Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 7/1/13
If Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland want their Detroit Tigers to have a better record in close games, they should look no further than improving the whole bullpen quite soon. This week alone, the Tigers lost two more games in extra innings because of inconsistent options in the bullpen. Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels, the Phil Coke experiement took another hit, as the lefty tossed the ball all over the yard in the 10th inning. Then, Saturday, Bruce Rondon fell flat in another big league appearance as the Rays walked off and celebrated on Detroit immediately. In total this season, the Tigers are a dreadful 2-9 in extra innings. All of the losses have directly come as a result of terrible bullpen pitching. The offense, of course, certainly shares partially in the blame, but in Detroit’s two random 2013 victories in extras, the bullpen was at least able to stem the tide for a few more innings until the offense managed to come around. That’s why later this month, Dombrowski should be thinking outside of the closer box when he goes looking for bullpen help. The Tigers need more versatile arms capable of filling multiple roles. Not only might they need a big name closer like Jonathan Papelbon, they might need a Ryan Webb or Steve Cishek, as well. Counting on Coke, Rondon, Darin Downs and Al Alburquerque to iron out all their problems and have consistent success is a very terryfying thought. Clearly, the Tigers can’t successfully close down many games when they’re ahead. That’s been the biggest reason their Central Division lead has been sliced down to nothing in the past week, along with the fact that their middle relief has been completely woeful. Getting a few different arms to shake things up might help. Counting on the in-house options, though, isn’t going to solve any problems. An infusion of new blood is needed in the worst way to help forge a change. Though it has certainly started to look impossible in the last week, Detroit might end up pulling away in the Central Division without much bullpen help, but they won’t go anywhere in the playoffs without a closer or now, without some reliable middle inning arms. At this point, Leyland has nobody he can consistently depend on to use. Raise your hand if you’d feel comfortable throwing out the 2013 version of Coke or Alburquerque with the game on the line in the ALDS or ALCS. Didn’t think so. Until the Tigers’ offense manages to break out of their recent funk or the bullpen manages to find a way to lock down games, there might be plenty more celebrations by the opposition at home plate. Hopefully, at least, until the trade deadline arrives later this July. Facebook feedback of the week focuses on the Tigers’ latest problems. When shown the graphic of the new tie in the Central Division, plenty of fans were upset. One, in particular, has some theories about why Detroit has been struggling midway through the 2013 season and placed in that recent position in the standings. Ned S Curtis: Bullpen is a problem, clutch hitting is absent, and manager may be losing his edge. Still think they walk away with Central. Who knows, Ned. The bullpen issue is certainly the one thing compounding everything else at this point. Teams going through offensive funks can still grind out close wins if they have quality relief pitching working to their advantage late in games. Detroit doesn’t have that, hence all the different meltdowns later on and in extra innings. If there’s not a proper fix, it could end up making the Central Division race a lot more interesting this September, and a bit more than a simple walk away. Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax
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