By: Kurt Snyder
Tiger fans around the globe and the great state of Michigan: Your ball club is the hottest team in baseball! How’s that sound? Pretty good, huh?
The Tigers, in the blink of an eye, have rattled off 7 straight victories after that horrible day in Chicago when they endured 2 walk off losses. They have thrust themselves back into the division race and are now close enough to start making Cleveland nervous, especially after they had to put one of their best pitchers (Danny Salazar) on the disabled list.
And as Cleveland endures the loss of a key contributor and one of their best pitchers, the Tigers will begin to welcome back 2 key starting pitchers and one of their best hitters. And really, isn’t that what makes this resurgence so impressive? The Tigers are playing their best baseball of the season without 3 players expected to play big roles this year. But the eventual return of those players played a major role in the Tigers trade deadline strategy.
Teams all over baseball frantically scrambled to upgrade their teams prior to the trade deadline. Many good minor league prospects found new homes as stars put on new jerseys. We know full well what that’s like. We are conditioned at this time of year to await whatever big splash the Tigers will make before the deadline. But this year, the Tigers played a very unfamiliar role during the whole process. They watched. They did nothing.
You see, the Tigers made all their splashes in the off season after having gathered big time prospects at the trade deadline last year. Precisely the reason they had little to offer anyone. But thankfully, they had nothing to offer because they were protecting good talent, not because they didn’t have any.
It was the big question halfway through July. Would the Tigers buy or sell? That was only a couple weeks ago. And at the time, they were still floundering as a team, until that fateful day in Chicago when maybe they decided enough was enough; they were too good and too talented to continue to play so poorly.
With 6 games in front of them against hot teams beginning with 3 in Fenway Park, things did not look good. But they haven’t lost since. And the team has taken on a whole new identity, a proverbial buzz. And their timing is impeccable.
With Chicago prepared to fight back with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana the next 2 days, the Tigers will counter with Fulmer and Zimmermann. And you know what? Let the chips fall where they may. Because the Tigers are an incredibly lethal team right now, having put good pitching and good hitting together during this stretch. In fact, it doesn’t stop there. Fundamentally, this is a much improved team.
When you talk about a championship contender, and yes, I am going to go there for just a moment, you see a fundamentally sound baseball team, with good pitching, a dependable bullpen, clutch hitting and contributions from up and down the roster. It’s the embodiment of a team that puts it all together at the right time.
But here lies the Tigers’ challenge. It’s August 3rd. They are playing their best baseball and up until this stretch, they have been a frustratingly inconsistent team. So their challenge is to leave that old team in the dust.
So, help arrives none too soon. Jordan Zimmermann, a big time pitcher, will reunite with JV, who’s pitching better than he has in years. And the unexpected emergence of Michael Fulmer helps to form one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the American League, if and it’s a big if, Zimmermann returns to the form we saw in the early months of the season.
Daniel Norris also returns; a promising young pitcher with loads of composure. He will also be key in keeping the train moving assuming he performs the way he can.
And on the offensive side of the equation, where frankly they really don’t need much help right now, they will get JD back. And if he comes back and joins the hit parade, things could really get interesting.
It’s an exciting time again in Detroit. This doesn’t feel like just one of those hot stretches that is often followed immediately by a cold one. This feels different. And with the reinforcements soon to arrive, a team that looked so lifeless, just may show even more life; something we have not seen much of during the Brad Ausmus era.