54 is an obligatory number much like 40 home runs or 100 RBI or a .300 average are obligatory numbers. It’s an imaginary stopping point that you can refer to when explaining something….or writing an article like I am here.
54 in baseball means one third. As in 54+54+54=162. If you like symmetry, you like the number 54, which indicates that the major league baseball season has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So, if you like that sort of thing, you’ll be pleased to find out that the Detroit Tigers (25-29) have played 54 games in the 2012 season and are about to embark on the “middle” portion of the year. You might be pleased with that record, you might be really upset with that record. I guess it depends on if you root for the team or not.
The Tigers have an off day today, so it seemed like the perfect time to write about the beginning of the season (the first 54 games), the reality of the team record, and what we can expect going forward. As I write this, it’s 1:32am on the east coast. After Justin Verlander lost his third straight start, this one a 5-1 affair to the New York Yankees, I took a nap. Not only was I tired physically, but I was tired mentally and I wanted to clear my head. These Tigers are so frustrating to follow. What better than a nap to make one forget ones sorrows!
Of course, you know that didn’t happen. I woke up thinking about writing this post, and I had dinner thinking about writing this post, and I took care of some work related things thinking about writing this post, so now that I’m finally sitting down and writing this post I’m kind of tired of thinking.
Time for another nap.
But I have to write it because I thought about it for so long. I have to write about the offense, the defense, and the pitching. So, yeah, I’ve thought about this for a while. Can’t forget to talk about 54.
There’s little evidence to suggest you can argue that the Tigers have had a good season up to this point. The fact that they are four games under .500, have a -14 run differential, and are dead last in the American League in defensive efficiency (.670) should be enough proof for you. If it’s not, perhaps the knowledge that in games where they’ve scored five runs or more they are 15-3 scoring 134 times and in games where they’ve scored four runs or less, they are 10-26 having scored 99 times, will.
What that means, in a nutshell, is that the offense has been inconsistent. A team with this much firepower should score greater than four runs a game more than 33% of the time. This team hasn’t and the fact that it has struggled offensively has exposed the defense, the bullpen, and a whole slew of sarcasm and snark amongst fans and critics alike.
The problem hasn’t been Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The problem hasn’t been Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks, or even Alex Avila. The problem has been Delmon Young (.711 OPS, -0.2 bWAR), Brennan Boesch (.622, -1.2), and Jhonny Peralta (.691, 0.1). The Tiger 5, 6, and 7 hitters have been as bad as they were expected to be good. They’ve struck out a combined 109 times and only walked 34. I’m not going to solely blame the offenses problems on them, but if they were even contributing at replacement level the Tigers would have a few more wins.
The starting pitching certainly hasn’t been a concern. They’ve been a bit unlucky but there have been only a few games where the starter has lost the team the game. For the most part Verlander has been great, Scherzer and Porcello have been good more than bad up to this point and Smyly has been better than advertised. Fister hasn’t really gotten started, but three quality starts suggest that once he’s back and healthy, the Tigers will simply have another dangerous weapon to throw at opponents.Of course, they haven’t been dominating which is what they’ve needed to be most nights. Allowing 2 or 3 runs a night isn’t going to cut it when the offense is scoring 1 or 2.
Of course when they did leave with a lead, the bullpen, which was disastrous to start the year and has been inconsistent at best since then, would enter and blow the lead. Eight relievers have already earned 10 losses.You know this, I know this. I don’t need to say anything other than there are two or three games a week where a reliever comes into the game and has no idea where the ball is going. A minor melt down occurs. Jim Leyland takes the struggling arm out three batters too late. The opposition scores two or three times. Game over. Showers. Weeping into pillow in corner of room.
Of course, the defense has become, quite possibly, worse than advertised, which is hard to believe. Either that, or they have been extremely unlucky. But I think luck has less to do with defense than it does with offense and pitching. Defense is about proper field position, how you read the ball off the bat, and knowing when not to throw the ball. The entire team aside from Austin Jackson, Quintin Berry, and Don Kelly seems to ignore these three fundamental concepts. Its an infuriating reality.
The belief that the team fielded what balls they managed to get their hands on worked well for a couple weeks, but as the season has aged, that’s not even the case. The cancer is so evil it has spread to Justin Verlander.
In Sunday’s game he failed to back up third base on a play in which Brennan Boesch whipped a ball into the infield. Miguel Cabrera didn’t play the bounce as well as he should have, and the ball caromed past him. If Verlander had been backing up the base like he should have been, he would have caught the ball and prevented two runs from scoring. Because he wasn’t, the score became 5-1 instead of 3-1 and was the final dagger hammered into the Tigers night.
So what do they do next?
We know that the beginning of the season was a disappointment, but that’s done and over with. Injuries haven’t helped, and it feels as if they’ve begun to pile up over the past few weeks, but this is what happens during a season.
All teams have injuries and all teams need to find production out of unexpected sources. So yes, the fact that Ramon Santiago was the only bench option this weekend and Omir Santos has been starting at catcher, is frustrating to see, but the reality is, Cabrera and Fielder have been healthy. Young, Boesch, and Peralta have all been healthy. Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, and Smyly have all been healthy. The bullpen has been healthy save for a brief issue with Valverde (that might have saved them a win or two) earlier in May and a current arm injury to Benoit.
They’ve been healthy. They’ve underperformed.
You can’t blame a single loss on injuries. You can blame individual losses on the offense, bullpen, and defense, and that’s what matters. That’s why the Tigers have struggled.
A major problem going forward is they are staring at a surprisingly good Chicago White Sox team that is finding production from all sorts of unexpected sources.
Can the Tigers come back and take this division? Absolutely.
Is it going to be easy? Whoever said otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.