When the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria last winter it seemed they had locked up the AL Central crown for 2008. Acquiring Dontrelle Willis didn't make sense to me since he had not pitched well since his 22-10 season in 2005. The next two seasons he posted a 22-27 record and he issued about 30 more walks in both of those seasons than he had in 2005.
Willis looked completely discombobulated on Monday night and was booed off the field by Tiger fans and said "I would boo me too". Hitters are only hitting .189 against him this season but he has been walking so many batters that they he is out of the games before they can get many hits.
He has been sent to Lakeland for some intensive training and hopefully he can get back to being the pitcher he was in 2005.
Of course there is a lot more wrong with this team than the lack of command by Willis. We will do a player by player examination of what has gone wrong in the first half of this season for these players.
Justin Verlander: 2-9 5.05 ERA...Verlander was 18-6 last season and this season he has already lost three more games than he did all last season. He has given up at least 4 runs in 8 of his 13 starts but is showing signs of turning it around with four quality starts in his last five starts.
Nate Robertson: 4-6 5.88 ERA...Robertson didn't do that great last season with a 9-13 record and hasn't had a winning record but once in seven years with the Tigers when he was 12-10 in 2004. It is beginning to look like Robertson with his 46-61 record will be a mediocre pitcher at best during his career.
Kenny Rogers: 4-4 5.13 ERA...Rogers was 3-4 in the 2007 season in which he spent a lot of time on the disabled list. The most encouraging part of this season for Rogers is that he has posted two of his four wins against the Yankees showing he can still beat good teams and his 4.97 ERA of May has improved to 1.93 in June so maybe Rogers is back on track.
Jeremy Bonderman: 3-4 4.29 ERA...Bonderman was 11-9 last season after winning 14 games in each of the previous two seasons. Last season it took 174 innings for him to issue 48 walks but this year has walked 36 in only 71 innings. Last year his strikeouts to walk ratio was 145-48 but so far this year it is 44-36. He is striking out close to two less batters per nine innings than last season. Now Bonderman is apparently lost for the season and will have to wait till 2009 to pitch again.
Pitching Summary: The four pitchers listed above have a combined 13-23 record. Not many wins when you consider that Cliff Lee has 10 wins by himself for the Indians. The only bright spot has been Armando Galarraga with a 5-2 record and a 3.70 ERA and has allowed only 37 hits in 58 innings. Rogers and Verlander are showing signs of getting better recently but it still may be too late to turn around this season. I will be surprised if Willis returns to the form of 2005 but if he does I will be the first to congratulate him.
The bullpen has issued too many walks with Todd Jones despite not blowing a save all season having more walks than strikeouts. Denny Bautista has issued 13 walks while striking out 10. The Tigers are expecting Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney to return in the coming weeks and hopefully that will help the Tigers bridge the gap between the starter and the closer Jones.
Gary Sheffield: 3 HR's, 12 RBI's, .213...This was supposed to be the year that Sheffield was to hit his 500th home run but here it is June and he has hit only 3 of the 20 he needed to hit this season to join the exclusive club. He hit 25 homers and drove in 75 runs last season but at the age of 39 this season he wasn't hitting well before being injured and hasn't played in a game since the 26th of May. His .331 slugging percentage this season is the lowest of his career. Sheffield coming into this season was considered the solid veteran but so far this season he has been anything but solid as indicated by him striking out 30 times in 136 at bats. Last season he struck out 71 times in 494 at bats. He struck out every 6.9 at bats in 2007 but in 2008 he has struck out in every 4.5 at bats. Sheffield known for his bat speed may be losing that speed. One thing for sure is that he is not coming close to earning the $13.3 million he is making this year.
Ivan Rodriguez: 1 HR, 21 RBI's, .250...Rodriguez has hit only 1 homer this year in 196 at bats and at 37 he may be finally slowing down. The .250 batting average is the lowest he has ever posted in a full season so it will be interesting to see if he hits better as the season goes on. His .357 slugging percentage is the second lowest of his career. His .290 on base percentage could make the third time in the last four years to have an on base percentage under .300.
