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Keith Gave's Northern Sports Desk

 

May 24, 2017

 

Now we know what’s ailing

the Tigers, and it ain’t pitching

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Well, we had a pretty good idea that we’d know a lot more about this Detroit Tigers team after this brutal 10-game stretch, and even with three games remaining, we can draw some pretty strong conclusions.

 

It’s not the pitching that is hurting this team. The starting rotation has been the most consistently effective group, and the relievers – notwithstanding the breakdown of the designated closer – have provided enough good innings to give their team a chance to win more often than not, as well.

 

The defense has been middling to decent, even with a revolving door of average-to-below platoon of outfielders.

 

No, the reason this team is in the middle of the pack in the AL’s Central Division, and slipping, is because of their inconsistent and borderline inept hitting lineup – starting with some of their highest-paid players.

 

Monday night’s pathetic performance in Houston is a case in point. The Tigers made a career long-reliever getting his first start of the season look like Nolan Ryan in one of his Cy Young Award years. Brad Peacock allowed just one hit and struck out eight in 4.1 innings, and three other relievers threw hitless ball the rest of the way, striking out six more.

 

For those keeping score at home, that’s one hit and 14 strikeouts in support of the guy who has been their best pitcher so far this season. Michael Fulmer took the loss, allowing a single run in the first inning and scattering eight hits through seven innings – only to get hung with the loss.

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Another strong starting pitching performance spoiled by an inexplicable lack of offense. It’s like a broken record playing a tune that Justin Verlander, for one, is sick of hearing.

 

If the Tigers hope to get even remotely close to the goals they set for themselves this season, making the playoffs and then making some noise in the post-season, they need to pull up their big-boy pants and start swinging the bats with some authority.

 

Starting with Miguel Cabrera, who is fourth on his team home runs (five in 130 at-bats), RBI (just 18), and batting average (.261, rising lately, but still anemic for him). He’s on his game when he steps into the batter’s box swinging; he’s one of the best first-pitch hitters in baseball. But we’ve rarely seen that guy this year, and too often he just looks lost at the plate.

 

Victor Martinez, hitting fourth right behind Cabrera in the order, has experienced a serious power outage, explicable perhaps because of his age. He’s 38, and we shouldn’t have expected him to be doing forever what he’s done for most of his career. He has just three home runs, after hitting 27 last year. The Tigers absolutely must have more production than that from the cleanup spot.

 

Same goes for the lead-off spot, where Ian Kinsler is having one of his worst-ever seasons. He’s hitting just .240, with nothing close to the power he’s shown since the Tigers acquired the Gold Glove second-baseman from Texas in the Prince Fielder trade.

Justin Upton’s start was a revelation. He carried this team in the first five weeks or so of the season, leading the team with eight home runs. But he, too, has suffered a severe power outage since opposing pitchers have been serving him a steady diet of low breaking balls out of the strike zone that he can’t seem to resist.

 

We’re left to wonder where this team would be had it not been for Alex Avila, the backup catcher manager Brad Ausmus can’t keep out of the lineup because he’s been the team’s most consistent hitter. Avila is batting .360, with five home runs and 18 RBI, the latter two statistics matching Cabrera.

 

And it could be worse. Imagine the most recent stretch of games, when they were able to eke out victories thanks in large part to the return of J.D. Martinez to the lineup.

 

With the Tigers the past couple of years, it’s been feast or famine for their hitters, but famine far too often for a team that likes to consider itself a contender. They enter Tuesday’s game with a record of 21-22, two games back of Cleveland and three behind rather surprising Minnesota. They’ve lost three of their last four, each of those losses the result of an inability to score runs.

 

We said before it began that this stretch of games would separate the men from the boys in this Central Division race. Tigers hitters are separating this club from the teams they hope to chase. Too often, they look as though they can’t compete.

 

--

 

And finally. . .

 

Some of us wondered why Jim Hackett, who as interim athletic director at Michigan delivered Jim Harbaugh to Wolverines’ Nation, didn’t just stay on with the program. Clearly it would have been his job if he wanted it, and the U-M athletic program would have been in very good hands.

 

Now we know why. Hackett was named CEO of Ford Motor Co. on Monday in a move that shocked the auto industry.

 

If he can do for Ford what he did in a short time at Michigan, the auto company should be in good hands.

-30-

    --- ARCHIVES ---

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-Feb.22, 2016: Big Decisions loom for Holland, Wings as trade deadline Approaches...

 

-Feb. 15,2016: Trade Jimmy Howard? Enough of these delusions

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