COMMENTARY | There are several ways to describe the 2013 Detroit Tigers. The team is fueled by a star-studded offense, regularly putting up big numbers. Their shutdown starting rotation has routinely proved to be one of the best in the game.
But since the season began, there's one word has described the Tigers perfectly -- incomplete.
With all the positives that the team boasts, the one thing getting the majority of the attention is their bullpen woes. Not only have they been well-documented, they've managed to hold the championship contender back throughout the season.
However, with all the negative hoopla surrounding the bullpen, Tigers relievers Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly have quietly put together impressive seasons.
At 35 years old, Benoit is one of the few seasoned veterans in the Tigers' bullpen. He competed for the closer role during spring training, but was ultimately overlooked after the team opted to go with Jose Valverde for a second time.
Benoit's strong season might change the minds of Tigers' management regarding their void at closer. He's currently in the midst of one of the best years in his career, which isn't surprising given his track record over the past few seasons. Benoit's 1.80 ERA in 29 games is the lowest on amongst Tigers' relievers, while his four saves rank second.
Not only does Benoit possess a strong ERA, he's been lights-out against opposing hitters. His opposition is hitting .198 against him and have whiffed 35 times.
While Benoit was competing for the closer role during this past spring training, Smyly was locked in his own battle. With the first four spots in the rotation already decided, the Tigers held a competition for the final available spot.
After a tedious spring training, Rick Porcello eventually won that competition for the rotation spot, forcing Smyly to the pen. Although it looked like the Tigers made the wrong decision during Porcello's stretch of struggles, it wound up being a blessing in disguise for both Smyly and the team.
In 24 games this season as a reliever, Smyly has a 1.94 ERA and 42 strikeouts. The 24-year-old southpaw has held his opposition to a .199 average so far, including a .119 average against lefties.
Although Smyly has been dominant in all relief situations, he's been even better in extended save opportunities. During each of his two saves this season, he's tossed three innings or more and didn't allow a single base runner, becoming the first Tigers pitcher in over 97 years to accomplish the unique feat twice.
While dark clouds have swirled over the Tigers' bullpen this season, Benoit and Smyly have shined through the unknown as bright spots, providing fans with the hope that their incomplete team can soon become an entirety.
If Detroit opts to appoint a new closer, both relievers are making a strong case for the role.
Ricky Lindsay has followed the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball with a close eye from Metro Detroit for several years. He's the sports editor for his college newspaper, The Michigan Journal, and broadcasts games for the Michigan Lightning, a semi-professional football team.
You can find him on Twitter @RLindz35.
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