After a 19th inning walk off loss on Sunday, the Detroit Tigers still maintain first place in the AL Central, but by the slimmest of margins.
At one point the Tigers were up 5-0 on the Toronto Blue Jays, yet David Price had 4 earned runs charged to him, and a blown save in the 9th sent the game to extras. It was the second straight day the Tigers suffered a walk off defeat and the second straight day MLB saw a 19th inning walk off.
Certainly it’s heartbreaking to lose a game like that, but the context behind the loss bears pressure on Detroit. The club is now 5-5 in its last 10 games. The Kansas City Royals, meanwhile, are riding a high tide of momentum, winning 9 of its last 10 and have pulled off 7 in a row. As a result, the Royals trail the Tigers in the division by a mere half game.
There’s still a little more than a month left of the 2014 regular season. So, of course, much can change. Maybe Detroit can pull away from Kansas City and even the Cleveland Indians to win a 4th consecutive AL Central crown. The Motor City, however, seems to be the place where closers have come to die in recent years.
Despite doing his job on Sunday, it’s safe to say Joe Nathan is having the worst season of his career. So, General Manager Dave Dombrowski tried solving the bullpen problems by trading for Nathan’s former teammate in Texas, Joakim Soria. A 43 ERA+ and 2.769 WHIP was how Soria was doing in 4.1 innings before he was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday.
And then there is the infamous Jose Valverde. The team reached an agreement with former closer Jim Johnson this past week and assigned him to Triple-A Toledo, but if he gets time up on the Tiger roster, he cannot afford to mess up like he did in the past.
As if the 19-inning defeat, the Royals’ victory and the loss of Soria wasn’t painful enough, Detroit received arguably its biggest blow of the day Sunday when the team also placed Anibal Sanchez on the 15-day disabled list. He’s played a part in helping the Tigers make a deep postseason run the first two years he was there.
22-year-old southpaw Robbie Ray is set to take his place in the rotation while Sanchez recovers. Ray has spent much time at Toledo and hasn’t really had impressive numbers in 15.1 innings of work on the Major League roster this season.
Detroit fans shouldn’t panic too much. When the club won the pennant in 2012, they were trailing in the division by three games…in the middle of September. Yet they pulled off 88 victories and it was enough to clinch their second straight division crown. These are the Tigers, and they are loaded with talent and experience. Perhaps it’s enough for them to pull it out in the end.
However, given the recent events, just because there shouldn’t be too much panic doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any panic at all.