Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has been tremendous in his time at the helm of this storied franchise. He’s pulled countless trades to help shape a perennial playoff contender all the while dumping ‘can’t miss’ prospects that have by and large…well, missed.
Sometimes the world of sports has a cruel way of preventing teams that seemed to have it all from winning the ultimate prize. Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills could tell you all about that sad story. Are the Tigers really that different? They lost in the World Series in both 2006 and 2012 under Dombrowski’s watch. They’ve been bounced from the playoffs in 2011 and ’13 and lost a 1-game playoff to the Twins in ’09.
They haven’t been tapping on the door, they’ve been pounding on it with a battering ram. But that damn door just won’t open!
If it doesn’t again here in 2014 then fans may have the luxury of once again pointing toward a late-season injury to Miguel Cabrera. Maybe it’s the decline of Justin Verlander that’s the problem or yet another injury to Anibal Sanchez that is causing all of this trouble. All of these factors are in play and could be the reason the Tigers miss the party boat once again, but would anyone argue that another shaky bullpen is Dombrowski’s fatal flaw?
In the preseason I used the term ‘fast and loose’ when describing how he was handling the bullpen makeover. Joba Chamberlain was great and now he stinks and was never a sure bet in the remodel anyhow. The key was Joe Nathan and he’s been obviously horrible. But with or without Nathan the respected Dombrowski failed to add the necessary depth to ensure that the revolving door that has transpired this year wouldn’t have. In other words, he blew it and now he’s grasping at straws.
How can it be then that a guy who has only pitched 4.1 innings for the Tigers this year is the answer? Joakim Soria, this is your burden. Please don’t let us down like all of those that have gone before you.
Soria bailed out after just 4.1 innings with the Tigers back on August 10th with the dreaded strained oblique. This injury can take 3-6 weeks to come back from. The Tigers need it to be on the shorter end of that timeframe. The best-case scenario here seems to be that Soria would return next week, and the Tigers would certainly take that.
The struggles of Joe Nathan (5.36 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, six blown saves) are what pushed the Tigers to get Soria at the trade deadline. Since then they’ve acquired former O’s and A’s closer Jim Johnson, hoping his sinker finds its old groove after a disastrous run in Oakland. And today the Tigers put a claim on Astros closer Chad Qualls. They have 24 hours to work out a trade that would bring a stable arm to their pen.
Does anyone else see the common thread here? Nathan, Soria, Johnson, and Qualls are all guys who have closed as recently as this year. That should tell you everything you need to know about management’s confidence in this unit.
Prior to coming to Detroit and scuffling a bit before the oblique injury, Soria was as good as it gets in the American League. He had a 2.70 ERA, 0.87 WHIP with 17 saves and 42 K’s in just 33.1 innings of work. It’s that kind of dominance, when combined with the Tigers’ elite starting pitching, that just might be enough to push the Tigers back into October and possibly on an unexpected run to the trophy.
Consider that either Rick Porcello or a hopefully healthy Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen for the playoffs (I know, you think it should be Verlander but it won’t be, I promise) and suddenly Brad Ausmus has an extra – and more importantly, reliable – late game, multi-innings weapon.
Dombrowski’s clear strategy now is to stockpile as many arms as he can in advance of what he hopes is a 4th consecutive playoff appearance and then kneel and pray that at least a few of them can get big outs to back up his rotation that should pitch at least 7 innings each time out.
It’s not an unreasonable theory, it’s just a shame that it’s come to this yet again.
For any of this plan to come to fruition however, one guy will have to step to the forefront and pitch like the shutdown reliever the Tigers haven’t seen all year. The most likely candidate, for better or worse, is Joakim Soria.
His General Manager’s credibility sways in the balance.
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