This week the Pit sits down with John Marlatt from the Tigers’ SB Nation site, Bless You Boys. It was this site that inspired me to attempt Snake in the Grass. We can’t seem to reach an agreement regarding the Robbie Ray & Justin Upton situation. Be sure to check out my responses to their questions on their site. You can follow Bless You Boys on Twitter @blessyouboys and John @ChubbyRainmaker. We thank them for their contributions!
Arizona finds Detroit largely where we left them within striking distance of the division lead, but not quite able to get over the hump. 5.5 games separate the first place Twins from the fourth place Royals. What team walks away with the title at the end of the season? Which team concerns you the most?
I'm tempted to say the Twins win out just because it's ridiculous that we're midway through June and they're sitting atop the splendid mess of mediocrity that is the AL Central, but the answer here, to both questions, always has been and remains the Cleveland Indians. The entirety of the division is stumbling around like a bunch of drunk uncles in a sack race at your family reunion. Cleveland has the talent, at their best, to pull away from the rest of this group, and even when not at their best they should be able to stumble across the finish line before everybody else.
Should the Tigers take the path of buyers or sellers at the trade deadline or stay put? They have substantial pieces to trade in order to build for the future should they choose to take that route. On the other hand, the roster is loaded with potential star power to make a postseason run. Which path is the most appropriate for the team?
This team has had a good run, give or take a few seasons, for the better part of a decade and while my heart says they have one last shot in them, my brain knows it's probably time to retool. The front office has sent the message that the team has the month of June to prove they're worth sticking with for a run, and roughly halfway in, they’re hovering around .500. As I said above, nobody seems interested in taking the division at the moment, so there is still some hope, but if I were a betting man I'd say you're going to see the yard sale signs come out at Comerica Park in July, and I’m fine with that.
Justin Upton for Yasmany Tomas straight up? What say you? He is currently on pace to have one of the best years of his career. What is the reason for his success and can it be sustained?
If you listen closely you will hear the almost imperceptible sound of the phone line disconnecting as I hang up on you. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about Justin Upton’s propensity for streaky play. It's that history that has me watching his performance with a skeptical eye. He has always been the player that makes you wonder what he could do if he stayed dialed-in for an entire season. We could be seeing that happen right now. He could also be headed into a dismal stretch in July. Neither would surprise me, but I'd prefer he stay hot so I can hold onto the slim hope that he exercises his opt-out clause and helps the Tigers free up 22 million a year for the next four years.
Who is the real Justin Verlander at his current point in his career? 2016 seemed to be a bounceback season for him. It appeared that he was prepared to turn the corner for the season in the last series in Arizona. Is it foolish to hope for him to return to Cy Young form? Why has he scuffled again this season?
Who are any of us, really? I’m not the resident identifier of broken pitchers at BYB so I farmed this one out to one of our other contributors, Brandon Day, and, to paraphrase, I was told that Verlander’s walk rate looks like his control is shot. He isn't putting people away when he's ahead, and they're fighting their way back into counts. The curve and slider have both lost some of their usual depth. I’m tempted to say it is indeed foolish to hope for a return to Cy Young form, but everybody wrote him off once and he -- pardon the caps here -- SHOULD HAVE WON THE DAMN THING IN 2016. Justin is too smart and too talented pitcher to not get things figured out. At least I hope he is.
Sure, Alex Avila is having a sexy season at the plate with a 185 wRC+ worth 2.0 WAR, but how does he rate as a pitch framer? It is the newest craze in Arizona and is a large part of the pitching staff’s current success. Do you find any value in a strong game caller behind the plate?
There is little about Alex Avila’s game that is not sexy. I do think there is value to a strong game caller, and while pitch framing is certainly a part of being an effective catcher it’s not the be all end all of catching statistics (and won’t matter in a few years when we get those robot umps we so sorely need). The folks over at StatCorner tell me he’s bad at pitch framing. I’m fine with that. I’ve always liked Alex Avila’s ability to handle the Tigers pitching staff and have appreciated his other unsung abilities like his On Base Percentage, his solid defense, his family connection to the front office that forced many Tigers fans to learn what the term nepotism means, and his ability to grow facial hair at a rate that is visible to the naked eye. I think he’s a valuable, and importantly, inexpensive part of the team.
The Tigers selected Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida, with the #18 pick in the MLB Draft. How do you feel about this selection? Does it adequately address a need or did the team miss the mark?
I’m conflicted on this pick. On one hand I should be encouraged as many of the experts had Faedo going much earlier than the 18 spot. On the other hand, I’m left to wonder why the Tigers are in love with hard-throwing college pitchers on draft day. I’m generally of the opinion that you draft talent as opposed to position, so if Faedo was the most talented guy on the board at the time I guess that’s fine. That said, he’s a guy with two plus pitches and a changeup that is supposed to get there. If the changeup comes along and he turns into a solid front of the rotation starter that’s great. However if he ends up a fastball slider pitcher who is better suited for the bullpen, I think I would have rather seen the Tigers do something different with the 18th overall pick.
What are your predictions for the upcoming series versus the Arizona Diamondbacks? Are you more concerned with the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff or their ability to put up 5+ runs in any given inning?
Can I say both? I’d be happy with a split, and I’m hopefully optimistic that it goes that way. I don’t hold out much hope for winning when Greinke is on the mound so maybe game two is the one we get, but this Tigers team is the most frustrating and unpredictable groups I’ve watched in awhile. I could just as easily see them winning two as I could see them losing two. I’ll hope for the two wins, be happy with the split, and be ready for a frustrating sweep at the hands of one of the hottest teams in baseball.