By: Jeff Riger
What’s wrong with the Tigers?
Despite ending a three-game losing skid on Tuesday against the Blue Jays, Detroit still has some major issues and continues to under perform. Even with the win, the Tigers sit a half game out of first place — and nobody would have predicted that.
Detroit fans are upset and they have every right to be, but I believe they are angry at the wrong guys. Most, if not everybody, will be quick to tell you the bullpen is awful and that is the main reason for this teams’ demise. But I believe those people are wrong.
It’s no secret the season started with the pen being the main concern and it should have been. Jose Valverde was brought back only to be laughed at, suffer and then be designated for assignment. We saw Phil Coke get trusted in pressure situations over and over again only to fail. And, then there was the whole “closer by committee” plan that Jim Leyland publicly supported but privately probably forced him to pull out his remaining hairs.
The pen was a wreck, but it’s not anymore!
Tuesday’s 7-6 victory at Toronto yesterday is a prime blueprint that the pen can not only work but work well. Doug Fister, despite giving up 6 runs was able to last 6 innings and when he left, the game was tied at 6. From there, Al Alburquerque handled the 7th inning, Drew Smyly played set-up man and manned the 8th and Joaquin Benoit closed it out. Combined, the 3 relievers gave up no hits, one walk and no runs. This is what Leyland has envisioned for weeks now and it worked. In fact it has worked on more than one occasion. Last Friday night, when the Tigers beat the Rays in Tampa, Leyland used the same trio to handle the late innings and it worked then too.
Since coming back from Toledo, Alburquerque has not allowed a run in 5-and-two-third innings and in that stretch he has given up just one hit. He has walked 6 batters which is not good, however that is the kind of pitcher he is. As for Smyly, he has been a godsend who has proven he can handle any role that the Tigers hand him. He has pitched long relief, been a set-up man and has even recorded a couple 3 inning saves. In a year where dependable relievers have been hard to find, Smyly has single-handedly won Detroit multiple games. Benoit has also been good making the transition from pitching the 8th inning to closing out games. Despite struggling to accumulate saves throughout his career, Benoit is a perfect 6 for 6 this season and looks very comfortable doing it.
If the Tigers’ starters continue to be able to put in 6 and 7 inning performances on most nights Alburquerque, Smyly and Benoit should be able to get the job done.
As for the rest of the pen, there is reason for optimism there too. With Rondon being back, Coke is now merely a left handed specialist who can find what’s been ailing him. If Coke can return to the form he had in the postseason last year then the pen will be bolstered, if not then he should never see a pressure situation again moving forward. Meanwhile, Rondon will not be asked to shoulder late inning work. If he’s needed, he can pitch earlier in the game where he can continue to find out what it takes to pitch at the Major League level.
Luke Putkonen and Darin Down are serviceable long relief men. If they are in early, it will usually mean disaster. Not because the duo cannot get the job done but because the starter didn’t go deep enough into the game.
I’m not saying the pen is completely fixed — and I would still hope Dave Dombrowski would be able to swing a deal at the deadline for a reliever — but the pen is not this team’s main problem right now.
So again, I ask — What’s wrong with the Tigers?
The answer is simple…