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Tigers solid now, but health, bullpen remain the cracks in foundation


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Tigers salvage their road trip in MInnesota with the help of two minor leaguers; health, and that bullpen, are still key

This is no way to live. Not for the long-term, anyway. Not when your backup catcher and a couple of fresh arrivals from the minors are your most reliable offensive weapons.

OK, fine, it’s a fluke that Jim Adduci, John Hicks and Alex Avila lead the Tigers in batting average and slugging percentage after the first three weeks of the season. Adduci has been with the team for a few hours; Hicks only a couple of days.

Their effort over the weekend in Minneapolis makes for a nice story. It would take an especially cynical soul not to feel good for Adduci, who, at 31, probably figured his major league career was finished.

The Canadian-born outfielder – and sometimes first baseman – hadn’t played in the bigs since 2014. And that stint with Texas wasn’t too memorable – he hit .168 for the season.

So when he arrived from the Toledo Mud Hens via Lehigh Valley, Pa., today, he didn’t figure to hammer out three hits, knock in two runs, and generally look like a better option at the plate than the player he replaced, centerfielder Jacoby Jones.

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And he probably isn’t. It’s not easy to outrun your resume in this game.

Which is what we might say of Avila, too. But then the No. 2 catcher keeps hitting homers and knocking in runs – he’s tied for the fifth most RBIs on the team with seven. That’s saying something for a part-time player.

That’s also saying something for the state of the Tigers’ offense. It hasn’t been good. It has, however, been opportunistic.

Until today’s 13-4 win over Minnesota, the Tigers hadn’t beaten a team by more than three runs. In fact, six of their 10 wins have come by two runs or fewer. This makes the bullpen issues starker, because the team is involved in close games. But let’s get to the bullpen in a minute.

Because we’re discussing the offense.

As usual, the Tigers’ model involves hitting homers and bombs into the gaps. As a strategy, it’s not awful. Yet relying on older sluggers to slug is risky, as you already know, because of health.

One of the team’s most important sluggers, J.D. Martinez, hasn’t played this season due to a foot injury. Now, Miguel Cabrera, the most important slugger, is on the 10-day disabled list with a groin strain.

That’s not good, especially because Cabrera was just beginning to find his rhythm. But also because these sorts of minor injuries are what can bog down power hitters in their 30s.

For this offense to work, Martinez and Cabrera and Victor Martinez have to stay on the field. Avila, Hicks and Adduci can’t carry this offense. Nor can Jose Iglesias, who third on the team in batting average among everyday players.

Iglesias is, of course, also out, currently on the 7-day concussion disabled list. When he returns, whatever the Tigers get from his bat will be a bonus.

The production has to come from Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos and the middle of the order. History tells us Kinsler and Castellanos should hit. If they do, and the big guys stay healthy, this offense will be fine.

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Then again, that’s a lot of ifs, and we haven’t gotten back to the bullpen yet. Right now, it’s the worst in the American League.

This isn’t my opinion. This is based on both earned run average and WHIP, walks and hits per innings pitched.

Numbers, though, don’t tell us exactly what’s going on with the weakest part of the team. There are some good, even very good, arms in the bullpen. When and how they are used is the question.

Justin Wilson, the left-hander, has been the Tigers’ best reliever. Alex Wilson, the right-hander, has been the second-best.

After that, it’s an acid churn when anyone else takes the mound. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is obviously not the pitcher he was even a year ago. He gave up another homer Saturday afternoon.

Anibal Sanchez gave up another homer, too. His came today, when he entered a 10-2 game. Though the situation doesn’t seem to matter. Whatever it is, Sanchez can’t get outs, and that means the Tigers can’t afford to keep using him.

This is too bad, because he helped this franchise do a lot of winning. Yet if it wants to keep winning this season, these are the decisions that have to be made.

They aren’t easy. Nothing about this game is. That goes for trying to figure out what sort of team these Tigers are.

They won their series in Cleveland. Got swept in Tampa. Showed some character in beating the Twins twice after losing Cabrera.

They return to Detroit for a 10-game stretch at Comerica Park, beginning Tuesday, two games over .500 and tied for first place with the Indians.

They are solid.

Is it sustainable?

Health and the bullpen will tell us that.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. Download our Tigers Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!

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