By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – When manager Jim Leyland talks about the Detroit Tigers offense instead of the bullpen after close losses, it is not just to divert heat from the team’s troubled relievers.
Look past the MLB-leading .280 collective average and the 396 runs scored, and it is evident the Tigers struggle offensively in some of the most important situations – close, low-scoring games.
Detroit has scored three runs or fewer in 30 games this season, the least among the six division leaders. That seems consistent with the idea that the Tigers have one of the most potent lineups in baseball between Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson and others.
The stats take a worrisome turn, however, when one looks to see what happened in those low-scoring games. The Tigers’ record when scoring three runs or fewer is 3-27.
Let that sink in before you continue reading.
In 33 similarly low-scoring games, Boston’s record is 8-25, and the Rangers are 9-29. Where Detroit has a 10 percent chance of winning a low-scoring contest, Boston’s likelihood of doing so is 24.2 percent, and Texas’s is 23.7 percent – both more than double that of the Tigers.
It gets worse.
Atlanta’s record in games in which it scores three or fewer is 10-29, giving the Braves a 34.5 percent chance of winning low-scoring games. Pittsburgh is 15-23, boasting a 39.5 percent success rate in such situations. Arizona does almost as well at 37.5 percent, with a 15-25 record in such games.
The takeaway here is that the Tigers are only one quarter as likely – should they continue on the pace they have set halfway through the season – to win low-scoring games as Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Arizona.
What makes it more frustrating for Detroit is that 19 of those 27 losses in low-scoring games – 70.4 percent – have come by three or fewer runs.
While Arizona sits around 72 percent and Atlanta is at 65.5, for Boston, Texas and Pittsburgh, the percentage hovers right around 60 percent.
Essentially, the Tigers lose low-scoring close games much more often than the other division leaders even though, in most situations, the pitching has kept them close enough to have a shot at the end.
The extra innings records of the six division leaders highlight that situation even more.
Detroit has gone to extra innings on 11 occasions this season and has a 2-9 record in those games. First, the fact the team has gone to extra innings so many times is in itself an indictment of sorts – games usually do not go longer because the pitching was insufficient. Secondly, the horrible record in those situations belies a total lack of clutch hitting. Only Texas, which is 1-5, is comparable in that regard. Boston is 4-2 in extra innings games, Arizona is 9-2, and Atlanta and Pittsburgh are both 6-4.
Despite all this, of course, the Tigers are still tied for the lead in the American League Central, though just a short time ago they held a five-game lead.
Of course, through June 30 last season Detroit was 38-40, and the team went to the World Series.
On the other hand, the Tigers did get swept and failed to score more than three runs in any of their four games against the San Francisco Giants.
Maybe Leyland is right about being more concerned about the offense than the bullpen after all.