By: Kurt Snyder
Allow yourself to start fresh for a moment. Wipe the past from your minds. Disregard all the past seasons, the ones with so much hope. So much stardom. So much talent. And so many injuries. Forget all of it. It never existed.
Last season, having to sell at the trade deadline, the Tigers acquired 3 starting pitchers, all arriving with promise, all offering hope for the future. Can you envision it? The day Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris would all find themselves in the rotation? All pitching well, all contributing, all with a chance to win?
Well, you can wake up now, because that day is here. Now. This season. And none of it occurred according to plan. Daniel Norris was considered most ready to join the rotation in the spring. He had shown poise and maturity almost from the get go before the injury bug hit him late last season.
But given his performance, albeit a short audition, the 5th spot in the rotation for 2016 was his to lose. Well, that fell apart early. Another injury shelved him and opened the door for Shane Greene.
Bam. Blisters shut the door on Shane Greene, jettisoning him to the bullpen.
Enter Michael Fulmer. Well, nothing has shut the door on Fulmer. He has become one of the best pitchers in the American League. He has burst onto the scene almost in a blink of an eye and has the makings of the Tigers’ next Verlander. He’s their next ace. Some would say he’s the ace already.
Many were excited about Fulmer’s potential. Heck, Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t make the Cespedes trade without getting Fulmer. But who could have imagined he would emerge so quickly?
If you focus completely on the starting rotation, you can’t help but realize it is stronger now than it has been all season. All the prognosticators in the media saw cracks in the Tiger rotation heading into 2016. And most of us found it very easy to understand. It was a warranted observation. Made perfect sense.
Verlander, though finishing 2015 strong, needed to prove all over again that he indeed was heading back to form. Zimmermann was a big signing for the Tigers, but he would have to prove he could be just as successful in the American League coming off a NL career that was beginning a downturn.
Anibal Sanchez? Well, he was the key for me. He needed to pitch well. He needed a comeback season. He would need to be the wild card.
Mike Pelfrey, the man with the 2-year contract no one wanted, was acquired to be an “innings eater,” someone who would keep the team in games and get them to the late innings.
Given all of that, you could certainly hope for the best, but there was risk , especially in the 3-5 spots in the rotation.
So here we are in August and what has transpired with the rotation has really been quite remarkable. Quite unthinkable. Verlander has shown dominance again. Fulmer has emerged as a star; Boyd and Norris seem to be setting themselves up for continued rotation spots in 2017.
So who have I left out? Well, no mention of Sanchez, mainly because he is headed out of the mix. No mention of Pelfrey who has been on the DL and really will have a tough time cracking a rotation that someday soon will look like this: Fulmer-Verlander-Zimmermann-Norris-Boyd.
This is a rotation soon to be set in stone that may quickly rival Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez-Fister-Porcello.
So slow down for a moment, and think about where the improvements are; the ones that have the potential to explode with success. That’s what we need to take out of this season as injuries continue to ravage the roster and slowly drain us of enthusiasm. The war ain’t over, but it’s tough to win with fewer guns every day.
And speaking of guns, think about this for a moment: We’ve seen Jordan Zimmermann very little. Anibal Sanchez has fallen completely on his face. Pelfrey has been, well, Pelfrey. And despite all of that, the rotation is still stronger. Much younger and much stronger. It doesn’t seem possible but it is. The youngsters have arrived, already.
Can you envision future dominance? Well yes, quite easily when the future appears to be starting now. It’s a new and much improved Tigers’ starting rotation, one that is still awaiting a huge piece in Zimmermann.
So do me a small favor. Understand what is being built this season. We can’t continue to punish ourselves. Fix your eyes on a rotation that is developing swiftly before our eyes. I know it’s hard, but this team, regardless of how the season ends, will have made progress on the mound, where championships are won.