Although the Tigers have played Houston Astros baseball over the past week, nobody should be pressing the panic button just yet.
Yes, it’s been a horror show and extremely difficult to watch as every facet of Detroit’s game has been in a collective slump.
But Tigers fans can take solace in the fact that the AL Central is terrible and making the playoffs again seems inevitable. Even after dropping seven of nine, they still lead the division by five games.
It’s also nearly a given that their starting rotation will rebound from its current slump, which can cover up for some of their other weaknesses: shaky bullpen and outfield defense, lack of a left-handed power bat, and a starting catcher (Alex Avila) who doesn’t consistently hit.
For the Tigers to achieve their ultimate goal of winning their first World Series since 1984, however, they DO need to upgrade one position: shortstop.
Andrew Romine and Danny Worth are utility players who can contribute in a pinch and spell guys when they need a break, but they’re not everyday players. They have two of the lowest batting averages on the Tigers — Romine (.200) and Worth (.189) — and their defense has been shaky, especially recently.
As hard as they’re trying, nether is the answer.
Within the next few weeks, the Tigers will receive an update on starting shortstop Jose Iglesias, who’s out indefinitely with stress fractures in both of his shins. There’s some hope that Iglesias could return after the All-Star break.
If, on the other hand, he’s shut down for the season, then GM Dave Dombrowski must do something.
The shortstop position has to be filled by an exceptional player. He needs to be a difference-maker — a glue guy who holds the team together and makes all the plays look spectacularly ordinary.
Like Dombrowski was a year ago — when Jhonny Peralta was lost for 50 games after testing positive for PEDs and Iglesias came to Detroit at the trade deadline — he might again be forced to shop for a major-league shortstop to get through the season.
Or maybe not.
Dombrowski could stay in house and hand over the job to his top infield prospect, Eugenio Suarez, who was promoted from Double-A Erie to Triple âA Toledo last week.
Suarez is an impressive hitter who has some pop in his bat and is an above-average fielder, which gives him more dimensions than Romine and Worth.
On Monday, Dombrowski and former Tigers skipper Jim Leyland were in Toledo to watch Suarez, and the 22-year old put on quite a display. Hitting third for the Mud Hens, the native of Edo Bolivar, Venezuela, was 3 for 4, including a mammoth first-inning home run.
In his six games as a Mud Hen, Suarez is hitting .417, with two home runs and five RBIs, and six of his of his 10 hits have been for extra bases.
He’s committed two errors, but his upside far outweighs his deficiencies. Suarez is aggressive at the plate and has great range at short, although he’s not a speed demon.
He just might turn out to be the guy to replace Iglesias, for at least the remainder of the season.
If Suarez fades, though, Dombrowski must look elsewhere.
Most of Detroit’s current issues will work themselves out, but the shortstop position can’t be left alone.
Having the right guy there will determine whether the Tigers simply make the playoffs or finally win it all.