Detroit Tigers Won't Return to the Playoffs If Alex Avila Doesn't Improve

Josh Berenter@JBerenterCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2012

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 25: Alex Avila #13 of the Detroit Tigers looks to the dugout for signals during a MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Comerica Park on August 25, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers Have Put a Lot of Eggs in Alex Avila's Basket.  

When the Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski included Minor League catcher Rob Brantly in the deal that sent pitcher Jacob Turner to the Miami Marlins, he made a big gamble investing in Avila as the catcher of the present and future.

Last season, in his first year as the Tigers' everyday starter, Avila had a breakout season, batting .295 with a .389 on-base percentage, 19 home runs and 82 RBIs in 140 games.

But this year, Avila hasn't been able to continue his momentum from the 2011 campaign, averaging just .244 (.349 OBP) with seven home runs in 38 RBIs in 98 appearances, and if he doesn't return to the 2011 version of himself, the Tigers might be in danger of missing the playoffs.

The 25-year-old went 0-4 in Monday's 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians and is 0-for-13 in his past five games. Since Aug. 10, Avila has been dreadful, going 5-for-49 (.102).

"He's struggling—that's putting it mildly," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said to the Detroit Free Press after Monday's loss.

Avila was a huge reason the Tigers ran away with the American League Central Division by 15 games last season, and he might be equally as responsible for the Tigers' postseason jeopardy this year.

In 2011, Avila led all AL catchers in average, OBP, OPS (.895) and slugging (.506), and was second in wins above replacement (4.9).

This season, among AL catchers with at least 200 at-bats, Avila ranks eighth in average, 11th in slugging (.375), 10th in OPS (.720) and eighth in WAR (1.2).

"It's one of those things that takes time to get out of and can't really rush it," Avila said to the Detroit Free Press on Monday. "A hitter knows when he's not getting hits. It's obvious I've been struggling."

Avila has spent most his time this season in the No. 6 spot in the lineup, and as a member of the middle third of the order, you're expect to produce, period.

Quite frankly, he just hasn't. 

In the No. 6 slot, Avila's hitting .216 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 121 at-bats.

Avila has recognized he has a problem this season, but recognition is only as good as rectification.

Despite hitting in the cage every day, the biggest problem for Avila is that he hasn't been able to make the necessary adjustments to fix the problems when it matters—in games.

"There's a big difference between practice and the game," he said. "I can hit batting practice with my eyes closed. It's being able to take what you do into the game, but at the same time, not to think about it and just react. A lot of times, thinking is the worst thing you can do."

Avila's success at the plate, or lack thereof, seems to have directly impacted his performance behind it.

On Monday, Avila committed his fifth error of the season, equaling his error output for the 2011 campaign. Through 134 games, and with 202 less total chances than last season, Avila has a worse fielding percentage in 2012 and his .301 caught-stealing average is 19 percentage points lower than last year.

Avila's success offensively and defensively is paramount for the Tigers' success. If he doesn't return to 2011 form, when he was the best catcher in the league, Detroit is in trouble.

It's not solely up to Avila, but if he doesn't pick it up, the Tigers might be pegged as one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory.