It’s a fine line between giving up on a team, and second-guessing your original belief in that team.
I blogged in May how impressed I was with this year’s version of the Detroit Tigers. I actually went so far as to use this team in the same paragraph as the heralded 1984 team. That club, 30 years ago, gave us a summer to remember, from their historic 35-5 start to their decisive World Series Championship.
That team did it as a true team: no 20 game winners, only one hitter over .300, only one with more than 30 home runs and no player had 100 RBI. That team had balance and was rock solid in every facet.
I thought that this team was similar in that it went about its business as a fundamentally sound group. Now ... well it’s obvious neither me nor anyone else shares that belief.
Nervous is the word best used to describe my feeling for this team now. I understand baseball has ebbs and flows. I get that it’s a marathon, but at some point, the team defines what it really is.
Here’s what I struggle with. Do I think this team is the club that started 27-12, was +55 in run differential and led the division by seven games? Or do I think it’s the team that is 4-12 in the last three weeks, has been outscored by 46 and seen its lead in the Central dwindle to three?
During their winning ways, they were getting key outs. Now, it looks like pitchers are leaving the ball over the middle of the plate. The hot start saw clutch at-bats and key hits, now we’re watching guys swing at pitches out of the zone and giving away at-bats with pop ups. The first month and a half, we witnessed some diving catches and incredible plays in the hole, but lately we've seen outfielders getting bad jumps on fly balls and line drives go off infielders gloves.
Austin Jackson's batting average has dropped 72 points since May 9. Ian Kinsler has lost 36 points since he was leading the league in hitting 10 games ago. Torii Hunter has just nine hits during this skid, dipping his average 41 points. I’m not saying they are the only reasons for the slide, because other notable players have watched their numbers plummet as well.
But I’ve said for weeks now that this team has relied too heavily on Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler. Others need to start pulling their weight. Look at the team’s average with runners in scoring position. In the last ten games, the Tigers are 8 for 44 (.181 AVG).
Then look at the pitching. As a group, their strength (starting pitching) has been mediocre at best, as evident by the steady climb in ERA from 2.64 to 3.60.
There’s no quick fix, and I know it is difficult to “ride it out,” but I am tired of players telling me in pre- or post-game interviews that “this is baseball,” or “it’s a grind, a marathon.”
I know all that, and so do baseball fans. Teams that aspire to have the self-proclaimed makeup of a world champion contender don’t go south for this long in so many areas. Time to right this ship now, or it will be one of the longer and more disappointing summers in recent memory.
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.