In 1984 there was a common word that came up when people talked about the Detroit Tigers – magical. The 35-5 start to the regular season was special. So were the seasons turned in by a host of players including Cy Young and MVP winner Willie Hernandez. There was just something in the air that told you the Tigers would not be beaten in any playoff series, and it turned out to be true.
In 2006, when the Tigers broke a 22-year World Series appearance drought, there was a similar feeling of magic. The offense was carried by Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez. And remember Marcus Thames, Craig Monroe, and Brandon Inge? They combined to hit 81 homers that year! Talk about magical. On the mound you had rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya raising eyebrows with their fastballs. Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson anchored the rotation and Todd Jones saved 37 games. There was magic in the air that eventually swirled out of the balloon after a long pre-World Series layoff that arguably cost the Tigers their mojo and a championship.
Last year, the Tigers were on the receiving end of a team full of chemistry and a no-lose attitude when the San Francisco Giants demoralized them in a 4-game sweep in the fall classic.
This year, the Tigers are spinning their wheels. They enter play on Tuesday with a 43-38 record at the halfway mark. Multiply that by 2 and this is an 86-win team at season’s end. In a word – unacceptable.
Do I expect the Tigers to only win 86 games? No. Their starting pitching will likely be dominant in the 2nd half and the bats have to wake up in a more consistent manner, don’t they?
Last week I argued (or typed) until I was blue in the fingers that Bruce Rondon needed to be called up. The Tigers obliged Rondon supporters and then instantly watched him lose Saturday night’s game in the 10th inning (although why was Austin Jackson playing so shallow with 2 outs?). Rondon gathered himself and pitched a perfect inning on Sunday. He can be an absolute difference maker in Jim Leyland’s wobbly bullpen once the sticker shock wears off.
Rondon’s value might not simply be in his ability to dominate late inning matchups, but if he does pitch well then perhaps the Tigers won’t feel a burning desire to dump prospects for relief arms at the trade deadline, a proposition that rarely works out for the long-term good.
As much as the bullpen needed a jump start that hopefully big Bruce will provide, the offense is in need of a spark plug. Is Nick Castellanos’ time approaching?
The 21-year old has been honing his craft as an outfielder for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens all year. He got off to a sluggish start with the bat but has been on a tear of late. His season average sits right at .300, but that hardly tells the story.
Castellanos, here on July 2nd, already has a career high in home runs with 11. Perhaps even more important than the power surge has been his increased ability to take a walk. He has already worked 42 free passes in 377 plate appearances. The most walks he has ever taken was in 2011 when he took 45 in 562 plate appearances.
A hitter of Catellanos’ pedigree usually has one last hurdle that he has to clear at the minor league level. To me, it was his plate discipline. Check.
I think we all have a soft spot for Andy Dirks but the .245 average and 12 extra-base hits for a guy who is often hitting 7th in the lineup just isn’t cutting it. Slide an impact, extra-base gathering bat like Castellanos’ into an RBI slot like the 7-hole and Detroit might see more consistent run production throughout a 9-inning game.
Detroit’s offense ranks 4th in the big leagues with 399 runs scored. From the 7th inning on though, the Tigers are 2nd worst in all of baseball in terms of scoring runs. They hit just .226 in the money innings, also 2nd worst in the bigs. The 15 homers they have hit in the last 3+ innings is dead last.
Add that all up and you’re not going to see the Tigers experiencing many walk-off wins and the ability to play catch up just hasn’t existed this season. They simply haven’t been clutch. Could a hungry young buck like Castellanos stir the pot, find some gaps, drive in some runs, and help this team feel a little late inning magic every now and then?
His time is drawing near.
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