There's little doubt that the key to the Detroit Tigers' ability to get consistent in the win column is to get more consistent at the plate.
While Detroit's starting pitching, and even more so their bullpen, hasn't been what they would have liked at this point in the season, they've pitched well enough that with greater run support the Tigers would have several more victories under their belt.
The "it's early" mantra has come past due, as the season is a quarter of the way done now.
If Detroit wants to be in the hunt come late September, they better make serious improvements over the month of June or they can let go of inclinations of what was to be when they traveled north from Lakeland.
After an outstanding spring training session to kick off the season, the Tigers have battled mediocrity and are beginning to run short on time in chasing a second straight AL Central pennant.
Here are five things the Tigers can do to get their offensive machine running at full-tilt and climb back into the divisional race before things start to slip away.
The Tigers would do well to get Austin Jackson back in the top spot of their lineup—not that anyone is complaining about the job that Quintin Berry has done in his stead while Jackson is nursing an abdominal strain on the disabled list.
Jackson, however, adds another dimension and has been Detroit's greatest offensive spark this season. His presence in the lineup is a must if the Tigers want to contend down the stretch.
At the time of his injury Jackson was hitting a team-high .331 with 45 hits in 159 plate appearances. He's also knocked five home runs and drove in 17 while striking out only 29 times. These were the numbers the Tigers needed and Jackson has made good on those needs despite battling an injury that nagged him for several games before he went on the DL.
Detroit could consider sliding Jackson down to the two-hole and allow Berry to remain at the top of the order. With Berry's blazing speed and Jackson's improved base-running abilities it could be a win-win for both players and the Tigers too.
Consider then, dropping Andy Dirks down to the No. 5 spot behind the big fellas Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and a much improved lineup starts to take shape.
At this point, the space between the wall and the Tigers' backs is significantly smaller than it was just two weeks ago, when they were less than a handful of games back.
Despite the salvaging of at least one win in a four-game set with Boston to finish up a 10-game road trip that saw them go 4-6 against Cleveland, Minnesota and the Red Sox, the Tigers are still five games back of the division-leading White Sox and are sputtering at a sub-.500 playing level.
The time for giving guys a chance to work their way into the lineup has passed—the time to go with the best they have in the dugout has arrived.
It has been well documented that Tigers manager Jim Leyland likes to mix up his defensive schemes, which ultimately leads to shuffling of the offensive order as well, but there is also something to be said for allowing players that are getting it done to stay in a groove and continue to improve.
Pulling stunts like putting Ryan Raburn in the No. 2 spot and kicking Dirks down to No. 7 simply because Leyland didn't want to stack too many lefties at the beginning of the lineup isn't going to help the team day-in and day-out.
In the end, Leyland's move did highlight that Raburn just isn't getting it done and the organization had no other choice than to ship him down.
Not to belabor the point with another slide, but it is painstakingly obvious that the Tigers need to have a lineup that, for the most part, is the same from game to game.
Notorious for mixing it up, manager Jim Leyland can ill-afford to continue his daily ritual of keeping the media and fans guessing about what he's going to do to tweak the order—yet again.
It is time for things to start to fall into line with what they have and make a run at it with the best Leyland can put in the order every day, not just some days.
It's clear that Berry likes his new digs in the Old English D and his presence in the lineup with a healthy Austin Jackson gives the Tigers more speed than they've had on the roster in recent memory.
Combine that with the smashing that Cabrera and Fielder are finally starting to bring to each game and you've got a lethal combination of speed and power—two characteristics of a deadly offense.
I'd argue further that more consistency at the top of the order would lead to a feeling of less pressure on the bottom of the order to produce. This isn't to say that the bottom five can sit on their hands and relax, they too need to produce, but it will allow them to press a bit less and relax at the plate more on a daily basis.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland has barked all season about the Tigers' inability to show patience at the plate, complaining that they are trying to be too perfect when they do swing and failing at times to swing at all.
"One thing I learned a long time ago—and I know nothing about hitting, make sure you put that in there—one thing I learned a long time ago from Ted Williams was, 'Don't worry about hitting the ball on the ground. Don't worry about hitting the ball in the air. Worry about hitting the ball hard." —Jim Leyland
For Detroit's offense to really take off they have to show greater patience at the dish and start to rake more consistently throughout their order. Of even greater importance would be an improvement of timely hitting with runners on base.
Detroit has left far too many runners on base this season, several times stranding double-digit numbers in scoring position. They can eradicate that statistic with greater patience at the plate—working counts deep and forcing pitchers to make mistakes.
Mistakes lead to production—production to runs—and runs to victory, a sequence that could lead them back to the top of the AL Central hill.
Manager Jim Leyland might even be pressing a bit at this point. After all, his Tigers are not where they wanted to be with a quarter of the season gone and are certainly not in a position to extend Leyland's contract beyond this season if they don't get it together.
Leyland, who typically allows the game to play itself out, has been making some out-of-the-ordinary moves to try to spark his sputtering offense. The addition of speedster Quintin Berry has certainly helped the cause.
Detroit has been more lively on the basepaths, and with runners pushing for extra-bases and trying to extend scoring opportunities, the Tigers offense is beginning to show signs of coming off life-support.
The key now is to keep that momentum going, to keep doing the things that have improved their offensive approach—easier said than done, but it has to happen if they want to challenge for the division.
The Tigers will need to press. They need to make things happen and create some energy at the dish in order to snap out of the funk they've endured over the past 30 games. They haven't been getting it done on their own so it makes sense to press the issue by calling for the steal and the occasional hit-and-run.
Sometimes you have to make a little magic to get the show on the road—it's time.