The Tigers are now a couple of innings into the first game of their ten game road trip and this one has some importance because it’s against the first place Indians. The Tigers took two of three against the Pirates over the weekend and that’s quieted some people down. I also have a lot of people asking me what the deal is with the Tigers. Here’s what I tell them.
The Indians aren’t that good. The Tigers aren’t as bad as they’ve been playing. This rough start just means that the Tigers are going to win the division by ten games instead of fifteen. Since we’ve beat the Tigers up a lot of late, let’s look at some of what they’ve done well.
The Tigers pitching staff is first in strikeouts, third (best) in walks and yet they’re tenth in runs allowed. If those first two rankings stand, that last ranking is going to come down. It just about has too. You can probably credit some of that to the defense but even if the Tigers can pop into the top half in the league in runs allowed, it should put them into positive territory in run differential.
While Cabrera hasn’t gotten going at the plate yet (his .850 OPS would be his worst since his rookie year), his defensive cost hasn’t been too bad. Of course this is just one defensive metric but if you look at baseball-reference.com’s defensive WAR, he’s at -.4. If he keeps that pace, he’ll be at -1.6. Last year at first base, he was -1.3 so his cost is only marginally more what he cost them at first base last year anyway. Now if the new position is somehow costing the team at the plate, that could be another story but I’m not quite sure how we can quantify that.
While some of the Tigers farmhands are off to mediocre starts and Jacob Turner had a subpar outing his last time out, Thad Weber has been a nice surprise. He has 35 strikeouts and 6 walks in 39 innings. You don’t like the four home runs but he has a nice ground ball percentage and just a .196 batting average against. Right handers are only hitting .164 against them.
The Indians put another run on the board so it’s 3-2 Tigers at the end of the third. Hopefully Rick Porcello can get through this one.
Drew Smyly made his seventh start of the season and for the sixth time this season he didn’t get a decision. He still sits at 1-0 and he has yet to “lose” his first major league start. A more telling look is the fact that the Tigers are 4-3 in his starts but in two of those losses, the opposition scored two runs or less (in the game, not just against Smyly. Still, last night’s go against the White Sox was his first yet and it breaks his streak of starts where he went at least six innings (in his case, exactly six innings) and gave up two runs or less. He also has the distinction of being the first left hander to give up a home run to Adam Dunn since 2010.
I’ve harped about the Tigers lack of depth so here it is one more time. Luke Putkonen could turn out to be a servicable major league pitcher but right now, he needs to be in the minor leagues. The fact that he’s with the team just goes to show how thin we are. Of course this could be a segue into how most major league managers don’t use the bullpen correctly and if they did, they wouldn’t have to carry so many pitchers but we’ll save that one for another day. Putkonen has pitched four times and in three of those, he’s given up runs. This is also completely unrelated, but he’s only pitched in losses and two of those times he picked up the “L.”
And then we get to Duane Below who has been better then I expected. For a soft thrower, he struck out four yesterday and that was only in two innings. The guys who don’t bring the heat tend to get exposed eventually so hopefully Below can adapt as the season goes on. So far, he’s been one of the few bright spots in the pen.
Today’s game is at 2:10 and it’ll be Max Scherzer against Jake Peavy. Peavy has been one of the hotter pitchers of this short season so this could be a good one. If we lose, we’ll fall behind the White Sox into third place so hopefully they can get it done.
The Tigers salvaged a split of their four game series with the Athletics yesterday and they need a nice start by Justin Verlander and an Inge-less Athletics lineup to do it. He threw seven solid frames and came out after that because a callous on his throwing hand broke. Still, he needed just 104 pitches to get through seven innings to pick up win number four. From there, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde pitched a solid inning each to close out the game. Benoit gave up a walk but that’s now two straight for Valverde where he hasn’t allowed a baserunner.
Of course it’s the offense that’s still been frustrating. I talked about this in the preseason but the guys I were most worried about were Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta and how it’d be unrealistic for them to repeat their 2011 seasons. I didn’t think they’d struggle this much though and once you get past Prince Fielder in the lineup, it thins out considerably. Fortunately Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks have picked up some of the slack but at some point you’d expect them to come back down to earth as well.
On Austin Jackson, his splits are just bizarre. He’s hitting .382 against right handed pitching but only .179 against left handed pitching. As a right hander, you’d think this trend would eventually end. Then again, six of his eight home runs have come against lefties and that’s in only 86 plate appearances versus two against right handers in 180 plate appearances. He’s also getting a lot of production in that first at bat of the game where he’s hitting .423/.483/.769 and four of his eight home runs have come in that leadoff at bat. Two more of his home runs have come when he’s led off in the inning other then the first.
It’s Drew Smyly against John Danks tonight. The Tigers are now within breathing distance of slipping back into first place and these division games are pretty important considering the team’s slow start.
Despite not having his best start, Justin Verlander helped push the Tigers back onto the winning side of the record with a 6-4 win over the Mariners. He had the one rough inning in the third where he gave up three but other then that, he looked pretty solid. His usual velocity was there even in his final inning (his last pitch was 97 mph) but what’s worrisome if how he’s piling up the pitch count and only pushing into the sixth inning.
Jose Valverde scared us all again by walking the bases loaded but he got Jesus Montero to foul out to end the game. Joaquin Benoit had a solid outing and he just needed twelve pitches to get through the eighth inning and Phil Coke gave up a run but the good thing is, the flood gates didn’t open and the Tigers were able to hold on for the win.
Andy Dirks continues to shine and he drove in three runs. Prince Fielder has also begun to heat up and he belted his fifth home run. Interesting note on Fielder is that all five of his home runs have come with nobody on even though he’s been a better “hitter” with men on base. He’s hitting .286 with nobody on but .364 with men on base so you wonder if he’s looking more for the single and driving in the run then swinging for the fences if there’s ducks on the pond.
The Indians lost so the Tigers are now two games back of first place. Tonight it’ll be Drew Smyly against Jason Vargas in the rubber game. Smyly has a pretty good chance of having another great outing with the poor Mariners offense and he’s throwing in the pitcher friendly Safeco Field. It’s another late game.
Doug Fister made his return to the Tigers rotation yesterday and you have to be happy with the results. He was able to keep his pitch count down and threw seven shutout innings while needing just 73 pitches. He didn’t walk anyone and he struck out three. Keep in mind this was against a weak Mariners offense but it was a nice season re-debut. As usual, we saw a lot of two seamers and Fister was consistently in the high-80s and low-90s. He’ll pitch again on Sunday against the Athletics so we’ll see if he can keep this up.
Then we get to the pen. Phil Coke (nice start to the season) threw a shutout frame and then Octavio Dotel came in to pitch the ninth. He walked the first two guys after giving up just two weeks all season before that. A wild pitch and a passed ball gave the Mariners one run then a double tied the game up. Dotel was pulled and while Duane Below kept his ERA at 0.00, the winning run scored on him when John Jaso hit a sac. fly.
While the whole win/loss record is a bad indicator of just about anything, it’s kind of telling that the starters are 7-9 and the pen is 7-5. Twelve no-decisions by the starters seems like a lot and to put it into perspective, there were 43 no decisions by starters last year. This year, we’re on pace to top that by the end of July. It means one of two things. The Tigers are playing a lot of close games and that the pen is struggling. This year, the pen has a 4.25 ERA and it’s actually higher then the rotation’s 3.81.
The Indians swept their doubleheader so the Tigers sit three games back of first. I’m still not worried, but that doesn’t mean this team doesn’t frustrate the heck out of me. Tonight Justin Verlander is on the mound though so hopefully he can put a stop to this.