July 26, 2016
With no big plans for trade deadline,
are Tigers ready to throw in the towel?
By KEITH GAVE
Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila warns us not to expect anything sexy heading into Major League Baseball’s Aug. 1 deadline, but after the weekend debacle in Chicago you’d think he’d at least get a little flirtatious.
With a 5-5 record since the All-Star break against the three bottom-feeders in the American League’s Central Division, including two – count ’em, two – walk-off losses Sunday to the White Sox – the window of post-season opportunity is rapidly closing on the Tigers. It could very well slam shut in the next two series against teams they’re competing with for a wildcard berth – three games at Boston and three more against Houston to start a xx-game home-stand.
For a team clinging to playoff aspirations, Sunday was a nightmare. For its diehard fans, it was a joke. After riding the home run ball to claw their way back and forge a late tie in the final two games – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the bullpen found a way to torch both games by allowing ninth-inning runs to a woeful team that weeks ago threw in the towel on this season. Two walk-off losses in a span of four hours in an afternoon that included finishing a game suspended by rain the night before.
The Tigers are waving their white towel, too, the way they’re playing.
Avila spent a lot of owner Mike Ilitch’s money in putting this frustrating roster together. It’s already one of the highest-paid teams in baseball, which explains why he’s not inclined to add payroll on what is now, clearly, a longshot.
In other words, Avila sounds like a captain ready to go down with his ship by standing pat.
“I would say it’s the most realistic option, sitting here today,” Avila told reporters in Chicago on Friday, “which is probably what’s best for the team this year and moving forward in the future. It might not be the sexiest thing, but it is what it is.”
It is what it is. That’ll be the epitaph for this 2016 baseball season in Detroit.
Avila’s focus, he said, is to get this team healthy. It’s deadline “acquisitions” will come from the disabled list when they get starting pitchers Jordan Zimmerman and Daniel Norris, and right fielder J.D. Martinez back.
Two out of three ain’t bad. Martinez, recovering from an elbow injury that still makes it painful for him to throw, is scheduled to return in early August. His bat is noticeable by its absence, and back in the five-hole he should help protect Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez ahead of him in
the order, while taking some pressure off Nick Castellanos. Zimmermann is a proven winner who looks ready to rejoin the rotation after throwing four scoreless innings in Toledo on Sunday. But Daniel Norris, also expected to rejoin the team this week after recovering from a bad back, was roughed up in his second straight rehab outing, allowing five earned runs on five hits and three walks in 4.2 innings in Toledo on Saturday.
Those three returnees do little to bolster the bullpen – unless you believe Anibel Sanchez’s expected demotion from the starting rotation will help. Another bet with poor odds the way his season is going.
Sanchez put his team behind 4-0 in the second inning after giving up a three-run homer to Adam Eaton. Down 4-1 in the ninth after Andrew Romine’s solo shot, the Tigers forged a spectacular comeback with three home runs off closer Dave Robertson, one by Castellanos followed by rare, back-to-back pinch-hit home runs by Tyler Collins and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has shown a remarkable flair for the dramatic this season.
Enter reliever Bruce Rondon, who has no business in a major-league bullpen. He gave up a lead-off walk to Eaton, who was sacrificed second and scored on a single to left by Tigers-killer Melky Cabrera.
And that, in a nutshell, has been the story of the Tigers’ season. With this roster, there will be no happy ending to this season.
To borrow Avila’s words, the phrase that says nothing but the maddening obvious: It is what it is.