The Detroit Tigers should telephone the Philadelphia Phillies right now and make them an offer they can’t refuse for Jonathan Papelbon. Call when the rates are low. Call in the middle of the day. Doesn’t matter. Offer big bucks. Offer future prospects. But go get Papelbon and save the season.
The Tigers lineup is the best in baseball. Detroit can club any team to death with its top-to-bottom row of hitters. The Tigers also probably have the best starting pitching in the game.
But unless Detroit fixes its bullpen, its Achilles heel, by importing a new closer, come playoff time the Tigers will fail to claim the American League pennant and advance to the World Series. Detroit is good enough to win the AL Central Division without tinkering with its lineup, rotation, or even the back end of the bullpen.
Yet failure to fix the glaring shortcoming means that Detroit’s October playing dates will be numbered. For better or worse, the closer is one of the most valuable players in the sport these days and even the worst of teams seem to have an able, talented man to call upon to preserve victories. Not the Tigers.
That’s why Detroit must go shopping soon. The focus should be on teams going nowhere that have outstanding closers. The Tigers have been faced with this issue for a couple of years now and believed they had the remedy in Joe Nathan. Nathan has been a first-rate closer for most of his career, but he has either lost it for good, or is simply mired in the midst of a lousy season. His earned run average is an unacceptable 6.16.
The Tigers cannot afford patience to see if Nathan will come out of his swoon. They must act now or forfeit a golden chance to capture a World Series title. The Phillies have possession of an All-Star-caliber closer who is not doing them much good because they are slipping farther and farther behind in the National League East Division. When you don’t have a lead to protect, you don’t go to your closer, so Papelbon is being wasted hanging out in the bullpen ordering pizza or whatever the guys are doing for amusement during late innings.
Detroit’s fearsome lineup, highlighted by Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and others, on any given day can win a game by itself. And that’s even if Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez don’t overpower opposing batters in turn. But the hitters are not going to score 10 runs in every playoff game and the starters are not going to shut out teams in every playoff game.
Why Papelbon? His earned average is 1.35. He has been the anchor of a bullpen for a World Series champion – the Red Sox. He has the swagger, savvy, ability, and experience to get the big outs when they are needed most. Papelbon can be the wild card player addition to carry the Tigers beyond the Wild Card playoff round.
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