Saturday, June 10, 2006

Suffer not your neighbor's affliction

As midnight approached on May 27, the Detroit Tigers were coming off a win off the Indians and were an incredible 35-14. Virtually everything was going right for the team, easily leading the league in ERA and scoring runs in bunches. One more game against the Indians, who they'd been dominating, followed by stretch against the Yankees, Boston, the White Sox, and Toronto, gave the Tigers an opportunity to quiet the last naysayers.

The Tigers have now gone 3-9 in the last 12 games, being outscored 70-42. Three things have gone wrong for the Tigers:
  • Their schedule suddenly got a lot tougher,
  • They started suffering injuries (Maroth, Monroe, I-Rod), and
  • Their mixed-bag bullpen started giving up a lot of runs, capped by last night's meltdown.
They have managed to cling to first place mostly because the White Sox have not played Whack-A-Mole with them quite enough yet. The wheels aren't off yet, but the Detroit lug nuts look to be loose or missing for 2006. This is not to say the Tigers aren't long-term contenders; the wealth of young pitching plus more coming (and Zumaya eventually moving into a key role) augurs well for their future -- if Leyland doesn't Dusty-Baker the young pitchers first, that is. On the other hand, Polanco, Ordonez, I-Rod, and Guillen aren't spring chickens, and the latter three have terrifying injury histories (which are the reasons they're all in Motown in the first place), so keep in mind the possibility that this team could be a mirage.

Indians followers are amazed at the team's floudering at 29-31. "With all that talent," they ask, "how can they be under .500?" The answer, of course, is that the pitching staff isn't the same one they had last year, and in virtually every case, the replacement in 2006 is worse than the 2005 role-player. It hasn't helped that Cliff Lee has regressed to ordinary, but Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson simply haven't pitched well, and the smoke-and-mirrors 2005 bullpen is scattered and the replacement just hasn't gelled. From the perspective of a White Sox fan, the Indians' decision to use Aaron Boone at third and the Broussard/Blake hot starts should stretch out the playing time for three candidates for long-term replacement, and lead the Indians to avoid some tough decisions they should make for 2007. Of course, Boone's supposed heir apparent, super-prospect Andy Marte, is not hitting at Buffalo (.256/.324/.363). Is it possible the Crisp trade, surrendering Crisp and bullpen handyman David Riske, will turn out to be the supposed "2005 Major League Executive of the Year's" serious mistake? We can only hope.

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