The Keys to Detroit Tigers Maintaining Winning Edge

Paul SwaneySenior Analyst IJune 23, 2009

TORONTO - APRIL 6:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers delivers the pitch during the Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre April 6, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

With the All-Star game quickly approaching, the Detroit Tigers have to feel confident with their lead in the American League Central. The key for the Tigers this year has been their pitching and defense. Beyond the resurgence of Justin Verlander, Detroit has had all-star caliber contributions from Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello in the starting rotation.

Overall the Tigers are second in hits allowed, third in runs allowed, third in fielding percentage, and third in double plays turned. Clearly pitching and defense is the backbone.

In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney has already set a career high in saves, and there is plenty of depth with Joel Zumaya and Brandon Lyon, who could fill the closer role if there is an unexpected injury. Bobby Seay has handled the role of lefty specialist with consistent excellence.

The solid pitching, combined with outstanding defense, has the Tigers riding high. However, there are still areas for concern for Detroit. For one, the Tigers are 12th in the American League in walks allowed, entering play on Tuesday.

The greatest offender has been fourth starter, Armando Gallaraga, who has 33 walks allowed in 73 innings pitched this season.

In general, the bottom of the rotating has been a weak spot for Detroit. While it's hard to realistically expect fourth and fifth starters to be consistent winners, the Tigers will need one other starter to step up with they want to maintain their standing atop the division.

The answer may lie in the bullpen with long reliever Zach Miner. Miner is 4-1 this season, and has looked good during limited work.

In the hitting department, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Inge, and Miguel Cabrera have been the stars of the line-up. Combined the trio has 47 of the team's 78 home runs.

Other than those three, the Tigers line-up has not roared too much. Magglio Ordonez has been sapped of his power and battled injuries.

The young left-handed hitting clones of Josh Anderson, Jeff Larish, Clete Thomas, and Don Kelly have failed to produce a consistent fourth option. Marcus Thames has the capability to put up big power numbers.

In the final analysis, the biggest need for this team is a left fielder who can produce runs. Matt Holiday would be a nice option, and so would Carlos Lee if the Astros decide to deal.

My outlook for the Tigers has them winning the weak, but even, Central Division. I see them playing the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs and bowing out in five games.