Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tigers pitching and the bullshXX pen

So OK, the Tigers are only 9-9. Ya win some, ya lose some. Such is the nature of the big leagues. A fraction of an inch here, or a millisecond there can make a big difference. Look at it this way -- what's the difference between a batter hitting a towering fly ball for an out or a home run? Maybe about an eighth of an inch on where the bat strikes the ball. Along those lines, sometimes a fly ball can be hit 400 feet, only to be caught for just another out. Had the batter made contact with the baseball a fraction of a second earlier (or even later) to send the ball in a little bit different direction, particularly down one the "foul" lines -- that very same ball might wind up 20 rows deep amongst the spectators for a home run. Same thing with pitching, close calls on the basepaths, etc. Despite the fact we are currently bombarded with (sometimes worthless) statistics on every facet of how major league baseball players perform -- at it's core, baseball itself largely remains a game of nuances, and luck. The tiniest little things oftentimes spell the difference between winning and losing a game. And let's not forget -- the last guy on the bench for the last place team in the major leagues -- is REALLY good. He beat out a few thousand other guys just to get there.

Which brings me back to the Tigers. Despite their mediocre 9-9 start, it's widely assumed Detroit will easily win the American League Central Division. After all, with baseball's incredibly long (insufferable?) 162 game schedule, the teams with the "better talent" could be likened to being a Vegas blackjack dealer. They might run "cold" for a while, or even have a losing streak, but over the long haul, given enough games, the built-in advantage/odds, though slight, will eventually work out in their favor.

Yet the much ballyhooed Tigers are an interesting bunch when one looks hard at the players themselves.

Certainly they have a world class pitcher in Justin Verlander. And last year Max Scherzer became a co-ace. He was almost unbeatable. Whether or not Scherzer will perform at that level again remains to be seen. The rest of their starters are about average. For every dominant performance, there will be another where the guy gets lit up like a pinball machine. And a whole lot of average stuff in between.

Their bullpen remains an enigma as well. When one of them enters the game, no one knows for sure whether he'll look like Nolan Ryan, or a batting practice pitcher. A "closer"? The Tigers don't seem to have one, but I totally agree with Jeff Kuehn, the sports editor of this paper, in an article he penned not long ago. What's the big deal about some "specialist" that's only available to pitch in the ninth inning when his team is already ahead? It's like fans have been conditioned to think that such a prima donna might spontaneously combust if he was called upon, multi-million dollar salary and all, to actually pitch in the 3rd, or 5th, or 7th inning. Guess what? The baseball doesn't know the difference, nor do the opposing batters care. It's still the same pitchers' mound located the same distance from home plate.

Worse yet, why are "closers" only good for about 20 pitches or so before they're gassed? To add insult to injury -- most major league teams have 7-8 relief pitchers. Yet when it comes time that one of them might be needed, it always seems to come as a big surprise to the guys in the bullpen. They rush around like they're scrambling fighter jets to repel incoming enemy bogies. Obviously, they had no clue what was actually transpiring in the game. So what were they doing down there? Playing euchre? Sleeping? Texting their girlfriends? In my opinion, every one of those guys should be warmed up and ready to go at a moment's notice. This is what they're getting paid major league big bucks for.

Hey, if fans have to pay 6 bucks for an overcooked hot dog on a soggy bun, then fight their way to the "condiment" table, which is typically maintained in the same sanitary conditions as your average kitchen at a sub-saharan refugee shelter (forget the flies -- I'm telling ya that relish is ALIVE), and 10 bucks for a watered down beer or mixed drink, not counting the ridiculous price of tickets and parking in the first place -- is it too much to ask that players making million dollar guaranteed salaries could at least be ready to -- you know -- play?

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