Truth be told, it’s hardly fair for Papa Grande. For two seasons, he was mostly a lights-out pitcher. He locked down 49 saves in 49 opportunities in 2011. While not perfect in 2012, he was still a big reason the Tigers repeated as Central Division champions. Unfortunately, when the end came for Valverde, it was about as subtle as falling off a cliff. Blowing two post season saves last year spelled the end, or so we thought.
To Valverde’s credit, he took his lumps and rebuilt himself in minor leagues to earn his way back to the bigs with the Tigers. Of course, his return was aided by the reality that Detroit’s bullpen has been a shaky mess all season. Valverde’s return brought some stability, but it seems he’s already run out of gas. In 17.1 innings of work this season, Valverde’s given up 13 hits and five home runs. He’s leading the team in saves with nine, but he’s also blown three saves. This is not the same Jose Valverde even from last season.
It’s disappointing to see a guy who was integral to the team’s success implode. But it’s not as calamitous as fans might think. Valverde’s implosion is a gift to the team, to the fans and, perhaps, to himself. This collapse occurred at a time in the season when the Tigers can weather the storm and, potentially, find a permanent fix.
As of this moment, the Tigers situation looks like this:
* 4-1/2 game lead on the division
* Starting pitchers are crushing it
* Offense is mostly playing well
That’s pretty good when you consider your leadoff hitter’s on the mend and the bullpen has been a big, fat question mark, with or without Valverde. Which brings me back to the “gift” of the KC series: Valverde is no longer the closer. He can’t be the closer; not when you’ve been an adventure on the mound in your most recent outings. It’s over.
Painful as that is—especially after the heartbreaking loss yesterday—coming to that realization in Game 64 is a whole lot better than coming to that realization in Game 1 of the ALCS. In a sense, Christmas came early. It just rode in on a black stallion and stabbed you in the heart. Merry Christmas!Bring in “The Beard?”
Brian Wilson may seem like a sexy pick—and who knows? Maybe he can come back and be lights-out—but coming off his second Tommy John surgery likely has teams less inclined to sign him; especially if he’s bringing a high price tag. If he can still pitch and won’t cost Detroit too much money, go for it, I say. But there might be a good reason he’s still on the shelf. Can’t discount that. But we’ll have to wait and see if anyone still fears The Beard.
It’s going to take a few weeks for Detroit to iron out their bullpen woes (if it’s even possible to address them all). It’ll be interesting to see if GM Dave Dombrowski makes any moves for a closer or if they try once again with the closer-by-committee approach, which is a short-term bandage. It can work in a few situations, but not for another 100 games. Bottom line: Detroit needs a closer. The question is will he come from within or will he arrive before July 31.
We shall see.