Editorial: Bullpen news masks real issue for the Tigers

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NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

There has been a lot of news lately about the recovery process for some key players in the Detroit Tigers bullpen. From the Joe Nathan injury saga, Bruce Rondon starting the season on the disabled list, to Ian Krol and Alex Wilson becoming very familiar with I-75 between Detroit and Toledo, there has been plenty to report about regarding relief arms for the Tigers.

My issue with all of the bullpen traffic is that it takes away from the real issue plaguing Detroit: consistent offense and timely hitting.

After winning their first six games by comfortable margins, Detroit has encountered a power outage at the plate. Over the last 11 games, the Tigers have averaged 2.8 runs per game. Remove the outlier of nine runs against the White Sox on April 19 and the runs scored per game average falls to 2.2.

A closer look at the team batting statistics seem to be in opposition to my point. Detroit is 2nd among American League teams in Batting Average (.283) and On Base Percentage (.350). While the Tigers have had success in these areas, they have struggled in scoring runs due to the amount of runners stranded on base. In the most recent loss to Cleveland for example, Detroit stranded 11 runners total and 5 in the first 2 innings alone. Ian Kinsler never scored in the game despite getting on base four times…and he bats right in front of a Triple Crown winner (Miguel Cabrera), a Silver Slugger winner (Victor Martinez), a rising star with plenty of power (J.D. Martinez), and the winner of the last two Home Run Derby competitions (Yoenis Cespedes).

The reality is: Detroit needs to do a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position.

Through all of this the Detroit bullpen has been fairly solid. Joakim Soria has filled in nicely as the closer in the absence of Nathan. Joba Chamberlain has done well as the 8th inning set up man, most recently evidenced by his strong showing on April 20 during Game 1 of the series with the Yankeees. Even the much maligned Joe Nathan had closed out 17 straight games going back to May of 2014. He retired Torii Hunter and the Minnesota Twins on four pitches on Opening Day all while being booed during pregame introductions and upon entering the game in the 9th innning.

Did Joe Nathan endure the worst performance stretch of his career in 2014? Absolutely. This still should take nothing away from his pedigree and playing history as an All-Star and devastating closer. He even seemed to be rounding back into form during the last few months of the 2014 season and was outstanding on Opening Day of 2015, a fact that most Tiger fans find easy to ignore (probably because many fans were too busy booing a Tiger in his home stadium). Victor Martinez considers him one of the very best ever.

“One of the best closers in the game,” Martinez continued. “No doubt about it. No doubt about it, one of the best closers in the game. I was able to face him in his prime, and he was really tough. He was a really tough pitcher to face.”

The bottom line is: the bullpen is not the only issue with the Detroit Tigers. It’s a team game with plenty of blame to go around regarding playoff disappointments and recent losing streaks.

While it may be in style currently to cast aspersions at the Tigers bullpen and the incredibly unfortunate and catastrophic injury to closer Joe Nathan, that only deflects attention from a more pressing concern: clutch hitting. For a team with such an intimidating offensive line up, one would think that the Detroit bullpen would be under less pressure than other MLB teams.

At the very least, the offensive issues facing Detroit are a cause for concern and a large contributor to the recent playoff losses as well as the current losing stretch in 2015. At worst, they are an indicator of what could be another frustrating season for Detroit; a team with very high post-season aspirations.

[stats from ESPN.com]