You can say that injuries are a part of the game and that every team has to deal with them, but you'd have to do some heavy arguing to convince me that teams are capable of overcoming the type of injuries the Tigers have sustained this season.
At the time Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks went down, they were two of the hottest hitters in baseball and the team's best hitters. Yes, better than Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The No. 2 starter, Doug Fister -- lost in his first start and again shortly after returning to the rotation -- was better than Justin Verlander down the stretch last year. In addition to those three key injuries, the Tigers have also been dealt blows to their starting catcher (DL), closer, and seventh and eighth inning relievers throughout the first third of the season. Factor in that they lost Victor Martinez during the preseason and any reasonable person should be able to understand just why they're struggling to turn things around after a sluggish start similar to 2011.
Friday night was just the latest example in which the injury-riddled roster played a major role in the outcome of a game. In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Tigers up a run, Jim Leyland was all but forced to go to Triple-A call up, Jose Ortega, rather than using normal late-inning options Joaquin Benoit, unavailable, or Octavio Dotel, who we'd learn after the game was out due to inflammation in his throwing elbow. Ortega, making his Major League debut, would give up the game-tying run and incite calls for Leyland's head, especially after Phil Coke came in and pitched well.
Why not Coke instead of Ortega? Well, he had pitched two days in a row and gave up three hits in his most recent outing; opponents were hitting .455 off him in his previous seven appearances and righties were hitting .385 against him for the season. Coke's experienced, but he's not exactly reliable. With the Tigers set to face a quality right-handed pinch hitter, Leyland went with Ortega, who had pitched well in his previous three outings in Triple-A (3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and had held Triple-A hitters to a .206 batting average over his last 10 games. Yes, Leyland put Ortega into a tough spot, but all things considered, his only other sensible option was right-hander Brayan Villarreal.
So why not Villarreal then? Leyland said before the game that he did not want to use Villarreal after having him throw on Thursday afternoon. Villarreal didn't do Leyland any favors by saying after the game he could have pitched, but it's possible Leyland was erring on the side of caution with his max-effort reliever since he was already sans two hard-throwing righties. Villarreal only started warming up after Ortega began to struggle and Coke went into a tied game -- again, for the third straight day -- which was likely headed for extras.
Sure, you can try to argue that Leyland unnecessarily babied Villarreal or start your analysis with the Tigers failing to execute, but in my opinion, you can't judge this team without first touching on all of its injuries. Next, you might want to consider the organization's lack of depth in preparation for potential injuries. The Tigers won 95 games last year thanks to a predominantly injury-free season. Dave Dombrowski, Leyland and even the fans were spoiled by that. We're all learning now that it's pretty hard to win games with key pieces on the DL or "day-to-day" for weeks at a time and five-ninths of the lineup playing a league above its head.