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Frustration Mounting in Detroit

May 20, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

The Detroit Tigers continue to scuffle, and the frustrations are starting to mount.

“I’m embarrassed. We all are,” said three-time manager of the year Jim Leyland.

Critics suggest that the Tigers’ AL-worst mark of 17-27 is a product of poor clubhouse chemistry, but Leyland won’t hear of it.

Still, there’s a problem here. A lineup of seven former All-Stars isn’t performing as expected. A pitching staff that was bolstered with the off-season acquisition of Dontrelle Willis ranks dead last in the American League in ERA and quality starts, putting added weight on a bullpen missing several key arms.

We wondered over a month ago if it was too early to panic. I think it’s safe now.

Let’s examine what’s gone wrong so far:

  • Justin Verlander is supposedly the team’s ace, with 35 wins the last two years. So far this year, he’s 1-7 with a 6.05 ERA. Wasn’t he a popular pre-season pick for the Cy Young? I know I expected big things from him this year. Well, he’s making history of another kind, becoming just the third pitcher in the modern era to start the year 1-7 a season after finishing at least 12 games over .500.
  • Jeremy Bonderman’s command has been absolutely horrific, and he’s managed just a pair of wins. Yet his ERA is actually better than what he recorded last year. Uh, yeah.
  • Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers both have ERAs over 6.00, giving the Tigers three starters in their rotation with astronomical ERAs.
  • Willis was awful in his two starts, and he’s been on the DL for weeks. Although he was sharper in his last rehab start, he still doesn’t seem to have his control back, and the team doesn’t believe he’s ready to return yet.
  • The Tigers looked to be turning the corner, going on a 12-5 run at the end of April, but are right back in a tailspin with a 3-11 mark since May 2.
  • There’s almost no help on the horizon, as the Tigers’ upper ranks are almost bare, save outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, who is impressing at Double-A. The club’s only bona fide blue chip prospect, starter Rick Porcello, is still at High-A and the club would be foolhardy to rush him.
  • Gary Sheffield isn’t hitting his weight and is not producing. Shoulder pain has made it impossible for him to play left field, reducing him to DH duties.
  • Fingers are starting to be pointing at the coaching staff, especially pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, but to his credit, Leyland is standing behind his people – for now. Of course, Leyland had to meet with GM Dave Dombrowski Monday to talk about the state of the team, so who knows what will happen should this the club fail to turn things around soon.
  • The Tigers, with a franchise record $138 million payroll, were being picked to win 100 games and score 1,000 runs this season. They are currently on pace for 62 wins and 706 runs – their worst output since that awful 2003 team threatened baseball’s all-time futility mark.
  • After enjoying a career year in 2007, Magglio Ordonez has – somewhat predictably – fallen back to the pack. He hasn’t been awful, but with a .261 BA and just one RBI in the last week, he’s not exactly leading the team out of their current slump.
  • On the plus side, Armando Galarraga has pitched extremely well with Willis out, but he’s expected to lose his rotation spot once the D-Train is ready to return, and I can’t see how that won’t weaken the team at this stage of the game.
  • Edgar Renteria, another one of the team’s lauded off-season pickups, can’t find his power stroke and is struggling through the worst season of his career.
  • Carlos Guillen, one of the few Tigers who was actually hitting well to begin the season, has gone into a slump with just five hits in his last 30 at bats. He’s putting up his worst numbers since arriving in Detroit.
  • Todd Jones is having problems with his command, and is killing his fantasy owners with just one save chance since April 29. In fact, the Tigers’ pen ranks dead last in the AL with just six total saves, all by Jones.
  • As mentioned, the bullpen has been severely weakened by the loss of stalwarts Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Each of them is on the comeback trail, but neither is ready for a rehab assignment. An injury to Denny Bautista has further hurt the pen.
  • Detroit was shut out three times in 2007. This season, the Tigers have already been blanked seven times.
  • Utility man Brandon Inge’s pop is completely gone, but if (when) Sheffield finally goes on the DL, he’ll likely have to take over at third base, shifting Guillen to DH. That’ll will actually be a good thing defensively, but I have my doubts whether Inge will suddenly be a hot waiver wire commodity.
  • Ivan Rodriguez continues to slip as an offensive force. He’s still a workhorse, but is starting to wind up on some waiver wires – a clear indictment of his diminishing skills.
  • A year after outscoring its opposition by 90 runs, Detroit has been outscored by 40 runs already – the league’s worst differential.
  • The Tigers were middling defensively last year, but this year, just three AL teams have more errors.
  • How is Marcus Thames still employed by a major league team? I can’t believe he smoked 26 dingers in a part-time role two years ago, because he is showing absolutely no pop now.
  • Miguel Cabrera is not justifying his huge extension. He’s batting just .182 with runners in scoring position, and recently endured a 12-day stretch without a ribbie. His slugging percentage has dropped 100 points from 2007.

Now, the good news:

  • The Yanks were in a 21-29 hole last year, but battled back to make the playoffs, so it’s not too late, especially in a division that’s very much up for grabs. While Detroit is four games back of the fourth place Royals in the Central, it’s just 6.5 back of the division lead.
  • Detroit’s offense hasn’t sucked. It ranks fourth in OPS in the AL.
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