April Leaves Detroit Tigers Fans with Many Questions
For Detroit baseball fans, April started better than expected. By mid-month the Tigers had taken three of four at home against the Boston, cooled down the red-hot Twins and took two of three on the road in Cleveland (they won a total of four games against the AL Champions in 2016). Then road trip in Tampa Bay seemed to have exposed vulnerabilities in this Tigers squad and by month’s end, they salvaged a 12-12 (.500) record.
The American League Central closed the month of April with the Indians in 1st (14-10), White Sox in 2nd (13-10), Twins in 3rd (12-11), Tigers in 4th (12-12) and the Royals struggling in last at (7-16). Facing division rivals, Detroit is currently 2-1 vs Cleveland, 2-3 vs Chicago and 4-2 vs Minnesota. Detroit will not face Kansas City until the last week of May. While the Indians are strongly favored to win the AL Central, the path to challenge the Tribe for the division crown, or even to snag a Wild Card spot, is going to be no easy feat, especially the way Chicago, or even Minnesota has been playing.
The Tigers leave the month of April tied for 13th in team Batting Average at .249, tied for 12th in Home Runs with 30 and tied for 7th in RBIs at 113. The good news for Detroit fans is that the Tigers are not hitting that well, considering their lineup. Ian Kinsler is batting .207, Victor Martinez is batting .218, Nick Castellanos is batting .245 (despite having three Triples) and prior to being placed on the 10 Game DL, Miguel Cabrera was only hitting .268 with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs. To put this in perspective, no player on the Tigers roster falls within the Top 30 in any of these major hitting categories.
On the plus side, Justin Upton seems to be picking up where he left off last season; he’s leading the team in RBIs (15), tied for first in HRs (5) and hitting .290. A surprising amount of power is coming from behind the plate, as James McCann (5) and Alex Avila (4) combine for 9 HRs; Avila’s return has been off to a strong start. Outfielder Tyler Collins, who despite his sometimes shaky fielding, has been hitting surprisingly well.
Unsurprisingly, the Tigers hold the MLB’s worst team ERA at 5.28. Beginning with the bullpen, it only took three appearances for Bruce Rondon to get reassigned to Toledo, yet his replacement Joe Jimenez has not fared any better. Perhaps expected, yet still disappointing, former starter Anibal Sanchez has struggled in his new role out the pen, giving up 16 runs in 14.2 innings pitched. Closer, Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) has had a rough go and despite having six Saves, has given up 6 runs in just 9.2 innings. This has caused speculation that his days as the team closer may be winding down. On the plus side, Justin Wilson (10.2 innings) and Shane Greene (9.1 innings) both have kept their ERA under 2, and Alex Wilson (10.1 innings) ends the month with a 2.61 ERA.
2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is off to solid start, despite only having two wins. After winning a position in the starting rotation in Spring Training, Matthew Boyd has been pulling his weight, despite a rough first outing. Justin Verlander showed signs of his 2016 season in his first two starts, but went through a rough patch at Cleveland and Minnesota. JV settling back into a grove will be critical for any success the team may have this season. Daniel Norris has been running on par with Verlander and despite a dismal 6.18 ERA, Jordan Zimmerman is the only Tigers starter leaving April with three wins.
Last season, injuries were no friend to the Tigers down the stretch. J.D. Martinez (foot) has yet to play a game, but has begun rehab play and is expected to return soon. Miguel Cabrera (groin sprain), who was placed on the 10-Day DL on April 21st, is expected to return any day. Centerfielder Jacoby Jones, who took a nasty blow to the face, is working his way back through Toledo. Jose Inglesias missed seven games in the middle of the month with a concussion.
Outlook for May
We will learn quick if the Tigers are ready to compete with Cleveland, as they begin the month of May with a four game home stand against the Tribe (Game 1 win was a good start!). This is only one of two home series in May, as the Tigers will spend 20 games on the road; a nine game West Coast trip (Oakland, Arizona and LAA) and then ending the month with eleven straight road games at Houston (4), Chicago (4) and Kansas City (3).
In order for the club to at least break even in May, the bats will have to warm up. This means Kinsler, Castellanos and V-Mart will have to pick up their game. Adding Miguel Cabrera and JD Martinez back into the mix should give the lineup a jolt. The Tigers hitting capabilities alone, should keep them competitive in any game and against any team.
In terms of pitching, greater consistency from Verlander, Zimmerman and Norris will help mitigate some of the bullpen issues. Yet, ultimately, they will have to make some decisions about the direction of the pen. Is Anibal Sanchez going to be able to survive in his new role? Is K-Rod’s career as a premiere closer coming to an end? Will we see consistency from Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson and Shane Greene in the coming months?
It is going to take another month (or two) to really get a feel for the direction of this 2017 Tigers team. Fans should not lose faith quite yet, as they have proved to be perennial contenders for the past decade.
(Statistics courtesy of MLB.com)