MLB 2012: 5 Reasons the Detroit Tigers Will Shock MLB and Lose the AL Central
Acquiring one of the crown jewels of the free agent class in Prince Fielder, and home to Cy Young and AL MVP award-winner Justin Verlander, it seemed the only thing Detroit could do was improve upon 2011's 95-67 record.
Yet here we are 54 games into the season, and the Tigers are four games under .500, still in search of a team identity.
Sure, we're only a third of the way through the season, but Detroit's problems are much more pressing than a simple bump in the road that teams go through at the start of the year.
Detroit's problems are so substantial, in fact, that the Tigers will not repeat as AL Central champs, and here are five reasons why.
1. The Bullpen
The Tigers will only go as far as their bullpen takes them, and right now Detroit's pen is sitting at a red light.
No lead has been safe this season for the Tigers, and it's largely due to relief pitching that continually gives away the lead with an inability to produce scoreless innings.
Detroit's bullpen has a combined ERA of over 5.00, and it has been difficult for manager Jim Leyland to discern which pitchers he should put into which situations. Barring relief pitchers Joaquin Benoit and Duane Below, no one has been consistent thus far.
Jose Valverde has already blown three saves, which is three more than he blew all of last season, and Octavio Dotel has not proven to be the set-up man the Tigers had hoped for.
This is one of the main, if not the main, areas of concern moving forward for Detroit, and if they hope to make any noise come October, Detroit's relief pitching will need to improve tremendously.
Ironically, the two best hitters on the team have struggled mightily as fielders. Prince Fielder (also ironic: his last name) is tied for the most errors at first base with six, and Miguel Cabrera's seven errors are second-most among third basemen.
Fielding could become a serious problem sooner rather than later, and with Detroit's already shaky pitching staff, it hasn't helped to miss opportunities for put-outs and lowering relievers' pitch counts.
The team has a total of 37 errors on the season and many of its defensive gaffes have cost them dearly in close games.
Defense is certainly something that can be improved upon as the season progresses, but when your pitching staff has been struggling, solid defense is one of the only remedies.
3. Starting Pitching
The Detroit Tigers pitching staff is proving that ERA does not directly translate into wins. Doug Fister has yet to win a game this season with a 3.15 ERA, and Max Scherzer is 5-3 with a 5.55 ERA.
These stats obviously indicate that how a team is batting has a great effect on a pitcher's record, but a 5.55 ERA will not win games for long.
Actually, Detroit's pitching has been quite good this season, with the exceptions of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, both of whom are pretty big exceptions.
Porcello has posted a mediocre 4.86 ERA through June 4, and has struggled to find his rhythm from the mound.
Only the immaculate Justin Verlander is averaging above six innings-pitched per outing in 2012, leaving much to be desired as far as quality starts go for Jim Leyland and his staff.
There's no question both Scherzer and Porcello have the stuff to become effective starting pitchers for the Tigers.
Scherzer is actually averaging more strikeouts per nine innings than Verlander this year, with an astounding 11.7 Ks per nine, but his power pitching has proven to be hit-or-miss as he has the highest WHIP, hits per nine innings, and has given up the most walks and home runs for Detroit.
It's one thing to be in an early season funk, but it's another problem entirely when you haven't found your groove through 11 starts.
4. The Emergence of the White Sox
This may be the biggest factor of them all: The Chicago White Sox are a better team.
I don't mean the White Sox are a more improved team—I mean they're better than Detroit.
Chicago is absolutely sizzling right now, winning 14 of their last 16 games and holding teams under four runs a game while doing so.
Some have speculated that Chicago's hot streak is an aberration, but it is clearly a sign of things to come.
The combination of Jake Peavy and Chris Sale has developed into one of the best in all of baseball, and Chicago's bullpen is doing everything the Tigers' hasn't so far.
Paul Konerko looks to be right behind Josh Hamilton in the AL MVP race at the ripe age of 36, and the rest of the offense has hit its stride.
Moving forward, Chicago appears to have a more complete baseball team than Detroit through its pitching, defense, and baserunning, and is now primed to win its first division championship since 2008.
This is the factor that cripples teams with high pre-season expectations among all sports.
After winning the AL Central, making it to the ALCS, and subsequently signing one of the biggest free agents in baseball to a contract worth $214 million, it's simple logic that there will be astronomical expectations.
Now that Detroit has not been able to play up to its potential through a third of the season, scrutiny begins to surround the Tigers after every game they don't win.
The further this team sinks into the hole, the harder it will be to climb out of it, and the players and staff will hear about it day in and day out until they right the ship.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their ship looks lost at sea, and they may never get back on course this season.