If Detroit Tigers Make the Playoffs, Bullpen Will Tell the Tale

Will the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs? I don’t know.

Here’s a few things I do know.

They have perhaps the best starting rotation on paper. They have the “best hitter in the game” in Miguel Cabrera. They have the best hitter in the American League in Victor Martinez. They have a throw-away player having a once-in-a-lifetime season in J.D. Martinez. They have a rookie third baseman who looks like he can hold his own at the plate.

They have Torii Hunter and all his wisdom in the outfield. They have Rajai Davis’ speed on the basepaths. They have Ian Kinsler’s outstanding defensive play at second base (ranked fourth in MLB among second basemen at a WAR of 4.9). They have several closers: Joe Nathan, Jim Johnson, Joakim Soria, Phil Coke (2012) and Joel Hanrahan (injured).

They have an owner in Mike Ilitch willing to shell out for a World Series Championship caliber team. They have a competent General Manager in David Dombrowski.

They have a rookie starter who looks like he might be something to hang on to in Kyle Lobstiein who’s 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA over 34.2 innings. Add to that some promising kids in the minors like Steven Moya, Tyler Collins and James McCann (who are currently warming the bench in Motown).

They have a rabid fanbase – one that routinely turns out for weeknight games, in fifty degree weather. They have three consecutive ALCS appearances, with two World Series appearances in the last eight years.

It seems like this would all be enough, but it’s not. There are some things they don’t have. Here are some of them.

They don’t have a bullpen, unless you consider a 4.21 ERA good (fourth worst in MLB). They don’t have a shortstop – Eugenio Suarez just didn’t cut it, and Andrew Romine isn’t the answer.

And, despite having several players in the bullpen who have at one point in their career have been good, great, or stellar at saving games, no one seems to be jumping to take the job. Manager Brad Ausmus has repeated “Joe Nathan is the closer,” but if you take a closer look, you’ll see that he’s not, really.

He’s blown seven, and to be honest, a good number of the ones he didn’t blow, looked awful. Walks, hits, runs, etc. He’s not a shut-down closer. In fact, he’s not even close. I suspect that if you polled avid Tigers fans, they would tell you Joakim Soria should be the closer. To put it simple, Nathan is a tinderbox Tigers fans are tired of watching explode.

To be fair, it’s not all on Nathan. A number of Tigers relievers have downright stunk in 2014.

For all the Tigers do have, what they’re missing is equally important. If and when the Tigers hang on to their one-game lead in the AL Central, and get into the playoffs, their outstanding starting rotation, and number one offense can only take them as far as their bullpen allows them to. But, it’s like they say, “Just get to the playoffs…”

UPDATE: Anibal Sanchez was activated today, and will work out of the bullpen.

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