COMMENTARY | The offensive stats are impressive. Even after nail-biting losses to the pesky Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers are offensively at or near the top of baseball in several key statistical categories -- 1st in hits, 2nd in runs, and 1st in RBIs, BA and OBP.
The Tigers' starting pitching is as good as it gets. Including Drew Smyly -- who is technically not a starter, but who once was, and who works starter-like innings in long relief -- the starters are a combined 19-9 on the year.
Defensively they have been consistently solid, if not spectacular, ranking at or near the top in fielding percentage all season.
The bullpen has been a different story. Tiger relievers are a combined 1-6 on the year and rank among the bottom half in the majors with only seven saves. But with closer-by-committee it's easy to understand how that could happen.
With the recent return of closer Jose Valverde, however, the bullpen seems to have regained its collective karma. At least everyone knows their roles. After his first blown save, many are predicting that Papa's once dominating split-finger fastball will not be making a return anytime soon. Still, he will almost surely be better over the course of the season than his replacement committee, and the others in the pen will be better for having him there.
Most fans of the team hoped the Tigers would already be creating space between themselves and their AL Central challengers, if not sporting one of the better records in baseball. But no. That would be too easy. For the Detroit Tigers, like the city they represent, it seems that nothing ever is.
Most confounding to fans is that their ability to light up the scoreboard and win big one night has almost been matched by their inability to win a close one the next. They are 2-4 in extra inning games, 1-2 in one-run extra inning games and 3-6 in one-run games overall. For all their offensive might, they are currently stranding more base-runners than all but two MLB teams.
Does this failing mean the team lacks the mental and physical toughness needed to grind out tough games like those that brought out the best in guys like Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris? Is this group simply too nice, or is it nothing more than an early season statistical fluke?
Granted, it's way too early to say this failure marks a trend, but it is, nonetheless, glaring for a team from whom so much is expected. Rather than taking charge in the AL Central, they continue to plod along at a good but not great pace. Among all division leaders in baseball, the Tiger's record is tied with the aforementioned pesky Indians for the worst. It's not bad, but it's not as good as it should be. And the division race is still wide open with only five games separating five teams from top to bottom.
Yes, it's early, and a 162 game season allows Tigers' fans to take the long view. Hopefully the pieces will all fall into place. The Tigers will continue to work hard, because that's what they do, and their superior talent should win out in the end. Just don't expect it to be a cakewalk. As we've heard before, and will no doubt here again, "up here" anyone can beat anyone else on any given night. Let's just hope it doesn't happen too often.
It can sometimes be better to lose 8-2 than 2-1. At least that way the players and fans can shrug it off, turn the page, and move on. I'm not recommending it mind you, but losing too many close ones can ultimately takes its toll on players and fans alike.
A lifelong follower of the Detroit Tigers, Mike has covered sports, automotive, government and interfaith issues for publications and websites including "The Detroit News," Internet Auto Guide, Opposing Views, American Thinker, Examiner and A Common Word.
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