When healthy, their hitting is superior, their pitching is trendy and their bullpen is a dumpster fire. In one sentence, this is the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers have the third-highest payroll in the MLB, and sometimes they fit the part. But other times, they do not.
Inconsistency is a big part of baseball. Nobody can expect the exact same results for 162 games. However, one would think that the Tigers would fall in some sort of pattern.
But for Detroit, it’s deeper than just the wins and losses. It’s about how one day, they may pitch six shutout innings and hit four home runs, and the next day they can’t catch a fly ball. Perhaps Detroit’s issue and solace is the same thing: they win and lose nearly every game the exact same way.
The Tigers have great difficulty winning without a solid start on the mound. Each of their five starting pitchers has the ability to provide this. But with three young pitchers in Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris along with an aging Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann, consistency is one thing that has alluded this starting five.
If the Tigers do not get a strong start, you can kiss away any chance at victory. Going into April 22’s contest against Minnesota, Detroit’s bullpen ranked dead last in the MLB in ERA, runs, batting average, WHIP and hard contact.
The only way the Tigers can win is by hanging on to a lead in the later innings. Only then can their bullpen even begin to operate, with the lone ideal system being when Alex Wilson pitches in the seventh inning, Justin Wilson in the eighth and Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. But this can only happen if the Tigers are leading going into the seventh. This is why a strong start is vital.
The Tigers also struggle without power hitting. Detroit is not the kind of team that methodically scores runs with clever base running, aided by hit-and-runs and bunting. They will not hit many blooper singles. They hit, and they hit hard with an all or nothing attitude.
This is not surprising, considering that they have power hitters such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Justin Upton and others. But once again, the same problem arises—inconsistency comes from all corners.
For starters, it is unreasonable to expect your lineup to go off every single game. Some power hitters strike out all the time. But even if this was plausible, they Tigers would struggle in this regard due to their continual health issues along with lack of depth.
Miguel Cabrera is currently on the 10-day DL with a groin injury, Jose Iglesias is on the 7-day concussion DL, Jacoby Jones is out indefinitely after taking a pitch to the head and JD Martinez is out until May.
Martinez and Cabrera are two of the best hitters in the game. Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook are replacing Martinez, who bat .256 and .174 respectively. John Hicks just made his 2017 major league debut, as he was the only option to replace Cabrera. These players are massive steps down from two of the strongest bats in all of baseball.
Neither Jones nor Iglesias were power hitters. But Iglesias held his own at the plate and Jones was a rare defensive weapon. Dixon Machado is replacing Iglesias, and is batting .154. Andrew Romine is replacing Jones, and is a much bigger liability in center field and only bats .231.
The Tigers need effective starters backed by sheer slugging to win games. They must take the lead early and survive from there. Big players must play. They Tigers are not the type of team that can grind out victories. They have one style, and it either works or does not.
In one sense, this is not a bad thing. Detroit has a pitching rotation and batting order that would make many managers scowl with a single glance. They have the talent to go far.
But everything must happen in a certain way. If the Tigers fall behind early, they will most likely not come back. If there’s two on and two outs, they will often be more concerned with hitting the three-run shot than driving the ball up the middle for a simple base hit.
The Tigers will never win games with defense, nor with base running. There is usually no prodigy that will come out of nowhere and rack up the game winning hit. It’s always the same group of veterans winning game the way they are used to.
How far can the Tigers go like this? Time will tell, but Detroit manager Brad Ausmus must make it a point to keep this team in shape until the trade deadline, where it will be up to GM Al Avila to fix the remaining holes.
In the meantime, Tigers’ fans can only wonder if this “all or nothing” strategy will pay off in the long run.