Detroit Tigers: 10 Realistic Goals to Achieve by the All-Star Break
The Detroit Tigers' goals going into the 2012 season were higher than ever before. Detroit went into the year with its eyes set on defending their American League Central Division championship, and it seemed like anything less than a trip to the World Series would be a disappointment.
The Tigers, who haven't been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons since 1935-1936, have seen several players grossly underachieve so far this season. Detroit has too much firepower in its offense to be two games under .500 and in third place in the division; three games back of the first place Chicago White Sox.
Detroit has 12 games left before the All-Star break. With a pretty favorable schedule until the Mid-Summer Classic, a good run could give the Tigers the momentum they need to run away with the division going into the second half of the year.
Here are 10 realistic player and team goals the Tigers need to accomplish going into the All-Star break:
Team: Win 8 of the Next 12 Games
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Detroit goes into today's game against Texas hoping to clinch their fifth series win in the last six chances. After today's series finale against the Rangers, Detroit travels to play the Tampa Bay Rays in a four-game set before returning home for a seven-game home stand against the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals, the two worst teams in the division.
The Rays are 40-33 but haven't been playing very well as of late, and the Twins and the Royals have a combined 62-81 record.
If the Tigers can win eight of their last 12 games going into the break, they will be two games over .500—probably in first place in the division—and would have strong momentum going into the second half of the season.
Player: Brennan Boesch Hits over .250
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Brennan Boesch could be the X-factor for the Tigers down the stretch this season. The 27-year-old lefty began the season hitting second in the lineup behind Austin Jackson and in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But after struggling to start the year, Boesch was demoted to middle third of the lineup.
Boesch, who was expected to have a breakout season this year, is only hitting .232 this season with seven home runs and 26 RBI in 71 games.
The Tigers could desperately benefit from Boesch beefing up his average and power numbers. Boesch getting on base is very key, especially if he returns to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, in setting up RBI opportunities for guys like Cabrera and Fielder.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland likes to have some power in the No. 2 spot in his lineup, but because Boesch has been struggling so badly this season, he's had to move down.
But if Boesch can get things going and improve his average to over .250 by the All-Star break, Leyland could move him back up in the order. If so, things will definitely be looking up for Detroit.
Team: Acquire Placido Polanco
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Placido Polanco was a fan-favorite during his time in Detroit from 2005 through 2009, and since his departure, the Tigers have been absolutely dreadful at second base.
Polanco averaged .311 with 37 home runs and 285 RBI in his four-plus years with the Tigers, and was one of the best defensive second basemen in the league. Polanco racked up a major league record 186-game, error-less streak that spanned over parts of three seasons and won a Gold Glove in 2009.
He was a rock at second base, and he always found a way to come up with timely hits and clutch RBI.
The Philadelphia Phillies were shopping Polanco going into this season, and if the Tigers offered a couple good pieces, Philadelphia would probably be willing to deal the 36-year-old.
Detroit needs to make some kind of move before the July 31 deadline, and Polanco would be a perfect fit for the Tigers' run at the postseason.
Player: Austin Jackson Makes All-Star Team
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Austin Jackson is having a career year in center field this season for the Tigers.
Despite being on the disabled list and missing 21 games with an abdomen injury, Jackson is hitting .312 with a .400 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 40 RBI this season.
Jackson is currently eighth in the American League outfield voting for the All-Star game with 1,212,881 votes, according to MLB.com.
If Jackson continues his performance going into the break and manages to make his first career All-Star team, his confidence would go through the roof and would rub off on his teammates.
Jackson showed how crucial his presence is to the club during his time on the disabled list, and if he were to get the nod to go to Kansas City on July 10, his performance would only improve.
Team: Get Rid of Delmon Young
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The Tigers need to shed some dead weight to give themselves some momentum moving forward.
Reports have shown that the Tigers' injured designated hitter, Victor Martinez, is ahead of schedule with his rehab for a torn ACL suffered in January that was expected to keep him sidelined for the entire season.
Martinez is eying a September return, and with the on- and off-field struggles of Delmon Young, Martinez's return makes Young that much more expendable.
Young is simply a headache the Tigers don't need. He's hitting .259 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 66 games this season, and because of the off-field issues, his struggling numbers between the lines look even worse.