Magglio Ordonez: 9 HR's, 39 RBI's, .314...Nobody expected Ordonez to duplicate his career season of last year when he led the AL in hitting with a .363 average but to have only 39 RBI's while the league leader has close to 70 has been a disappointment. His doubles are down from 54 last season to 16 this year with the season only about 15 games from being half over.
Miguel Cabrera: 8 HR's, 38 RBI's, .278...Last year Cabrera hit 34 homers yet only has 8 this season. He has 38 RBI's this season after having 119 last season. He hit .320 last season but is hitting .278 this season and his slugging percentage of last season was .565 compared to the .453 of this season. Cabrera was the centerpiece of the trade that brought him to the Tigers from the Marlins yet he has not lived up to the expectations the Tigers had for him.
Placido Polanco: 2 HR's, 20 RBI's, .297...Polanco started very slowly and was a big part of the early season offensive woes for the Tigers but is now back on track after ending April hitting .228. Since then he hit .330 in May and .351 in June so if the Tigers start to turn around this dismal season he should be a big part of it.
Edgar Renteria: 5 HR's, 30 RBI's, .262...Renteria's power numbers are about where they were last season and he is on track to equal his power numbers with the Braves. However his batting average of .262 is 70 points lower than the .332 of last season with the Braves. He hit 30 doubles for the Braves but only has 5 with the Tigers.
Carlos Guillen: 6 HR's, 29 RBI's, .300...Guillen is hitting 4 points better than his last season average of .296 but his power numbers have dropped alarmingly from 21 homers and 102 RBI's to only 6 homers and 29 RBI's. Last season he hit 9 triples but has yet to hit a triple in 2008.
Curtis Granderson: 8 HR's, 20 RBI's, .235...Granderson started the season on disabled list and missed more than 20 games so it isn't fair to compare his power numbers to last year's numbers but he did hit 23 triples last season but only has one so far in 2008. Granderson's batting average was .302 last season but only .235 this season a drop of 67 points. His .552 slugging percentage of last year has dropped to .432 this season. The worst thing about Granderson is the fact that he hit .375 in April, .226 in May and is hitting .156 in June.
Hitting Summary: When a team loses their leadoff hitter and one of their best players of the 2007 season in Curtis Granderson it was the first of many disappointments in the 2008 season for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera hasn't hit nearly as well as expected. Gary Sheffield was not hitting before he was placed on the disabled list. Ivan Rodriguez is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Magglio Ordonez is having a good but not great season like he had in 2007. The power production of Carlos Guillen has fell and Placido Polanco got off to a very slow start before getting back on track. Nobody expected Edgar Renteria to hit 70 points lower than he did for the Braves last season.
The Tigers looked on paper like they would be one of the best lineups up and down the batting order in baseball but once again baseball fans learned that this is why they play the games on grass for the most part. Their 4.77 ERA is 27th in the majors and only the Rockies, Pirates and Rangers have higher ERA's.
Losing Curtis Granderson to start the season was the first bad thing to happen to the 2008 Tigers. Then Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez having sub par years contributed to the slow start. Miguel Cabrera has not been near the player they thought they were getting when they received him in the trade from the Marlins.
Placido Polanco who is one of the best pure hitters in baseball slumped to start the season and Edgar Renteria is not hitting for average like he did with the Braves last season. Magglio Ordonez is still hitting over .300 but is not driving in runs like he did last season.
The starting pitching has been in complete disarray this season with the exception of Armando Galarraga who has stepped in to become the best pitcher on the staff. The bullpen is issuing way too many walks but Todd Jones is not blowing saves so that is encouraging. Now Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya should return before too long and be there to pitch the seventh and eighth innings if needed.
The failure so far this season can be attributed to injuries, subpar years by established veterans, failure of four starters to win consistently, players like Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez starting to show their age. Losing Jeremy Bonderman was critical and finding someone to replace him won't be easy. The Tigers front office and Jim Leyland didn't picture the Tigers being so far behind in the AL Central but still there are a lot of games to be played. If they just concentrate on passing one team at a time in the standings they still may contend for the AL Central title so I am not counting them out yet.