Underrating the Overcats
I can’t promise that it’s not just a pleasant dream and that you won’t soon wake up still in 2003 (or the right-side-up version of the above), but for at least the second year in a row the Detroit Tigers aren’t merely contenders, but favorites. In several categories. A very strong team on paper, even stronger than they were going into 2012. Yet they struggled for most of 2012. Even though poor defense was the most persistent leaky faucet, there was no easily identifiable single culprit for the struggles. The team just wasn’t firing on all cylinders for much of the season, and even in the heady days of September and October, it was mostly a case of starting pitching carrying the team on its shoulders, not everything suddenly coming together. All this after so much promise. Were the 2012 Tigers overrated? Maybe a little. Are the 2013 Tigers?
I’m very optimistic about 2013. Great offseason. The team is clearly better for it. Spring has been good. But I’m going to play the role of doubter, complainer, and whiner here. Gonna find some fault and invent more if I have to.
Let’s get negative:
Is the Tigers bullpen overrated? When I think of good bullpens, I think more of Tigers opponents, teams that have those three guys you just dread, and that’s with the Tigers lineups of the past few years. A good bullpen gives you the option of running out a certain 3 pitchers every other day and having a high level of confidence that not of them is going to blow up. (A great bullpen would give you another variation or two on that 3-pitcher lineup.) Who are those 3 Tigers relievers? Do they even have them? I’m not so sure. Yeah, those sub-2.00 ERAs and wonderful K/9s look good on paper. They don’t necessarily add up to a reliable shutdown crew. Key word: Reliable. Not “passable, brilliant, oops,” but “good. good, good.” And speaking of blowing up, it was on display in the recent 12-10 loss to the Nationals.
Is Brayan Pena going to be a defensive liability (I’m basing this unfairly on one early spring game where he had some rubber arm going on a couple successful stolen base attempts against him) and perhaps a liability overall, and was it such a good idea to let Gerald Laird go, and is Jim Leyland going to run Alex Avila into the ground at C again? (Having it both ways with my worrying.) The truth is that I haven’t seen enough of Pena this spring or really zeroed in on him enough to form much of an opinion. But he has looked kind of… sluggish. Not as in “slugging,” though I did see him hit a home run.
The Tigers lineup is seen as solid top to bottom, but is it really? Look at 7-9. Here “solid” seems to rest upon the assumption that both Avila and Jhonny Peralta are intrinsically better than they showed in 2012 and are due to bounce back. But maybe not, and what if Omar Infante’s moribund batting line for the Tigers in 64 games last year proves more rule than exception this season?
The only thing I can find to worry about in the outfield is Andy Dirks’s health and the possibility that Jim Leyland might subject us to long stretches of Jeff Kobernus or Don Kelly in his stead (as opposed to calling up Avisail Garcia or at the very least using the capable but presently sore-kneed Quintin Berry). This despite 3 injured OFs at the moment (Garcia, Dirks, Berry). The joy of having Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson, no doubt.
Despite the return of Prince “2013 AL MVP” Fielder and the addition of Hunter, there’s still a lot riding on the continued health of Victor Martinez. The bats are there for DH by committee, but the subtraction still comes in when you figure who replaces the replacements. There’s really nothing for it, because you can’t just keep a spare Victor Martinez on the bench. So it’s just a worry. Although Garcia and (according to some) maybe even Nick Castellanos could be aces in the hole here (my own opinion is that Castellanos isn’t quite that close to being ready for the majors, but maybe I’ve just seen all the wrong ST games).
Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello all have a history of being slow starters. Just sayin’.
OK, that’s all the negativity I can muster at the moment.
In recent news, the Tigers have lost 3 of their last 5 and are now 14-11 in Grapefruit League play. 3 games out and mired in 4th place! In the March 16 shutout of the Cardinals, Shawn Hill had a good start, Bruce Rondon and the rest of the bullpen had good outings, Garcia suffered a heel contusion, Matt Tuiasosopo went 2 for 4 with a HR, and the Tigers were caught stealing 3 times. March 17 against the Nationals, Miguel Cabrera and Infante were back from the WBC, Drew Smyly had his first rough outing of the spring and Danny Worth committed 2 errors, and the Tigers rallied from a 7-1 deficit to take a 9-8 lead, only to have an 8th-inning meltdown from Al Alburquerque cost them the game. Scherzer had a good 5-inning start in the 5-1 win over the Nationals March 18, while the bullpen put on the perfect good bullpen show (3 guys, 4 innings, no runs, 6 strikeouts) and Tigers hitters beat up on Rafael Soriano in the 7th to win it. Losing 11-5 against the Rays March 19, Doug Fister and Kyle Lobstein got hammered, but Fister didn’t actually look as bad as his line suggests, though he often pitched himself out of good counts. Though the damage was done, another good showing by the bullpen (aside from Lobstein) followed. Dirks hurt his knee in a collision with the LF wall. It was fun to see the lower-level minor leaguers late in the game, especially little guy Devon Travis belting a 2-run homer. Last night against the Astros, Justin Verlander went 5 2/3 but allowed an uncharacteristic 3 home runs, Alburquerque couldn’t keep it close, and Tigers bats couldn’t get much going in the 7-2 loss. Berry in LF made yet another great catch. How can anyone not want this guy as the 4th OF?
On Tuesday the Tigers sent 8 players to the minors, most notably LHP Duane Below, but also RHP Jorge Ortega, C Bryan Holaday, IF Hernan Perez, RHP Trevor Bell, IF Argenis Diaz, OF Nick Castellanos, and OF Tyler Collins.
Jason Beck’s guess at a Tigers bench of Ramon Santiago, Kobernus, and Kelly is truly one that I hope proves incorrect. Maybe the Nationals will take Santiago in exchange for Kobernus, who could then be sent to Toledo. Maybe he’s worth holding onto. I don’t see that he’s earned a spot on the opening day roster, myself. It’s clear enough that Lobstein isn’t making the pitching staff, but it’s actually more plausible to me that the Tigers would make a deal to hold onto him in the minors. I see some promise there, even in an outing such as the last one against the Rays. Plus, well, he’s a starting pitcher, and a lefty at that.
Octavio Dotel is back from the WBC.
And finally, gazing into one of my clouded and cracked crystal balls, none of them reliable, in one I see a future where Steven Moya and Tyler Collins are starting outfielders for the Tigers, while Garcia and Castellanos have been traded.