By: Mike Feld
The Tigers’ recent struggles have gone from frustrating to almost completely unwatchable.
Wednesday night’s loss seemed to be an embodiment of everything that has gone wrong the past 22 games. A 1-1 game quickly swelled into a contest that was out of hand and virtually over within minutes.
It’s become a standard of this team for the past three weeks. It’s seemingly been one of two things – a complete blowout or a late meltdown in a game that felt like it was going the Tigers’ way. Last night featured both.
There are plenty of areas of concern. It would be easy to point fingers, but one would probably run out of digits. The bullpen has given away late leads or let a close game slip away. The offense has gone stale. The starting pitching has been average, at best.
Of all the troubling areas – and there’s a lot of them – one area is a considerable front-runner for the most concerning problem.
This team has no true ace to stop a slide dead in its tracks.
Justin Verlander is the team’s ace. Yes, there’s no doubting that he’s been the third best pitcher in the five-man rotation this season – and the same goes for last year as well.
But the team is paying JV to be the team’s No. 1. He’s started seven straight Opening Days. He’s one of the clubhouse leaders and one of the guys the team relies on the most. Despite his struggles, he’s been given the game ball in the most important postseason games last October. He’s the only pitcher on this roster to get enough rope to throw 120 pitches – and is the only one who can consistently talk a manager into leaving him in too long.
Verlander used to be the guy who could put an end to a team’s woes and be the benchmark for an impending winning streak. Now, he’s just another major part of the endless problems with this Tiger team.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the numbers.
In 2011, the season Justin Verlander won both the American League Cy Young and the Most Valuable Player awards, the Tiger pitcher was the ace beyond his individual statistics.
Sure JV was a unanimous choice to win the Cy Young in part because of his 24-5 record and his 2.40 ERA.
But consider this. On 16 occasions, Detroit won a game Verlander started immediately after a loss. Seven of those wins were the start of at least a three-game winning streak; one was a seven-win stretch and one was a 12-win set.
An aberration? Maybe. But look at Max Scherzer’s famed 2013 season. Scherzer has been billed as the team’s “second ace,” a 1A in a world full of No. 2s. By this time next year, he’ll be paid like an ace – and is likely to receive a contract bigger than Verlander’s.
And why shouldn’t he? He won a Cy Young last season not just for his dominating numbers, but for the way he could assist the team’s woes where Verlander could not. In 32 starts, he managed to stop the bleeding 11 times.
Coming off a dominating postseason appearance, Verlander entered this season snuggly seated back in his ace throne at Comerica Park. Scherzer, meanwhile, was not far behind. Now, with both pitchers struggling, the responsibility has been put on a No. 3 in Anibal Sanchez.
The weight has shifted. The problem is that this canoe is top heavy and water is starting to seep in. Without a clear ace to anchor this staff, the Tigers will continue their tailspin – and might find themselves out of the postseason for the first time in four seasons.