After 81 games, the Detroit Tigers have reached the half-way point of the season. Needless to say, it hasn’t been pretty. After a second loss in a row to the lowly Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, the Tigers sit at 39-42, 4 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the Central Division lead. Although it’s been an absolutely disappointing start to the season, the Tigers are still in position to make a run and take the weakest division in all of baseball. I’m going to give my grades so far and give my thoughts on what needs to be done to turn the season around.
Starting Pitching – C+
If it wasn’t another stellar start to the season for ace Justin Verlander, this grade for the starting staff would be much lower. Doug Fister has missed much of the season with injuries, and hasn’t looked like the Fister from last season since returning. Both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been inconsistent at best. Rookie lefty Drew Smyly showed flashes of brilliance early in the season, but has struggled of late. My guess is that the Tigers will add a depth starter before the trading deadline. The turnaround of Scherzer and Porcello will be key if the Tigers hope to make a legitimate run at the playoffs. Porcello looks as though he may be in the process of getting his arsenal straightened out, while Scherzer continues to look like the Millennium Force at Cedar Point.
Bullpen – B
The bullpen got off to a miserable start, but has recovered nicely and been performing well over the last month. Closer Jose Valverde isn’t the same pitcher he was last season, but duplicating that was going to be impossible. He has blown three saves so far. The real story has been the solid pitching by set up man Joaquin Benoit. Benoit’s ERA and WHIP are well under his career averages. Another big story has been the emergence of Brayan Villarreal. He has become a bridge to Benoit and Papa Grande that the Tigers need in close ballgames. If it wasn’t for the shaky start, the bullpen would’ve received a higher grade. Don’t expect too much tinkering unless there is a major injury.
Hitting – B-
The top of the lineup couldn’t be doing more. Lead-off man Austin Jackson is having a career season and was one of the biggest snubs on the AL All-Star roster. Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are putting up the numbers you’d expect from the big duo. Rookie Quintin Berry looks like a legitimate number two hitter and has given the team a spark at times. And that’s where the praise ends. After the cleanup spot, the lineup has been dreadful. DH Delmon Young hasn’t taken a pitch since little league. Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avilla and Brennan Boesch have all gone through extended slumps, and last season looks more like an aberration for all of them. And experiments with Ryan Raburn look like they may have reached the end of the line. There is no way the Tigers can compete unless they get more production from the DH spot and it looks like Victor Martinez won’t be able to help this season. The Tigers will add a bat before the deadline. If not, there will be no playoffs in Motown.
Fielding – D-
Really, there probably isn’t a worse fielding team in the majors. Jackson is the only player that you could rank in the top five at their position. Berry has been solid. Every other position has been nothing short of a nightmare. Fielder has the most errors of anyone at first. Cabrera has been good enough to stay at third, but still below average. Peralta’s range is two steps to his left and one to his right. And the biggest hole is at second base. Ramon Santiago isn’t a bad fielder, but an average second baseman in the field must produce at the plate. Santiago isn’t getting it done. The Tigers need an everyday second baseman more than any other position. If they have to choose between a DH, another starter or an everyday second baseman as the sole addition, I think the second baseman is the most important.
Managing – C
Manager Jim Leyland isn’t the only one to blame for the struggles so far this season, but he isn’t free from criticism. The constant forcing of Raburn into the lineup is confusing. Also, his refusal to keep Berry in when he was setting the world on fire was also puzzling. Why doesn’t Young ever sit when he isn’t hitting as a DH!? Where Leyland does get a bit of a pass is that he doesn’t have many other pieces to work with. It’s not like there’s a plethora of talent in the farm system. GM Dave Dombrowski deserves as much of the blame if not more than Leyland. The Tigers are constructed like a softball team in a park made for speed and pitching. Although Leyland has handled the bullpen well, many of the lineups he’s tinkered with do deserve harsh criticism. Dombrowski has to make some key moves before the deadline or else I believe his job should be in question.
It’s pretty obvious that changes need to be made to this team if their going to contend for the AL pennant. If some small changes are made, I think this team is still the best in a terrible division. If the Tigers want to be real contenders for a World Series, the starting pitching beyond JV must gain consistency, they must add a DH that will put up better numbers to compliment Fielder and Cabrera. They also are in dire need an everyday second baseman. With the money already invested in this team, I expect the Tigers to be major buyers as the trade deadline nears.