He began the year in left field, but with the emergence of Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry this season, he's been relegated to be the designated hitter.
But once Martinez returns, Young will be an unnecessary commodity.
The Tigers can unload Young and his $6.7 million contract, and add Martinez for no cost at all. Someone would probably take a shot on Young for the rest of the season, and if so, the Tigers should deal him as soon as possible.
Player: Don Kelly Gets Going
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As a utility player who can literally play anywhere on the field, Don Kelly will be a valuable asset for the Tigers down the stretch.
Kelly, who's a career .233 hitter, has played horribly this season, hitting just .186 with one home run and seven RBI in 44 games.
But his value in the field remains underrated.
Kelly can do it all on defense and provides a good left-handed bat with sneaky power when he's on. If the Tigers are in a pennant race in September, Kelly will be a handy replacement anytime someone needs a day off or goes down with an injury.
If he gets himself going before the break, he'll provide Leyland with a litany of options going forward.
Player: Drew Smyly Gets It Back Together
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Drew Smyly had a phenomenal start as the Tigers' No. 5 starter in his rookie campaign. He opened the year 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA in his first six career starts, and at one point was leading the AL in ERA.
But after a few rough starts, and a trip to the disabled list, Smyly came back to Earth the last few weeks, going 0-2 and giving up an average of over four earned runs per game.
Smyly needs to rebound in his next scheduled start against Tampa Bay and give the Tigers some confidence that he'll be a reliable starter for the rest of the season.
Team: Acquire Quality Reliever
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The Tigers bullpen has been a roller coaster this season, and as a unit, has been the Achilles' heel in the Tigers' attempt to win consistently and regain the lead in the division.
The bullpen has a collective ERA of 3.76, and three particular players at the back end have been struggling.
Octavio Dotel, Luis Marte and closer Jose Valverde have ERAs of 3.80, 4.15 and 4.18, respectively, so the Tigers could use a flexible option in the later innings.
Matt Thornton has been the subject of trade rumors all season for the White Sox, and with a 3.16 ERA in 36 appearances this season, the 35-year-old Michigan native would be a perfect fit in the back end of the Tigers bullpen for their postseason run.
Thornton lost his closing spot for Chicago earlier this season, but he has still been very productive as a setup man for the Sox and would provide a veteran presence in what would be a homecoming in Detroit.
Player: Alex Avila Stays Healthy and Increases Production
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Alex Avila's presence in the lineup is very important for the Tigers' success.
While Gerald Laird has done an admirable job as the backup catcher this season, Detroit won't win the division without Avila on the field.
Avila, who's played through a hamstring injury for most of the season and was recently diagnosed with tendinitis in his knee, is hitting .234 with five home runs and 20 RBI this season.
He's missed more games than he would have liked, and because of the patellar tendinitis, will probably have to sit out more than he wants going forward. But if a day off here and there will help Avila stay on the field for the majority of the second half, he'll need to be willing to do that.
Avila is the captain of the infield and has emerged as a legitimate starting MLB catcher. He hit .295 last season with 19 home runs and 82 RBI, proving he's the real deal behind the plate. If he gets his bat going and continues his steady performance defensively, the Tigers will have a shot at defending their division title.
If Laird is starting most games in August and September, things probably won't be looking so good.
Player: Max Scherzer Continues to Cope with Brother's Death
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Going through something as traumatizing as a brother's death could completely derail a player's focus and success.
Max Scherzer's brother, Alex, died Thursday at just 24 years old. With a heavy heart, Scherzer decided to pitch in his next scheduled start, just two days after his brother passed. Despite suffering a loss on Saturday, Scherzer pitched very well against the Pirates, giving up three earned runs (a three-run home run) on three hits, with seven strikeouts and just one walk.
But Scherzer's grief could naturally and understandably stick with him, especially in his next couple starts, and hurt the Tigers' chances at making a move before the All-Star break.
No one would be upset if Scherzer struggles in his next outing or two, because he won't have 100 percent focus—but if he can find a way to pitch with his brother right beside him and continue to thrive as I'm sure his brother would want, the Tigers will be in good shape moving forward.