Back when the Detroit Tigers announced the signing of Joe Nathan last December, many fans thought that they would be getting the dominant closer who was lights out while pitching for the Minnesota Twins and later the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately, that has not exactly been the case.
Nathan, who posted a 1.44 ERA and went a perfect 36-for-36 in save opportunities in his career against the Tigers, is sporting a 5.36 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP for the Tigers thus far in 2014. He has managed to convert 27 saves, but he has also blown six, tying a career high with more than a month of baseball left to play.
Nathan has also been struggling to get the quick 1-2-3 innings as of late, something fans are all too familiar with after enduring years of watching closers such as Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and Jose Valverde go about their business.
The Tigers are not in a position where they can allow too many winnable games to slip away in the late innings either. They are currently three games behind the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, and they are also trailing the Seattle Mariners by a game for the second AL Wild Card spot. To put it simply, the Tigers need a closer who can slam the door if they wish to go anywhere.
The problem, however, is that the Tigers do not have anyone who is a great candidate to supplant Nathan at the moment. Newly-acquired Joakim Soria is currently on the DL, and Jim Johnson‘s rocky season that began with the Oakland Athletics has continued in Detroit. Joba Chamberlain has also struggled in the chances he has been given in the closer’s role, going just 2-for-6 in save opportunities this season.
If the Tigers want to be playing baseball in October, it is imperative that Nathan does his job. If he continues to get hit around the way he has, the Tigers might have a hard time getting to the postseason. He needs to start getting quick outs and showing that he can protect a one-run lead pronto.
That said, even if Nathan does turn it around in the final five weeks of the season, the fear of him falling apart and doing a reenactment of what Valverde did in the 2012 postseason will undoubtedly be lingering on the minds of many fans.
Although not too many would have been saying this just six months ago, it is beginning to look like letting Joaquin Benoit sign with the San Diego Padres might have been one of the Tigers’ biggest mistakes.