Detroit— On days like this, when some cruddy NL team is in town putting on a little league clinic, it's all fun and blowout games. The Tigers are at their hottest right now, with just a hint of the difficult decisions ahead.
This was another frolic as the Tigers completed a sweep of the slapstick, no-stick Phillies with a 12-4 romp. It was so easy, it didn't even matter Miguel Cabrera was bizarrely ejected by grumpy ump Chad Fairchild while batting with the bases loaded. Hey, Cabrera needed the rest anyhow.
Now it gets serious and the Tigers get nervous, and GM Dave Dombrowski gets busy. The non-waiver trade deadline is Wednesday, and baseball also might announce another batch of drug suspensions, with All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta one of about 15 players reportedly in peril.
The way I see it, you don't build an expensive home and not buy insurance. So Dombrowski needs to make a deal or two despite the recent surge, although he's not willing to concede that point (or any point, really).
Is his bullpen good enough to win, as is?
"Yes, sure," Dombrowski said Sunday. "It's always a focus on what you don't have. We got a lot of good things. There's some inconsistencies with some of the guys, but they're very talented. … All I can say is, we feel very comfortable in the ninth and eighth innings with (Joaquin) Benoit and (Drew) Smyly. I don't know where you're really going to go out and improve that significantly."
With the sudden dominance of Benoit and Smyly, could the Tigers stand pat and still win the division? Sure they could. They've won seven of eight and are 59-45, but hold only a three-game lead over the Indians.
But I think Dombrowski will make a move because that's what he does with a team desperate to win a World Series. He might not need a closer now, or another Final Piece, but he could use short-term insurance, someone such as San Diego reliever Luke Gregerson
Obviously, the Peralta situation muddies it, with one report saying suspensions are expected this week. Dombrowski said he couldn't comment, and wouldn't even say if he'd been in contact with the commissioner's office. Peralta has declined to comment. His name hasn't been mentioned prominently in connection with the Miami Biogenesis clinic, certainly not like Ryan Braun's and Alex Rodriguez's, but baseball merely needs a link to performance-enhancing drugs, not a positive test, to levy punishment.
If the Tigers were to lose Peralta -- and it's not at all certain they will -- they'd lose a .305 average with 10 home runs and 53 RBI's, unless he appealed. He capped a huge sixth inning Sunday with a no-doubt grand slam, as the Tigers scored eight unearned runs and finally put the Phlailing Phillies out of their misery.
Jim Leyland wasn't around to see the fun, ejected after Cabrera was inexplicably ejected in the third inning after two called strikes. Cabrera verbally protested the calls but wasn't demonstrative, and Fairchild's quick trigger was startling. Umpiring is an issue for another day but the crowd of 41,326 booed lustily, deprived of seeing Cabrera.
Leyland wouldn't talk about it, and said he knows nothing about Peralta's situation or possible trades. He does know his team is looking better as Victor Martinez has reignited, and as Benoit and Smyly have taken over.
The Tigers emerged nicely from a rough stretch without Cabrera, whose injured hip flexor is improving. Second baseman Omar Infante remains sidelined with a sore ankle. With two off-days wrapped around a two-game series against Washington this week, Cabrera could get healthy. When he does, and when Infante returns -- as long as Peralta doesn't disappear -- the Tigers are pretty much set, except for the middle of the bullpen.
"I feel comfortable, and I don’t even have a second thought about it," Leyland said. "We'll find out if we're good enough. I liked our team in the winter time, I liked it opening day, I liked it in spring training, why wouldn't I like it now?"
This is when a general manager earns his salary. Dombrowski must weigh the benefits of dealing prospects for immediate help against the long-term cost. Of course, with determined owner Mike Ilitch, immediacy always is the preferred path. Dombrowski is cognizant of the future, but he knows the situation.
"When you have a chance to win, I think you try to win," Dombrowski said. "And I think we have a chance to win. So sometimes you'll do something that other years you may not."
Since Benoit took over for the deposed Jose Valverde, he's been practically perfect, 10-for-10 in save situations. Smyly also has been spectacular. The rest of the bullpen -- Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, Luke Putkonen -- has been shaky, at best.
As Dombrowski hunts for a veteran arm now, at least he doesn't necessarily have to beg, dealing from a better position than a month ago.
"We're very young in our bullpen, so we'll see," Dombrowski said. "This is a very unusual situation. There are very few clubs that are saying, 'We're not in it.' So I think it's definitely a seller's market."
The Tigers' buying incentive would change dramatically if Peralta were suspended, and you'd hope the league would do it quickly, even before the trade deadline. If not, teams still can make waiver deals in August, and the Tigers surely have contingency plans. Dombrowski often moves aggressively this time of year, acknowledging a basic business axiom. Insurance doesn't always pay off, but at the highest levels of investment, you buy as much as you can.