DETROIT -- Tigers fans who weren't playing close attention to Twitter in the last 18 hours might get a bit of shock when they look at tonight's starting lineup.
Who is that catching? Bryan Holaday? Where did he come from?
The short answer is that he came from Dallas, via TCU, and was Detroit's sixth-round pick in 2010. The long answer explains a big part of the reason that the Tigers are 25-30 and closer to the last-place Twins than to the first-place White Sox.
Holaday, you see, isn't a prospect. Yes, he's only 24, but his job this season was simply to be Omir Santos' backup in Toledo. Omir Santos, of course, is also not a prospect. He was just supposed to hold down the fort in Toledo until Rob Brantly -- an actual prospect -- was ready to come up from Double-A Erie.
But now, with Alex Avila and Gerald Laird suffering from hamstring injuries and Santos having proven beyond a doubt that he isn't a major-league catcher, the Tigers have had to try Holaday. How well is this likely to work? Holaday is a career .238 hitter who doesn't hit for power and doesn't draw walks. And that's in the minors.
That's the story of the 2012 season. Dave Dombrowski built a team that looked fantastic on paper, but had no margin of error. If anything went wrong -- and a lot has -- there was no way to fix it.
The Tigers went into the season with four second basemen -- Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Inge and Raburn are gone, Santiago is hitting .202, Worth is hitting .184 and Detroit can't turn a double play for love or money. Look through the stats at Erie and Toledo, and you quickly realize that there's no one in the minors that is going to help the situation.
Avila, who was placed on the 15-day DL Wednesday, and Laird looked like a solid catching combination, but that's a tough position and the grind was more than likely going to catch up with one or both of them. Now that it has, the Tigers have exposed that weakness in the system. Santos hit .125, struggled terribly behind the plate and has since been designated for assignment, leaving them to try Holaday.
Andy Dirks gets hurt? The Tigers have to bring up Matt Young, a 29-year-old who got dumped in the offseason after seven years toiling in the Atlanta farm system. Austin Jackson pulls an abdominal muscle? Welcome Quintin Berry to the big leagues. He's only 27, but had already been given up on by the Phillies, Padres, Mets and Reds.
The closest thing to a success story is Berry, and even he's cooling off after a blazing start. His entire value is built around one tool - speed. Even his spectacular defensive plays often come because he can recover from misjudging fly balls and make a difficult catch on what should have been a simple play.
On offense, he's hitting .459 on balls in play, which means he's getting huge amounts of luck. Even Ichiro Suzuki at his slap-hitting, speedy best couldn't sustain an average like that.
And I haven't even gotten started on the pitching staff. Doug Fister's injury gave the Tigers Adam Wilk and Casey Crosby in the starting rotation. Results? Four starts, four losses and an ERA of 10.80.
The bullpen has needed help all season, and the system has produced Collin Balester, Luke Putkonen, Thad Weber, Brayan Villarreal and Daniel Schlereth. Villarreal has been very good. The rest were terrible. Next up? Jose Ortega, who was called up Wednesday. He's walked 29 batters in 29 innings this season for the Mud Hens. That's not promising.
Last season, Dave Dombrowski's great balancing act paid off. The Tigers stayed fairly healthy and got career years from Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde and others. The result was a cruise through the AL Central and into the ALCS.
This year, though, Dombrowski's barely staying on the tightrope. The players having career years -- Jackson and Dirks -- have gotten hurt, along with several of their teammates. The Tigers aren't having an abnormal number of injuries -- they just don't have the organizational depth to deal with an average amount.
This Tigers team was built to win with a powerful 25-man group, at the expense of the short-term future. Unfortunately, as this season as lurched along, it has become quite obvious that the short-term future was actually right now.