with some offensive potential. When you factor all of this together, you’ve got a club that has some talent in the middle, but is lacking finished pieces in some major spots. Alex Avila is a light hitting C/1B combo, Nick Castellanos hasn’t hit at all in 2.5 years in the bigs, and the Tigers put out a different minor leaguer to play left field every day now that Cespedes is gone. Once Cabrera returns, this club will receive a big offensive boost, but it will most likely be too little too late for Brad Ausmus’s squad.
The Tigers haven’t had quality pitching for years, and it is the real reason why they are a sub-.500 ballclub this year. The offense is good enough to win games if there’s some good pitching, but there isn’t good pitching on this club in the slightest. After the trade of ace David Price to the Blue Jays, the rotation now consists of homer-prone righty Anibal Sanchez (24 HR allowed), journeyman rightly Alfredo Simon (.274 BAA), young lefty Daniel Norris (Top-20 MLB prospect acquired in Price trade), lost cause Justin Verlander (CC Sabathia-like demise), and finally a stopgap minor leaguer named Buck Farmer (need I say more?). Can you see why it’s impossible for the Tigers to win ballgames anymore? Their starting pitching is a disaster. The bullpen has been a laughingstock for years now, but at least now has some pieces to work with. Alex Wilson of the 1.76 ERA is going to be the Tigers closer for the time being, a wise choice in the post Joakim Soria days. He’s set up by lefty Blaine Hardy (.231 BAA). The rest of the bullpen is an unadulterated mess though. Inconsistent flamethrowers Bruce Rondon and Neftali Feliz try to be setup men, but have been atrocious in limited time this season due to injuries. Need a LOOGY? I would try to use Ian Krol, but he has been massacred to the tune of a 5.49 ERA and a .313 BAA (!). Need a righty middle man? Al Alburquerque throws hard, but walks way too many batters to be effective. Can I even get a long man to eat up innings? Tough luck Tigers, you’re stuck with Shane Greene, a starter that failed so miserably he has been banished to your lousy bullpen. Interestingly, Greene was acquired by the Tigers in the 3-team trade that netted the Yankees Didi Gregorius. Gregorius has been an above-average shortstop across the board, while Greene, who showed flashes of brilliance in New York the year prior, has fallen flat on his face in Detroit. The Tigers offense can still generate leads, but the combination of lackluster starting pitching and a horrible bridge part of the bullpen means that the Tigers must score 6 or 7 runs to win a game.
Not all is as bad as it appears for the Tigers. Injuries to Cabrera and closer Joe Nathan had big impacts on the season for sure, and there are some helpful prospects on the way. Factor in the presence of so many aces available this offseason (Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto), and you’ve got to think the Tigers could nab at least one. This team still has talent. While the World Series window is almost shut, if the Tigers can regroup this offseason, they could come back next season and surprise the doubters.