- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The Detroit Tigers are now six games below .500 after a muffed fly ball led to a loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night. Detroit is six games behind the Chicago White Sox and a half-game ahead of the Kansas City Royals.
If anybody told you they saw this coming, well, attach a lie-detector test to them and aim a bright light into their eyes. The Tigers ran away with the AL Central last year, they looked great in spring training, and they were viewed as the most prohibitive favorite of any team in the majors after spending $214 million to sign Prince Fielder.
That's worth repeating: The Tigers -- with Miguel Cabrera and Fielder and Alex Avila and the rest of what was expected to be a very deep lineup -- have scored exactly the same number of runs as the Phillies.
But now the Tigers are faced with the challenge of digging themselves out of this early-season hole, and the question that manager Jim Leyland must be asking himself is: How?
There are no simple answers because of the team's horrific defense.
When you talk to rival evaluators about Cabrera, they'll tell you he's been OK at third base and certainly not as bad as they expected him to be. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta catches everything that's hit at him. Fielder is functional at first base. Corner outfielders Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young (or Andy Dirks) are workable.
The problem for the Tigers is that outside of center fielder Austin Jackson, there is not a single plus defender on the field. Almost all of them are subpar defenders, so there isn't anyone who consistently turns would-be hits into outs, no one who can rescue the pitcher with an inning-changing play. You could win with Cabrera at third base; you can't win with six Cabreras, essentially, around the diamond.
Peralta: Ranks among the bottom half of shortstops in FanGraphs' defensive metrics.
Cabrera: Ranks last among third basemen.
Fielder: Next-to-last among first basemen.
Tigers' second basemen: They are rated -- in a cluster -- among the worst in the majors with more than 100 innings defensively.
Boesch: Ranks third-from-last among outfielders.
Left fielders Young and Dirks: They are rated among the bottom half of players at their position.
Jackson is among the best center fielders, but he is on the disabled list; his rehabilitation assignment should start today.
The pitching can get a little better, but because of the defense, it's probably not going to get a lot better.
It's not an easy lineup to change because of the amount of money invested and the long-term commitments. You can't move Cabrera or Fielder; remember, Victor Martinez will likely return to the lineup sometime in late August or September as the DH, locking in Cabrera and Fielder at third and first, respectively.
Quite simply, the Tigers will have to slug their way back toward .500. They're going to have to hit better and win the 9-6 and 10-7 games.
It'll be interesting to see if, along the way, the Tigers look for opportunity to upgrade their middle infield. The Tigers have short-term investments in their second basemen, and Peralta is signed for $5.5 million for this season. They could try to pry away someone like Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners, who is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the majors. They could consider someone like the Rockies' Marco Scutaro as a possibility at second; Scutaro has been a little bit better than the Tigers' second baseman in his defensive play.
There was more bad news for the Tigers on Wednesday, when Avila was placed on the disabled list.
The Tigers' mental blunders are becoming all too common, writes Bob Wojnowski.
• A week into June, and Aroldis Chapman still hasn't allowed an earned run.
To review: Chapman has registered 87 outs, and 52 have been strikeouts. In his last three innings, he has struck out eight. He hasn't allowed a hit in his last eight outings.
And consider the helplessness that hitters must feel when they reach two-strike counts. Here are the results against Chapman when an at-bat reaches a two-strike count:
0-2: 2-for-13, nine strikeouts.
1-2: 1-for-23, 20 strikeouts.
2-2: 1-for-18, 11 strikeouts.
3-2: 1-for-17, 12 strikeouts.
In all two-strike counts then, hitters are 5-for-71 -- all singles -- with 52 strikeouts.
He's all three Nasty Boys rolled into one, writes Hal McCoy.
From ESPN Stats & Information: In Chapman's last eight games, he has throw 8 2/3 innings without allowing a hit or a run, struck out 16, walked two and registered six saves.
Since 1900, only one starting pitcher has thrown a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts and two or fewer walks: Nolan Ryan against the Blue Jays in 1991 (16 K, 2 BB).
Chapman is one appearance shy of matching Billy McCool, who had a strikeout in his first 25 relief appearances of 1965.
• The Royals are close to signing their No. 1 pick.
• The Reds' No. 1 pick brings back bad memories for Paul Daugherty.
• The Indians went for a lot of right-handed pitching.
Moves, deals and decisions
Dings and dents
1. There is word within this notebook that the Royals' Salvy Perez is about to begin a rehabilitation assignment in Triple-A.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
2: Runs allowed by Yankee starting pitchers in their last three starts (0.74 ERA).
3: Shutouts by Brandon Morrow in his last seven starts; he had one in his first 76 career starts.
7: Strikeouts Zack Greinke had on his fastball Wednesday against the Cubs, tied for his most since 2009.
1. The Royals let opportunities slip away.
4. The Indians are beating the Tigers like they're little brothers.
6. Zack Greinke dominated.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Greinke won:
A) Greinke's fastball was dominant. Cubs hitters were 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a fastball. It's only Greinke's third start since 2009 in which he didn't allow a hit on his fastball. His seven fastball strikeouts also tie his most during that time.
B) Only four of the Cubs' 24 swings against Greinke's fastball were put in play, tied for the fewest against Greinke since 2009. Three of those four resulted in ground-ball outs.
C) Only three batted balls against Greinke made it out of the infield. Eighteen of the 21 outs he recorded were via strikeout or ground ball.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Greinke hurled seven shutout innings to lead the Brewers to an 8-0 win against the Cubs in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Greinke is now 15-0 in home games since he joined the Brewers prior to the start of the 2011 season. That is tied for the longest home winning streak by a starting pitcher to begin his career with a team since 1900. Kenny Rogers won all 15 of his home decisions for the Oakland A's in 1998 and 1999.
Greinke ran down the reasons for his home success once again on Wednesday night: The comfort of sleeping in a familiar bed, the routine ride to the ballpark and the spacious home clubhouse with room to prepare for a start in peace. This time, though, Greinke came up with a new reason: coffee control. "Sometimes in the hotels, they have bad coffee," he said (according to MLB.com).
7. The Twins won their third consecutive series.
8. The Orioles ensured themselves of a season-series win at Fenway Park for the first time since 2005, as Dan Connolly writes. This is a good barometer of improvement for Baltimore, because the Red Sox and Yankees have beaten their brains in during the last 14 seasons.
13. The Rockies were shut down.
16. Brandon Morrow bounced back with a win, as Richard Griffin writes.
17. The Rangers were shut out for the first time, as Jeff Wilson writes.
21. The Angels gave the Mariners too many chances.
• From ESPN Stats & Info: Asdrubal Cabrera made another barehanded play Wednesday, his second in as many nights. Only Brendan Ryan has more among shortstops since the start of the 2011 season -- he has nine to Cabrera's eight.
Time after time, Davis seems to commit way too early in his swing, lurching out with his body in anticipation of a pitch and jumping at the ball.
• Michael Saunders' new approach has paid off.
• Jeff Luhnow got a championship ring.
And today will be better than yesterday.
When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder, they were expected to have one of the best offenses in the American League. That hasn't been the case. As Buster Olney writes, Detroit's bats need to heat up in order to overcome its other issues.