Every year, there seems to be at least one team that goes on a tear after the All-Star break and runs away with a division title. This year, the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers look primed to up their level of play in the second half of the season.
Though they lead the American League Central by 1.5 games, according to most accounts, the Tigers have underachieved to this point. They lead the majors in batting average and are sixth in the American League in team ERA, but they're just 10 games over .500, mostly thanks to a shaky 9-12 record in one-run games.
With one of the best pitching staffs and one of the best lineups in the league, the blame for this can be placed almost entirely on the team's bullpen.
To this point, the team has blown nine saves and squandered away many more games with shoddy late-game pitching. The issue has been especially frustrating for Tigers' manager Jim Leyland, says Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press.
A problem in the bullpen is certainly fixable. The trade deadline is two weeks away, and bullpen help is readily available on the market.
The White Sox's Jesse Crain, Twins' Glen Perkins or Mets' Bobby Parnell would all help fix the Detroit bullpen down the stretch.
Twenty-seven-year-old reliever Jess Todd of the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, might be able to help the big squad, too. To date he has a 2.44 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. The right-hander has a low-90s fastball and a plus slider that could certainly help out in the bullpen.
In a lineup that features Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, there is no doubt that the team will continue to rake in the second half.
Starting pitching isn't a concern either, and ace Justin Verlander could even stand to improve in the second half after a lackluster start to his season.
If they can get their bullpen woes figured out, this Tigers team might prove to be the best in all of baseball in the second half.
Los Angeles Dodgers
With a 47-47 record, the Dodgers have struggled far more this season than the Tigers, though they have just as much talent. They have the second-highest payroll in Major League Baseball at over $200 million, but the team has been stronger on paper than in reality thus far this season.
The National League West is a weaker division this year than in past years, too, helping the Dodgers' case for a second-half run. The division leader in the West is the Diamondbacks, but they have just a plus-nine run differential on the season and are only five games over .500.
Health has been the biggest issue for the Dodgers thus far. Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Zack Greinke have all spent time on the disabled list this season.
All four are expected to be healthy shortly following the All-Star break, and when added to a team that already features ace starter Clayton Kershaw, RBI machine Adrian Gonzalez and rookie phenom Yasiel Puig, this team is stacked with talent.
The Dodgers already made a trade to bring in Ricky Nolasco behind Kershaw, Greinke and rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu. Though they might make a move for one more bullpen arm, they'll need the players they already have on the roster to step up in the second half.
The X-factor here is Kemp.
The former MVP has struggled with shoulder and hamstring injuries this year and is hitting just .254 with four home runs on the season. Still, he's scheduled to get off the DL on July 21. If he can come close to returning to his past form, the Dodgers offense will be unstoppable.
It's a big if, but I like his chances. Talent like the kind that Kemp possesses never stays down long, and the outfielder is still in his prime at 28 years old.
The team has a 24-16 record since June 1. I fully expect them to continue their improved play in the second half.