Detroit Tigers Following the Same Path Again

Justin Verlander image taken from Google Images via Zimbio

The Detroit Tigers seem to find themselves in the same position every year. For four of the past five seasons they’ve entered June with an above .500 record and a few games up or behind in the AL Central. Halfway through the month they now find themselves tied with the Cleveland Indians in first. In the past, however, their efforts into June have been marred by late season collapses causing the team to miss the playoffs every year since their 2006 World Series run. This year might be different.


The AL Central stands as a bit of an enigma. The once scorching Cleveland Indians have crashed back to reality. The Minnesota Twins, AL central favorites entering the season, have been decimated by injuries and offer no signs of turning their season around. This leaves the White Sox (sorry Royals) as the only other possible contender. A three-way AL Central race is far from surprising, but with the Indians faltering as the third team, the division is ripe for the taking.


This Tigers team has an eclectic mix of talent on all ends of the spectrum. Their rotation is led by ace Justin Verlander who is finally realizing his full potential. Other starters like Rick Porcello and Phil Coke are holding their own, while Max Scherzer and Brad Penny have found ways to win.  On the other hand, their bullpen ranks 29th in ERA and remains in the bottom five in WHIP. Jose Valverde remains a solid closer, but the rest of the relievers leave a lot to be desired.


Offensively, Dave Dombrowski created a daunting middle of the lineup by pairing Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. The team ranks above average in most offensive categories led by those two. The offensive surprise, however, lies with Jhonny Peralta. His above .300 AVG stands right behind Cabrera and Martinez. Add in his 9 HRs and 34 RBIs, his power isn’t completely gone. Sophomore efforts out of Brennan Boesch, Al Avila and Austin Jackson were inconsistent early, but all three have found a groove reminiscent of their hot streaks from a year ago.


But with the good, there is bad. Magglio Ordonez is set to return from the DL, but if he can’t hit above .200, his days may be numbered. Ryan Raburn was given a “fresh start” as their everyday second baseman. The freshness needed to offset his abysmal early season hitting. And finally, recently placed on the DL Brandon Inge. Even though he flirts with the Mendoza line yearly, he’ll hit some homeruns, RBIs, and be an above average fielder. This season, he isn’t even doing that. The team can only hope his bout of mononucleosis is to blame (though 10 years of similarly poor streaks would say it isn’t).


Take all these early season performances into account and it’s no surprise the Tigers are above .500. The keys for the future remain in what they’ve done so far. Against division rivals Minnesota and Chicago, the Tigers are a combined 10-1.  Another thing to watch: interleague play. No matter what someone thinks of the concept, it’s been good for Detroit since former NL skipper Jim Leyland took over in 2006.


Most importantly, however, the team must avoid another last season collapse.  Under Leyland, there has never been a winning second half record. Even in 2009, when the team finished 38-38 in the second half, they blew a three game lead with four to go. Whether it’s an issue of depth, conditioning, or mentality the same results cannot be accepted. Leyland and Dombrowski have some holes to fill, but must make sure future roster moves can maintain over a second half that includes 46 division games.


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