The Detroit Tigers up to this point have been streaky and full of inconsistent play. The offense is fifth in team batting, but second in strikeouts and the defense sits near the bottom of the American League. To add to the frustration the team recently followed a seven-game losing streak by winning eight of their next nine games. Hopefully Saturday’s dominant no-hitter from Justin Verlander will provide a desperately needed spark to keep the team moving in the right direction.
On Saturday, Verlander finally had all of his pitches working, and mowed through the Toronto lineup with precision. Verlander himself has had a shaky season by the standards of a club ace. He had lasted past the seventh inning only twice before Saturday, and at times has relied too heavily on his fastball. It was clear during the early innings that the Justin Verlander most Tigers fans want to see was in fact on the mound. Fans are hoping that he uses his performance in Toronto as motivation to become the powerful pitcher that he is capable of being.
Aside from Max Scherzer (6-0, 3.20 ERA, 51 strikeouts), the rotation has started the season slow, but is finally showing what they can do. Rick Porcello has allowed only six runs in his last 4 starts and looked solid against the Yankees Thursday night (7 innings, 2 earned runs). Porcello’s appears to have regained some of the form he showed during his 2009 rookie season when he finished the season with 14 wins.Brad Penny has surpisingly put together a string of decent starts, winning three of four and allowing just 6 earned runs. Penny started the season with back-to-back terrible starts surrendering 12 runs in 10 innings pitched. If Porcello and Penny can continue to improve and Scherzer keeps up his consistent pace, the starting rotation can overcome some of the hitting woes that have plagued the Tigers this season.
Nothing may define the Tigers up to this point more than the lack of timely hitting, and at times a lack of hitting at all. Brandon Inge and Magglio Ordonez continue to hit around .200 while Austin Jackson just broke the Mendoza line with a 3-5 day Saturday. Will Rhymes was a complete disaster and was shipped down to AAA Toledo. The Tigers have had decent seasons so far from Brennan Boesch (.298/.366/.419) and Alex Avila (.280 AVG, 6 HR, 23 RBI), but it is unclear whether or not that consistency will last all season long. Neither has proven to anyone that they can maintain this pace for a whole season.
The only certainty for 2011 was the huge question mark they had entering spring training: whether or not Miguel Cabrera could overcome his personal demons and run in with the law and produce. Cabrera has responded by having a scorching start to the season (.311 AVG, 7 HR, .443 OBP), but he will need help if he is going to carry the ball club. The return of Victor Martinez from a groin injury will be a huge boost to the line-up, and Cabrera’s numbers.
The recent move of Rhymes to Toledo worked when Scott Sizemore returned with the same hot bat that he was wielding with the Mud Hens (.408 AVG). It will be interesting to see if manager Jim Leyland will tire of his “other experiment” with Phil Coke and move on. Coke has been starting and a return to the bullpen may help both Coke and the bullpen. The big question would be who will replace Coke if he is pulled from the rotation. Andy Oliver (3.19 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 38 strikeouts in 31 innings) and Charlie Furbush (2.97 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 41 strikeouts in 33 innings) have both pitched well with Toledo , and it may be time to give them at least a look in the near future.
The next couple weeks will be crucial to the Tigers season. A lot of questions will need to be answered quickly, and corrected if necessary. If the momentum created by the Verlander no-hitter can fix some of these issues it could be a great season for the Tigers, and it could carry them all the way to the division title.
About the Author
Written by Jeremy Klumpp
I am a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Electronic Media and Film. For two years I wrote a baseball blog, "Ground Rule Double," and have contributed to a book on the 1968 Detroit Tigers. If you want to read my non-sports thoughts head to jklumpp1.posterous.com.