2011 has been the year of The Streak for the Tigers. No, I don’t mean they’ve been recreating the streaking craze of the 70’s when people for some reason decided (often with the help of alcohol) that it would be a good idea to run through streets and sports stadiums without the benefit of clothing. I’m talking about winning and losing streaks. The Tigers have already lost seven in a row this season, then turned around and won seven in a row, followed by another five straight losses. Winning streaks are nice, of course, but the best teams generally make it through the season without a prolonged losing span. Consistency is the key; winning series by taking two out of three games is preferable to winning a few and then losing a few. That’s especially true against a team like the Pirates. There is just no excuse for losing two out of three games to a team that has not been in the post-season since Jim Leyland left almost 20 years ago.
The Tigers latest losing streak would have run to six in a row Sunday if not for the brilliant pitching of Rick Porcello, who blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates on just one hit over eight innings. Until the sixth inning, Porcello looked like he might put his name on the no-hitter page of baseball history, joining teammate Justin Verlander, who has already done it twice, including his gem against the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this season.
Thank goodness for the starting pitching. With the exception of Brad Penny’s outing on Friday, the starters have been turning in a quality outing almost every time out. But the bullpen has been dreadful, with the exception of closer Jose Valverde. Joaquin Benoit has gotten his setup job back, not because he has been pitching better, but because, as Manager Jim Leyland admits, no one else has done any better.
The offense also continues to frustrate. The Tigers only managed two runs against the Pirates Sunday, but thanks to Porcello’s fine outing, it was enough. The Tigers have struggled all season to get runners home from third with less than two out. On Saturday, the Tigers got the bases loaded with no one out, but couldn’t score.
How much longer can Jim Leyland send struggling Ryan Rayburn and Brandon Inge out there? So far, there is no clear candidate to replace Inge at third. But the abundance of young outfielders, like Andy Dirks and Casper Wells, could leave Rayburn out in the cold, or least back on the bus to Toledo.