Tigers Daily-ish: What are the Tigers in ’15? Answers loom

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Thursday, June 11th, 2015
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Rajai Davis

As the Detroit Tigers attempt to claw their way back of long drawn out tailspin there were bound to be more bumps in the road along the way. Not many teams really flip a switch and seamlessly go from long droughts of losing right into razor sharp play and a long winning streak.

The Tigers discovered this on Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit by enduring a 12-3 beat down at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. The loss ended a modest three game winning streak for the Tigers that started on the southside of Chicago on Saturday. This came hard on the heels of an 8-game losing skein that saw the Tigers offense go deep into the tank and their pitching impress only occasionally. The losing string also capped off a long and slow drift back to the .500 after a hot 11-2 start.

It’s dangerous to get too down on the night of a 12-3 loss. Things are too hazy usually. But this is a bit different. We’ve seen several games like this already on a consistent basis. It’s not a shock to the system now to see the Tigers get drubbed. The day is approaching where they need to determine if this club is worth fighting for or whether they need to sacrifice August/September in search of solutions for 2016 and beyond.

What are the Detroit Tigers in 2015?

The Tigers sit at 31-29 and in third place in the AL Central. Starting Friday they’ll have 30 games to go prior to the All-Star Break evenly split between road and home. This 30-game stretch should really tell the Tigers what they are this season. The stretch should easily include the point where GM Dave Dombrowski asks himself, “just what are we this year?”. Does he invest in this club and add talent for a run at a 5th straight division crown? Or does he look all the problems, the barren farm system, and all the impending free agents and decide, “I need to re-stock the shelves starting now” instead of a betting on a minor miracle that his flawed club has the juice to sprint to the finish line.

The bet being placed here is Dombrowski will lean toward making a run. If his club limps along at or near .500 before the All-Star Game but within shouting distance of the division lead or the second wildcard, it will be difficult for the Tigers to shelve the season. He’ll add to his roster. The question of what he’ll have to market to add talent is a legitimate one however.

Only a devastating stretch of something like 11-19 or worse over this next month would probably sway Dombrowski in a different direction toward selling off his free agents in search of young talent to augment his aging core players in 2016.

Bad Optics

The loss itself on Wednesday wasn’t all that concerning. As noted, it was unlikely they were going to rip off an extended winning streak right after dropping eight straight. The optimists can say “hey, they’ve won three out of four!” It really can’t be about hoping for runs of winning five straight or more consistently. It’s got to be about the age-old “grind” of baseball. One day at a time…or as Paul Molitor is selling his Twins players, “play to win 90 feet at a time”.

It’s the way the Tigers lost to the young Cubbies on Wednesday that wasn’t impressive to observers who were looking for signs of the club’s resolve. All the common warts of the 17-26 run that moved the club back to .500 were on display. It was a “thank you sir, may I have another” effort. Let’s look at the checklist:

1. A Shane Greene Disaster Start—Check!

2. Displays of indifferent defense— Check!

3. Scoring limited to one inning or less— Check!

4. Hitting into multiple double-plays— Check!

5. Some curious decisions on pitching changes— Check!

Bonus–A bullpen implosion! (those haven’t happened nearly as often as many assumed, but they tossed it in for good measure)

It was truly a lackluster display that fit in all too nicely with a bunch of others over the last six weeks. For the Tigers to lift themselves off the mat they need to eliminate so many issues that are continually plaguing them. It won’t happen overnight. But to see another game where all their issues came together at once for a drubbing wasn’t a sign that some issues are being “cleaned up”.

 The Cavalry Charge?

Certainly there appears to be at least some help on the way. Justin Verlander returns on Saturday to face the division rival Cleveland Indians. Victor Martinez at least sounds as though he isn’t too far off of giving it a go. Toss in Alex Avila for some lineup balance from the left side and perhaps Bruce Rondon for bullpen depth at some point as well.

It all sounds good on the surface. But each of these players comes with question marks. To say any of them are a sure-fire fix for what ails the Tigers can, at the very least, be debated for injury and performance reasons.

Counting on the cavalry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. History is full of glorious cavalry escapades. However most of them are gallant charges into the face of overwhelming odds…”into the Valley of Death rode the 600″ kind of stuff. Or Custer’s Last Stand. You get the idea.

Re-arranging the proverbial deck chairs 

What changes are in store? Certainly there is a player that needs to go when Verlander is activated for the season. It was easy to assume that modestly talented lefty Kyle Ryan was the one ticketed for Toledo. However another blow up effort by the increasingly beleaguered Shane Greene has to put him in the running for a Triple-A sabbatical to remove him from the cauldron he’s boiling in right now.

Whether it’s merely a mental break needed for Greene or some work on refining his mechanics, he could use a timeout. He needs some kind of help to get back to the guy who struck out 23% of batters faced with a high ground ball rate in New York last season.

Ryan has pitched solidly in Detroit thus far. He was getting beat around in Toledo himself prior to his recall, so it’s unlikely he’s a long term solution for the Tigers. But until he shows he can’t do it, he might as well assume the “next man up” mantle to allow Greene time to mend his game.

Another change is possible in Centerfield. Anthony Gose is struggling and it’s been worsening for a while. Rajai Davis is a player that could steal some of Gose’s playing time. Davis was stupendous in Tuesday’s defeat of the Cubs both in the field and at the plate. While Davis isn’t a premium talent, he provides a threat needed at the top of the Tigers batting order. Gose is fading to the point that the idea of him looking like a plausible leadoff man looks untenable for much longer.

Moving Forward

Yoenis Cespedes is on a roll. Jose Iglesias has been productive. Miguel Cabrera is still pretty good last we checked. Not all is lost in Detroit.

 David Price and Alfredo Simon have pitched well. Anibal Sanchez has the skills to resurrect his season as well. The rotation can still be good if Verlander comes back strong.

With a few breaks and couple of players having big second halves, you can squint and envision a team that can compete.

The list of issues, though, is longer. Some might say a lot longer.

It starts with Dombrowski. He built this club and called it one of his most talented. He needs to answer then how it looks so sloppy, so often. He needs to be held to account for the lack of solutions his minor league system has to offer.

Then manager Brad Ausmus needs to be held accountable for some curious tactical decisions that seem to crop up consistently and the fact that his club is giving away out after out on the base-paths as one of the worst running teams in the AL. He needs to be asked why Nick Castellanos hasn’t taken the next step in his development under the tutelage of Wally Joyner and, presumably, Ausmus.

The manager can’t be held responsible for the injuries that have affected his club but his game management and his team’s lack of focus on the base-paths and in the field are legitimate issues. Year-2 of the Ausmus Era isn’t setting the world on fire with tactical brilliance or the look of a club playing tight and disciplined baseball.

Let’s check back at the All Star Break. Plenty will happen between now and then. The fate of this club may not be completely written by then obviously…but it seems we’ll know what they are by then. The question is, will we like what we see?

More importantly, will Dombrowski admit what they are if he doesn’t like the answer?

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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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