Without J.D. Martinez, Tigers Pitching Has To Step Up

The Detroit Tigers came up with one of their biggest wins of the season Thursday, beating the first place Royals to start a four game series. Any enjoyment was subdued afterwards, though, after learning star right fielder J.D. Martinez broke his elbow in a collision with the wall.

The Tigers called up 24-year-old Steven Moya after the game to take his place until he gets back, said to be a four to six week window.

Losing Martinez, 28, obviously hurts the Tigers (34-32) in the midst of a tight race in the AL Central. At the start of Friday, four teams were within two and a half games of the top of the standings.

J.D. Martinez Was On Fire In June

Martinez was an All-Star last season, hitting .282 with 38 home runs and 102 RBI. He got off to a bit of a slow start in 2016, but his average is now up to .286. He had been on fire as of late, batting .404 with 11 RBI and a .614 slugging percentage in June.

This will be Moya’s second stint at the big league level this year. The 6’7” left-handed hitter from Puerto Rico is having a resurgent season at AAA after a rough campaign last year. That tough season dropped him out of many top ten prospect lists. In Toledo in 2016, he’s hitting .298 with 13 home runs and an .896 OPS.

The Tigers offense can hold up if Moya can provide occasional power towards the back end of the lineup. Even without Martinez, the Detroit lineup will see at least three of their own at the All-Star game in Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Starting Pitching, Middle Relief Need Help

They are going to need better pitching if they want to get back to the playoffs, though. Detroit routinely touted one of the best rotations in baseball when they won four straight division titles from 2011 to 2014. But gone from 2014’s dominant rotation are David Price and Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez hasn’t even been a shell of the pitcher he once was.

The Tigers currently have the American League’s 12th worst team ERA (4.36). They have given up 27 runs in their last four games. Though Michael Fulmer has surprised everyone with a rapid development, the back end of the rotation has been a nightmare all season.

Mike Pelfrey has struggled since day one and sits with a 1-7 record, 4.79 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. Matt Boyd, who took spiraling Sanchez’s spot, has not been able to get outs past the fourth inning, and even Jordan Zimmerman has pitched poor lately (6.60 ERA in his last five starts).

Even with a dominant lineup, an MLB team can not survive long with such an inconsistent starting rotation. Detroit looks like they have found the right pieces to fill the back end of the bullpen with Shane Greene, Justin Wilson and Francisco Rodriguez, but the team’s middle relief has not helped out when Boyd or Pelfrey can’t finish the fifth or sixth inning.

Options for Improvement

The Tigers have been hoping Daniel Norris can help the back end of the rotation, but he has been putting up sub-par numbers in AAA. Other than Norris or a stunning turnaround from Boyd or Pelfrey, the only other option would be a deadline trade.

The Tigers will continue to score runs even without their prized rightfielder. But if none of the above happens, you can say goodbye to the Tigers’ playoff hopes.

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