Justin Verlander has been in the running for the Cy Young award in nearly every season for the better part of a decade. In the span of his career, the Detroit Tigers have went from worst to first in the AL Central. They couldn’t have done it without his dominant pitching.
Things aren’t going so well for Verlander this season. He currently has a record of 6-7 with a 4.98 ERA. Detroit is only leading Kansas City by a half game in the AL Central. While the official MLB Futures betting lines have the Detroit Tigers in contention to take the AL Central Division, I am no longer comfortable with their position in the top spot as the Royals look to make their move on them.
Matthew Leach of MLB.com wrote an in-depth article breaking down Verlander’s problems this season. Leach opines that he shouldn’t be breaking down at 31 years old. As a power pitcher, he should actually be firmly in his prime. His velocity has taken a hit and he’s even having issues against players the second and third time through the order. This is new territory for Verlander.
What’s going on with Detroit? What should we expect from them going down the stretch?
Here are two far-fetched theories concerning Verlander and the demise of Detroit’s pitching staff.
– The first is that catcher Alex Avila is unintentionally tipping pitches. The theory first appeared in the comments on a HardBallTalk article. The reader said that Avila would slap his glove a certain number of times if a fastball was coming and a different number for an off-speed pitch. This wasn’t only with Verlander, but in Max Scherzer’s last start against Kansas City when he allowed ten runs in only four innings. Avila quickly rebutted the rumors and other journalists couldn’t confirm seeing him tip off pitches either.
– The second theory (and my personal favorite) is from the New York Post. They wonder if Kate Upton is too much of a distraction for Verlander. I love when the NY Post attempts to cover sports. Nearly every professional athlete has an attractive wife/girlfriend, it’s a perk of the occupation. Just because Miss Upton is a supermodel, doesn’t mean you can’t function at your job. It’s weird that no one ever uses the ‘distraction’ excuse when an athlete has a newborn and doesn’t sleep well. I think that would be much more valid than, “He can’t do my job because his girlfriend is insanely hot.”
While Detroit struggles to pull away in the AL Central, we can all point our fingers at Justin Verlander, Alex Avila and even Kate Upton, but they’re not the problem. Do you want to know the real reason why Detroit doesn’t have a ten game lead in the AL Central?
Their bullpen is atrocious.
In only the ninth inning, Tigers pitchers have allowed 49 runs in 60.2 innings. That’s worst in the league…by a wide margin. You can’t expect to win a division when you’re giving up that many late-game runs. If the Tigers have any hopes of holding off Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland, they must improve their bullpen. Joe Nathan isn’t cutting it as closer. He has an ERA over 6.00 and his peripherals say that isn’t a fluke. Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque are the only two arms in the pen that have been at or better than their career average.
I have faith Verlander will turn things around. His track record is enough proof I need. I don’t have the same faith in Detroit’s bullpen. Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski has a big problem to fix before the trade deadline.
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.