Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I have only one word to say about the Detroit Tigers

That word is, "Patience." As to why, read on...

We have our first mini-crisis of the Detroit Tigers 2007 season. A 4 game losing streak, the 4th loss being a awful giveaway of a loss to Tampa, has fans on edge.

A handful of issues, some out of the Tigers' hands, but others not, have shown their ugly head during this streak.

Most notably, and by far the biggest concern, is the bullpen. To say the pen scuffling is being generous to scufflers. The Tigers currently has the worst bullpen ERA in baseball.

In other obvious news, 1st base has become a black hole, power-wise, in the offense.

3rd base production is not much better, let's call it a gray hole in the offense.

What we have to realize is that there really isn't much that can be done for any of the issues that vex we fans at this point, other than giving Jim Leyland and the Tigers time. Time for injuries to heal, time to determine what needs to be done at the trade deadline, time to see if there is any major league ready help in the minors, and time for players who have a history of producing to elevate their game to a serviceable level.

In other words, "Patience" is needed. That's something that fans don't normally have much of, as they expect instant solutions.

Let's start with the bullpen. The Tigers' bullpen is broken. Two prime time set up men are on the DL, the closer is a 38 year old who gets by on guile, while using the risky tactic of pitching to contact, and the rest of the pen is made up of neverweres, used-to-bes, mightbes, and wannabes.

The bullpen has been so bad recently, Tigers fans want blood. They want the bullpen purged, starting with Jason Grilli and/or Joe Table being waived. With prejudice, and malice aforethought. They want bullpen arms served bloody on a platter.

Cutting them is all well and good, but I then have to ask, "With who do you plan on replacing them?"

At this point, there isn't much the Tigers can reasonably do. Anyone they bring up from Toledo is going to have the same issues as the current bullpen residents, that being they are marginal MLB pitchers. They are in AAA Toledo for a reason. For that matter, anyone they bring up from AA Erie is going to be raw and untested. It would big a big leap of faith, and a big time risk, to go the Erie route.

Do you really want to shake up the bullpen by shuffling around arms, with no guarantee of improvement?

As noted by Kurt at Mack Avenue Tigers and Scott at Quo Vadimus, there is another tempting option. The most reasonable bullpen patch job is the Andrew Miller solution. The Tigers could use Miller out of the pen, even though he has monster upside as a starter. Or the more likely move, insert Miller in the rotation, and shift the more and more reliable Chad Durbin to the pen.

There's also the news of Troy Percival's comeback, and the Tigers are definitely interested. It's a longshot, but the Tigers may bite. The plus to such a move is that it would only cost money. The minus would be that odds are he's no longer any good.

How effective could Percival actually be? He hasn't pitched in 2 years! The belief that Percival could come back to baseball with his once lights out closer stuff is nothing more than pie in the sky thinking.

Of all the temporary bullpen fixes, I'd prefer the Andrew Miller starting/Chad Durbin relieving scenario, but only as a last resort. To be honest, I really don't think the Tigers' brass would go for such a knee-jerk solution.

I know that fans don't want to hear this, but the bullpen may not right itself until both Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya become healthy. But that requires that little thing I mentioned called "Patience." I have a feeling that we aren't going to see the bullpen we'd like till the All-Star break at the earliest, and the trade deadline at the latest.

For the time being, I'm guessing the Tigers try to ride out the rapids with the arms on hand, and hope to tread water till the set-up men are fully healthy. It's a scary thought, but anyone have a better solution?

Then we have the power outage at 1st base. Sean Casey, whom I thought would be an acceptable 1 season stop gap, has been just a gap in the offense. He is finally starting to hit the occasional single, as his average is up to .266. But Casey has shown as much power as an out of warranty Ipod battery. His stats would be acceptable if the Tigers were still playing in the dead ball era.

Unfortunately, the juiced ball era Tigers have a banjo hitter at a position that requires, well, a Hell of a lot more than a banjo hitter. Again, there is no obvious solution in the system.

Last season's flash in the pan, Chris Shelton, has shown absolutely nothing at Toledo. Marcus Thames has tons of power, but has not been consistent in actually using that power. Just note his .200 average.

Leyland seems to have a shine for Casey, and he'll continue to get the majority of the AB's, no matter how much fans bitch and moan about his edge of the infield power and his Andre the Giant-esque foot speed.

Personally, I'd love to see them play Thames. He may only hit .200, but he'll go deep 25 times by accident, at the very least. What would you prefer? Thames, who is a modern day Rob Deer, or Casey, who's a much lighter hitting version of Wally Joyner. Give me the power guy every time.

Odds are the Tigers 1st base solution isn't coming till this off season. Be it via trade or free agency, the Tigers will get that big time, left handed, 1st base playing, bat. They can no longer afford to have such a vital power position manned by an eternal question mark (Shelton), an all or nothing reincarnation of Dave Kingman (Thames), or the 2nd coming of Don Wert (Casey).

Till that time, grit your teeth and bear it, folks. I know it's going to hurt to hear this, but there is no quick fix for 1st base. It's going to be Sean Casey or bust. My money is on bust...

Then we have the eternal struggle of 3rd baseman Brandon Inge vs. his bat. Unfortunately, neither is winning, as his .215 average shows. Inge is hitting like the Mendoza line flirting 2003 version of himself, not the 2006 Inge, who was the most powerful number 9 bat in all of MLB.

As Rod and Mario mentioned during the Tampa broadcast, they can't remember seeing someone take so many checked swing strikes. Inge looks lost at the plate, utterly afraid to commit. Not exactly what you want to see from a player on the first year of a 4 year deal.

And as that noted sports fan Hamlet liked to say, "Aye, there's the rub."

Inge is on a new, long term contract, so he's here for the duration. Inge IS the Tigers once and future 3rd baseman, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Once again, the only option at 3rd is that pesky thing called "Patience."

It's a long season, and seeing the Tigers unexpectedly struggle is disturbing. They are going to have tough times, all teams do at some point. For all the screaming from the Chicken Littles that changes are needed, they don't have any idea how to make those changes.

At this point of the season, especially with position players, the roster you see, is the roster you get. It's simple, people. Any Tigers roster tweaking done from now till the All Star break is going to be with end of the bullpen bench pitchers.

Can you seriously expect to see a major league team make any roster moves that could make a huge impact? There are no players in the Tigers' system who could make a season changing impact, save for Andrew Miller joining the rotation. That's it.

I'm sure the Marlboro Man and Dave Dombrowski are fully aware of the issues at hand, and will make the appropriate moves when the time is right. Making knee-jerk roster moves during a 4 game swoon is not the time. If changes are to be made, it's going to be at the trade deadline. That's 2 months away.

In other words, the Tigers' brass will show some patience. They will not panic. It remains to be seen if the fanbase can do the same.

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