I've said it all year. The Detroit Tigers, like most teams, will be only as go as far as their best players carry them.
Sure, every championship-caliber team relies on some role players, but the big name guys are the ones who must do the heavy lifting. It should come as no surprise that the latest surge is propelled by players like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Joe Nathan.
During the Tigers four-game winning streak, Cabrera went 6 for 15. Of course, he’s as consistent a player as there is in the game, win or lose. Victor Martinez hit clutch homers in back-to-back games. Ian Kinsler is 6 for his last 14 with a pair of multiple hit games. Justin Verlander pitched as good a game as he has all season, by striking out seven and scattering four hits. And Max Scherzer blew away Cleveland with eight strikeouts in just six innings. Joe Nathan was lights out in back-to-back saves against Kansas City and Cleveland, something we hadn't witnessed since the middle of May. He's getting a lot more swings and misses.
Are there still concerns? Sure. Kinsler had developed a bad habit of dipping his right shoulder, Verlander still has walked too many and Scherzer is throwing too many pitches early, preventing him from going deep into games. Except for his first ever complete game win in Chicago on June 12, he hadn't pitched past the 7th inning in over a month. Nathan failed to seal the deal Saturday and has, too often, struggled with his location.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the J.D. Martinez success story. I root for Bryan Holaday and believe he deserves more at-bats. I've been really impressed with Rick Porcello's growth, but this team needs its best players to play to their potential.
I know the game is hard, and I know each of these guys can't be at the "top of their game" every night, but this team lives and dies with its big guns. If you don't believe me, look at the numbers of the key players and how it's associated with winning and losing, per STATS INC.
In Wins – 2014:
Miguel Cabrera: .396 (63/159), 10 HR, 50 RBI, .704 SLG
Victor Martinez: .333 (30/150), 14 HR, 35 RBI, .687 SLG
Ian Kinsler: .337 (59/175), 5 HR, 27 RBI, .531 SLG
Justin Verlander: 6-0, 3.32 ERA (22/59.2), 54 K, 22 BB, .239 Opp BA
Joe Nathan: 4-0, 15/18 Saves, 4.01 ERA (11/24.2), 25 K, 9 BB, .263 Opp BA
In Losses – 2014:
Miguel Cabrera: .222 (26/117), 3 HR, 11 RBI, .359 SLG
Victor Martinez: .317 (39/123), 5 HR, 14 RBI, .488 SLG
Ian Kinsler: .234 (30/128), 3 HR, 8 RBI, .367 SLG
Justin Verlander: 0-7, 6.80 ERA (34/45.0), 23 K, 20 BB, .330 Opp BA
Max Scherzer: 0-3, 8.19 ERA (27/29.2), 35 K, 7 BB, .341 Opp BA
Joe Nathan: 0-2, 0/2 Saves, 24.00 ERA (8/3.0), 3 K, 4 BB, .375 Opp BA
It's why they are paid the big bucks, and why they are needed to play at that level if the Tigers are to boast a four-peat in the A.L. Central.
Matt Shepard is the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball, Eastern Michigan University football and the Detroit Lions television network. He can also be found on TV locally on Fox Sports Detroit and nationally on the Big Ten Network for college hockey and baseball.Learn more.