August 29, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Analysis

Fair or Foul: Tigers need pitching more than a full-strength Miguel Cabrera to reach postseason

Tigers slugger doesn't appear to be at full strength as he struggles with an ankle injury. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Tom Gage and Lynn Henning are talking baseball again. Mostly they’re talking Tigers. Let’s see what they have to say...

Tom: Hey, Lynn, let’s get right to the subject of Miguel Cabrera. August is almost over and it wasn’t exactly the best month he’s ever had.

Does Cabrera need to have a good September — measured by Cabrera standards, of course — for the Tigers to get to the postseason?

Lynn: If he can hit .300, with his usual share of doubles, yes. That’s nothing to assume, because his bad ankle has really become an issue — more than any concerns about effects from last fall’s surgery.

But for the Tigers it will be more a matter of pitching, as it always is. Will the bullpen hold up? Will they reclaim Joakim Soria in time? Can they survive a rotation without Anibal Sanchez? Cabrera, even a diminished Cabrera, can get them into October.

The pitching is another question.

Tom: What kind of blow to the pitching staff — but, more than that, to the Tigers — do you view the extended absence of Sanchez to be? Rick Porcello has had the kind of season that was expected of Sanchez, hasn’t he?

Lynn: The difficulty, as we know, is who can you depend upon to replace Sanchez and give you five decent innings?

Kyle Lobstein did a nice job Thursday, but there’s no assurance that can continue. Kyle Ryan gets a shot Saturday, and we’ll see if he survives.

But that’s a tough hole to patch during September’s stretch. If I’m the Tigers, I’ve got one concern about Sanchez: Get him healthy for 2015.

Looks as if his 2014 season is history.

Tom: You are right, the Tigers got a nice start from Lobstein. But he didn’t strike out anyone. Does he need to? Or does he have good enough stuff to get enough easy outs?

Lynn: If you look at his minor-league track record, he gives up a lot of hits. He needs good defense behind him.

He pitched well against the Yankees, but again, the idea that your past history in the minors will give way to better performances in the big leagues is a stretch.

He had a game Thursday similar to those Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer and others had in their initial starts. Subsequent times out don’t always go as well.

Tom: Did you ever think you’d see David Price allow nine hits in a row? If you say “no,” you’re in good company — probably with Price himself.

But even with an embarrassing pitching line, Price said, “I let my team down, that’s what hurt the most.”

With some players that can come across as an empty phrase, but with Price, it sounded 100 percent genuine — which I think he is.

Do you get the same impression?

Lynn: Agreed. Price is a Vanderbilt guy. He has intellect to go with some obvious soul, and that’s the profile we’ve gotten even during his first month in Detroit.

Let’s face it: There was a bloop single and four ground-ball singles in that mess of an inning. It was simply weird. Next start, he’ll probably be lights-out.

Tom: What kind of shelf life do you give those, ‘Let’s go, Joe,’ chants we heard this week at Comerica Park — until the next save he blows?

Or was it a sincere attempt by the fans to cut Joe Nathan some slack?

Lynn: Interesting question.

It was a peace pipe from fans who want Nathan to succeed and who realize some of the verbal strafing was probably over the line.

But you’re right: The romance will continue or crumble depending upon one matter only: how he pitches.

They don’t care how good of a guy, or how penitent Nathan is. They want him to pitch well. And when he does, they’ll say thanks.

If he doesn’t ... oh boy, cover your ears.

Tom: Who has the toughest job when they’re struggling: a Tigers closer, a Lions quarterback or a Red Wings goalie?

Lynn: You’re making Larry King look like a piker. Great question.

For sheer fan volume, probably the quarterback, because you have only one chance per week to endear or alienate the entire football-loving community.

A bullpen closer would be right there, because a blown save sticks like a poison arrow in fans’ minds. Look at the Nathan flap and the earlier Jose Valverde crises. Serious bad blood there.

A goalie, it seems, is stuck in a more lonely, more isolated, crucible. But they can get out so quickly, as Jimmy Howard, or as Chris Osgood, would attest.

Howard would say, with intelligent fans agreeing: Hey, I’m only as good as my defense. But all three are right there in the gold-silver-bronze competition with not much separating them.

Tom: What do you think happened to the Chad Qualls trade talks? Dave Dombrowski usually gets what he goes after, doesn’t he?

Lynn: Yes, and it tells you how badly the Astros were trying to hold up the Tigers that a deal wasn’t done.

I give Dombrowski credit there. He had paid heavily on the Soria and Price trades, and he wasn’t going to pay double retail for Qualls, no matter how much he might have helped.

That’s discipline.

Tom: Last question: I’m no Spartan, but I do admire the football program they’ve put together. What kind of season do you foresee your alma mater having?

And be honest about this, how accurate are you usually about MSU? I think preseason college football predictions are among the toughest to make.

Almost as difficult as predicting a Kyle Ryan promotion to the majors.

Did you have that one, Mr. Minors?

Lynn: Not in 2014 for Ryan.

As for Michigan State, the architecture done by Mark Dantonio in East Lansing is probably, next to what Bo Schembechler redesigned at Michigan, and what Wisconsin experienced under Barry Alvarez, the best job of pure program construction we’ve seen in the Big Ten in 50 years.

I don’t think the Spartans can win at Oregon next week — too early of a game, and on the road — but that is a textbook job of roster and program assembly. They do it with defense, and good athletes on offense — and with depth. Very little attrition. High graduation rate.

I think they’ll win the Big Ten and am only sorry for the Buckeyes and for Braxton Miller that OSU won’t have the most talented kid in the Big Ten as part of the picture.

It would make another fascinating Big Ten season all the more dramatic.

Tom.gage@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/Tom_Gage
lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning