CHICAGO — The All-Star Game in Los Angeles is just 10 days away, and with Miguel Cabrera already in the Midsummer Classic by the “legendary selection,” another Tiger will soon join him.
Detroit’s 8-0 loss against the White Sox on Saturday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field was a big indication that another bat likely won’t be joining Cabrera in the All-Star Game, but rather a player in the bullpen.
After a rough 2021 season for the Tigers’ bullpen — which finished the year with a 4.50 ERA and an average of 4.40 walks per nine innings — the unit has exceeded expectations this season and has been surprisingly efficient.
“One of the things that I’ve appreciated about our team is the variety of roles,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “When you can sit a guy or two and still feel like you have a path to win, then that’s a pretty good sign. Our bullpen has been terrific.”
Entering Saturday, Detroit owned the third-lowest bullpen ERA this season at 3.04, and those relievers have a combined 4.1 wins above replacement — tied for third best in the Majors.
Although Saturday’s bullpen performance was not indicative of their season-long success — they allowed two runs and five hits across two innings before left fielder Kody Clemens added an inning — it is an indicator that another All-Star will likely come from that group.
“I think it’s going to come out of the pitching department,” Hinch said. “You can take your pick in the bullpen. We’ve got a number of guys that would be honored. So, I would expect it to be an arm, but take your pick.”
Here’s a few pitchers who could potentially join Cabrera at this year’s Midsummer Classic.
Soto was the Tigers’ only All-Star selection last season and has the best chance to make it again. At the break last year, the lefty had a 3.00 ERA and seven saves.
His numbers this year make him an even better candidate. This season, he is tied for eighth in the Majors with 17 saves and has allowed just one home run over 30 innings.
Soto also finds himself with an electric fastball that leads to a high whiff rate, landing him in the 73rd percentile in that department.
The southpaw has earned a save in his last four outings, including Thursday’s 2-1 win over the White Sox in which he escaped a jam in the ninth inning.
“He has electric stuff that’s hard to hit, even when he’s a little bit erratic,” Hinch said. “Sometimes being erratic can help you. I think because of his stuff, he can escape some of those jams.”
Fulmer has been called upon in a variety of different situations this season and it has suited the 29-year-old well. He has pitched in hold situations and even closed out games when Soto was unavailable.
The starter-turned-reliever has thrived in this new role since he became a full-time bullpen arm on May 5, 2021. He ended last season with a 2.25 ERA over his last 44 appearances in relief. That success has carried into this season with a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings pitched.
Fulmer’s versatility has helped him adapt to a new level of dominance.
“These guys love pitching at the end of games, but also love pitching around each other,” Hinch said. “That’s probably the best thing for me, the quality that comes with acceptance.”
Other bullpen arms could be in contention for the spot as well: Andrew Chafin — who owns a 2.45 ERA in 30 appearances and Alex Lange — who has a 1.97 ERA in 36 appearances.
But with the way that Skubal started the year, with a 2.15 ERA through 10 starts, he should still be considered for an All-Star spot with no definitive lock yet.
The numbers on him aren’t earth-shattering, and his recent stretch — 7.80 ERA over six starts in June and July — might have knocked him out of the conversation for the time being.
But, Friday’s performance of six strong innings vs. Chicago lowered his ERA to 3.99 and was a sign that he could still be a worthy All-Star candidate.