Tigers still have a playoff chance

By Jay Skebba

Sports Editor

Published: Friday, July 13, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 13, 2012

 

When the defending American League Central champions added All-Star slugger Prince Fielder in the offseason, Tigers fans thought their team would be in better shape than just two games over .500 at the break.

However, that’s the position they currently find themselves in.

Detroit needed a three-game sweep of the lowly Kansas City Royals just to assure themselves of a winning record heading into the All-Star break. With just under a half-season remaining, the third place Tigers sit at 44-42 in the division and trail the Chicago White Sox by 3.5 games.

The 2012 Home Run Derby champ has performed well in his first season in the Motor City, hitting .299 with 15 homers and 63 RBI, good enough for fourth-best in the AL. His home runs are slightly down but that was to be expected as Comerica Park is much more pitcher-friendly than Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

The other half of what was billed to be one of the most feared duos in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, also held up his end of the bargain.

Cabrera is sixth in the league in batting average (.324), second in runs batted in (71) and leads the league in hits (111). He has also smacked 18 homers through the first 86 games.

Another bright spot for Detroit’s offense has been the resurgence of center fielder Austin Jackson.

Jackson hit .293, had a .345 OBP, hit four home runs and drove in 41, finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010.

He went through a bad sophomore slump in 2011, however, and saw his numbers drop-off dramatically, hitting just .249 with a .317 OBP.

One of the big keys for the Tigers in 2012 was getting Jackson back to his rookie-self. Not only has he done that, but he’s now on-track for a career year. He ranks second in the American League with a .335 batting average and has also hit nine homers with 38 RBI.

Jackson’s on-base percentage at the break sits at .411, nearly 100 points higher than last year. He also has 17 doubles, just five less than he had in all of 2011 despite missing 22 games this season with an injury.

As a whole, Detroit’s offense is above average in nearly every offensive category. You can’t blame their sub-par start on the bats.

If you’re looking for the culprit of their so-so first half, it starts with pitching.

Tiger starters are just 30-28 on the year with a 4.21 ERA (seventh in the AL) and that’s with Justin Verlander having another Cy Young-worthy season. The reigning Cy Young and AL Most Valuable Player is 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA. No other starting pitcher has an ERA south of 4.42.

Starters two through five (Fister, Scherzer, Porcello and Smyly) are a combined 21-23 with an ERA of 4.59.

Doug Fister was supposed to be Verlander’s sidekick and be a rock-solid number two. He turned in an 8-1 record with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts for the Tigers in 2011 after coming over in a deadline deal.

Fister has made just 11 starts so far due to a reoccurring side strain that has landed him on the disabled list twice this season. In those 11 starts, Fister is 2-6 with a robust 4.75 ERA.

The bullpen hasn’t been much better, with their relievers posting a combined 3.59 ERA, fifth-worst in the league.

The Tigers finished the first half on a five-game winning streak, but it’s clear they need to upgrade at the July 31st trade deadline. It’s been said that the front office favors upgrading the lineup more than the pitching, which is a bit puzzling considering Verlander has been the only sure thing in the rotation.

If they decide to go in that direction, names like Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino and Colorado’s Marco Scutaro have been mentioned as possible trade targets.

The starting pitching market should be much better, especially if Detroit wants to pony-up and bring in an ace. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza will both be available. Zach Greinke will likely be put on the trade block and possibly even fellow Cy Young winner Cole Hamels.

The Tigers came into the season picked by many to win the World Series. If they add the right pieces at the deadline, those lofty expectations could still be met.

With Detroit 3.5 back of the division lead and 1.5 back of the second wild card, their postseason hopes are still very much alive.

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