Oh hai, a new post, first since 2013!
Right now, the Tigers are in purgatory.
The purgatory of competitive, but not championship quality, baseball.
Looking at this roster from top to bottom, we see a team that has enough talent to win on any given day. The aging sluggers could mash, Verlander/Fulmer could be dealing, or a decent, recently constructed back end bullpen could nail down a solid victory.
Unfortunately, on any other given day, the following could happen:
- The non-“Ver-ulmer” starters could be giving up tons of runs.
- We might have to use the members of our bullpen that aren’t Wilsons/Shane Green.
- Our aging sluggers aren’t mashing.
We certainly aren’t going to manufacture wins based on stealing bases/smart baserunning and playing great defense, qualities that have eluded the Tigers since 2006, with the exception of the Kinsler/Iglesias double play combination. Basically I see the 2017 Tigers as an amalgam of all the past big slugging/no baserunning teams of Jim Leyland’s time, but without the insanely dominant starting rotation.
So it’s hard for me to view the Tigers with a lot of optimism lately. Of course, a nice come from behind victory has me feeling a little bit better. But is this team good enough to pull off consistent 4,5, 6+ game winning streaks that are going to be necessary to stay afloat in the division race?
Fulmer looks like the real deal and that makes me happy. Verlander is walking too many guys but his stuff seems fine (I don’t worry about him too much, tbh). Norris I think is in the “Scherzer/Porcello pre Cy-Young” period of his career, where he will be mostly solid, bad sometimes, while showing frontline potential. I’m terrified of Zimmerman who looks bad, despite Tiger Twitter’s constant refrain of “his stuff looks good!” Sometimes you have to stop giving up homeruns all the time. And Boyd, who started the season fine, but has struggled, is a #5, and you are always going to need to have correct expectations for a #5.
Really, this whole thing rests on the Zimmerman signing. An effective Zimmerman gives the Tigers something resembling an elite rotation. Without that, it’s average-to-middling, which is exactly where they are headed if they don’t right the ship with him.
The offense will remain the usual feast-or-famine three run homer type. It is clear, though, that JD Martinez makes a huge difference in just the tenor and tone of the lineup. And why is he cleanup, instead of the rapidly aging Victor Martinez? Feelings? Contract?
I feel pretty so-so about Brad Ausmus as manager. He seems to have earned his stripes by being a fine developer of young players, but outside of Fulmer, which of the younger players are outperforming expectations? Yet, I think it is all too easy to blame him when the team’s problems are structural, caused by a combination of Dombrowski, Mike Illitch sentimentality, and Avila as GM.
Without Zimmerman returning to form (and perhaps improvements from Norris and more consistency from Verlander), we’ll putter along around .500, which is not good enough to attain a wildcard or division title. The best thing to do, if this is the case by the end of June, is to sell. I hate saying that, as I was on team NO SELL back in 2015, but it was easy to see how wrong I was then (Fulmer and Boyd, among others, being products of that selling).
What I do not want is the Tigers becoming the Red Wings, without the glory of actual championships: a wonderful team hanging on for sentimentality (and short term ticket sales and TV ratings). I went from a huge Red Wings “super fan” to a guy who barely knows the roster, partially due to business and family life (and moving around a lot), but also because they just weren’t interesting enough to devote time to follow (makes me sound like a terrible fan!).
This purgatory of competitiveness is purgatory because it is the most boring narrative. When your team is bad, every win feels delicious, and every sign that you are on the upswing feels awesome. Remember 2006? That was magical, and we were even mostly OK with the final result of that year. Remember 2003? Not quite magical, but do you remember the late season winning streak that allowed us to avoid having the worst season in MLB history? I do, quite vividly. It’s fun to be a scrappy underdog, and it’s fun to draft talented players (remember drafting Justin Verlander, and remember seeing his first MLB starts? I sure do!).
So whatever happens this season, I hope we either win enough to be competitive, or lose enough to clean house and start the rebuild. Let’s avoid purgatory and make baseball fun again.