Will the Real Detroit Tigers Please Stand Up?

Omar Infante - 2013 Detroit Tigers
Omar Infante - 2013 Detroit Tigers
Apr 21 2013 Anaheim CA USA Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante 4 reacts after getting out at second base against the Los Angeles Angels during the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim Richard Mackson USA TODAY Sports

It goes without saying the Tigers are strong on paper, as they were in 2012, but paper is thin. Paper burns, and paper gets swept away with each passing breeze. The ’12 club barely made the playoffs, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were aided by a dramatic White Sox collapse in which they lost 11 of their last 15 games. Before that, the White Sox spent the previous two months atop the AL Central. The Tigers needed their help, and they got it.

Last year’s team was paper-worthy, but their WS appearance was not. The Tigers 0-4 sweep at the hands of the Giants added to their WS tally of 1-7 in their last two appearances. They lost 4-1 to the Cardinals in ’06.

The attitude in Detroit isn’t so much Win now as it is  Please God, let us win now. There are no excuses left. But at 10-10, the excuses are starting to pile up.

The Lineup

Jim Leyland, notorious for dodging questions about the lineup will undoubtedly have a slew of questions if he continues to trot Don Kelly into the outfield. Tigers journeyman Kelly has batted .095 over 21 at-bats this year, which is not much better than utility infielder Ramon Santiago who’s hitting .105 through 19 at-bats. Bench players have to play, and managers know that. Leyland isn’t doing anything differently, it’s just, the bench isn’t contributing, and fans and critics alike have valid questions for the skipper when viable options are “rested” in order to get plate appearances for role players like Kelly and Santiago.

Star Power?

The rest of the lineup, despite all of the star power, has cooled from white hot to lukewarm. Over the last week, the Tigers have hit .213 with a .275 slugging-percentage. They’ve scored only 14 runs and they rank 27th in extra-base hits with 47. The 2013 team is starting to bear a striking resemblance to the ’12 club that struggled to hit with runners in scoring position.

The Bullpen

The Tigers bullpen ERA of 4.86 is 27th overall in the Major Leagues. All the talk during the offseason of the Tigers’ closer situation was warranted. In what seemed like an act of desperation, Jose Valverde was dusted off and brought back after losing 15 pounds and regaining some velocity. Rookie Bruce Rondon, who was expected to be the new closer, pitched his first inning of relief on Thursday night, giving up  a run on three hits, and blowing a save. Phil Coke followed him by giving up four runs. As for the rest of the bullpen, there aren’t too many bright spots. With Octavio Dotel on the DL, Brayan Villareal sent down to AAA Toledo, the only semi-reliable options left are Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit. Whether bringing Valverde back was the right decision remains to be seen.

It’s possible that these are the real Detroit Tigers. With stiffer divisional competition in a rejuvenated Royals pitching staff, and a stronger Cleveland lineup, the Tigers are no longer “prohibitive favorites” to win the AL Central, that is, unless they convert some of that “on-paper” magic to the field of play. If the Tigers don’t win the World Series in the next two years, their recent spending should be seen as a waste by fans and analysts alike.

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Tomas Laverty
Tomas Laverty, frequent contributor to the MLB section, runs a Detroit web design company called Detroit Spaces.