Tony Paul's News and Views: Bullpen raises questions

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Tigers fans' worst nightmare has played out, seemingly on a continuous loop, in the American League Division Series against the Orioles. We knew the bullpen was awful, but this awful?

The Orioles won again Friday, 7-6, putting the Tigers in a 2-0 hole entering Game 3 on Sunday.

News: The bullpen allowed four runs in the eighth inning after the Orioles scored eight runs in the eighth Thursday.

Views: This is beyond inexcusable.

How is it so many other teams can build solid bullpens — 2013 Red Sox Sox, 2014 Royals — but the Tigers fail to put out any lights-out, late-inning options?

If not for the bullpen last year, the Tigers might've won the World Series.

If not for the bullpen this year, the Tigers might be up 2-0 — or at the very least, tied 1-1.

Brad Ausmus gets no free pass. You simply can't go back to Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria on Friday after the Dumpster fire they proved to be Thursday. You've got Al Alburquerque, allegedly. You've got Kyle Lobstein, a rookie who's pitched better than just about everybody in that bullpen. You've got Anibal Sanchez, who's probably capable off throwing 10 more pitches than he did Friday.

Chamberlain and Soria aren't your only options, and they're nowhere near your best options.

But this is on Dave Dombrowski, too. He could've traded Doug Fister for three Nationals relievers and still would've been ridiculed — but at least he'd have a bullpen. He could've traded for Huston Street instead of Soria. He could've traded for Andrew Miller. He knew this bullpen had the potential to be catastrophic this year, and his renovation efforts have been underwhelming at best.

News: Sanchez made his playoff debut, and was sharp for two innings.

Views: Question is, couldn't he have gone a third?

Ausmus confidently said no. He said 35 pitches would've been stretching it. Who came up with that 35? Did somebody pull that out of a lottery drum?

It's not like he had arm issues this summer. It was a pectoral injury. So would another 10-15 pitches, one more inning, been a significant risk to his long-term future?

The Tigers might say yes because Sanchez hasn't been stretched out. (Though it's not like he hasn't thrown at some point every day.) But whose fault is that?

Sanchez came off the disabled list with a week to go in the season, and Ausmus had ample opportunities to get him multiple innings of work. But Sanchez got only one, and threw 14 pitches.

He threw 30 more Friday, and because the Tigers stuck to their guns, those might be the last 30 he'll throw this year.

News: The Tigers offense came alive with one big rally and the potential for another in the eighth inning.

Views: And that's when the momentum seemed to shift — Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at home; the Tigers failed to add to their lead; and Chamberlain got a rousing ovation from the Orioles fans, who know what the whole world knows — the Tigers bullpen can't close a door.

There was some debate over the Cabrera play. The first two Tigers reached in the eighth, then Victor Martinez drilled a ball off the wall in deep center field. That scored one run, and Cabrera, bad ankle and all, was waved in by third base coach Dave Clark.

I get you want to make the defenders make a play, but that wasn't a tough play, and Cabrera was a dead duck.

Why press the issue there? One out? Maybe. Two outs? Sure. But nobody out, the odds were good Cabrera would've scored eventually with J.D. Martinez coming up.

News: Now David Price is charged with saving the Tigers season once again.

Views: He gets the ball Sunday for arguably the biggest start of his career.

It'll be the second time he's started an elimination game. The first didn't go well, as he and the Rays lost Game 5 of the 2010 ALDS and were knocked out by the Rangers.

But this is why the Tigers acquired him, why they gave up their starting center fielder and a promising young pitcher.

His first test this year was a beauty, winning Game 162.

The stakes are higher now, particularly since he knows he'd better go eight or more if the Tigers are going to be sure of a victory.

News: Even if the Tigers win Sunday, they still have to win two more games.

Views: And Rick Porcello is scheduled to start Game 4. It'd be his first playoff start since 2011.

He also struggled down the stretch this year, and might not match up great against an Orioles team that can hit anywhere, anytime against anyone.

That's why Detroit might have to consider having Max Scherzer start on three days' rest. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Just ask the Angels. They have issues, so they went with a three-man rotation in their series against the Royals.

Perhaps the Tigers might've been wise to choose that route from the beginning, too. Then they'd have had Porcello to help put out some late-inning flames.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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