Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Tigers Not Living Up to Expectactions
Before the season, the Tigers were thought to be serious contenders for the World Series. They added slugger Prince Fielder to a team that made the ALCS last year. Big things were expected in Detroit this year, but they enter Tuesday with a record of 32-34. That's not as bad as it sounds considering the Tigers are only 2.5 games back from first in a weak division. I thought the Tigers would run away with the AL Central this year, but they haven't played up to their potential.
The Cardinals might be catching the Tigers at the right time. That said, I didn't expect the Cards to have problems with the Royals and Indians. St. Louis has been in a funk the last month and need to get on a roll. Tuesday's matchup should be a good one, Lance Lynn vs. Justin Verlander. After that they face much easier pitchers in Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner.
Last year, the Tigers didn't get hot until the second half after they made a couple of trades, the biggest one in acquiring pitcher Doug Fister. That could happen again this year, although they probably need to make another big trade. They need to shore up second base, right field, and probably need another pitcher or two. This is a team that has great players in Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander, so I'm not counting them out.
Part of the reason the Tigers have struggled is because they have possibly the worst defensive infield in baseball. Cabrera had to move to third base to make room for Fielder. Cabrera hasn't played third since 2008, and had to drop some weight to do so. Cabrera is a better defensive first baseman than Fielder, so the D has suffered over there as well. Jhonny Peralta is better known for his bat than glove, and is a below average defensive shortstop. In the outfield, center fielder Austin Jackson covers a ton of ground and is the Tigers best overall defender. Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young are poor defenders in the outfield, when they play.
Cabrera has been his usual self with the bat this year, and is among league leaders in average, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. Fielder has hit well too, although for not as much power as he did in Milwaukee. Austin Jackson has had a big turnaround at the plate this year, and has done a good job as the Tigers leadoff hitter. Jackson's cut down on strikeouts and has hit and walked more this year. Andy Dirks has also been a pretty good role player for the Tigers this year.
Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta have had down years offensively after having good years last year. Whoever is playing second has been bad as well. Ramon Santiago has been the best hitter of the four who've played there, and he's only batting .228 with a .305 OBP. The other three have hit under the Mendoza line. Delmon Young has been the DH this year in place of the injured Victor Martinez. Young hasn't hit for power or got on base much, and was arrested for assault and a hate crime in New York earlier this year. Boesch has also had a down year from last year. As good as Fielder and Cabrera are, the rest of the team has to step up for them to contend.
Outside of Justin Verlander, the Tigers starting pitching has been suspect. Doug Fister pitches well when healthy, but he has had two seperate stints on the disabled list this year. Rick Porcello hasn't been able to become a solid starter like the Tigers envisioned. He's only 23, but he's in his fourth season and has gotten steadily worse since his rookie year. This year, Porcello has a 5.18 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP. Mizzou alum Max Scherzer is leading the American League in strikeouts per 9 innings. The bad news is that that his ERA and WHIP are around Porcello's level. Scherzer is a strikeout pitcher and hard thrower, but doesn't have the art of pitching down like Verlander. Drew Smyly has done a good job as fifth starter, but is hurt now and has been replaced by rookie Jacob Turner.
Last year, Jose Valverde was one of the best closers in baseball. He made his third All Star team, led the AL with 49 saves, and finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting. This season, Valverde has struggled at times and has been inconsistent. Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel are usually solid relievers, but they've been up and down this year. Joaquin Benoit and Duane Below have pitched well for the Tigers this year, though.The Tigers have had some injuries in the bullpen, and have used 12 different relievers this year. An inconsistent bullpen has led to some Tiger losses this year. As a Cardinal fan, I know quite a bit about that.