Tigers Daily-ish: Detroit Swoon Extends Into June

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Friday, June 5th, 2015
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Shane Greene

The Detroit Tigers dropped their seventh consecutive game on Thursday afternoon with a 7-5 loss to the Oakland A’s. Only a late rally in the 9th inning plated four runs to make the game look competitive. But in reality it was a blowout for most of the day as the Tigers showed their weaknesses throughout.

A woefully quiet offensive attack, some very poor starting pitching, and ill-timed defensive miscue were the main culprits on this day as the Tigers fell to merely one game over the .500 mark at 28-27 as their descent from the 11-2 halcyon days in April continue to fade from memory.

Right now the Tigers are struggling in nearly every facet of the game. The slump encompasses everyone. It’s not something that can be pinpointed on merely a couple of individuals. This is truly about the whole clubhouse and organization needing to make a group about-face to stanch the tide losing.

Verlander to the rescue?

Shane Greene retired the A’s in the first inning and it appeared that perhaps he would wash away the stench of his being destroyed by the Angels last weekend in Anaheim. He allowed five homers that night without escaping the second inning. The first pitcher since at least 1900 to achieve that ignominious feat.

However Greene was his worst enemy in the second inning against the A’s. Greene was facing a 1st/3rd situation when he induced a tapper back to the mound that looked like a surefire double-play. But Greene yipped the throw behind and past a contorting Jose Iglesias allowing a run to score and no outs recorded. A Josh Phegley triple happened on the next pitch and suddenly the Tigers were staring up at a three-run deficit they would not overcome.

Greene would be chased for good in the 5th inning continuing a disturbing trend for Tigers starters. They’ve only registered two quality starts in the last 13 contests as a group. For all the heat the offense is taking, the starting rotation is taking a beating of late which can’t continue if the Tigers look to stay upright in the division race.

Justin Verlander is the possible Knight in Shining Armor for the Tigers. The veteran ace is coming off a poor season and a recent injury that has held him out of competition to this point. However after making his season debut for the Toledo MudHens last weekend he will make a second start soon. If this start goes well Verlander could return to the Tigers by the middle of next week.

The Tigers desperately need a resurgent Verlander to resume his march to a possible Hall of Fame berth one day. The rotation is suddenly short on star power after David Price. Anibal Sanchez has been up and down at best. Alfredo Simon seems like a “six inning guy” and not the strongest tent pole in the pile. The aforementioned Greene is in a shambles right now. Kyle Ryan and Buck Farmer have or will be taking starts for the injured Kyle Lobstein. It’s a really shaky situation.

Verlander needs to be a pillar the Tigers can count on for the final three and half months of the season if the rotation is going to hold itself together. Getting Verlander back is nearly akin to a trade deadline acquisition at this point (although they’ll have to consider one of those as well most likely). He has the talent and experience to provide a massive boost obviously. However, one needs to only look at the sustained mediocrity he had on display in 2014 to wonder if he has a dominant stretch in the tank at this point in his career. The answer has to be “yes” if the Tigers want that 5th straight AL Central crown.

Offensive woes continue to mount

The Tigers were one three-run bomb by Tyler Collins in garbage time from posting yet another two-runs or less outing. It’s now reached a stage where it really can’t be ignored. The win/loss record is no longer shiny enough to ignore it.

What’s the problem? How about we start with lack of power.

The Tigers simply are a singles-hitting machine right now. They aren’t producing enough power to take advantage of their healthy team OBP right now. It’s mystifying in many respects that a club who leads in OBP isn’t scoring runs on a more consistent basis.

However between the double-plays they are piling up at a league-leading pace and the lack of homers, rallies are dying in large quantities.

The Tigers, prior to Thursday’s action, had a team-ISO (ISO is “Isolated Power” computed by taking SLG% – BA) of a rather paltry .135. The American League average was at .147. There just haven’t been enough extra-base hits to break open games. Three singles in an inning now qualifies as “busting out” for these Tigers.

Detroit is tied for 12th in the AL with 42 homers. The league average is 53.

The Tigers are just a tick above average in doubles with 92, good for 6th in the AL. But for all intents and purposes they’re average in the category as the leagues averages 88.

Detroit does lead in triples with 16 as the league averages only 9. A good offense can’t really count on triples however. That’s roughly one three-bagger every 3.5 games. You can’t sit around waiting for those.

The lack of homers and the unimpressive number of doubles is putting the offense in a bind. They need to string together so many singles and walks to score it’s just not sustainable right now on a nightly basis.

The absence of Victor Martinez is also leading to problems utilizing Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is being pitched around at times and seems to be pressing.  The intentional walks are piling up. The Tigers have had 20 issued to them thus far. That’s over twice the league average and five more than the next closest club. The bat is being taken out their best hitters hands and those that follow aren’t cashing in on the opportunities. The intentional passes are inflating the team’s OBP but not having a real effect on run scoring.

Where will the power come from? The answer is most likely “it needs to come from plenty of quiet spots”. Ian Kinsler has one homer this season and is in the midst of a vicious slump. But he’s a player quite capable of producing double-digit homers. Nick Castellanos needs to take a step forward in his career and start flashing at least consistent gap power for more doubles.

 J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes both have had their moments but the Tigers need them to get on a serious power roll soon if they’re going to turn around their fortunes. The pre-season idea that “JMart” and Cespedes would extend the power threat for the Tigers after Cabrera and “VMart” has only sporadically happened to this point. As noted the other day, Cespedes needs to starting hitting more balls in the air and not on the ground. Martinez simply needs to some consistency with his strike zone discipline. He’s been all over the map to this point when it comes to chasing pitches out of the zone.

The biggest thing that can happen of course is for Victor Martinez to return and be effective. He was an all-star last season while posting career best numbers. His loss this season due to the knee injury has been devastating to the Tigers offense. He is now taking some BP and there are rumblings that his return is in the offing sooner rather than later.

How healthy is he? Is it realistic that his fairly short DL stint has gotten his knee strengthened to the point where he can be effective? There is no saying right now. But the Tigers road is all uphill without him right now.

Moving Forward

The Tigers season isn’t lost yet by any means. Things are rarely as dire as they look in the midst of a long losing streak. However the club is leaking oil in more than one place right now. It’s not “just the offense” or “just the starting pitching”. It’s quiet offense, poor base running, dodgy starting pitching, and occasionally mindless defense that is all combining for this sustained stretch of poor play. Only the Tigers bullpen has mostly stayed intact and performed acceptably more often than not.

Is relying on injured players returning at full force and perhaps a deadline acquisition a good plan for success? This seems questionable. The players returning certainly need to contribute. GM Dave Dombrowski will likely try to plug a hole or two in July if he feels this club is worth the effort. But, really, the players currently in the lineup need to find a new gear. There are too many non-functioning or semi-functioning slots lately to plug them all from the outside.

Several players have the track records to get this club on the right track. But it probably won’t happen instantly. They need to simply grind it out one game at a time and win a series in Chicago this weekend by producing some power in a hitter’s park while hopefully see their starting pitching rally for some better efforts.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia

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