Detroit Tigers: 3 Reasons Why June Will Be Their Turnaround Month
Despite their narrow escape of a home sweep at the hands of divisional foe Cleveland, Detroit entered the month of June in trouble, and six games later, they only have two wins to show for a six-game homestand.
It won't get any easier this weekend as the Tigers head to Cincinnati to face the NL Central's top team. The Reds are five games better than Detroit overall at 31-24. They also boast the third-best home record in the National League.
For Detroit, the "it's a long season" banter has been beaten like a dead horse. They are a team that can take little more beating before it's too much to stand up.
The time is now.
The Tigers are in need of a streak, something they really haven't mustered since their 9-3 start to begin the 2012 campaign—they've only knocked out another 17 wins over the 45 games since that solid start.
17-28 since the rest of the division got their footing won't find the Tigers making any postseason appearances if they don't right the ship, and in a hurry.
Detroit's ability to stay in the hunt much longer without an absolute Chicago collapse and a Cinderella comeback story is waning—and the White Sox are much better than a lucky streak, having won seven of their last 10, albeit they've dropped two in a row.
No, Chicago is indeed a flat-out better team than the Tigers—right now. Anyone arguing different hasn't watched much of either team over the course of the first third of the season.
The Tigers, however, proved last season that they are very capable of getting a strong wind at their backs and allowing the sails to fly at full tilt. A little hot streak over the next 29 games, and they could hit the All-Star break ready for a smashing second half.
Here are three reasons why June will be a turnaround month for the Tigers—and why the rest of the American League should fear that the worst is behind them.
Cabrera and Fielder Catching Fire
Detroit wanted production out of their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, the rest of the league simply hoped to contain their potential fury.
For much of the season's first two months that was the case—it isn't anymore.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are quickly awakening from a slumber that has kept their feared mashing combination in check, and it's likely American League pitching staffs will begin paying a price for cold streaks neither player is likely to repeat.
That said, here's hoping the league's best hurlers enjoyed things the first time around, because next time Cabrera and Fielder will be on the hunt.
Cabrera's average dipped as low as .222 in mid-May, but since that time it's climbed to a more Cabrera-like .323. Thanks to strong hitting by leadoff man Quintin Berry and the now injured Andy Dirks, Cabrera has also knocked in 49 RBI and pounded 13 home runs, including four already this month.
Cabrera has also hit safely in 13 of the last 15 games, including eight multiple-hit games. His average has jumped 19 points in that time as well.
Fielder also experienced a considerable drought in the first part of May when he found himself 0-for-21 over a five-game stretch. Fielder's average plummeted to a season-low .266 but has since rebounded to a respectable .318 average.
Fielder is also sporting a 14-game hitting streak and has hit nine moon-shots in 217 at-bats.
It seems apparent the big fellas are catching stride and intend to reclaim their jungle crown.
Detroit's ability to climb back into the divisional hunt may rest with how quickly they dispose of their interleague play opponents.
Over the past 15 years, Detroit has fared well during interleague play with a 141-124 record, good for a .532 winning percentage. However, a good number of those wins occurred in 2007 and 2008 when the Tigers dominated interleague play with a combined 27-9 record.
The Tigers are 18-18 over the past two seasons of interleague play and sit at 2-1 for the 2012 season, having bounced a three-game series in their favor against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates last month.
Detroit will have their hands full in their first series of a 15-game stretch of interleague play, having to take on the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds, who are currently five games better than the Tigers at 31-25. A series win against a formidable National League opponent could be the spark Detroit needs to put together a string of victories as they inch closer to the Midsummer Classic break.
The Tigers will also face the NL Central's worst team when they head to Chicago to play the Cubs after their weekend series with the Reds. The Cubs are 4-6 in their last 10 games and currently sit at 19-38 for the season, struggling to find any sort of consistency from their pitching staff and their lineup.
Detroit's final nine games of June's interleague play schedule will see them play host to the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals as well as the Colorado Rockies before finishing up with a three-game stint in Pittsburgh.
All three opponents have had about the same success as Detroit this season, and as such, the Tigers must find a way to expose weaknesses in their lineups as other teams have—something they've experienced plenty of themselves along the way.
Not having to make considerable road trips this time around during interleague play should benefit the Tigers over the course of their next 15 games.
A good interleague play run will put Detroit right back in the hunt.
Returns from the DL
While Detroit hasn't played their best baseball yet this season—few would argue that—they've also endured an inordinate amount of injuries to key players on their rosters. What's worse, these injuries have happened to players the Tigers were counting on for consistent productivity throughout the 2012 season.
The good news is that, barring further setbacks, Detroit should begin to see a return of injured players to their lineup as soon as this weekend.
It looks as though, according to the Detroit Free Press Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks, and Doug Fister are all inching toward a much needed return for their ballclub.
In Jackson's absence, rookie Quintin Berry has stepped up and filled both the defensive and offensive voids left by the Tigers' sensational center fielder. Berry is currently hitting .306 in Jackson's stead and has made several spectacular defensive catches in the outfield as well.
The Tigers may be looking for another spot to insert Berry when Jackson returns as his speed and productivity is something they desperately need to keep rolling.
Arguably the biggest loss for the Tigers is the sidelined Doug Fister, who is battling an abdominal strain that has put him on the DL for a second time this season. Detroit has entertained a myriad of fill-ins while they wait for their No. 2 starter to heal. Fister was a key cog to Detroit's late-season push last year and he will need to be healthy if the Tigers expect to make a similar run in 2012.
The injury to rising-star Andy Dirks, who solidified Detroit's No. 2 lineup spot with a .328 batting average before his hampering Achilles injury, has also caused dismay for Leyland.
His production in the No. 2 spot was exactly what Detroit needed with the Cabrera and Fielder behemoths that follow in their lineup. His stick will be needed as well if the Tigers are going to put together the kind of lineup that was the talk of baseball just a few months back.
Gerald Laird is also on the mend and should be ready to go soon. He wanted to play this week against the Indians but Tigers manager Jim Leyland held him back to ensure his hamstring was fully healed. Laird has exceeded expectations thus far this season in his role as the backup-raker to All-Star starter Alex Avila—also on the DL.
The solution to Detroit's woes may ultimately be found by way of the return of several key players off the DL—and in all likelihood just what the doctor ordered to get things turned around by month's end.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's MLB Coverage Team and contributes to B/R's MLB content and Detroit Tigers page. He also covers key sport interest stories for all of Detroit's major sports teams.