That thud you may well hear in the near future will be the sound of the Detroit Tigers landing in the basement of the AL Central Division. Few would have thought it possible back in April. Two weeks into the season, the Tigers were 11-2.
But since then, they've played 16 games under .500 ball. The KC Royals are obviously the class of the division, the Minnesota Twins are OK, and the Chisox and Indians are wimping it out with the Tigers for last place. It's neck and neck for the latter three in the race for the basement.
This wasn't supposed to happen to the Tigers but, in hindsight, it really should have come as no surprise.
Yes, they can still score runs -- in bunches at times. Miguel Cabrera remains the best hitter in the game. J.D. Martinez has performed beyond the wildest expectations. Ian Kinsler remains solid, and young catcher James McCann is definitely a keeper. Slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias has been a pleasant surprise with his bat. In fact, the Tigers are at or near the top of several major league categories -- on offense.
Yet the bad news has far outweighed the good. There's a reason -- actually two -- why the Tigers also lead the majors in men left on base. Their party line is -- they haven't been getting the "big hit" when they need it. The other is their woeful lack of team speed. The guys who can hit are pitifully slow on the basepathes.
But the really bad news is what has happened to their pitching staff. Not long ago, the Tigers (and their media) boasted they had the "best starting rotation in baseball". Perhaps they did, but consider what has happened in recent times.
Ace Max Scherzer turned down $140 million from the Tigers to go elsewhere. A hundred and forty million? Really? He must have wanted out of town bad. Through various trades, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and David Price have departed. Anabal Sanchez is on the DL. Former ace Justin Verlander has fallen from his once lofty perch to no more than average -- at best. He's started 12 games this year for the Tigers, and they've won exactly one of them. Last year, JV was 15-12. The year before, 13-12. This year 1-6. Yes, he's pitched well at times, but at $1,000,000 a start, his team sporting a 1-11 record when he takes the mound is what it is. Maybe this is what happens when one gets a not-so-good tasting breakfast cereal named after them and has a few rolls in they hay with the likes of Kate Upton. Tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.
The moral of the story? The once fearsome starting pitching staff of the Tigers is no more. It's been scattered to the winds, like Lance Armstrong, Brian Williams, and Ray Rice.
It's also no secret the Tigers' bullpen has been a joke all year. No lead was safe when these guys came in to effectively pitch batting practice to the other teams. Remember Joe Nathan? He was supposed to be their lights-out closer. Besides getting lit up like a pinball machine, Nathan suffered what might be a career-ending injury. Here's wishing him well, but there's a reason he was available to the Tigers in the first place. He couldn't get it done any more on a regular basis.
Now they have a bunch of "prospect" starting pitchers to go along with a cannon-fodder bullpen. It's great if the Tiger hitters can put 6-8 runs on the scoreboard, but what does it matter if the other guys routinely put up 10-12 against their sorry pitching? Seen the scores lately? The Tigers hit and score, but the other teams out-offense them.
For that matter, the Tigers' collective defense isn't so hot either. Iglesias aside, it's difficult to think of any Tiger position player that is even average in the field. Nick Castellanos is no bargain at third base. Rajai Davis can be a clown act in left field. Anthony Gose in center can run and go get-em sometimes, but other times appears clueless. J.D. Martinez can catch routine fly balls, but so can any minor leaguer. Cabrera will never win a Gold Glove at first base, and third base definitely wasn't working out. So they have to play him somwhere because -- did I mention he could hit? That's because aging designated hitter Victor Martinez can't play a position at all. And despite all the hype he gets in Detroit, when's the last time you heard of a DH hitting .240 who, BTW, has the blazing speed of your average tortoise with a couple torn ACLs? What other team would have him other than the Tigers?
The Tigers had their window of opportunity for several years, even making it to the World Series. But they could never get over the top. And now it appears they are in a serious tailspin with no help in sight in the near future. Forget about the playoffs. That's not going to happen. By the looks of their roster, things will get worse before they get better.
Yours truly honestly believes that with a month and a half left in the regular season, the thud into the basement mentioned at the top of this article will indeed happen. The Tigers are getting worse by the day.