Saturday, July 28, 2007

Another Bullpen Collapse for Tigers

Andrew Miller was his usual difficult to hit but wild self today allowing 5 singles and walking 4 and leaving with a 3-1 lead and one man on in the 6th. Miller did not over throw as he had in his last start. In fact, in an interview during the game, Jim Leyland suggested that Miller might not have been letting it out enough avoiding his 4 seam fastball which he had trouble controlling in his last start. After all was said and done though, I though it was another decent start for a developing 22 year old pitcher.

Jason Grilli came into the game when Miller left and predictably allowed the inherited runner and one other runner to score and the game was tied 3-3 after 6. Then Grilli, Tim Byrdak and Jose Capellan combined to give up 7 runs in the 8th and all of the a sudden it was a blow out. They lost 10-3 to the Angels.

The Tigers starters have not pitched well lately with only one quality start during their 3-7 road trip but it's their bullpen that has been the big problem all year. After compiling a 3.50 ERA in 2006, Tiger relievers have a 4.81 ERA this year which ranks third worst in the league. They have lost Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney from last year's team and have not been able to find any replacements with any significant track record of success.

Tim Byrdak, Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, Macay McBride, Chad Durbin, Bobby Seay, Jose Capellan and even Jason Grilli have all pitched well at times. Any of these pitchers could play a role at he back end of a bullpen. Most successful bullpens have one or two "spring training invite" types who capture lightning in a bottle for one year but you can't have a whole bullpen of guys like that. As a group, they have really pitched about as well as you could expect.

So where do they go from here? Todd Jones is their closer for better or for worse. He is far from dominant and you can't bring him in with men on base or have him pitch more than one inning but he is adequate for the closer role even if he scares the hell out of you in most of his appearances.

Fernando Rodney was ineffective early this season but his poor performance is believed (hoped?) to be injury related. He is now rehabbing in Toledo where he pitched a scoreless inning last night. He is expected back in Detroit some time next week. If he can get back to where he was last year when he compiled a 3.52 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, that would be a big boost.

Joel Zumaya is also on the comeback trail. The Tigers let him cut loose for the first time yesterday and he said he threw in the upper 90s and felt good. He is still probably about a month away. They have obviously missed him a lot and he would solve a lot of problems if he could get back to his dominant self down the stretch. Would the successful return of Rodney and Zumaya be enough to get them back to the playoffs. I think it would be.

The question is whether they can return to their old selves this year. I'm not all that confident that they can, only because it's never easy for a pitcher to return from a significant injury. Can they make the playoffs without them being 100%? I don't have a sense of impending doom but I'm less confident this year than I was last year at this time. They are still in first place and have a 5 game lead in the wild card race as I type but their bullpen makes me really nervous.

Should they make a trade to upgrade their bullpen? That's difficult to answer because it would be costly. Cameron Maybin is out of the question. It would also be tough to part with a Jair Jurrjens or a Dallas Trahern for a set up man but I think that's what it will take. The organization appears to have a bright future so it's probably not a make a break year. Things can change quickly in this game though and they may not get the post-season opportunity again in the next couple of years. I think they need to consider trading a minor league pitcher or two for a dependable reliever.

By most accounts they are looking for help even if Leyland and Dave Dombrowski claim they don't need really need to do anything. They are rumored to be talking to Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Washington, Houston and others. However, there has been no indication that anything is imminent. I don't expect a panic deal but I'm still predicting something will happen involving a good pitching prospect. We'll see.

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