Tigers opening up lead in AL Central, but need Closer

The Detroit Tigers are extending their lead in the American League Central over the second place Cleveland Indians. Detroit currently has an overall record of 36-28 and has won 6 of its last 10 games.

The Tigers lead second place Cleveland by 4½ games, the third place Kansas City Royals by 5½ games and the fourth place Minnesota Twins by six games.

On offense, the Tigers have one of the best team in the majors. Detroit leads the league in team batting average at .281, is second in on-base percentage at .349, fourth in runs scored with 324 and fifth in slugging percentage at .428.

Miguel Cabrera is the big gun on offense for Tigers. The third baseman leads the team with a batting average of .358, 91 hits, 18 home runs, 69 RBIs and 51 runs scored.

Nevertheless, the Tigers do have a weakness and it is their bullpen. During the offseason, the Tigers did not spend large sums of money for a proven closer, but instead tried to let their option already on the squad find themselves.

However, after Bruce Rondon’s lackluster spring training and no standout choice for manager Jim Leyland to choose from the Tigers opted to go back to Jose Valverde, who they had let walk away the end of last season after putting him on the shelf during the run up to their World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants.

In April, Valverde signed a minor league contract that gave him an out if he was not called up by May 5. After just three weeks, he was back on the Tigers roster as their closer.

The decision by the Tigers was a puzzling one, considering how big of fallout took place near the end of last season. He saw his ERA balloon to 3.78 in 2012 from 2.24 in 2011.

It started falling apart in the AL Championship game when in the first game against the New York Yankees he entered the ninth with a lead of 4-0 and promptly allowed four runs in just 2/3 of an inning pitched.

Valverde would pitch just once after that in the postseason and that was San Francisco in the World Series in a game the Giants were leading 6-1 when he entered.

So upon his return this season many fans were shaking their heads and for good reason. Since April 24 when he was called up, Valverde has a 4.15 ERA in just 17.1 innings. He has surrendered five homers amongst the 13 hits he has allowed.

On Wednesday, in Kansas City, after a masterful pitching performance from Justin Verlander, who surrendered no runs on three hits in seven innings, Drew Smyly along with Valverde were chosen to close the game for Detroit.

Smyly allowed a run in the ninth then Valverde was summoned from the bullpen for the games last two outs. Instead, he allowed a home run that tied the game and in the 10th, the Royals went on to win.

Now the Tigers must find a closer if they hope to repeat as AL Champion and have a shot at redeeming themselves from last season’s disastrous showing in the World Series.

Time is on the Tigers side, as they slowly are pulling away from their AL Central rivals and have over half the season to sign or trade for a quality stopper for their bullpen.

One thing is for sure, Valverde’s days are numbered as a closer for Detroit.


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