June 2, 2016
Despite all the frustration, there’s
a lot to like about these Tigers
By KEITH GAVE
Veteran starter Anibel Sanchez suddenly can’t pitch. Mike Pelfrey can’t win, no matter how well he pitches. Outfielder Justin Upton can’t hit and looks like a $132.5 million catastrophe as a free-agent acquisition. The bullpen can’t hold leads because it has more arsonists than firefighters. And Brad Ausmus still can’t manage.
Nearly a third of the way through the Major League Baseball season, and the Detroit Tigers are languishing three games below .500 at 25-28, five games back of Kansas City.
So yes, there are myriad reasons for Tigers fans to be frustrated, even angry.
But there are also several reasons for optimism in this roller-coaster of a baseball season.
If you like pitching, Justin Verlander seems to have his mojo back, and he and Jordan Zimmermann pack a one-two punch as good as anybody in baseball. But it’s the youngsters who should have a lot of people excited about the future of this franchise.
Michael Fulmer threw 6 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball in a 3-0 win at Anaheim, ending Detroit’s nine-game Detroit losing streak at the Big A. He ran his record to 5-1, allowing just two hits and striking out eight in another dominating performance.
The following night, in a makeup game against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park, another rookie, lefthander Matt Boyd, took his no-hit bid into the sixth inning. It was an impressive start, though he eventually suffered the loss, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk in 6 1/3 innings.
For the record, both those young pitchers were acquired at the trade deadline last season when Dave Dombroski held a fire sale for free agents the Tigers had little chance of re-signing. Dombroski sent ace David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for three lefthanders, Boyd, Jairo Labourt and Daniel Norris – who may be the best of all the young pitchers in the organization, though back problems have limited his success in the minors this season.
Right-handers Fulmer and Louis Cessa came over from the New York Mets for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
So all Dombroski did was secure what sure looks like three-fifths of a starting rotation for the next decade or so. And for that he was unceremoniously fired.
Now if you like hitting, it surely has been a pleasure watching Nick Castellanos emerge as one of the best hitters in baseball this season (OK, except for the four strikeouts in Thursday’s maddening 5-4 loss to the Yankees.
To the more discerning fan, Victor Martinez, one of the purest hitters in the history of the game from either side of the play, is a joy watch. Two years ago, he had one of the greatest seasons ever for a player aged 35. This year, he’s doing it again at age 37.
Ian Kinsler is on pace to surpass 30 home runs for the third time in his 11th season. And after a rather slow start, Miguel Cabrera’s averaged has inched above .300 where it belongs, and it looks like he’s having fun again.
So yeah, there’s a lot to like about this team. Hell, there’s a lot to love, which is why it’s so infuriating to see the Tigers struggle more often than not.
If hitting doesn’t fail them, then it’s the bullpen not holding leads from the sixth inning on. When they manage to get to the ninth, Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez has been as good as advertised, saving 15 games in 16 save opportunities. But getting the game into his hands with any consistency has been a monumental challenge.
And the roller-coaster continues on. Zimmermann (7-2) returns Friday against slumping Chicago after missing a few starts with a sore groin. Pelfrey (0-5), has pitched well enough to win his last three or four starts and will try again to get his first win Saturday. And Verlander, who has pitched far better than his 4-5 record indicates, goes Sunday.
The Tigers need to find ways to win series again, especially at home, or it’s going to be a really disappointing ride to the end.