Two and a half weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers looked as close to unbeatable as it gets in baseball and appeared to be running away with the American League Central division. Now the club finds itself stuck in one of those ruts where almost nothing goes your way.
The Tigers are a miserable 4-13 since sweeping the Orioles and Red Sox on the road three weeks ago. They have been swept out of Cleveland, dropped three of four to Texas at home, split a four-game set in Oakland, salvaged just one in Seattle, and returned home in time to face the scorching hot Toronto Blue Jays.
Toronto left town the same way they came in, the hottest team in baseball. The Tigers meanwhile, are left with a 14-14 record at Comerica Park this season. While playing .500 baseball at home makes it immensely difficult for a club to make the postseason, suffering a sweep at home might be the wakeup call Detroit needs, for both players and fans.
The first and most important lesson there is to learn about this year’s Tigers team is that they will go as far as the starting pitchers take them. A rotation that is frequently referred to as the best in the game right now needs to pitch like it and lead the way. With the offense struggling and the bullpen woes fully documented, it’s up to the starters to get the team back on the winning track.
Anibal Sanchez is currently the one player on the roster playing to his potential. He’s been lights out in his last three outings. In a combined 22.1 innings pitched he has surrendered 3 earned runs on only 10 hits, and 1 walk, while striking out 19. These numbers should be good enough to get a pitcher a win in each of the three ballgames, he’s gotten two no decisions instead.
The Tigers started their season on a 27-12 tear. The starters’ earned run average during that stretch was 2.64. Yet, during the current 4-13 skid that number has ballooned to 6.01 (7.33 excluding Sanchez). Yikes.
Certain things simply cannot happen if you want your team to make a postseason push. Your team can’t make a habit of losing series to weaker teams who don’t even get to throw their ace at you. Without taking anything away from the Seattle Mariners, they’re a team the Tigers should have been able to take two from, especially considering Felix Hernandez didn’t make a start during the visit.
Your closer can’t strike fear in everyone who’s wearing your team’s colors. He’s supposed to scare the other guys. The closer role has been the achilles heel for the Tigers for years now and Joe Nathan has not yet shown he can be the guy to reverse the trend of shaky ninth innings.
A 2-5 record since Nathan’s blown save last Wednesday in Oakland means I was unfortunately right about the heartbreaker having a lasting effect. One of the five losses, the opening game against Toronto, did nothing to ease the late-inning worries. Nathan came into a scoreless ballgame in the ninth only to give up 2 hits, walk 2 more, and surrender 4 runs. That rally propelled the Blue Jays to a 5-3 victory which set the tone for the remainder of the series.
Now the Boston Red Sox come to Detroit for a weekend series, fresh off of being swept out of Cleveland. They’ve been streaky as of late, but if there’s one team in the league that can exploit the opposition’s bullpen and shut down a lineup with theirs, it’s the Red Sox. If the starters go deep into games the Tigers should be right where they need to be. If not, it could be a long weekend with the Sox before having to meet each team in the Central over the next couple of weeks.
The Tigers are alright for now despite playing some awful baseball recently. However, if the bleeding doesn’t stop very soon the upcoming slate of games could mean that it’s time to amputate.