After one week of the 2014 season, the Tigers are 4-1 with one rainout, and are leaving Detroit for a 5-game West Coast trip to face the Dodgers and Padres. While 4-1 looks great, and some unexpected names have stepped up, there is still one glaring problem that can throw a big wrench in the Tigers machine…the bullpen. Only one of our starters has a win, and that would be Rick Porcello. Drew Smyly got a win in relief, Joe Nathan got a win, and Al Alburquerque got one after Nathan blew a save in the ninth and cost Max Scherzer, who pitched a 4-hit, 7 strikeout scoreless eight innings. In 10 and 1/3rd innings pitched, the bullpen has a combined ERA of 8.02, allowing 9 runs. In comparison, the starting rotation has a combined ERA of 1.92, allowing 7 runs in 32 and 2/3rd innings. The bullpen has allowed runs in the ninth in four of the five games played, making it almost seem the bullpen wants to get more wins under their belts, so they expect the Tigers bats to bail them out. This situation cannot continue all season, or the Tigers will barely win 80 games. Phil Coke in one-third of an inning walked 1, allowed 2 hits, and 3 earned runs. Joba Chamberlain was not much better in his one inning of relief, allowing 2 runs. Alburquerque has been his usual unpredictable self, allowing no runs in his first two innings, then in his next inning plus one batter allowed two on four hits, one a home run.
New Tigers Step Up
Other than our problems in the bullpen, there are few other questions with the Tigers and Brad Ausmus’ roster choices. The choices seem fairly solid, though I question the call-up of Double-A prospect Tyler Collins from Erie. His speed must have been the biggest deciding factor, because his glove is average and his bat is non-existing at this time. The biggest surprise is the sudden power streak of 39 year old Torii Hunter in the final year of his contract, with three home runs in 5 games. No one else has more than one yet for the Tigers. Think he will be back next year? I do. He seems to be hitting his second stride of his career. Other nice surprises are the effectiveness of the new additions in Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, and Alex Gonzalez, who combined are 14-for-43, with 2 home runs and a few walk-off hits between them. It is a great relief to see these guys step up when guys like Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, and in the first few games, Miguel Cabrera, just cannot get a pitch to hit.
The Biggest Problem in the Tigers Machine
This all brings me to the one big problem I have with the 2014 Tigers, and that is Alex Avila. He had one breakout season, and then nothing. If he was on any other team, between his lack of performance and his injuries, he would have been placed on waivers, but because his father Al Avila is in the Tigers front-office, he is not going anywhere, and it is hurting the Tigers. So far in 2014, he has been completely ineffective, with one hit in 12 at-bats and 6 strikeouts. Six strikeouts in 12 at-bats…50% of his at-bats are strikeouts. Think about that for a second…when a minor leaguer does that, he is on his way out of the organization and heading into a new career. However, with his father high up in the Tigers front-office, they need to dump him, or at least send him down to Triple-A Toledo. Ausmus and Double-D need to stand up to Al Avila and talk to Mr. Illitch and replace him. He has been more of a hinderance over the last few seasons, and especially this season, than he has helped.
Can the Tigers Still Win 90 Games?
Do I still think the Tigers can win 90-plus games? Absolutely, as long as the bullpen issues work themselves out. So far, Joe Nathan looks good other than the one blown save, and Ian Krol and Evan Reed have done well. Phil Coke needs to go, and be replaced with either Nate Robertson or Casey Crosby. Alburquerque needs to become more reliable, and Joba Chamberlain needs to show the skills he displayed in New York. If the bullpen is repaired and the Tigers bats stay hot, there will be no problem winning 90-plus games
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