For the first time in a very long time, the Detroit Tigers are in third place behind the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals after forty games. At the outset of the season, it was almost unanimous that the Twins would finish last in the division, but behind the helm of new manager Paul Molitor, they are rolling right along, keeping pacing with the Royals.
It’s easy for some to chalk things up to injury, but every Major League team endures injuries. It’s not a fair excuse for a team with the star-power the Tigers have, and the fourth highest payroll in baseball ($173,813,750).
Payroll conversations aside, where are the Tigers in the equation, and why are they in third place this far along into the 2015 season? Let’s take a quick look.
The Tigers rank 19th in the Majors with a starting rotation ERA of 4.11.
Justin Verlander hasn’t started a game this season.
Anibal Sanchez: 6.12 ERA
Kyle Lobstein has a pedestrian ERA of 4.23, and shows some promise. But at some point promise needs to turn into consistency, especially given the concerns that Verlander may never return to his old form.
Minor League Depth
Especially in the infield, the Tigers have very little help in Toledo, and almost no help on the way. It was evident in today’s shutout against the Athletics, with Hernan Perez playing first base (third career start at 1B) and Dixon Machado at shortstop (his Major League debut). Where was Romine?
One look at the Tigers’ farm system and the future becomes quite cloudy. It hasn’t been a strength in recent years, and it shows no signs of improving.
Ausmus Bullpen/Rotation Decisions?
This one is debatable, but the debate goes back to last year during the postseason when Ausmus was ridiculed by fans and local media alike for his bullpen decisions in the divisional series against the Baltimore Orioles. This year, there have been a handful of questionable decisions, not limited to the bullpen. From leaving starters in too long, to not pulling relievers who are clearly struggling with command, Ausmus still seems to be learning on the job. Sometimes, all it takes a quick look at coach Gene LaMont’s body language to get a gauge on something awry in the dugout.
Where is Victor Martinez?
It goes without saying that Victor Martinez’s absence is huge for the Tigers, who have relied on his bat from the left side of the plate for the last few years (barring time spent on the DL). Martinez leaves a giant hole in the lineup (which is currently filled by fourth-outfielder Tyler Collins).
Not only does Martinez provide some of the Tigers’ only power from the left side, but he protects Cabrera. As long as he is sidelined, the Tigers do not have a cleanup hitter.
After a season-ending knee surgery in 2012, Martinez went through another surgery on his other knee before the 2015 season. At the age of 36, it might be time for the Tigers to start thinking about how to replace Martinez in the lineup, perhaps even as early as the trade deadline.
The Tigers bullpen has quietly been one of the best in baseball over the last two weeks, and on the season, they boast the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.82), but that is sure to change. General Manager Dave Dombrowski has done little to shore up the bullpen over the last few seasons, and it’s a perennial issue for the organization.
Angel Nesbitt and Alex Wilson have been pleasant surprises, but when their corrections occur, and when Joba Chamberlain and AL Alburquerque show their true colors (according to their track records) there will surely be more outcries from fans and local media. The Tigers bullpen