When Anibal Sanchez takes a three run lead into the seventh inning against a team with a respectable pitch count, rarely would anyone expect the start to go off the rails in a hurry for the Detroit Tigers and end up a lopsided loss.
Friday night, however, that's exactly what happened. After accomplishing nothing off Sanchez most of the game, the Cleveland Indians, who only hit the pitcher to a .226 clip, busted out in a big way, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning to turn a snoozer into an ugly 9-3 blowout.
It wasn't just Sanchez's fault, however. Detroit's bullpen failed to back Sanchez up after he departed and keep the damage to a minimum. Between Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque, Blaine Hardy, Phil Coke and Chad Smith, a total of 75 pitches were thrown with five earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts and two home runs.
That's not good enough to finish off games. During the night, the Tigers had to have been aware that the Los Angeles Angels were closing in on a deal for Huston Street. Whether or not the Tigers wanted Street themselves, the Angels' aggressiveness to improve the bullpen before the trade deadline cannot be lost.
Either the Tigers can sit back and wait for things to spiral further out of control, or they can be aggressive themselves and get the player or players needed to help put the Central Division away sooner. Having a pitcher like Joakim Soria or Joaquin Benoit (two rumored targets) to rely on Friday would have helped take the pressure off Sanchez to finish the game. How nice would be to feature a lock down pitcher like Soria or Benoit in the seventh, Joba Chamberlain in the eighth and Joe Nathan in the ninth?
Asked to evaluate his bullpen as a whole this season after Friday night's game, manager Brad Ausmus offered an honest, sobering assessment. "Overall underwhelming at times," Ausmus said. "But I think we're moving in the right direction." That's hardly a vote of confidence for anyone. Moving in the right direction isn't the recipe for winning a title.
After the messy beginning to the series, Detroit figures to have their work cut out for them the rest of the way with rookie Drew VerHagen pitching the first game of the double header on Saturday before Max Scherzer takes the ball at night. Now, with the bullpen a bit out of whack, VerHagen will need to give the team at least five innings for the Tigers to survive. It will be a tough task to ask, and it's easy to see how one bad outing from the bullpen can help everything else to spiral violently out of control.
As the untimely meltdowns become more common (the Tigers lost the final game of the first half to the Kansas City Royals in similar fashion), the need for reinforcements is obvious. The only question now: how long will Dave Dombrowski be prepared to wait to get what he so desperately needs?
Being patient might be more harmful at this stage of the game.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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Tags: Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez, Baseball, Brad Ausmus, Chad Smith, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Huston Street, Ian Krol, Joakim Soria, Joaquin Benoit, Max Scherzer, MLB, Phil Coke