May 30, 2017
Tigers hitting critical stretch drive
early this season: Win now or else
By KEITH GAVE
The time has come for these high-priced – or should we say ridiculously over-priced? – Detroit Tigers to put up or shut up.
They say they know in their hearts they’re a good baseball team. It’s time to prove it.
They say they enjoy being together, and that they’re grateful that the roster returned virtually intact this season after rumors in the off-season of big changes. It’s time, in fact, it’s past time, to prove it.
Long past time to defy the numbers that suggest, overwhelmingly, that these Detroit Tigers – with the fourth-highest payroll in baseball at $201,496,375, according to sportrac.com – are not, in fact, one of the worst among MLB’s 30 teams.
The hitting, allegedly the calling card of this franchise, has been spotty, at best, and overall horrendous. Until they scored 10 runs on a forgettable Memorial Day win at Kansas City – the worst team in baseball – the Tigers were averaging three runs a game on a road trip that had gone 3-6 heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Royals.
When your backup catcher, Alex Avila, and your plug-and-play utility man, Andrew Romine, are your two most consistent players vying for team MVP, something is drastically wrong. Just watch Miguel Cabrera at the plate and you’ll see what I mean. Every time it looks like he’s about to break out of the longest drought of his career – two months and counting now – he takes two steps backward.
Victor Martinez has had a power outage and leads the majors in 400-foot singles. Ian Kinsler can’t stay healthy. Nick Castellanos looks like a career .230 hitter with occasional power. Justin Upton is notoriously streaky and goes cold at the worst possible times.
Detroit is averaging .242 as a team, 22nd in baseball. The Tigers have allowed 21 more runs than they have scored, putting them in the bottom third in the league.
Part of the reason for that is the pitching has been worse than the hitting.
Tigers starters own an ERA of 4.71, 25th in baseball; the relief staff has an ERA of 5.00, 29th. How ironic was it that Francisco Rodriguez got the win in relieve after giving up two runs, including yet another home run, in the only inning he pitched Monday? The deposed closer is now 2-5 with a mittful of blown saves and a 7.79 ERA.
The Detroit pitching staff has a WHIP of 1.44, 28th in baseball. The 70 home runs allowed are 26th. Batting average against, .267; hits and runs allowed, both 26th.
The defense was a strength of the team for the first month of the season when Castellanos looked like an actual major-league third baseman. Tyler Collins was cut as much for his ineptitude in the outfield as for his prolonged slump.
Defense: Horrendous. Nick Castellanos, after a good spring and a decent start, continues to cost his team runs; Tyler Collins was cut as much for misjudging a routine fly ball that cost his team as much as for his horrid hitting slump.
True, their schedule to date has been something like a forced march to nowhere. It might seem a little unfair to be so critical during what is unquestionably their worst road trip of the season, 11 games in 10 days, including two 2 ½-hour post-game flights that got them to their hotels between 4-5 a.m. in Houston and Chicago.
Indeed, the players have been saying, all they want is to survive the month of May. I’m not sure this is what they had in mind, but they can salvage an otherwise ugly trip by winning these next two in Kansas City. And then win 18 of their 26 games in June to stave off the wolves.
And by wolves, I mean the playoff-contending clubs that will be along to pick their bones as management gets serious about shedding payroll.
It starts tonight, with Justin Verlander on the mound. He’s been one of the bigger talkers, as leaders should be. It’s time he shows it on the mound – away from comfy Comerica Park.
Verlander is 2-0 with a nifty 1.61 ERA at home, where he has held opponents to a .162 batting average with one home run and just six extra-base hits. On the road? Not so much. He is 2-3, with a 7.64 ERA in six starts. Opponents are batting .299 against him with eight home runs.
His argument is that it’s a small sample size, and that’s debatable. Bottom line, he has to turn that around.
And he has plenty of company among his teammates. The time for talk has passed.