Tigers win A.L. Central for First Time, Set Sights on Larger Goals
- Updated: September 20, 2011
The second half of the Detroit Tigers season hasn’t gone like many anticipated. And that’s a good thing. For the first time since 1987, the Detroit Tigers are division winners.
Exercising the Demons
In order to win the division the Tigers needed to overcome some of the past that has haunted them. Under Jim Leyland the Detroit Tigers have never had a winning team in the second half of a season. As late as August 1, Detroit seemed destined to flirt with that fate and the expectations of a .500 ballclub. Whether they won the division or not, it was predetermined the AL Central winner would be squashed by their AL East opponent.
But something changed.
Justin Verlander’s bid to become the AL Cy Young award winner turned into a chase for the MVP award. Doug Fister started to give Detroit a true number two starter. Delmon Young added the perfect compliment in the batting order to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Jose Valverde continued his consecutive saves streak as he inches towards 50. And all the players with varying roles in the lineup, rotation and bullpen simply locked down into their spots.
With all the ingredients mixed perfectly together Detroit reeled off 12 straight wins for the first time since the 1930s and turned from supposed pretender into top AL contender.
Setting the Rotation
During Detroit’s hot streak, a playoff rotation suddenly became clear. While many were clamoring for five straight starts from Verlander, the breakthrough of Fister helped change that opinion. Add in Max Scherzer as a number three and Detroit doesn’t have much to worry about with their rotation.
As for a fourth spot, Rick Porcello, who has been inconsistent, should only be used in situations where Detroit is nestled in to a comfortable series lead in the ALCS or World Series. To not have Verlander and Fister set up to pitch twice in a five game series would be too risky.
Would Detroit really feel more comfortable sending Porcello out for game four down 1-2 over Verlander? Or perhaps even with a 2-1 series lead, or do they risk letting the series get to 2-2, even with Verlander slated for game five? That could risk pushing him back even further into the next series, even with a win.
Cutting Back the Roster
Teams find it nice to have the luxury of an expanded roster in September. Of course, for playoff teams it helps make some of the cuts for the playoff roster even more difficult. There are a few spots up for grabs in the Detroit lineup that has strong interest to fans.
Atop the list is backup catcher. The Tigers current backup catcher, Omir Santos, makes some of the team’s weaker hitters look like Hall of Famers. If something happened to Al Avila the Tigers are probably in trouble anyway. The logical choice is allowing Brandon Inge to relive his catching glory days in an emergency situation. Inge hasn’t always been enamored with the idea, but he shouldn’t even be allowed a choice. This last week should put him behind the plate to reacquaint himself with the catching position.
By giving up Santos’s spot it opens the door to keep an extra hitter/fielding replacement or reliever on the team that could be vital.
The 25-man roster could look something like this:
Starting Lineup: Austin Jackson, Magglio Ordonez (default starter), Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Al Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Wilson Betemit, Ramon Santiago
Bench: Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Carlos Guillen
(If Guillen’s 875th injury in the past two years is too much to overcome entering the playoffs, the Tigers could keep Omir Santos or Danny Worth in his place)
Rotation: Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello (long-reliever/emergency starter)
*Alburquerque has had multiple injury setbacks, if he is unable to participate look for Ryan Perry to take his spot.
Another interesting name fans are clamoring to be long gone is Brad Penny. With his veteran status and having started all season, don’t expect the Tigers to leave him off. But, don’t expect to see him utilized either unless the game is far out of reach.
Sizing up the Competition
Now that Detroit’s roster is set, there’s one last thing to do: chalk up the competition in the AL.
One thing is for certain, there is no team from New York, Boston, Texas or the possible latecomers in Tampa Bay without holes. Each team has holes that are leaking heavily down the stretch.
Outside of C.C. Sabathia, who hasn’t been the same in the second half of the season, whom can the Yankees trust to start? The New York offense relies heavily on power, but Detroit matches up well enough to erase the advantage of the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.
Boston can’t stop their slide as their pitching completely disappeared and may be caught by Tampa Bay, who has solid starters, but is one of the worst hitting teams in baseball this season with a .243 average.
As for Texas, they seem to be the most balanced team outside of Detroit left. Adrian Beltre has returned with a vengeance after being on the DL for close to a month to once again solidify an already dangerous lineup. Their pitching, led by C.J. Wilson is solid enough to keep them in any game and let their hitting do the rest.
Look for Detroit and Texas to meet in the ALCS with the winner setting their eyes on Philadelphia and the best pitching staff in baseball.