Detroit Tigers: 10 Biggest Surprises and Disappointments This Season
There is no doubting that this 2012 season has already provided a great deal of surprises and just as many disappointments.
From Quintin Berry's coming out party to Jose Valverde's inability to close a game, the Tigers have run the gamut of emotions on this short season.
Even though we are only 54 games into the season, there are been a wide variety of pleasant surprises and shocking disappointments.
Here are ten of the most notable surprises and disappointments for the Detroit Tigers this season.
Surprise: Quintin Berry
This may be incredibly obvious to most Tiger fans, but Quintin Berry has been a huge bright spot on a dismal season up to this point. He has made himself a household name all over the state of Michigan.
He has provided a spark at the lead-off spot in the lineup; unfortunately, it has not been enough to yield victories.
"Q" is hitting .333 in 12 games with six stolen bases up to this point.
More importantly, he is going to force Leyland to make a tough decision when Austin Jackson returns from the disabled list, which may be longer than the Tigers originally expected. He could be back as early as Tuesday when the Tigers face off against Cleveland at Comerica Park.
If Berry continues to hit the ball in this fashion, he will have a permanent home in the Tigers' lineup.
Disappointment: Jose Valverde
Even though Valverde had a perfect season during 2011, no one expected that to repeat itself during 2012.
He gave Tiger fans a great deal of nervous moments on his way to 49 saves last season, which gave way to many questions about his consistency during 2012.
Up to this point, it would appear that Valverde's luck from last season has ran out. He currently has a 4.64 ERA and is allowing batters to hit .238 while already walking 15 batters in 21.1 innings pitched.
The Tigers expect much more out of their closer, and the good news is that he improves as the season progresses, with the exception of July 2011 where he struggled with a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings pitched. During June, August, September, and October, Valverde boasted a 0.66 ERA in 38 innings.
If they Tigers continue to struggle at the plate, they may have to win games by one or two runs. Therefore, Valverde must be able to come through in the clutch, or he will be on his way out of Detroit after this season.
Surprise: Austin Jackson
Austin Jackson has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers this season, and they will need him desperately as the season progresses.
Even though he is on the disabled list at this point, his return will certainly help the Tigers both offensively and defensively.
Jackson has appeared in 32 games and is hitting an incredible .331 with a .414 OBP. While he is still striking out a bit much, his vision at the plate has improved immensely; Jackson is no longer a guaranteed out when he is down in the count with two strikes.
However, the Tigers have to hope that he will return to form when he returns from the DL, which will hopefully be as early as this Tuesday.
If Jackson can continue his torrid pace and Berry remains with the team due to his offensive abiltities at this point, the Tigers will have a very speedy and formidable pair in the outfield and at the plate.
Disappointment: Brennan Boesch
After hitting .283 in 115 games during 2011, there were high hopes for Brennan Boesch coming into the current season.
However, he has not performed up to par as of late. Currently, Boesch is hitting .234 with an astounding 39 strikeouts. More importantly, he is hitting an abysmal .100 in his last seven games.
The good news is that Boesch is primed and ready for a big month. During June of 2011, Boesch crushed opposing pitchers with a .380 average.
For as many things that have gone against the Tigers in 2012, an emerging Brennan Boesch will be critical as the they attempt to climb their way out of the hole they have dug for themselves.
Surprise: Drew Smyly
This kid is pretty good.
It is hard to believe that he was pitching in single A Lakeland last season. He has been a huge bright spot in a battered and bruised Detroit rotation.
While it is impossible to expect a rookie to put up astronomical numbers, Smyly is doing exactly what was asked of him when he earned this spot.
However, it is now the job of the offense to provide enough run support to get him more wins, which will allow him to pitch with less pressure.
As of now, Smyly has 3.46 ERA in 54.2 innings pitched. His ability to keep hitters guessing because of their unfamiliarity with his pitches will not last forever; therefore, Smyly will have to continue to develop his game in order to avoid getting lit up later on in the season.
For now, Smyly is an exciting young player to watch.
Disappointment: Jhonny Peralta
As one of the more powerful shortstops in the league, Jhonny Peralta must be able to hit effectively for the Tigers to be successful.
However, at .239 with 36 strikeouts, Peralta is simply not getting it done.
The bad news is that May is usually Peralta's best hitting month. In 2011, he hit a whopping .354 with seven home runs and only 12 strikeouts. However, he hit .241 with 18 strikeouts.
While there is no reason to assume that Peralta will be stuck in his current funk the entire season, there is still reason to wonder if he will find his way back above the .280 line during 2012.
Surprise: Duane Below
Duane Below has done an exceptional job out of the pen this season for the Tigers.
He currently has a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings and looks much more confident and poised on the mound. Below is only allowing opposing hitters to hit .202 against him, which is much lower than last year's .252 average.
Finally, he has a WHIP of 0.83, which is very impressive for a pitcher who had an average 1.34 WHIP in 29 innings during 2011.
Below is looking much better than he did last year, which will provide Leyland, as well as many fans, with more confidence and certainty when he is called into games in order to keep the Tigers within reach or in the lead.
Look for Below to continue to impress as the season progresses.
Disappointment: Delmon Young
While it is hard to call him a complete disappointment, Delmon Young is expected to do more at the number five spot in the lineup.
It is also safe to say that Young will have to learn to love the DH spot, as Berry and Dirks may have just pushed him out of any chance to stay in left field.
However, after his legal issues, Young has been on the rise. He is hitting .268 overall this season; more impressively, he is hitting .326 in his last 12 games with only six strikeouts in 46 at-bats.
Neither the Tigers nor Delmon Young can afford anything less but more improvement as the season progresses. If he cannot continue to progress, Young may become a trade piece later in the season or simply not re-signed at the end of the season.
Surprise: Brayan Villareal
Some may say that Villarreal has not shown enough to be a true surprise for the Tigers; however, it looks as if he has finally found a way to control the speed and power that made the Tigers want to hang on to him.
In 11 innings during 2012, Villarreal has a 0.82 ERA and has only given up one earned run. He is also using his power to blow that fastball right by opposing hitters, as he has accumulated 18 strikeouts already in the short season.
He has shown tremendous improvement on last year where he went 16 total innings with a 6.75 ERA and only 14 strikeouts.
If Villarreal can continue his dominant ways, the Tigers bullpen could become very formidable, as he would be right there with Marte, Coke, Below, Dotel, Benoit, and Valverde.
Disappointment: Second Base
Right now, there are no great answers for the second base conundrum that haunts Tiger fans. Ever since Placido Polanco left Detroit after the 2009 season, second base has been a revolving door of sorts.
Now, we are down to two players: Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. While they are both able to play the position defensively, neither one can contribute enough offensively to consider them a permanent answer.
Up to this point, the Tigers are getting no offense from these two at second base. They are hitting for a combined average of .191 and have a combined 23 strikeouts.
This will not be enough to get the Tigers to the top of the AL Central. While many thought that Cabrera and Fielder alone would be enough, along with the occasional help of Peralta, Young, Avila, it simply will not get the job done in a division that is much more competitive than anyone thought it would be.
Therefore, something has got to be done. Even though recent rumors suggest the Tigers are not interested in a trade to bring a new second baseman to Detroit, expect it to happen.
They will not and can not let this continue much longer.