By: Kurt Snyder
Remember the sweep in Baltimore last season? Who can forget it. Remember the implosion in the bullpen, the leads blown, the playoff run that never got started? Yeah, unfortunately, the wounds still sting.
As a result, fans were enraged. Everyone seemingly knew that if there was one thing we needed to do in the off-season, it was fix the bullpen. It had failed this team all season, and it was almost fitting that it would be our undoing in the playoffs. But no one thought it would cost us so soon.
But in the spring, even before the bullpen could be addressed, there was some more pressing housekeeping that the organization needed to take care of. The Tigers knew and most fans agreed, that if there was one free agent that needed to return to the Tigers, it was Victor Martinez.
There was no choice. In an off-season where the Tigers were at risk of losing their top starting pitcher in Max Scherzer, they certainly could not risk losing someone who had finished runner-up in the AL MVP voting.
Victor Martinez had been the perfect complement to Miguel Cabrera. He made teams pay over and over for walking Cabrera. And when Cabrera struggled with more injuries, VMart was there to pick up the slack. Something Prince Fielder could not do in 2013 when Cabrera was hurt.
In 2014, VMart became the team’s MVP, and nearly won the League MVP as he put up career numbers. They were ridiculous really. After a career spanning over a decade, Victor hit a career high 32 homers, drove in 103 runs and struck out only 42 times.
So even at 35 years old, Victor had put himself in a situation where he was going to get paid one more time. But he really had no interest in getting paid by anyone but the Tigers. He wanted to stay, told Illitch he wanted to stay and Illitch obliged him.
That’s your little history lesson on VMart. We knew what the ramifications would be if the 2015 Tigers had a lineup without Victor Martinez. The offense would take a dreadful hit. It was something no one wanted to envision. So you better believe, if the Tigers did anything in the off-season, they were going to sign the league’s best DH.
So as we sit here today, with VMart hurt and on the DL, the Tigers have struggled offensively. And for some odd reason, no one can seem to figure out what the problem is.
Personally, I thought, in the short-term, the Tigers could take advantage of this situation and really start putting their speed to good use. We could certainly win in other ways, the team was rebuilt to win with speed that could supplement a lineup anchored by Cabrera and VMart.
But it hasn’t worked out that way and we can now quit scratching our heads over what on Earth is wrong with the offense. Hasn’t it been blatantly obvious that the absence of a guy, who had just given us over 30 homers, 100 RBI’s and a .335 batting average, might just be THE reason for the struggling offense?
I am a little embarrassed about how puzzled I have been, but I guess it’s the old “out of sight, out of mind” concept. We have forgotten how VMart had impacted the lineup. His position was critical in getting the most out of Miguel Cabrera. And pitchers certainly attack the Tiger hitters differently now without Martinez.
Sure we moved up some pretty good hitters into the #4 and #5 spots in JD and Cespedes, but these are guys with holes in their swings. They have their fair share of strikeouts. They are the opposite of what VMart gave them behind Cabrera. It was what makes him so valuable. Pitchers now, when faced with the heart of the lineup, not only know they have the ability to get out of innings with minimal damage, they actually have a real shot at getting out of jams altogether.
Victor prolonged innings, made pitchers work, drew walks, and rarely struck out. Not to mention the fact that it was a fair bet he was going to hurt you. And all of this is contagious. Hitting can be extremely contagious. And I can’t tell you how valuable it must be just for Tiger hitters to be able to watch how Victor works at the plate. And they don’t have that luxury right now. He’s a hitting coach on the field.
So there are many VMart factors that have contributed to the anemic offense we have seen for most of the month of May. And don’t expect it to get consistently better until Victor returns with the hitting prowess we have come to love about him.
He’s the reason, folks. So we will have to battle with good pitching and some unexpected contributions across the board to compensate. We can stay in the race without Victor. But we can’t win it.
As ugly as May has been, the Tigers should actually be applauded for not being 7 or 8 games out of first instead of 3. They have kept themselves in it, despite a starting rotation still waiting for even 1 inning from JV and also without that huge hole in the lineup that most seem to be ignoring.