Welcome back, Tigers baseball. After a day off, it won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I have been watching other things—a.k.a. the Detroit Tigers. Thanks to Mother Nature deciding the Tigers needed a few extra days of rest in May, Detroit now enters a stretch where they will play 37 games in 38 days, including the next 20 in a row. That be a lot of baseball.
At 29-26, Detroit sits second in the AL Central, 4 1/2 games out of first place. Detroit has a boatload of games coming up, including a three-game duel with the first-place Indians June 14-16. That series could decide who wins the AL Central for the first half of the season; however, the Indians and Tigers will still have four more series before the season ends.
Something that has troubled me over these first two months of the baseball season is the Tigers' incredible inconsistency in the win-loss column. Detroit just doesn't like losing one or two games at a time. No, instead they prefer to win four in a row and then lose the next five, rinse and repeat the process. Going into this crucial set of games, the Tigers need to find some better consistency than that. The following are a few stretches that have bothered me the most:
- April 20-May 2: The Tigers started a four-game winning streak by taking two of three from Seattle and then hammering division rival Chicago in a three-game sweep. The Tigers were just plain dominant, outscoring the White Sox 21-3 over the three games. But then things unraveled, as the Tigers got drilled and swept by the Mariners by being outscored 26-6. Then, they made a trip to Cleveland and were swept by the division-leading Indians. Detroit lost the first game of a four-game set to the Yankees, but was able to take the next three to end a dreaded seven-game slide.
- May 7-May 21: Justin Verlander kicked off a seven-game winning streak by pitching a near flawless no-hitter against Toronto. After taking three of four from the Blue Jays, the Tigers swept two-game sets against division rivals Minnesota and Kansas City, the latter of which was shortened one game by rain. But then the Evil Tigers show up, squeezing five losses in between a couple of rain-outs.
- May 22-present: Detroit took the last game of the Pittsburgh series and picked up a couple of nice wins against Tampa Bay before getting rained out again. Then, an ugly 14-1 loss to Boston helped start a three-game slide at the hands of the Red Sox, saved only by another rain-out and a 132-pitch gem from Verlander. Detroit then swept Minnesota in a three-game set to run their winning streak against the Twins to nine straight.
What's to blame for the ups and downs? Is it the weather? Possibly, but I bet Jim Leyland would scoff at that idea. It's also hard to ignore. The game after the Tigers won their seventh straight on May 14 was rained out, and the Tigers proceeded to lose their next five. The Tigers won three in a row against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay from May 22-24, got rained out and then got trounced three straight times by Boston.
Coincidence? Probably. There are other things that can be attributed to the Tigers' on-and-off woes.
One problem is pointed directly in Max Scherzer's direction. After a sizzling start, Scherzer has cooled off considerably in his last four games. Scherzer won his first six starts, but has picked up losses in two of his last three by giving 17 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings. His ERA, once a mere 2.81, has ballooned to 4.83.
The bullpen can shoulder a lot of the blame as well. Offseason acquisition Joaquin Benoit was supposed to bolster the Tigers' eighth inning, but he did quite the contrary in the first month and a half. Benoit was responsible for ending that seven-game winning streak, giving up three runs in the eighth inning on May 16 to blow Scherzer's seventh win. Leading up to that game, Benoit had given up at least three runs in three of his four previous outings. He's been better recently, with no earned runs in his last seven games.
Fellow bullpen mate Daniel Schlereth has not been able to turn his game around like Benoit. With the emergence of Al Alburquerque and Charlie Furbush and Schlereth being so bad, he may be in line for a demotion when Phil Coke comes back.
Against Minnesota on Wednesday, Schlereth came in to relieve Rick Porcello, who had just pitched a solid 6 2/3 innings. Schlereth threw one pitch that hit batter Justin Morneau and was promptly pulled in favor of Alburquerque. Two weeks earlier in a scoreless tie against Boston, Schlereth walked Carl Crawford to lead off the inning, gave up a run-scoring double to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and hit Jacoby Ellsbury in the first three at-bats. Alburquerque once again came in to clean up the mess.
Speaking of Alburquerque, if he keeps pitching like he has the Tigers might find the consistency they're looking for. He's given up a total of four runs this year in ten outings and none in his last five. Bless You Boys did an outstanding look at Alburquerque's recent success, something I urge you to check out.
The pitching is not the lone culprit, though. The offense has been streaky just like the rest of the club, having moments of pure dominance and ineptness.
If you're into looking for scapegoats on that side of the plate, I encourage you to look no further than Ryan Raburn. Expected to be the everyday left fielder, Raburn has not lived up to expectations, to say the least. He started off the year decent by hitting .250 with 14 RBI and four home runs, but May was not kind to Raburn. Raburn was 7-for-62 last month (that's a .113 average), driving in just one run and hitting no homers. After being scratched only twice in April, Raburn was benched seven times in May.
Brennan Boesch had a pretty sordid May as well. After hitting .319 in April, Boesch batted just .186 in May as the Tigers' primary No. 3 batter. However, he was also able to drive in 12 runs and hit three homers while he was at it, so he was still semi-productive during a prolonged funk.
Then there's the revolving door at second base, which has seen multiple starters so far this year. Will Rhymes was the opening day starter, but he lasted barely a month before giving way to Scott Sizemore, who has since been traded. In addition to Sizemore, Raburn, Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago have all played a little second base this season, but none have been able to lock down the job. The Tigers don't need a lot out of the second base position, but something every now and then would be nice. I suggest giving Santiago, who hit .273 in 11 games last month, a shot at it.
These aren't the sole reasons the Tigers have been streaky this season, but they're the ones that stand out the most to me. Some nights the bats just don't work, which means the pitchers will have to ramp up their game. Other times it's vice versa. Either way, the Tigers will have to find that happy medium where they can still win a few games in a row while keeping losses to a minimum.