When the Detroit Tigers gave their celebratory high fives over the pitcher’s mound this afternoon, they had capped off a very nice 2-1 victory over Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox. But it wasn’t just the game on Monday that was impressive; the entire series from top to bottom was good, even encouraging — if you let it bet.

The Tigers went home tonight knowing they beat a very good Red Sox team three games to one. A Boston team that is seemingly on the rise with young players like Xander

Apr 10, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) sits in dugout after being relieved in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts; not to mention the fact that they went and traded their top prospect, Yoan Moncada, to the White Sox for Chris Sale, the second most dominate lefty in all of baseball. Oh, and Sale was joining former Tiger David Price. So yeah, to say the Tigers were playing a team on the rise, or in the upper echelon of the American League, might even have been an understatement.

 

 

But…

The Tigers won three out of four games and should have (hear me!), should have swept them right down I-94 all the way to Detroit Metro Airport. The Tigers won the first game in great come-from-behind fashion, after the bullpen blew a 4-0 lead; but the team rallied scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 6-5. In the second game of the set Jordan Zimmermann pitched well enough to earn the 4-1 victory. The third game is where the wheels in the bullpen came off and there was no recovering from it, the Tigers dropped that game 7-5. And lastly, today the Tigers battled hard to a nice, quick 2-1 victory.

But what can we take away from such a series so early in the season? The Tigers have six games under their belts now, here are my thoughts on where they sit.

The defense still has to improve

We talked about it last week but it must be stated again, the Tigers must start converting batted balls into outs. Especially when the ball is hit directly at them, or one step away. In six games the Tigers have accounted for five errors; it could be more if not for some generous scorekeeping in Chicago. However, if the defense does not improve it will continue to be a back and forth season.

Currently, the Tigers ranked 26th in the Major Leagues in fielding percentage, according to ESPN.com. The extra outs the Tigers are giving teams are coming back to bite them in the backside too. People have tossed around main culprits for the circus that is our defense right now, but I look at specifically two players, Nicholas Castellanos and Tyler Collins.

First, to start with Castellanos, I will say up front that I’m not holding him to too high of a standard and here’s why: he contributes in other ways and I think eventually you will see him transition to first base. He’s feet are a touch too slow and he’s fundamentally out of sync 80% of the time. Moving Nicholas, eventually, will solve this problem — but, it won’t be this year, so he’s going to have to get better and we’re all going to have to be more patient.

Apr 6, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Tyler Collins (18) tries to catch a ball hit by Chicago White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson (not pictured) in the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

However, Tyler Collins, on the other hand, is lost. He was spun in circles out in right field more than my Jockeys are spun during the spin cycle. And worst yet, he’s not even contributing at the plate. It’s probably time to cut the Tyler Collins experiment off and just go with Andrew Romine in right field until J.D. Martinez gets back. Romine has been hitting the ball since he’s been in the lineup, and he’s a great defender. It seems to be the easy answer. We’ll see going forward how the rehab goes for J.D. and if Brad Ausmus decides to go with the hot hand, or stick with the original gameplan; my vote is for the former.

Starters need to be more effective with their pitch count

Our starters, minus one Matt Boyd start, have been good. I’m not in the slightest way upset or discouraged with any of their performances. Even last week I gave Boyd a pass for his outing, considering he was pitching in 40-degree weather and could feel the laces on the ball if he wanted to.

But, I will say, something that does concern me is the extremely high pitch counts that each of our starters has had in their outings. Before we get into it, I must say that each of them (minus Boyd) showed that they can effectively limit the damage and made their innings count, each setting the team up for a possible victory.

Check the chart below:

Starter GS Innings Pitched Total Pitches
Justin Verlander 2 13.1 215
Jordan Zimmermann 1 6.0 92
Michael Fulmer 1 6.0 95
Daniel Norris 1 6.1 97
Matt Boyd 1 2.1 80
Total 6 34.0 579
Average 6.0 96.5
Total Pitches per inning 17

What this chart tells us is two things: first, the Tigers starters are averaging 6 innings pitched (34 IP / 6 starts = 5.6 IP, rounded up of course). In those six innings the Tigers starters are throwing on average 96.5 pitches, or 17 pitches per inning. Way too high for an MLB staff to sustain itself, generally you want to see anywhere from 12-15 pitches per inning. Secondly, it tells me this: with how bad our defense has been the pitchers are trying to take the burden on themselves to make perfect pitches, thus, you can see them laboring on the field.

If the defense can step it up, the pitchers can lengthen their outings by pitching to more contact because of an improved defense, then our third issue (and probably the most glaring) will get the help it needs.

Someone in the bullpen, please stand up!

In a four-game series, the Tigers bullpen gave away the lead in the eighth inning in half of the games. Up 4-0 on Friday night, after a gem by Michael Fulmer, the Red Sox score 5 in the top of the eighth. Up 4-3 on Sunday, after Daniel Norris did all he could do to keep the Tigs on top, the Red Sox hang a four-spot in the top of the eighth inning — 

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

As coincidental as that little quip from Mr. Berra might seem, we’ve been living in the same bad dream as Tigers fans for a while now. The biggest culprit so far this year was Bruce Rondon, who was optioned on Monday and sent to Toledo.

But at a certain point someone, anyone (Bueller), has to step up. Someone, anyone (Bueller), has to say, “enough is enough, I’m shutting this s%&# down.” But that hasn’t happened. And every eighth inning, or earlier if the starters don’t stretch it out, Tiger’s fans will be holding their breath — hoping, praying, wishing on every lucky penny, that today is the day the bullpen comes through.

I mentioned Rondon being optioned. That leads me to this…

Welcome to The Show, Joe Jimenez!

In a corresponding move to the Rodon optioning, right-handed reliever, Joe Jimenez’s contract was purchased by the club and he joined the Tigers for their series finale today — though, he did not make an appearance.

And now every Tigers fan be like…

via GIPHY

But seriously. Jimenez has proved throughout his Minor League Career that he deserves a chance. He’s a young guy, with a lively arm, and a developing slider. Take a look at the numbers he’s put up over his career so far:

14-6, 1.57 ERA, 53-58 save opportunities, 0.87 WHIP, 143.1 IP, 82 H, 4 HR, 42 BB, and 207 strike outs.

That’s pretty good. He could be our solution, in part — but probably not right away. Jimenez will need time to grow and develop, and if we want him to be successful for years to come, we should afford him that opportunity.

All in all, the Tigers are fine. They are hitting, they are pitching, and most importantly they are winning baseball games. Now come the Twins, who are 5-1, and easily are the surprise of the 2017 season thus far.