Tigers take 1st in ALC, but bullpen weak

The Detroit Tigers’ Alex Avila celebrates his game-winning RBI during ninth-inning action against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan, on Thursday, September 27, 2012. The Tigers rallied to edge the Royals, 5-4. (Diane Weiss/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

The Detroit Tigers took first place in the American League Central earlier this week and as of press date, their magic number (the total number of team wins/losses by the Chicago White Sox) is three. Since Sept. 27, the team is still firing on almost all cylinders.

The starting pitchers are not only playing deep into games, but they are also limiting the number of runs allowed. Still, there is one key piece of the puzzle that the team still needs to work on: The bullpen.

Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit has been rocky all season, but his inconsistencies have come to a head in the last three games. In that time, he has given up four runs on two hits during one and one-third innings pitched. He’s walked two batters and surrendered a three run homer Saturday afternoon. This may prove to be a major liability if the Tigers do succeed in making the playoffs.

Left-handed reliever Phil Coke is still struggling. He has appeared in two of the team’s last three games and has given up two runs on one hit in the last one inning pitched. It should be noted, however, that on Thursday, he did pitch one-third of an inning and did not give up any runs or hits. Friday, he gave up a two-run home run.

On a positive note, the offense is far from stagnant. Miguel Cabrera has four hits in his last 12 at bats, including a three-run homer Saturday afternoon that put him in a tie for the American League leader in home runs with 43. Prince Fielder is also four for his last 12 in that same period, hitting a home run Friday evening to bring his season total to 29.

Delmon Young seems to be slowing down. He is two for his last 10, but his batting average for the season is still a respectable .272. It seems low compared to Cabrera’s .327 and Fielder’s .309, but Young is still providing better numbers than many had expected earlier this year.

The Tigers have four games remaining and will start the final series of the regular season in Kansas City beginning Oct. 1. As of press time, the results of Sunday’s game were not available.

If the Tigers do in fact make the playoffs, they will likely have a rough road to travel. If the season ended today, the other five teams that would make the playoffs in the AL (New York Yankees and Tampa Bay-East, Texas Rangers-West, Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics-Wild Card) have all enjoyed relative success against the Tigers this season.

The starting pitching seems to have leveled out, the offense has also found their stride, but the bullpen is still the one weak link on a still good Detroit Tigers baseball team. The playoffs are not impossible, but in order to be successful this post-season, the relievers will definitely need to improve.

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