16 – 3: One of the main reasons why Justin Verlander became the first pitcher to win the most valuable player award in nearly 20 years. With the ability to effect only one in every five games, a starting pitcher has a serious disadvantage in the MVP running alongside players that go out 162 games a season, but Verlander’s 16-3 record following a Tigers loss is an example of how you make the most out of every outing.
And right now it’s looking like the Tigers are going to need that type of bounce-back power from Verlander just as much this season, if not more.
The Tigers are 3-1 in Verlander starts so far this year, and 7-8 without him. In tonight’s start against the Yankees, Verlander will try and put an end to a rough past week of baseball for Detroit, in which they’ve dropped 6 of their last 7 – of course the sole win coming in the game Verlander pitched. Losing 3 out of 4 to the Rangers isn’t the worst thing in the world since it seems like nobody can stop the Texas offense right now and the last game in the series really could have gone either way after a controversial bunt call in the tenth inning gave the Rangers the victory.
But the recent 3-game stinker against the Mariners is a completely different story.
Outscored 21-9 in the series, the Tigers struggled in the field, on the mound, and most surprisingly, at the plate. During the 9-1 loss Wednesday night, Comerica Park felt more like the stadium of a frustrating underachiever than a loveable hardworking team. The boos came out when short-stop Jhonny Peralta fumbled a routine groundball that could have saved the Tigers a couple runs and then a flurry of boo birds chased rookie starter Adam Wilk out of the game after allowing 8 hits in 2+ innings (charged with 6 earned runs).
Everything from the excitement of the Prince Fielder signing to the dramatic opening season sweep of the Red Sox seemed to assure that Detroit was the cream of the crop in the American League, or at least right up there with Texas, but right now I don’t see much more than a three-superstar team with an inconsistent or undeveloped supporting cast.
Austin Jackson’s new hitting approach gives me confidence that he’ll be a solid leadoff hitter for the near future and Alex Avila’s plate discipline make him a great guy to anchor the back end of the lineup, but in order for the Tigers to truly maintain one of the league’s top lineups, they’ll need more consistent and timely hitting from other spots in the order. Delmon Young and Peralta have combined for only 10 RBIs from the 5th and 7th spots in the lineup despite the frequent hits from Cabrera and Fielder before them. Compare that to the Rangers and Yankees who have gotten double digit RBIs from bottom of the lineup guys like Napoli, Cruz, Ibanez, and the Swisher/Granderson combination (so far they’ve rotated between the two and six spot in the lineup) and again, it just doesn’t look like the Tigers boast as good a lineup as the AL’s best.
Then there are the two more important matters at hand: pitching and fielding. And it deeply pains me to say this, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse fielding infield than the current Tigers crew.
A lot of people promote the fact that Peralta only commit 7 errors in 146 games last season, but there are two really important factors that go into that number. First off, a fielder is only credited with an error if he gets to a ball and is unable to make a rather routine play on the ball. The reason Jhonny Peralta commit so few errors last season is that he is only able to get to a limited amount of these balls. His range as a shortstop is like if you tied an anvil around Asdrubal Cabrera’s waist, anything hit relatively hard and more than a couple feet away from his pre-pitch standing position is rolling into left field, no question.
Second, having one of the game’s best fielding third-basemen at the corner last year neutralized a lot of Jhonny’s shortcomings. But now that Brandon Inge’s tenure in Detroit is officially over, Tigers fans are going to have to get used to a lot more balls getting through the left side of the infield. While comparing Cabby to Inge at the plate is like the difference between entering a Rottweiler into a dogfight versus a Chihuahua, their fielding comparison is something similar to the opposite.
Overall, Cabrera’s not as bad as a lot of the cynics may think – ‘good, not great’ Leyland puts it nicely. Truthfully, I think he’s a pretty capable third-baseman, but he needs far more support to his left. It’s really the same thing both ways. I think independently, Cabrera and Peralta could both be passable every-day fielders for a championship team, but you might need some remnant of a Vizquel or Brooks Robinson to provide the support.
And who wants to play second base?
Meanwhile, the temporary loss of Doug Fister has made the rotation look a lot worse than it really should be. Fister was unbelievable after the trade last year, posting an 8-1 record with a 1.79 ERA for the Tigers, but if his costochondral pain (yes it’s a real thing) continues to linger, the Tigers are desperately going to need either Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello to start finding some consistency on the mount. We’ve seen plenty of flashes from both players, but with 8.24 and 6.45 ERAs respectively to start the year, it looks like they may be getting back on track with their consistently inconsistent ways.
Is it too early to write the Tigers in as an underachiever this season? Of course it is. But if they are to get themselves back on track for a world series bid, they’re going to need those key players to really start contributing: Young, Peralta, Scherzer and Porcello, most importantly.
This weekend’s three game series in New York could send one of the more talented teams in the American League under .500 on the season and with the Yankees recent loss of their biggest offseason acquisition for the year, they’d like to avoid another series loss just as much as Detroit. But they’ll have their work cut out for them tonight, because when Verlander takes the mound, we know that the Tigers are as difficult to beat as any team you’ll see all year.